The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes Life Stories
The Depth Awaits
Pink watermelon flush in each cheek. Why didn’t you love me mum? Are you aware of the storm you created, rain pouring down, my heart feels as if red lace is wrapped around a stone, a canvas, the painter’s sketchbook.
There’s an odd fairy lightness in her body, my sister’s body. There is no connection between us. No longer any sibling rivalry. And so the image of the autumn chill is always on my mind. Leaves all set for death and their diverse origins, destination for a cool wilderness landscape that feels like a frozen North American lake. I remember the despair and hope in the eyes of young girls thinking they are wearing fashionable clothes. I remember the range of peace, the delicate flutter of the eyes of old women, the limbs now infirm, who long for the warm sea when they used to go swimming as young girls. I remember the love song in silence when I felt I could no longer escape him. How does he move in the lovesick world now? I am the ice woman, frozen to her core, wrecked. See the descriptions of the clowns at the circus. I am one of them now and forever.
There was a sane life, an insane life, a reality, a past regret, a mistake that was made, a telephone call, an apology, laughter, past energies in a story and I was left to wonder how some people find love in this world. A love that is as ancient as rain, the apron in the kitchen amongst pots and pans, a feast-meal on the table on Sunday, daddy sitting on his throne. Childhood is lost on me, dead to adult me, past is past yet it still has such sweetness, its dissolve. And some nights it comes back, awful, familiar, all the gruesome stories with such clarity that I know it is not my imagination’s spell playing tricks on me. I want it to wash away all my sins destination anywhere instead it says, ‘Remember me. It doesn’t matter who you love, who you fall for, who and what you desire or drink (alcoholic), watch the men dissolve. They won’t come back.’ And when the awful becomes too close for comfort I take to my bed after drawing the curtains, leaving the windows open for cool air, closing the bedroom door and I will lay on the bed until I can feel notes on grief begin to vibrate within me, as if they have a quiet, harmonic society and how beautiful and sad their symphony sounds to me.
It is a breathing lesson, a lesson on suffering, on living, on life. What is brutality here? It is nothing but a memory, an interruption, and becoming a mute daughter. The flick of a belt buckle, a stinging wet cloth held under a tap of cold water, mummy, mummy’s red hands, mummy’s gardening hands inside the chilled earth, hard laughter, harsh words, running to daddy, feet bare. He is shouting at mummy. I look at her for the first time now and I see that she is tired. Her hands hang limply at her sides now. She says nothing. My skin feels as if it is burning all over. Daddy I am burning. Daddy I am crying. I am pink all over, then red. My skin feels raw, itchy. It feels as if I am Joyce Carol Oates’s harvesting flesh. She says nothing. She simply turns around and walks away. What did I do? What did I do? Where is the key to that country? How strange is the marriage of the mind to harvesting? The mind means education, psychology, something must be taught and something must be understood. To harvest means to bring closure to a season. This is what family means. To eat in front of the television, to scream and scream and scream until you cannot scream anymore. Nobody will come to you, comfort you.
And so I grew up, moved up, moved away from the world of a child and the games of the child and the adolescent and stopped believing that she lived a secret life. Perhaps mummy had a secret lover. She was beautiful in that way, easily bored in that way, did not find the same things that daddy found relevant and beautiful. They were from two different worlds. They were from two different cultures. She came from money and he didn’t. She came from Johannesburg and knew a specific way of life from there. My mother came with a Pandora’s Box, suitcases packed full of clothes from there when she arrived as a newlywed. My father came from Everywhere in Port Elizabeth. South End, Walmer, Fairview, North End, Korsten, a fisherman’s village called Port Elizabeth, Gubb’s Location, New Brighton, Zwide, Kwazakhele, Nelson Mandela Bay. Through the years those names became lodged in my memory as I studied his research wanting very much to hold onto it rather than send it to the archives at the University of the Western Cape (my father the political activist learning how to send messages using invisible ink), read his diaries from his London and European experience (I rediscovered him, his suicidal illness, and by this time I was enchanted by his depression, watched slides of the palaces he visited, but I could never imagine myself there. It was enough for me to see Versailles as a tiny photograph held up against the light. He witnessed many great things, magnificent things of wonder. Daddy was wonderful in those days, a thinker, an intellectual, a teacher, a role model to me who brought me back to poetry.
Because a fire was in my head like the studies of the Robert Muirhead poems, I had begun to write. Because a flash of winter was in my head like the chains of bitterness in a veteran photographer’s memory, but there was also something unfinished inside of me, something had dissolved. Look for opportunities the guardian band of gold around the sun said and that became my mission’s. I began to imagine other people’s shackles of pain, their chains, their prison walls put up all around them, the spirit of fear, hurt and rejection within them, abandonment, and spiritual neglect, poverty and for some reason it felt like I was multiplying gravity.
I got tired of people asking me to smile please, you’d be lovelier if you did.
Did I have courage, that mute child in the photograph? I’ve suffered but what is suffering anyway when compared to others. I have a mental switch but what do others have? What are their coping mechanisms? The universe gives freely to me. I have refuge if I want it. I have a sanctuary if I want it. Hope is there. In the arrival of it there is always freedom. There is always revolution in the mind of the poet and quintessence in the poetry that comes from the mouth, the voice, the straightforward thinking of that kind of revolution.
I’ve met someone else. He tells me everything. He isn’t afraid to tell me anything. And slowly the veil lifts my smile and becomes like a scar. My wounds are like stigmata. And I begin to see and hear everything again. Hope floats. There are angels everywhere yet I still feel incomplete like some kind of show off finding it tiresome to live normally like the people next door who weren’t embarrassed to get drunk in front of their children. I’m embarrassed by loneliness, despair and my bleak outlook on life. I know where you’ve been once upon a secret life. A secret life. Do insects have secret lives too and what is their best intention for all those years they live with secrets? Therein lies their survival. When my sister comes home she and my mother sit down together as if it was the most normal thing in the world and they drink. They drink cocktails. Pink syrupy liquids that seem to sparkle, sparkling wines, Peach schnapps’, vodka and orange juice cool as ice going down their throats. I prefer my secret life.
As an adult my mother, mummy is no longer my morning star and my sister is still my dream stealer. They have become my life, guarding the car keys and the bottle of milk stout. I have to find my own projects. According to God’s plan he wants us, me to act accordingly, justly, with integrity, humility. He wants us to go forth into the new world knowing that He is always on our side now and forever more.
We’re all born with a philosophy, not necessarily a Plan B so to speak, and we want to bring meaning to our own lives. I found a book once called Norah’s Secret Life and as I was reading it I discovered many things about this woman whose life I wouldn’t exactly call exciting or romantic. She had ‘romantic’ love affairs but they were doomed from the start. She was or wasn’t significant but her life seemed to become something symbolic as if I had to have an opportunistic use for it later on in life.
She was unfortunately not the marrying kind but she had a wealth of spiritual knowledge unlike any other woman of her generation and sometimes in the love affairs she had she would think like a man when it came to the ‘transaction’. In the material world men dominated she knew she could never win. And so she became like the smiling faces of children amidst poverty. When she wanted to escape she did what all men did, she educated herself, she painted, and she received visitors, she wrote unfathomable poetry that was never self-pitying but stories that were in a way. And in one way, perhaps some ways she became the caretaker of so many women who lived in isolation of a society who would not accept them because they chose to live an unconventional life.
At the end of one her love affairs Norah seems to be coping with her new life as best she can like the stars in the evening sky when the earth smells clean and as fresh and new as vanilla. She is bright. Her spirit feels bright. It feels too bright. Her conversation can be illuminating and clever. She wants to be entertained. She wants to be filled with joie de vivre. She also wants to be pursued. Doesn’t any woman want to be pursued? Men are extraordinary when they are in pursuit. They have a grand perspective. They’re regale you with stories. The world becomes magnificent when they’re in it with you on their arm and you’re going places. It doesn’t really matter that you’re part of his secret life. They’re still pretty impressive. They make you feel desired, beautiful, and the grief that you once felt or had so strongly in your life above anything else is no longer triumphant. You’re no longer flying-walking-singing-chanting solo.
It is the year 2013, nearly two in the morning, December and another Christmas has come and gone and my brother is about to become a father. I can’t mock him anymore. And in the exquisite compass of the infinite internal struggle between suicide, wanting to fly, wanting to have that family, that plan coming together, the memory, the thought of Plath, Hughes, Bessie Head, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell I am still here. I am alive with an awakened spirit, with everything that I’ve put the sum parts of me through I have realised that I cannot turn back. I have to move on, move forward because I ‘m the sun’s mistress and life after all is a mission. I don’t really see how my life could change after this, after all I’ve put it through. Two birds. Plath and Sexton. Once upon a time they were two birds on a mission too. Joy fills my lungs so does a surge for the realisation of humanity. Our survival. Our instinct. The little one’s name is Ethan. Ethan Ambrose. We’re all actors acting in a bit part there and a bit part here. My brother held this bright shining thing in his arms. Something that would be educated, instilled with his values, his parenting skills and I felt as if I was being torn apart by some primal, primitive animalistic force. And I knew that I would put the past Jean Rhys’s Mr Mackenzie’s (plural) behind me. I never had an ounce of ambition within me anyway. They had all come with the world’s territory. There it was. The undocumented love affair was really most of all inside my head however brilliant the man was and however bold his moves and brave I was to take him on.
I knew something different now. I was more defiant like Norah was in her secret life because eventually she had found her way out. Nobody wants the ending of a book or film to be spoiled for them. Norah had found her way out and she was happy. As happy as could be. Women deserve to be happy. Men are altogether different. Lost boys everyone. They are always searching. I don’t think they ever grow up.
© Short fiction by Abigail George February 2014
Email address: abigailg at dbm.co.za
Please sit. Are you comfortable? In this space I am. It’s a kind of sanctuary to me. I grew up here.