That poor woman. I can imagine her despair. Well, I think I can.

She is alone with three children under the age of four, all severely disabled. Not only that, but they also have a shortened life expectancy, So, all this work, this incredible burden, this never-ending slog has to be borne without even a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. It is all for nothing. The care, the love, the sacrifice lead to nothing but untimely death. Perhaps one could consider an early death merciful in this case. But it is not just one, its three. Spinal muscular atrophy in three children. The guilt of knowing it is your own genes. Almost as if you brought it upon yourself. Of course, she shouldn’t think that way. But she does; anyone would. Constantly tells herself that she shouldn’t…then the thought of her genes being damaging creeps back in. Maybe even blame; where does she get the gene from? her mother? maybe both parents genes contributed through each having the recessive gene for this condition. And on top of all this mental exhaustion, the physical exhaustion.

Her husband leaves with their eldest daughter to visit family in South Africa. He has escaped temporarily. For her there is no escape. She gets through her day somehow, wishing it would all end. Knowing she cannot go on. She cannot see any way out; does not know how to cope and life stretches ahead of her like a waterless desert. The thought has been lurking at the edge of her consciousness. It becomes larger and larger until she resolves to end this turmoil. She is rational not hysterical.

She writes a note in Afrikaans to her husband telling him not allow their eldest daughter into any of the bedrooms. Her hands tremble slightly as she sticks it to the post at the bottom of the staircase with prestik. She is terrified but determined and feels a sense of relief that this nightmare is about to end. She cannot consider her husband at this time or even think about what he will go through when he arrives home to four dead bodies. She tells herself that after a while he will come to understand and maybe even thank her.

She cannot consider her eldest daughter at this time either or even think about what robbing her of a mother and three siblings in one fell swoop will do to her. She tells herself that her daughter would have lost her siblings in a few years’ time anyway. At least this way, their years together will be shortened thus lessening the time in which she could bond with them. By the time she is older, she will hardly remember them. And who needs a mother like her anyway? a mother who is so pre-occupied with caring for the other three that she never has time or patience with the eldest. No, he husband is an attractive man. He’ll find someone else soon enough who can be a far better mother to her. All this flashes through her mind as she slowly ascends the stairs.

She makes her way to the first bedroom. She strokes her daughter’s hair as she sleeps and rubs her cheek with the side of her finger. No more struggle for you, my little darling. She picks up the pillow and puts it over the child’s face. Smothers her. It is not long before her breathing stops and her pulse beats no more.

She turns around without looking at the still form and goes to the twins’ bedroom. She looks down on them, wondering who should go first. The eldest. She does it again. And again.

She walks slowly to her own bedroom, kneels on the floor and says a prayer for them. She stands up. Numbed. No regret. No horror at her actions. She simply wants to be the next to join them. The tranquilisers she had been given when the twins were still babies are in the drawer next to her bed. She had not used them much as they knocked her sideways but she had kept them. There were twelve left. She swallows them all with some water, lies down on her bed and waits for them to take effect. She stares at the patterns on the ceiling thinking how strange it is that this is the last time she will be looking at them. Her eyes close and she drifts into a drugged sleep. Never to wake again.

Except she does. The next morning she stirs, opens her eyes. Her heart sinks like a stone into her stomach. Why am I still here? I am meant to be dead. What has happened? Slowly she realises the pills did not work. Why not? why not? the voice in her head screams. One pill used to knock me for six; surely twelve should have killed me? So my nightmare will not end. It is going to be worse. I am a murderer. I will have to face my husband and my daughter with what I have done.

Tears stream down her face. She turns and buries her head in the pillow, sobbing. She doesn’t know what to do. All she knows is that she cannot go and face those stiff little bodies lying dead in their cots. She lies on the bed all day, curled into a little ball. Unable to budge. It is already dark when she hears banging on the door. It must be the helper. She still doesn’t budge but lies on her side, staring at the wall.

These are the facts that became known later at her trial.





Jelly on a Plate

I write to many

those who should

how they formed me

how each particle of jelly powder

mixed with the boiling water of me

how each whisk stirred this mixture

of solid and liquid

until the hurts and hugs

the heart-aches and happiness

dissolved and dispersed

Now who can tell the ingredients from the mixture?

Then the pouring into the mould

the mixture sets, solidifies though shaky

Who was the stirrer? Who chose the mould?

Who did the pouring?


I have been moulded

now I am firm but still trembling

Jelly on a plate


I am not the paramedic who arrives at the scene and saves your life

after you drove so recklessly

Nor am I the mountain rescue member who risks his own life to save yours when you are trapped on a ledge

after following an unused path

I am not the nurse who wipes your fevered brow bringing the glass of water up to your parched lips

after you neglected to take anti-malaria pills

Nor am I the fire-fighter who bursts through the flames inhaling smoke and hauling you out

after you left candles burning in every room

I am the driftwood that floats past as you struggle to keep afloat

I am the one you stop to ask for directions when you are lost

I am the fire extinguisher you installed in the passage

I am the calm after your storm

I support you

If you want me