••• The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes
Doctor van Wyk, even my instinct is innocent. When I write courage is my source. It is hard to believe how far I have come. I have loved every man I have ever met. I have also trusted every woman I have ever met and I have been badly let down by females.
Don’t make demands of me. I won’t be able to live if you do that. Already I suffer. I have this disease to please others all the time and if I am not doing that I feel what I am doing here, on this planet. I had dreams to be married too. To have children. My mother never spoke to me of her own desire to have children.’ Leah looked into the brown eyes of her doctor, trusting her. Not knowing how much information was too much information or too little. She wanted her doctor to like her and not judge her simply because she was now in love with her. In love with a woman. An educated woman.
A woman who had a wealth of experience and influence on her side. A woman who represented the goddess worshipped at the foot of a patriarchal society. Her psychiatrist was a married woman with a small child. Leah had never been in love before with a woman. She also knew it would be detrimental to confess this love. People in the street were marching to that kind of beat.
She had never been with a woman (not even in Johannesburg although she had seen those kinds of relationships in clubs). She had gone to discotheques. She had enjoyed going there but not to find love. She had never looked at girls in that way before but when she sat across from the doctor she wanted the older woman to embrace her, stroke her hair, whisper sweet nothings in her ear.
In Johannesburg she had been seduced. Men had seduced her. Taken her out on the town. She had drunk red wine (she could never tell the difference between a merlot and a cabernet). She lived in her twenties for the big city’s dimensions, walls, expectations. She wanted something to fix her heart.
It was a sunny day in Port Elizabeth. Johannesburg was history. Leah stared up at the sun, shielding her eyes, watching her nephew run towards the waves breaking at the shoreline. Then she looked out at the sea. She was a woman now. Counting boats, birds, surfers, girls and boys. Watching. Waiting for her nephew to return to her side. Safe. The flesh of the human body of a surfer hidden under a wetsuit. She stared at the pretty concrete border surrounding the beachfront. People walking. People talking. People having a good time. Outdoors in the fresh air. She didn’t have to think too hard here about what she was about. The type of person that she was. Oh, all people believe the stereotypes. She was mad. She had had a mad life. She was seeing a psychiatrist. If you had a mad life of course you would go to someone and speak to someone about it. Confess, but not everything.
Leah would sometimes show her psychiatrist poems she had written. Drowning in the ‘newness’ of her life the days to come and her fear and anxiety was as constant to Leah as the sun.
At night her tears would give way. She would cry into her pillow until she fell asleep in the early hours of the morning. Relationships were becoming for her either a give or take. She began to make mental notes on the environment around her during the day shadowed by the orange clouds of pollution (visible at night) that were the cause of the industrial side of town (a chocolate and an ice cream factory and a car and tyre factory). Mental notes on global warming and climate change. She spoke about things that made her happy in therapy. Leah spoke about her nephew. Walking on the beach with her mother and the small child sometimes accompanied by his father.
When Leah lived in Johannesburg in her early twenties she loved being dominated by men. Sometimes she remembered this with nostalgia as she looked across at the Afrikaner psychiatrist who knew nothing of her other-life. She was young then with youth on her side. Young women in a big city were often insecure and uneducated. Promiscuous and naïve. They placed all their hopes and dreams into marriage. Into having children with men who were already married and had children. These men would console her when she was sad, homesick, trying to live in a world of divorced women, family-orientated women, working women. They would listen to her. Half the time she felt like a teenage daughter in their company. Half-lover, half teenage daughter rebelling against authority. Perhaps she thought to herself after receiving another man’s attention in the workplace she was just bored. Making love filled the hours. Conversation filled the hours.
Eating lunch alone or with a man from work in an out of the way restaurant that she could never afford on her own filled the hours. She had always been a reader. Observing human life. Watching the rain through the window. In high school she had been a swimmer, a speaker, on the debate team, the editor of the school magazine.
She would trace the words ‘sweet darling’, thriving cities, the origins of a small boy or a daughter on his skin, the last man that she would ever be in love with in her life in the afternoon half-light. This is how she stayed in shape. This is how she stayed sane in an insane world. This is what she called reality. Her normal. She would run his bath water in the hotel room in the evening, wash his back in slow circles while praising the night. His lovemaking would make her feel as if she was on fire. She would melt in his arms with longing, burning for him. Being lit up from within like stars in the moonlight. She walked in and out of the room while he dressed himself not used to that kind of intimacy. The man always told Leah that she was overburdened with expectations. She unravelled in his hands. Making love to her made her remember what it was like floating on her back in a swimming pool breathing in the cool air of a summer evening after high school.
‘Nobody told me to look for the tunnel of light. I knew it was there. Instinct told me.’ Leah imagined the sunlight had swallowed her whole after her session with her psychiatrist. That her body was made of mist. That she was invisible. That the silence curled itself around her while she lay in a foetal position on the floor listening to the radio on a Wednesday afternoon. It was the end of a news bulletin. Sports. She wanted to belong. All her life Leah really did want to belong but around her were worldly material things. Earthly possessions. Even insects, fish, moths, butterflies, owls, and Noah’s animals perhaps they dreamed too (she thought to herself). In the same way that an athlete dreams. She would search in books, her father and mother’s UNISA (University of South Africa) textbooks, stare at the images of the television searching for language, mother tongue translation, and shock, mourning periods of intense grief, loneliness, isolation, emptiness, and sadness, the beast of words. She would find there pieces of living associated with things in the wild of the morally bankrupt, the wilderness of the unemployed, and the wasteland of the impoverished. She imagined that it lit a flame in her heart. Lit up moving faces in the landscape, water, and the weight of branches against the window. The hectic landscape of light, and reality can wear you down, Leah thought to herself.
‘I can see you’re a writer.’ Leah’s psychiatrist, the woman, an elegantly dressed Afrikaner doctor had studied in the Free State. She had photocopied her textbooks and worked the night shift as a nurse while attending classes at the university during the day smiled at her, gently encouraging her.
Leah felt the release rambling on inside her brain as if she were feeling the strain of twigs in a gale force wind letting go. As if she were a twig in the dark. She always fought against the principles that humanity must adapt, adjust to just live another day. She felt she was a doubting Thomas of an adult in us that almost quits ahead of success.
The illusion for her was that to be open to everything that the world had to offer it first had to flow into her mind before it became ‘of’ the mind.
‘Doctor, there’s no time for reading when the child comes, my beautiful, adorable nephew. There is no time for the writing of poetry. No time for the pruning of rose, bush, twig, leaf. Tree, branch, rubbish, squatting occupants that don’t know their place in the world. No time for the pruning of trouble and heartache. All manner of beast. Ask, sing, chorus-like. What is an angel? My nephew is an angel. If I turned him inside out I would find there the beginnings of wings tucked beneath his soul.’ Yes, Leah felt very blessed. All her life she felt that she didn’t know how to love until the child, Stephen came along.
For Leah, there was an enlightenment that came with negativity. All her life she had lived in this town. Called the city by the sea ‘sanctuary’. A sanctuary built on a foundation of leaves and grass. Stars.
‘Doctor, it’s like this. She, my Johannesburg aunt, is finally free from the pain of cancer, isn’t she and in the same way I must also forge ahead and tell myself that I am also free from pain and make peace with that. The only way I know how is to write. She is free from pain. From the chemotherapy. From losing her hair. Wearing a wig. She is finally free from remission and the cancer. Death becomes her. Yes, you are right. Everything that lives must find death on its own terms. We all live with our masks inside our hearts. We walk tall behind them. Sometimes blinded with optimism or rage while thinking of rain when the sun shines. Towards the winter of my life and I will always call the bipolar depression ‘winter’, there’s always a door or window left ajar for summer. It’s a breeze, a smile. The appearance of my nephew at the weekend. Playing trains with him, hide and seek, tag, kicking a ball with him, building puzzles and then breaking them up only to build them again.’
If you were depressed about something you would talk your soul out about it, (Leah had discovered), until your voice was raw, cracked and dry.
On the front steps of her parents’ house there was the free Wednesday newspaper. She picked it up and went back into the house.
‘I don’t know why we’re so used to painting everything the colours of clans, districts, suburbia, tribes, do you?’
The doctor just smiled and said, ‘We are making good progress here. I am really proud of you, of us. Of the work we are doing.’
She caught herself staring at the psychiatrist’s books. Books with beautiful spines. Had her psychiatrist read all of these books, she thought to herself? Leah drank the tea which was now cold in the kitchen even if she did not feel like it. She sighed deeply as if she was carrying the world on her shoulders.
Leah’s brother is a dark horse. By day he dances with the daughters of Africa. He drinks with them. Smells like beer mixed with cologne and perfume when he returns home. Scratches on his back. He is summer’s son with his hurting haunted aching broken heart.
The psychiatrist nodded as if she understood the feeling in Leah’s voice.
‘All I have in this world if my voice and you. I am damaged. The people that I have loved in my life have damaged me. I’ve had the nervous breakdown.’
Leah remembered the last man in her life. The last afternoon they spent together. The last hours that he held her and promised not to hurt her but now she was a child again in the city by the sea, living with her parents, ‘her’ Stephen, her brother, writing her heart out.
She thought of the stars. Living under the stars of cosmic Africa. Other daughters (of the soil) slumbering while dreaming. ‘My love is distant and has left me incomplete. Another woman lies next to him in the half-light of the unveiled day. I am no longer a child. I am a grown woman. It is my brother who is a merchant. Made of ebony and ivory. Teeth and flesh.’ A world where a ‘refugee status’ was now the norm.
Leah thought of herself as a ‘daughter of the rock’. She knew she was better off than all the good daughters of Africa in ways that counted and ways that also didn’t count.
© Short fiction by Abigail George November 2016
Email address: email@example.com
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