Never make friends with a fiction writer. Your supposed friend may base a character in a book on you. And for them everyone is fair game, even his or her mother or grandmother, not to mention husband, wife or children. And, if he does base a character on you, don’t think the picture is necessarily going to be flattering.

I once invented a relative that I do not have. My mother did not like him, thinking I had brought disgrace on our family name. It did not help when I replied that I hoped the book sold widely enough for it to do that. Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that my wife, Miriam, sided with me. Relations between the two women were never good after that. The old lady seized whatever chance she had to attack Miriam.

My mother’s dying wish was that her ashes be scattered on Cape Town’s Table Mountain. She had lived in its shadow all her life and wanted that little remnant of herself to be spread there after death.

After she died Miriam and I took the cable car to the top of the mountain. In both hands, reverently, I carried the box with the old lady’s ashes. Once on top I found a suitable cliff, somewhere around one thousand feet straight down. I positioned myself as near the edge as I dared, with Miriam a few paces behind me, and opened the box of ashes. I withdrew my handkerchief from my pocket. Holding it by a corner, I dangled it limply above my head to judge the direction of the wind. There was none. I hesitated only a moment longer, then with a swing of my arm I threw the ashes out over the cliff edge – quite dramatically, I might say.

At that moment a blast of wind swept the ashes into a whirling current above my head. They flew away in the direction I had thrown them, curved around in a broad circle and came back at a fearful speed, straight into Miriam’s eyes.

And, would you believe the incident caused some unhappiness in our relationship? Miriam was angry with me because I sank down on my hands and knees, afraid that my spasms of immoderate laughter might cause me to fall off the mountain. She had sore eyes for a week after that.

A Mother-in-law’s Revenge