A Letter from a Sowetan Police Officer to the Editor of Lamination Colony on Reading the Guidelines for Submission

Liesl Jobson

Dear Sir or Madam:

I have perused your guidelines for submission and am agonizingly perplexed. I have difficulty meeting your criteria, and am respectfully requesting that you consider the limitations of this potential contributor and advise accordingly.

You request short stories that jab you in the throat, and I feel fully confident that I could offer you just the right degree of throat-jabbing eloquence to whet your editorial appetite.

In Soweto, where I am the only white police officer in my unit, there is much throat slitting that occurs daily. Shooting too, stabbings, knifings and a throat-jabbing degree of sexual abuse of minors. I must confess that I have become awfully blasé about this stuff, but you know how it is? If you grieved about every three-year-old that was abducted, raped and murdered you would never be much good for issuing fines to people who drive while talking on their cellular phones.

You wish for a tale that abounds with peculiarity. Well, that's not so hard either. Just last Friday, a sergeant up north - in Limpopo - was stealing a sheep when a farmer shot him dead. Land invasions are a sensitive issue, what with the goings on in Zimbabwe. Most probably the old whitey farmer figured this was one of Robert Mugabe's 'tenants' come to case out the land in preparation for take over. Our president, Thabo Mbeki, is overly accommodating of Uncle Bob, so the farmer had grounds for concern. Meanwhile, our sarge was just moseying on up to the lamb pen for dinner, and splat, he is front-page news.

Next, you want ideas pulled out of everyday life, which are then altered or re-examined. On that score, everyday life in Soweto could be a tome on its own. Whose everyday life would you be wanting to hear of?

I would like to tell you about the HIV-positive twins I watched during a display of the Police Band at a primary school in Slovoville. Now, of course I don't know for sure what their HIV status was, and truly it is none of my business. But, while all the other kids were jiving to the strains of 'Meadowlands' and the trumpets were jazzing it up nicely, these two six-year-olds presented a troubling sight. One was too weak to dance. Her sister cradled her head in her skinny lap. When she got bored looking after her sleeping sister, she called another child to help her. One of her classmates lifted the sleeper's head onto her lap as she slid into the cracked plastic chair, so the healthy twin could take a turn dancing.

I note you request narratives that could be or are transcribed dreams. Well, I'm hoping that includes nightmares. It's not much fun in the SAPS and most of what happens every day is pretty hideous. I do have dreams though. I want to visit America one day, and Switzerland, where one of my sisters lives, and England too, where the other one is. I have a dream of waking up without rusty nails clattering in my gut and looking forward to going to work, of not feeling afraid every day. Perhaps it is too far-fetched to write such a story under the current set of circumstances.

But back to your editorial desires - and herein lies my biggest problem! Most specifically, you request the tale of a woman douching with strawberry lemonade. That is something I would be willing to try if I could but lay my paws on just one tiny bottle.

They say writers should write stories concerning what they know about. I know nothing about strawberry lemonade. In fact, I have never heard of such a thing.

Perhaps next time we raid a shebeen (illegal tavern), I could obtain a small sample of umqomboti (a brew made from sorghum, yeast and sugar) from the confiscated consignment. I cannot imagine that douching with African beer is similar to strawberry lemonade, but it is at least a milky pinkish shade.

Perhaps it would be the next best thing for the purposes of story writing, but as it invariably contains floaters and flies hover over the edge of the gourds, I would really prefer to use straight strawberry juice without preservatives. I could comfort myself that it had been hermetically sealed.

The other thought I had was to mix a drop of cochineal into a Sprite. One would approximate the colour better that way, I imagine, but let me remind you that I have never seen strawberry lemonade, so I'm not entirely certain.

The last thought I have on the subject is that you might send me a sample to the address below. That would be first prize, but I would have to request that you do so at your own expense as police salaries are not up to much. Further more, bank charges and the exchange rate, which admittedly has improved for the better, would make this a most costly exercise.

I would greatly appreciate your editorial consideration of my dilemma and will value your urgent clarification so that I can write a story that is sufficiently anti-cohesive, hysterical, nasty and irreverent.

I await your response eagerly and remain,

Yours sincerely,

Inspector Antoinette Marais
Diepkloof POPS
Collinder Road
Diepkloof Extension
Private Bax X57
South Africa

Liesl Jobson works as a communications officer for the South African Police Service in Gauteng Province. Her fiction and poetry have been published, or is forthcoming, in Exquisite Corpse, InkPot, Gator Springs Gazette, Retrozine and FRiGG magazine online and in the South Africa print journals New Coin and New Contrast.