A Zulu Warrior King Checks His Email by Glen Retief

By Glen Retief on February 27, 2018 in Fiction

Sunday afternoon sweltered hot and rainless.  On the cul-de-sac next to the alligator canal, the humidity shimmered off the black tarmac, giving the neatly-trimmed hedges, palms, and ficus trees a fluid, iridescent sheen.  In his computer room in the white three-bedroomed ranch house, buffered from the heat by the walls and the air-conditioning, Milton Henry Johnson, a Zulu Warrior King who had never won a playground fight, rose from his Tribal Nations video game and strode into his kitchen, where he grabbed a pre-made protein shake from the refrigerator.

In a past life, might Milton have been a sub-Saharan conqueror?  Say King Shaka, feather-crowned emperor of the Southern African coastal plain, 1787-1828.  Rumor has it Shaka was conceived in a game that couldn’t stop—a convulsion of pleasure that ran to its destination.  Ukuhlobonga, a traditional Zulu coitus interruptis, has strict rules. Spit, lard, and butter are all possible lubricants.  The girl pinches her thighs.  But Shaka’s father, Chief Senzangakhona, violated the protocols.  His pregnant mistress didn’t receive so much as a ceremonial cow.  And this is what the old people still say, in laughing whispers, about the great African Napoleon, the inventor of the iklwa, the short, stabbing spear, as well the legendary “bull horn” formation to encircle one’s rivals. Shaka’s ferocity, his brutality and brilliance, all sprang from this splinter of abandonment lodged in him.

Maybe so.  Perhaps somewhere in Milton Henry Johnson’s soul he, too—as fatherless as Shaka—possessed a shadow of this vainglorious mania.  Yet to look at him an observer would simply think, What a nice guy.  A popular podiatrist on staff at the Broward Medical Center, he spent his days setting ankle fractures and making foam casts for custom-made orthotics.  His pale blue Calvin Klein jeans, casual white T-shirt, and bright green New Balance running shoes set off his gym-sculpted chest and the smoothness of his mocha skin.  At age thirty-five, his house had none of the disheveled appearance of the stereotypical videogamer: pizza boxes and beer cans.  Instead, three yellow sunflowers stood in a blue ceramic jug on a spotless marble countertop.

‘You keep your room tidy, Jimmy, and your mind’ll follow,’ Milton’s mother, an Alabama supermarket manager, had always told him and his siblings.  And Milton had credited this advice with his admission to medical school, his prestigious Mount Sinai residency, and now his current position.

Returning to the computer console with his shake, Milton noted the sunlight coming in had a blinding quality that bleached the day bed olive drab.  He placed the shake on a coaster.  ‘Too bright.’ He started to move toward the black plastic window shade, but kicked the wheel of the desk, splashing milkshake.

‘Ah—‘  He mopped up the mess.  On the screen the Second Division of the Zulu Imperial Army had managed, in three short minutes, to lose control of the ramp to a castle.

            > zulu warriors, he typed on the messenger function, wtf man?  yr king is back dudes lets go rape these fuckin aztecs!!!

For the next forty-five minutes Milton remained immersed in the contest.  His right hand tapped fluidly and rhythmically on the controls, while his left hand typed messages.  As usual, he aced this kind of cyber-battle, rallying his troops to retake the fortress, and defeating the Aztec king in a bout of dagger combat.  Fighting epic, bloodthirsty battles in cyberspace, Milton lost any hesitation he might have experienced in his ‘day life’, the false notes he sometimes hit, playing oboe for the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Orchestra; the occasional winces he’d prompt pressing on a patient’s talus bone.

‘Sorry, goddamnit,’ he’d shrug at Raymond, the orchestra conductor, or at Mrs. Jones, frowning at him in his consulting rooms.

            >good job dingane, he told his second-in-command, now, when Dingane found a magical spear.  

            >zandedude! –when that warrior managed to beat back no less than four Aztecs.  >u r magnificently beautiful my friend.  And Milton meant the compliment: that left arrow short stab, followed by that fabulous CTRL-F mariposa kick. ‘You feel beauty inside,’ Raymond told the orchestra musicians.  And Milton was feeling something like that right now, a joyful unknotting in his chest.

Had any of Milton’s team mates guessed he was gay?  Misogamist, Milton’s ex-partner, Lance, had called their gamers’ dialogue.

            > drill the featherface bitch a new one.

            > gonna jackripper that faggot.

‘Why do you even go along with that?  Would you call someone that in real life?  What makes this different?’

Lance was five years younger than Milton.  White, middle-class, blonde—he’d literally grown up in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the nation’s richest zip codes, in a mansion with a view of the Long Island Sound.  Now, he was completing a doctorate in English Literature at Florida International University, which apparently had a prerequisite in earnestness.  At any rate, Milton found it all but incomprehensible that a language scholar wouldn’t be able to grasp irony, persona, and linguistic context.

‘It’s like acting in a play, Lance babes.  Just a role.’  But Lance didn’t agree: ‘If you act something enough it becomes habitual.’

The two of them had met three years earlier, via a dating group at the same LGBT community center where Milton’s orchestral group had its rehearsals. Milton had fallen for Lance’s looks: that A-list body; those brilliant blonde locksBut then it was Lance’s brain that kept his attention beyond the first three dates.  How many gorgeous circuit boys on the Fort Lauderdale scene could explain the difference between post-structuralism and semiotics?  Milton’s own curiosity had always lain more in the sciences and music.  But he loved accompanying Lance to hear melancholy Cuban exiles, reading short stories about midnight cigars.

A year later, Lance and Milton moved in together.  Lance had brought all his possessions in his black Honda Civic, a single trip up the turnpike and I-95 to the Oakland Park exit, boxes of books on the back seat.  And at first their domestic companionship had been sublime.   Early mornings he’d throw his arm around Lance as seagulls cawed overhead.  Homemade Sunday breakfasts consisted of eggs benedict; shrimp and grits.  They bought each other presents: Adidas running shoes and Nordstrom underwear for Lance, a three-disc Tribal Nations animated manga series for Milton.

But then things had unraveled.  In Milton’s mind it began, ironically enough, with his joining the Gay Men’s Orchestra, at Lance’s suggestion.

‘Screens, light, synthesizers, they’re all fine, but there’s something about the physicality of a musical instrument.’

Probably Lance had imagined the music would take Milton away from his computer.  Lance had a problem with Milton’s gaming habits—that was obvious.

‘Have you considered if you’re an addict?  Any spare minute, and you’re on that thing.’

And: ‘Are you trying to be a teenager?’

Most insultingly literal of all from Milton’s point of view: ‘Is it some aggression from your childhood?  Do you need to be a warrior king so you’re fighting back?’  It got to the point where Milton regretted telling Lance about his childhood struggles, the inner-city Tuscaloosa basketball jocks who shoved him against the lockers and asked if he liked to suck dick, the homeboys who wondered if he was trying to be white by heading to the library.

In fact Tribal Nations relaxed Milton.  After a frantic day in the surgery, dealing with anesthetists, head nurses, and anxious relatives, the game provided an escape—light, sounds, fun. Milton wished he could show Lance real addiction, the junkies passed out in the stairwells of the rundown apartment building where Milton had grown up with his sister, Mary, and his younger brother, Jamal.  The addicts had lain there, heads lolled over backwards.  Sometimes you could see wet patches on their groins.  Milton, Mary, and Jamal would hold hands, still in their school clothes, bookbags swinging from their shoulders, and step around the urine and vomit, and let themselves into the one bedroom apartment, where Milton and Jamal slept in the living room.

But he did empathize with Lance’s frustration.  On the weekends Milton carried a beeper; he had to return calls, make occasional trips into the ward, give nurses instructions.  Once, he’d had to duck out of a Valentine’s Day dinner with Lance to perform emergency surgery on a woman whose foot had gotten crushed under the front wheel of a garbage truck.

‘Garbage,’ Lance had protested, not especially originally.  ‘Will the prognosis be so different tomorrow?’  He’d apologized for his callousness, but still.  After he joined the orchestra, Milton needed to practice for at least an hour a day.  And then when all that was done, when he felt antsy around bedtime, his thoughts running to shattered cuboids and metastarsals, or being on the wrong key in a performance. . .

‘Always that game, Milton.  Late at night, when we could be together.’

But why the breakup?  In front of his computer screen, Milton now took down some dumb Aztec noob called Yumyumheart73 with a CTRL-K Tesoura de Frente.  He decapitated him with his hip sword—a splatter of red over his screen, accompanying by a buzzing sound, like that of an oven timer.  How had the two of them gone from, ‘I just feel Milton isn’t available to me’—this said to their relationship counselor, a redheaded Jewish spinster named Hannah?  Gone from this to, ‘Sorry, babes.  I can’t explain, but I just can’t do this anymore.’  And the parting itself—God, it still hurt Milton to remember it—so sadistically choreographed.

It had happened three months earlier.  Milton had driven home from the hospital, thinking, he remembered now, about the disastrous impact of folk-vernacular bone manipulation—that afternoon he’d seen a fifteen year old girl who’d begun limping after a visit to a chiropractor.  He pulled into the drive, parking to the left of Lance’s car.  Only when he got out of the Avalanche and opened the back to take out the Publix shopping bags with dinner in them—frozen haddock in cheese sauce, Spanish rice, and lettuce and tomato—did he notice that the Civic was piled up with boxes, suitcases, and bulging garbage bags, almost exactly as it had been two years earlier.

The house door opened, and Lance emerged with his last item, his black canvas laptop bag.  He was holding his keys in his right hand and getting ready to lock up, but when he saw Milton—or, Milton had to ask himself later, had he in fact been waiting around for this exact moment?—he left the door ajar.

‘Sorry, babes,’ Lance said, where their paths crossed.  ‘It’s just—I’ll call you—send you an email.’  He dropped the keys in one of Milton’s shopping bags.  He seemed choked up.  Later, Milton would think: he didn’t even want to touch me.

‘Lance, what’s going on?’

But Lance had simply gotten into his car, turned the ignition key, and backed clean out of Milton’s life: right out the driveway, left at Palmetto Street, and then gone.  Milton stood for one or two minutes, still in his medical scrubs, holding the bags.  Nothing felt real.  A vacuum expanded in his chest.  Only later would the pain hit him: the empty shelves cleared out of the bedroom bookshelf.  The abandonment filling his body like air in a balloon.

The texts and Skype IM messages: >so sorry babes.  i didnt know how to tell you. 

            >i was shitty Milton just really shitty.  i don’t really like myself u know?

What exactly was he supposed to say?  As he told his sister, Mary, over the phone: ‘It’s like Lance was trying to be the worst bastard he could be, just so I’d be able to let him go.’

Bullshit.  Pathetic.  Milton now lifted up a stone in the videogame and clicked on a bottle of cordial, that swelled him up to twice his usual size.  A bell rang, and then the landscape of the videogame transformed into cliffs and snowdrifts.

            >ya, we won!  Now lets kill these eskimos!  The Independent Inuits were something of a legendary outfit.  Milton jumped up now and ran to the next door bathroom.  He peed as fast as he could.  The time was 3:10.  By the time he made it back to the computer screen both dingane911 and zandedude had been killed.

            >fuck man these intuits are good but lets fiiiight!!!!

At first, in this Arctic landscape, Milton didn’t notice the flashing Skype tab on the Windows toolbar.  He didn’t use Skype all that much, despite the fact that it was set to automatically start with the computer itself.  A couple of times he’d used it connect with his brother Jamal, who Milton feared was turning into their father—a divorced heavy drinker and good-for-nothing who drifted around doing odd jobs.  More recently Milton had used his zulu_warrior_king Skype moniker to flirt online, meeting guys on web sites like Manhunt, and then transitioning to cam4cam, c4c, phone bone—different names for an emotional salve.

Milton’s first thought was that the Skype message was from a recent trick, say Sven1975 in Sweden.  Worse, maybe Lance himself, with another round of sickening apologies. Yet when Milton right-clicked on the program to close it, he noticed it was actually from someone with an unfamiliar, vaguely Native American-sounding screenname: nonqawuse78.

            >> Hi there, zulu_warrior_king.  How are you today???  How is the weather in Fort Laudydale (did I spell that right LOL?)

Who on earth was this?  Somehow he’d been approved as a Skype contact.  Had Milton clicked a yes button?  He certainly didn’t remember a chat.

On the main screen, the game careened along.  Milton was trying to lure aaanaangaq12 away from a vast, shining igloo.  Something moved to Milton’s right—by instinct he threw an assegai at it, but he missed, and now an axe hit Milton’s leg, and there was a sound like a paper bag popping.  Milton was wounded and had to move in slow motion.

            The Skype tab flashed again.  He was about to quit that program—his team needed him.  But now—where did this memory even come from?—as he played he recalled another incident, from a month or two after Lance had moved in.  Milton had come over from the bedroom to check email, news, and weather.  Skype had been open on the desktop screen, and there, left in plain view, was a lengthy conversation between his own zulu_warrior_king avatar, and one ghettothug4blackonly from OrlandoLance had been pretending to be Milton, which is to say he’d been faking being a middle class African-American podiatrist in Fort Lauderdale, who had grown up in the poor neighborhoods of Tuscaloosa.

            >yeah homeboy lets chill, Lance had written.

            >let me shake my zulu spear at you lol.

Milton had felt strangely violated.  Sure, he’d proclaimed the z_w_k identity was just a role, like the ‘misogamist’ dialogue—all pixels and data.  Yet it was his role.

‘I don’t mind you using my computer.  I don’t even care too much if you flirt with a black guy in Orlando.’  Lance and Milton agreed to be monogamous, but they hadn’t discussed Internet liaisons.  ‘But use your own Skype login, alright?’

Lance was suitably embarrassed.

‘Shit, Milton,’ he said.  ‘It’s just—such a great name, you know?’ Milton had added separate password-protected profiles to the operating system and thought that would be the end of it.

But now Milton wondered—was this the only incident?  More to the point, had Lance done this several times before the ghettothug conversation?  Despite himself, Milton felt curious.  What exactly had Lance said to others, using Milton’s name?  Later, he would also have to admit, both to his sister, Mary, and his best high school friend, Eric: ‘I guess it helps me to feel mad at Lance.  If I think of him creeping around on the Internet like a fucking stalker, I don’t miss him so much.’

            >nonqawuse im ok.  how bout u? 

            >interesting screenname btw!  what language is it, native american?

            >btw have we talked b4???

            He played Tribal Nations, fighting off an Eskimo dressed in headgear that recalled an American Bald Eagle.

The Skype tab flashed: >>Xhosa.  Not Native American no haha!  In fact I am a Zulu in South Africa.  But my name is a Xhosa prophet. Google her haha!  Shes badasssssss ooh yeah ;-P

            >> oh yes we did talk once long ago.  Lets just say you availed yrself of my professional services  ;- )  :-OOOOP

Professional services? Milton’s head went to ‘rent boy’—he could hardly help it after ghettothug4blackonly.  But that made zero sense.  Nongqawuse was not only on the other side of the world.  Lance, who refused help from his family and lived on his teaching stipend, also had no money for escorts.

            > mugabe can you take over as commander for a while?  brb.  Milton in fact now felt tired of the game.  His shoulders were sore from being hunched up.  What would he do on a day like this if he weren’t playing?

            > professional services, nongq?  haha I don’t remember.

He did look up the screenname.  The niece of a nineteenth century Xhosa court magician, Nongqawuse had met some ancestors in a vision who’d told her that if all the Xhosa killed their cattle to show their faith in the shades, the sun would rise red as blood and all the British settlers would be blown into the sea.  Half the nation obeyed the prophecy, the other half didn’t.  The resulting, catastrophic famine caused a feud that apparently continued to this day, between those who believed Nongqawuse a fraud, and those who thought that complete obedience would have saved the nation from colonization.

            >> so zulu you are a doctor hey!  well I am a traditional zulu healer, we say here sangoma.  I told you about some herbs for your sinuses lol and you said your american medicine was not so good at treating those infections.

            >> this was some time ago

            >>btw I am a man but the spirit that inhabits me and gives me my divination powers is the very same nongqawuse!!!

Milton took his hat off to Lance.   He’d loved medical ethnography back in school: psychology, spells, the placebo effect, herbal healing.  He recalled studying the doctrine of spirit possession, the notion that a ghost or ancestor might inhabit a human being to give him or her medical powers, a concept that, as a physician, he found absurd, disconcerting, and resonant all at the same time—a metaphor for the intuitive leaps necessary for diagnosis and treatment.

            > lol spells spirits that is quite exotic for us nonq,

            > altho you know now i think of it my mother did see a sort of diviner when i was a kid

            > haha i had almost forgotten

Their church had been a predominantly black, Pentecostal Holiness denomination: the bishop sent a minivan on Sunday mornings to pick them up.  Milton remembered the converted schoolhouse as noisy and happy, a lot of clapping and dancing.  ‘Hallelujah,’  ‘Preach It, Brother!’ and ‘Praise the Lord’—not to mention lots of prophecy and speaking in tongues.  His mother, Alvina Abigail Johnson, led a special ministry there for impoverished mothers who’d been abandoned by their husbands and boyfriends.

‘I pour my voice out to the Lord!’ Alvina would call out.  ‘I pour out my complaint before HIM!’  Usually such prayers bookended more practical discussions of household budgets and supermarket discounts—Alvina Johnson also handed out coupons from the Piggly she managed on Nineteenth Street.

The diviner visit had been prompted by a call from a teacher.  Miss Norris, from sixth grade homeroom, was worried.  Milton’s grades and academic performance were fine.  But some of the older boys—well, you know how they can be.  And Milton didn’t have a father around?  Had Alvina Johnson considered boxing class for Milton?  Martial arts?  Even if he just did something more masculine—you know children are like chickens, they just peck at the weakest link.

Esther, the woman in their church with the gift of the discerning of spirits, came from the Bahamas.  He’d always liked her—she sometimes led the children’s Sunday school, and she had a somber, kind manner.  On that particular day, though, in her apartment, she’d scared him.

‘He has the spirit of weakness in him, real bad,’ she told his mother.  She’d leaned forward and squeezed her hands around Milton’s neck.  Today Milton struggled to even believe this could even have happened.  He stood in Esther’s small kitchen.  Esther handed him a plastic washing up bucket, into which he was supposed to vomit up any evil spirits.

‘Most glorious God Almighty, defend us against the principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness!’  When Milton got woozy from the lack of oxygen—prickles of darkness dancing in front of his eyes—and fell down, Esther and his mother cheered.  But the following Monday the bullies were still there.  That same week, after a P.E. class, a football player shoved Milton’s head in a toilet bowl and flushed it, as a punishment for missing an easy slant pass.

            > btw nonq I think it was my ex-lover chatting with u using my skype identity

            >hes a white boy im not with him anymore.  Again Milton thought: good riddance.

Back in Tribal Nations, Mugabe had been pinned into the corner of an ice sheet.  Milton tackled two of Mugabe’s pursuers, but then a third came up behind Milton and floored him with a CTRL-B Bananeria.  A blue light flashed to indicate Milton was temporarily unconscious.

            >>oh reaallyy!!!  Not cool zwk not at all.

            >>well the pic he sent me was a black doctor so it was probably you

            >>but do you want to trade fotos now???  your bf liked me ;- )

            >>hey zulu btw since I am a real zulu I must just ask

            >> are you like your screenname in real life lol???

Strange questions, especially right after that memory of the exoricism.  As an adult, had he learned to fight?  If Milton had been able to fully look into himself, hold up the emotional skeleton of his life story next to that of Shaka Zulu’s, femur to femur, he would have had to say something like: > I don’t know nongqawuse.  i don’t feel pushed around anymore.  but i do feel lonely.  maybe i have walled myself up instead of leading an army.

What he really typed: > well that question is pretty intense nonq!!!

            > but i think i’m just an ordinary guy i eat and bleed and shit like anyone haha

            > i play a roleplaying game and the name comes from there

            > sure we can trade pics zulu_warrior_king@gmail.com

A much longer oven buzzer sound now indicated the Imperial Zulu Army had been defeated.  Those Inuits were indeed champions. Now the game was over for Milton and his teammates until tonight at 8 pm when another round would start, probably a rematch against the Awesome Aborigines.

And there it was, in his Gmail: Nongqawuse74@mweb.co.za.  What did he feel as he opened it?  Certainly a prick of erotic curiosity: for some reason he couldn’t stop himself imagining a man out of a National Geographic documentary, muscled and shirtless, wearing a loincloth.  He downloaded pictures like this all the time, so he clicked ‘Yes’ when the operating system warned him this could damage his system: an automatic reflex, like a kick when you tapped the patellar ligament.

Nothing happened.  The computer’s ‘busy’ icon just kept spinning in the center of the screen.  Had the photograph had been saved in memory-intensive resolution?  He reached to exit out of the download, and retry.

But then the screen went blank.  Something was badly wrong.  An image popped up on the screen, but with a blank background.   It showed a heavyset young black woman, wearing some kind of traditional clothing—a white triangle draped over her front and a sackcloth skirt.  Her lips were moving, and now a subtitle appeared at the bottom of the picture: ‘You, you, you.’

Milton’s stomach sunk downwards.  If this was a virus, all of his software would need to be reinstalled. Photographs—all three years of his relationship with Lance—gone now.  Shit.  Was this picture of the original Nongqawuse?

The image came back three times, with the same subtitle. Milton thought he should probably switch it off to protect against further damage, but even now he found himself strangely curious to see where this display would go.  And indeed, almost immediately the image faded to that of a cartoon cow, fat, with visibly swollen udders.  Milton’s computer speakers issued conspicuous mooing sounds: belches, groans, and bellows.  Milton had to laugh.  This faraway African programmer had a sense of humor.  The cow walked about halfway across the screen, from right to left, then turned into a laughing human skeleton.

‘Fuck!’ Milton yelled now, for good measure, and slapped the desk.  He tried to restart the computer in safe mode, but as he’d feared it would be, the system was dead.  He turned the machine off for good this time.  The room seemed quiet without the sound of the motherboard fan.

Had Nongqawuse somehow plotted this with Lance?  But Milton doubted the latter.  It was more likely Nongqawuse was just some mischievous hacker, probably a bored teenager: nothing that a reformatted hard drive wouldn’t fix, although it was a pain to accomplish it.

He looked out the window.  It was still mid-afternoon, bright as a spotlight.  If he took the computer to Best Buy now, perhaps they could fix it by Tuesday?

He sat, still somewhat stunned, in his computer chair with the discs stacked on the bookshelf to his right.  His house really was enormous.  One thousand eight hundred square feet.  Three large bedrooms.  The wooden chest full of DVDs at the foot of his king-sized bed.  The lawn needed mowing; the flower beds, weeding.

How had he arrived here?  As a kid Milton had slept on the floor, on a foam mattress.  The four of them ate hamburger helper on their laps.  The apartment windows were jammed open for cross-flow.  But that place had been, Milton couldn’t deny it, human.  He and Mary had run around out back, by the dumpsters, and thrown pebbles at the garbage bags, then tried to guess contents from the sounds they made.  There were Butch and Danita Hinton, from the apartment opposite them.  Afternoons when Milton’s mother had to work long hours, Grandma Hinton invited them into her kitchen, where they baked cookies and played board games. In Risk, Milton’s favorite territory had been the Congo, from which you could launch attacks in four different directions.

The evening before Lance moved out, he’d cooked Milton collard greens, lean baked ham, and candied yams.  They had opened a bottle of wine—some Argentinian Malbec,  Lance had asked Milton about his day at the office.  Milton had commented on how many people revealed on their entrance questionnaires they took anti-depressants, and Lance had replied: ‘Yeah, I believe Prozac is now the biggest river pollutant.’

How could everything be so ephemeral?   His mother, Alvina Abigail Johnson: in two weeks’ time it would be the five-year anniversary of the day she died of renal failure.  The hospital ward—beeping machines, the smell of ammonia, and her body so stiff and lifeless.  That black Honda with its boxes, backing out of the driveway.  Even his stupid computer: God, Milton wanted to just kick the metal tower now, shake the transistors out of their invisible moorings.  Everyone died.  That was one thing Milton knew as a doctor.

He breathed shallowly and put his hand on his chest. But then he gathered himself.  He stood up, grabbed the empty glass with the remnants of the protein shake, walked through to the kitchen, and rinsed and cleaned it.  Then he returned to the study and began unplugging cables and cords.

Probably right now, on this very street, women and men were falling out of love.  Grey-haired lesbians were calling attorneys who specialized in dissolving domestic partner agreements.  Children were being packed into cars, for weekend visits to absent parents.

‘Ah but your dad does love you, Jimmy boy,’ Alvina always told Milton.  ‘He’s just scared of us.’  As a boy, Milton had no idea what she meant, but now, thinking of Lance and the Honda, he had a better guess.

Probably just a few streets over, some man was this minute setting out for an event like the dating circle at the Community Services Center, where he and Lance had first talked about conceptual art.

Milton closed the window blind. He cradled the computer tower under his left arm and grabbed the keys.  Best Buy was just ten minutes away, but, he now considered, perhaps he’d go for a drive after dropping off the machine.  Hollywood Boardwalk, maybe, with its kitschy shops and hot dog stands.  Or South Beach, pretty Speedo boys drinking water from coconuts—Milton had a swimsuit and towel stored in the back of the car.  Or maybe even Key Largo, the Everglades, Orlando, and beyond it the lime springs of North Florida.

The world was a big place, thought Milton, vast and interesting.  Houses fanning out.  Mountain ranges and continents. People and adventures.  Zulu herbalists, too; he wouldn’t forget those in hurry: curing their patients’ viral infections by day and damaging computer hard drives by night, as if to square up invisible balance.

Glen Retief grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era.  His The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood (St. Martin’s Press, April 2011) won a Lambda Literary Award and was selected as an Africa Book Club Book of 2011.  He has published short stories and memoirs in journals including Virginia Quarterly Review, The Massachusetts Review, and New Contrast, as well as numerous short personal essays in newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He teaches Creative Nonfiction at Susquehanna University.