Excerpt from Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Skinner's Drift

by Lisa Fugard

Skinner's Drift
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2006, 304 pages
    Apr 2006, 304 pages

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She switched to M-Net, the twenty-four-hour movie channel, and swallowed the other half of her sleeping pill. Her thoughts drifted uneasily to Stefan.

She'd been tempted to call him from JFK to tell him she was flying to South Africa. A need for earnest, decent Stefan to say, "That's great, Eva. You're going home." But she still felt ashamed of the way she'd behaved with him.

She'd met him in the summer of 1991 on the set of a TV commercial where she was working as a gofer. De Klerk had released Mandela from Pollsmoor Prison the year before, and to say you were a South African was to be an ambassador of hope. No longer a pariah, you were now a desired guest at parties, where you were supposed to speak eloquently about the struggle, to tear up and talk about the walk from the darkness into the light. But Eva didn't reveal her nationality to Stefan right away; she mumbled her usual nonsense about New Zealand and had to field several questions concerning fjords and sheep.

They began seeing each other, Stefan patiently pursuing, Eva feeling squirrelly about it all. He worked as a part-time set painter and photographed New York with a pinhole camera. He also took photographs of Eva. The transformation of her face into an eerie poltergeist-like blur appealed to her, and soon she had more than a dozen of them taped to her refrigerator.

"I should have one for my passport photo," she joked one August afternoon after they'd idly been discussing traveling somewhere together. They'd just made love, and she stood naked in front of the refrigerator, trying to pry a tray of ice cubes from the depths of her frost-blocked freezer.

"So let's see your passport," Stefan replied.

She turned, the cool air a blessing on her back, and studied him. He hadn't put his glasses on, so she knew he couldn't see her. He was unassuming and so terribly kind and polite, like Neels, and she was tired of lying and feeling so lonely. Abandoning her quest for ice, she dug her passport out of a drawer and handed it to him with his glass of cool water from the tap.

"South Africa? But you come from New Zealand."

"I lied."

"Why? What's happening in your country is astonishing. When I saw Mandela walk out of that prison -- "

Eva was stunned; sensitive Stefan had tears in his eyes. The tears she was supposed to have. She pulled on her panties. "You don't know what it was like in the late eighties. When I first arrived in the city, a Jamaican threw me out of his cab after I told him I was a South African."

Stefan patted the bed. "But you don't have to lie about it anymore."

Reluctantly, she sat beside him.

"Tell me something, Eva van Rensburg. Anything."

It was the hour when sunlight graced her studio apartment. Sparrows were hopping through the ginkgo tree outside her window and her neighbor had the baseball game on his TV.

"I grew up on a farm," she said.

Within the week, Stefan bought a copy of Cry, the Beloved Country and carried it in his backpack. Alarmed by his growing passion for all things South African, Eva told him that she was not interested in politics, or discussing her childhood. But often, after making love, she'd stare out her window at the yellowing leaves of the ginkgo tree, the sleet, and tell him about life on Skinner's Drift. The day she was riding her horse and came across a huge knot of python uncurling in the morning sun, the Limpopo running muddy and strong after summer storms.

It was Stefan who told Eva that expatriate South Africans, even those holding foreign passports, "Even Kiwis like you," could go to the UN and vote in the country's first democratic election. He urged her to go and she did. And she lied, telling him how wonderful it was to cast her vote when in truth she'd felt too ashamed, too filthy to join the line, and she'd fled to a bar and ended up in a stranger's bed. Soon after that, in a wash of self-loathing, Eva broke up with him.

Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Fugard. reproduced by permission of the publisher, Scribner.

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