In the days after her son's suicide attempt the reverberation was external, like the idling of a neighbour's car, barely discernible. She could tell there was something wrong with the engine by the high-pitched whine, the choking. The vibration became more forceful, like an earth tremor from a collapsed vein. She'd imagine machinery crushing men, trapped miners. The juddering got closer, her innards grinding, springs popped and loose screws, spanners abandoned by a loveless mechanic. Months later, her son is home from the hospital, but every day at 2.17, the time the school called, a meteor cracks the ground beneath her feet, exposing her every error of judgment.
She'd gone alone down the dry goods aisle at Knowles in Pinetown to find the candied peel they'd mix into the rock bun batter later. Then she'd held the wrong mother's hand, a woman wearing the same blue paisley dress. Christmas lights flickered on the tree in the shop, attracting rose beetles like shiny brown jewels. Her mother had taught her to stay calm, to recite her name, her mother's name, address and phone number.
Now, her feet in high heels hurt as she stands at the bakery, appraising the rock buns, their spiky burnt raisins protrude like the dead. Her cell phone rings, displaying the doctor's number. Her daughter, he says, has tested positive. Other shoppers stare at the woman, repeating the ancient mantra unembarrassed: my name is Karen; my mother is Joy.