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  • The house is painted bright blue with a patina of charcoal and sits on one of the many hills of the Hottentots-Holland mountain range . A long, and steep dirt road leads to our home. Mom and Dad have made it a home for us three boys even if it was once nothing but a dilapidated, semi-vacant mountain shack.

    It’s a bright, hot day and we’re outside, the boiler fire is hissing and popping. Dad is working at the stone-crusher. A world away from his previous occupation as a soldier, and before that a game ranger. But these are hard times.

    Keith is messing around with his prized break-barrel, spring-loaded pellet gun. Brett is probably reading a book waiting for personal computers to be invented. I’m bored, and generally hassling my mom and older brothers as only the youngest child can. But it’s Keith’s gun antics that have the most pull. I’m drawn to him as he perfects his marksmanship. I love the way he keeps the tiny wasp-waist lead pellets in his mouth before loading them, years later I’ll realise myself that it’s just a way to keep wayward pellets under control, but right now, it’s all part of a loaded ritual.

    I watch closely as he breaks the barrel, and waits for the audible click that locks it, and then grabs a grey pellet from his mouth and adeptly inserts it into the bore port. Then he looks for something to shoot. Bottles, tin cans, and other assorted debris are all fair game. I really want to have a go. And being a spoilt brat start to announce my intentions.

    ‘Give me a chance’. I whine.

    Keith, in sniper-mode, ignores me. But I keep at it. Until I become quite a nuisance. He hits a brown beer bottle and it smashes.

    I’m at his side as he kneels down to reload, ‘C’mon,’ I say, ‘it’s my turn. Give me a turn. Maaaaaaa, Keith won’t give me turn.’ I shout, and keep shouting.

    Keith breaks the barrel and my voice drowns out the click of the lock – or lack thereof. The barrel springs up and Keith’s index finger tip, soft keratin-covered flesh, poised with a pellet, is simply and brutally squashed between the metal edges. Oops.

    Keith writhes in pain on the dusty ground, the gun still clamping, snatching at his finger like some sort of anorexic metallic crocodile. My mom rushes over and breaks the barrel. She picks him up and joined with Brett we start running down the hill. Blood spurts from Keith’s finger like a fountain. Halfway down the hill, mom jettisons her beloved high heels. When we get to the tarmac road we all put our thumbs out, crying with panic, as cars whizz past us. I like to think that it’s Keith’s sprouting bloody finger that finally stops a car with a group of salesmen in grey suits, post liquid lunch. We jump into the vehicle, my brother’s blood spray-painting the sleek leather of the luxury sedan. And together we rush towards the hospital.

    Later, back at home, I watch as my dad picks up the soft inch of my brother’s finger and throws it into the boiler fire, still hissing, popping and like Bob Dylan sang, crying in the sun.
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