The International Writers Magazine: A moment in two lives
It is early days yet. I need proof.
Will a village life be enough for us? I am planting the unsaid. The ground, the earth is fertile for the unsaid. I am planting my future delight, my afternoon delight. I’m trembling healer. There is no childhood for me anymore. Tell me a story Ted Hughes. Write me a poem. It doesn’t have to be romantic. Gaze at me. I will watch you while you sleep, while you work. Smile but to smile it has become an issue between us like malignant syrup. We are not just a marriage of two likeminded individuals but two souls. I cannot change what does not move me, what I do not desire, what I do not need. I am your apprentice and you are the master of this household who lifts the veil of my great loneliness, my attractive mask, my costume. I know that you think of my image as sensual. I cannot give that up. I too have a place in this world. Pull up a chair and sit at my kitchen table and eat. Eat this German Jewess’s food, her recipe for seeds and shoots and wings and things. Eat my chicken. Drink from the glass of water I bring you now. I feel useful now. If you want me to peel the potatoes then I will peel the potatoes.
More killing. It is a mystery. Love is like that. Pure with all of its rituals it holds us in a death-grip and I warm to it, my heart warms to it, warms to you Ted. I am blinded by love, by my passionate rival, my nemesis, her unreason. Gaze at me, I am all starry-eyed. I am all yours. When I fall asleep you are there, when I wake you are there, articulate you and I know we are coming to the edge of a precipice when decisions, hardened choices will have to be made. I know you will leave your Sylvia. I know we will go to Spain. This is inevitable. We will both say goodbye to her echo. The echo of the past, the echo of adultery.
Sylvia is just a dead spot now, but who knew that she would shortly become a stain multiplying, multiplying, and multiplying like rain. I am farming and you are a nomad. I will prepare the house for us to live in, look after the children, cook, clean, prepare the meals, set the table with the proper shiny knives, forks and glasses feed the children, teach them German, play with them as if they were my own. You are my dream. I am your dream. In your own words, ‘I am and always will be your exotic Assia.’ We will prosper. We will build gods in this ghost house, little Buddha’s, with fragrant oil on our hands we will burn sticks of incense, their perfume will fill the room. I will not harm you.
When I am in your arms your tenderness is like madness. Your lovemaking is like clotting madness too and afterwards I will feel rapture. Pleasure, what pleasures? Oh, it feels as if I have returned from oblivion.
There will be wild Saturday nights, encounters with other poets and their wives, who will you fall in love with next, who will be your next dream. Know this. If I cannot triumph I will not be able to endure.
You will take me in your arms again and again and again when our love is at the wuthering heights of its purest intensity. You will pin me down. You will hold me. I will pin your down. We will laugh. I do not know yet that one day my soul will be dead and you, dear Ted, you the one I love the most in the world, hold dearest will be the cause of it.
We will hold hands. We will go into the woods like children with our blanket and our picnic basket of sandwiches. You will come to me with wildflowers in your hands. We will go to the beach, swim, and bathe in the warm water.
I am smitten. I am half-in-love. You have saved me. You have rescued me from a life half-lived, from Nazi-Germany. I think of our children in school, while they lay sleeping in their beds, half-dreaming, half-comatose, protected against the-evils-of-human-nature. Nobody knew what anorexia was, what anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder was. They didn’t know what to call it way back then.
‘Eat. Eat. Why don’t you eat?’ my sister screamed at me. All I could eat was salad and wilted lettuce leaves. There are two sisters. One observes the world and is governed by quiet rivalry, competition between her peers, the stage. The other lives. I think of my sister’s close circle of friends and how they do not know that she is a danger to herself and to others. I love her. I mourn her now. I am always in mourning for her because I cannot have her. I cannot have her love. Whenever I think of childhood I think of pain, I think of my cutting grief, my sister’s grief and how daily the humanity of my mother and my father had shattered me and my sibling.
My mother was my father’s first lover. But I come to you with regret, lovers past and present, three husbands, discontent but clothed or even in my nakedness you can see the real me. Was I promiscuous? I don’t know what the meaning of that word is. When men sleep with women are they promiscuous? When they take a woman to bed do they feel pity, self-pity, no, little or low self-esteem or anguish? All they feel is the sexual impulse. But I am the woman who is made of a much harder substance. To be significant is difficult. And you are the most significant person that I know, the most famous person that I know of Ted Hughes. My Ted, my Ted, my glorious and infallible Ted. In childhood my innocence went kaput.
Don’t even look at me I should have said now when I think about it in retrospect. Don’t tell me how sorry you are. You’re evil. You’re pure evil is what you are. Don’t touch me. I know you have been with someone else. I know you have been with another one, another woman. Another one got in the way. Did you touch her the way your touched me? Do you even know what the word intimacy means? Coward! Fool! Cad or do you prefer scoundrel, rat! Get out! Do you even know what those words mean cheat? I carried two babies for you, aborted one but you felt nothing. I tried to recover from that. You’re nothing but a butcher. Was she very thin? Was she very sad, did she have brilliant sayings, a brilliant mind, did you love her conversation inside and out of the bedroom traitor? Did you kiss her neck or did she remind you of your Sylvia? Hit me. Hit me jailer. I know you want to. I should have said all of those things but I didn’t. Something held me back. Perhaps it was something in his eyes and how he refused to make contact with mine. I hated him at that moment. I loved him at that moment too. But all I was thinking about was that it had all been for nothing. The abortion. My son. A son. My daughter. A daughter. My body and a spirit caught between two worlds like a butterfly in a jar, and I had a sensibility that a profound freedom was calling, a thought of what it would take to build a Christ, the vision of a love affair in the eyes of a girl.
The first time I ever slept with a man it was tantamount to rape. But I never told this to anyone. Men were rough creatures and that is a simple truth, not gentle, not nurturing, and not giving, oh they were gentle and nurturing enough and giving to their children, to the light of their world but not to the unseen. I always thought of violence as being something external, something outside of myself not something that I would have to live with, that would enter me, something that I would have to accept if I wanted to have the most serious love of my life in my life. The brilliant and most accomplished poet of his generation Ted Hughes. I try and remember our conversations word for word and I write it down and read it over and over again. The goal is to get married. The goal is to get married and live happily ever after and see the brightness in his eyes and read his work (replace Sylvia). I am getting older. I am getting fatter. I am losing my allure and one day, one terrible day I believe he will leave me for someone else. He will cheat on me. I write to my sister because I cannot take any of this anymore. The isolation and the fact that everyone thinks I am an interloper. Sylvia was not a martyr. Ted is not the villain as he is made out to be. Women cannot leave him alone. They want to be around him all the time.
‘Do you write?’ he asked me. Ted Hughes asked me in the days before he was Poet Laureate.
‘Some.’ And he smiled. ‘Is that funny?’ I asked.
‘No. It’s just that you’re so young and beautiful I thought you would have other things on your mind, other things to fill your time. Your husband for example. Peeling potatoes. I already know you find no allure in peeling potatoes. I thought, oh well I don’t really know what I was thinking. Forgive me. Your English is exquisite. And tell me what do you write? Poetry. Prose. Short stories.’ And he looked at me for the first time as if he could really see me.
‘I write poetry.’
‘And you have a diary?’
‘Don’t all writers have secret diaries?’
And Ted Hughes smiled again. ‘Not to my knowledge. So let us have a drink then to secret diaries.’
‘To secret diaries and abandoning marriages, running out on spouses and adultery.’
‘To adultery. Where are the glasses Assia Wevill?’
‘In the kitchen.’ And I got up and made my way to the kitchen for the wine glasses kept for special occasions. I did not want to see David cry. And when I came back I knew I just had one question on my mind. I had to ask it of him. I couldn’t breathe you see as I stood in the kitchen wondering what exactly I was going to embark on and what he was sacrificing.
‘Ted, are we going to have an affair?’
‘No Assia Wevill. I think I am in love with you. I think I want you to be my wife and the mother of my children. I think I want to spend the rest of my life with you.’
‘What will all your friends say, your family? All of those people who are loyal to the ghost of Sylvia Plath, to Ariel, all of those people who shadow you in London, at launches and cocktail and dinner parties. Ted they will never accept me. You know that. I know that.’
‘Children make all the difference in the world.’
‘I’m losing my looks. I’m getting fat. I thought I saw Sylvia the other day.’
‘Don’t talk like that Assia. You couldn’t have. You will make me think thoughts I do not want to think.’
‘You’re not responsible for her death.’
‘But don’t you see. I do feel responsible. I feel her presence everywhere I go. In our home. In the faces of our children. In our house where we first lived as newlyweds. Where we were so happy, so productive, so creative. God, can’t you see what I’ve done. I am the depressive and it is not the women in my life who are sad, who suffer, who are manic and silent about the sickness, the insanity of it all, the suicidal illness. I knew she was taking sleeping pills, waking up pills. I knew she was going for therapy.’
‘It was all her own doing. Accept that Edward and you will find peace. I don’t think that it sounds cruel.’
‘Beautiful women are always highly strung, emotional, and cruel. Women are crueller to women than men are to women. Assia tell me. Do you think I should have come round today? Maybe it was a bad idea. Do you think we should be alone like this?’
‘You’re not encouraging anything. I made advances. You made advances. Nobody is taking advantage of anyone in this situation. David won’t be home for hours. We have the flat to ourselves, champagne fizz. I think it was a perfect idea you coming around. Forget her now. I am here.’
‘The perfect woman in every way. In every voluptuous shape, curve and form.’
‘But am I intelligent? But do you like reading them?’
‘I think Assia your poems show great promise.’
© Abigail George June 2014
Email address: abigailg at dbm.co.za
author of 'Winter in Johannesburg'
Munich Sheep in Winter
'A family is only perfect in a photograph' ...
They ate fried chicken on Monday but on Friday he liked a steak with his hot tea and chips. This was before I came along screaming blue in the face.
Please sit. Are you comfortable? In this space I am. It’s a kind of sanctuary to me. I grew up here. These rooms, walls, interiors. At the end of this interview I’ll take you my bedroom where I wrote all the time as a child.