Stephanie De Vleers

A flash fiction memory from the 90’s

I saw Kurt’s eyes in Stephanie’s satchel. They watched Stephanie from the floor as she slashed lines of green acrylic into the canvas. It was Monday and we were in second period art practical. Stephanie’s dungarees looked like a palette.

‘Hey, I don’t think I’ve read that one.’ I said, pointing to the half-visible book. Stephanie reached down to her satchel and freed the rest of Kurt’s face. She opened the front cover and flicked through the pages haphazardly. The pages came to rest on a double spread photo of Kurt on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. The book was Cobain: By the Editors of Rolling Stone. Hardcover, great photos, and a good selection of interviews. By the end of the book, Kurt was dead. Which sounds obvious, but I had just read Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana by Michael Azerrad and by the end of that book he was alive. Published in 1993, it had no suicide chapter.

‘Oh, it’s so cool hey, the interviews are so good,’ she said. ‘Reading his thoughts and opinions about music and art make it.’

In 1996, South Africa was still relatively cut off from the entertainment industries of the northern hemisphere. We kept up with bands through UK magazines like NME and Kerrang. Not only did they deliver a questionable standard of journalism, but the issues we got our hands on, were often two or three months old. Azerrad’s book was a literary island in a tabloid ocean of yesterday’s pop debris. I devoured it in a matter of hours. Then I needed more.

‘Hey, any chance I could borrow the Rolling Stone book?’

‘Ya, sure hey, I finished it last week but keep forgetting to take it out my bag.’ She closed the book and passed it over to me.

A few years later we graduated from high school. I was working at a small video rental store in Hout Bay. I bumped into Stephanie one evening after work. Walking in the opposite direction and the same side of the road, we landed right in front of each other. I hadn’t seen Stephanie since high school. Her hair was shorter and bleached, but I recognised her straight away.

‘Ha, ha, hey Marc! Howzit going bru?’ Her eyes glazed, narrow and red.

‘Hey Stephanie, ha! Jeez, long time hey! Fuck, how are you?’

‘Ya, I’m good hey.’ For a moment we stood there silently. She then pulled a half-smoked zol from her shirt pocket and we sat down on some wine-stained steps. She lit up the zol, took a few puffs and passed it over to me. After a couple of hits I was stoned. We spoke about high school and we spoke about our lives now. She reached back into her shirt pocket and pulled out a dead butterfly. It was battered but still in one piece.

‘Isn’t it just beautiful Marc?’ She said holding it up toward one of the streetlights.

‘Yes, yes it is.’ The African Monarch shone like an orange beacon in a sea of high-pressure sodium. It looked almost alive.

For a few seconds, we said nothing, then I said, ‘Hey, hang on a moment, I think I have an empty cigarette pack.’ I rummaged through the loose matches, Rizla leaves and empty lighters in my backpack. I found an empty box of Peter Stuyvesant blues and passed it over to her. She slipped the African Monarch inside the box and back into her shirt pocket.

‘Hey … you know I’ve still got that Kurt Cobain book of yours’, I said. ‘You know, The Rolling Stone one. The one you gave me in high school’.

‘Ha ha, I can’t believe you just brought that up. I’d forgotten all about that book. It’s yours, keep it. Really!’ We both laughed. I opened a fresh pack of Stuyvesant’s and passed her a cigarette.

‘Do you still listen to Nirvana?’, I asked.

‘Sure. Sometimes. Well … not as much as I used to. I mean … listening to those songs brings back a lot of memories, you know. They remind me of me, or how I used to be, like a lost version of myself.’

‘Ya, I know what you mean.’ We smoked silently. I looked up toward one of the streetlights. The bulb seemed to flicker as my lungs stole the remaining life from the cigarette. The fading ember raced into the filter before giving out completely.

I still have it. The Kurt Cobain book. The Rolling Stone one. The one with green acrylic on the pages. With dog ears and dust jacket falling apart. It’s right here. It’s on my desk next to the keyboard. I’m looking at it as I type these words. And just like the African Monarch beneath the streetlight, it looks almost alive.

Guerrilla publisher and optimist.

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