The International Writers Magazine: At the edge of Atlantis ...
After Leaving Mr Muirhead for God
Grief is waving at me. The animals with their gobbledegook. Geese with their social cohesion.
It seemed from a Khoi perspective as if each wall had a bright force in the rooms of the house. Each wall had a brightening force. Maybe they all thought that our family life was enchanting. We were on holiday. Love did not rule. It just provided an experience. I did not think of making love. I did not think of love affairs. I only felt disembodied. I could not write. What happens to writers when they cannot write? Despair and hardship. Depression and suffering. A hidden sadness becomes exploratory history, sensuousness, waves most intense, and of course loneliness.
The colours were brighter. The sunlight, the afternoon light was brighter. My heart was a poem. Literature. My heart was an elegant mathematical equation. Science. It was factual. It was a narrative. It had the sensation of a novella. Golden. Illuminating. Clean neon and luminous like all the night spots in Paris, France. My heart was created in nature. In a winter environment distinguished by bedtime, by the goals of dreaming, by the roaring-violent sea, and by Virginia Woolf’s Jinny, Rhoda and Susan. I am a young bird compared to my sister who belongs to the elite. I long to be good. I do not want to compete anymore. There is no longer any sibling rivalry. You name it and we have every kind of addiction in this family. The sun is hot. The air is even hotter. The air is an egg. The air is world-shaped. The air is a hot air balloon. This is supposed to be a holiday. It feels more as if we are in the wards of Dante’s hell scraping silence and watching it peel off the flaming walls. Trees have no flaws only gowns. Madness has picked a location. It has picked me. It has mapped me out ingloriously. Nothing resembles the two if us anymore. She will have sons and daughters. Infertility and I will be inseparable.
In the middle of the night, my father makes his way down the stairs when the whole beach house is asleep. He makes a beeline for the dark kitchen and feels his way for the light switch against the wall. He makes me hate him. He makes me hate his hairy potbelly. My father eats the thinly sliced ham with his fingers. Not gingerly. The spotlight of the refrigerator shines a light on his sin. Does Christianity fill the void of family life?
My sister has more of a maternal instinct than me as it turns out. My sister decided that instead of Tsitsikamma we would go to Plettenberg Bay again. It was a cool evening when they made the fire. The air smelled like rain but it did not rain that night. Dad drinking beer. Son looking after fire. Brother swallowing pharmaceutical. Daughter sweeping. Daughter making salad. Daughter making cold bean salad. Daughter making creamy potato salad, preparing parsley and garlic bread to be roasted on the coals. In my head, my mother is smoking a cigarette (I used to smoke menthol cigarettes when I was an adolescent. Two a day just for the hell of it because my lungs were not filled with water yet). In my head, my mother is passing the cigarette from one daughter to the next. Father is eating crisps. Seymour is slurping his juice. Is this what is meant by aura cleansing?
My mother is a free spirit. My sister is a free spirit. My sister make wild gestures with her hands when she talks. Swims in the sea with makeup on. I feel too fat to make much of an effort to do anything. I lie on the beach like a corpse. Son takes his shirt off. Mother looks after Seymour. Feeds him mashed banana. Seymour eats sand. My sister’s arms are toned. She is healthy. I guess money can do that to you. They talk about the medium but I pretend not to take any notice. They talk loudly so that I cannot remain completely indifferent to them. All I see is the blue of the sky meeting the blue of the ocean. The plastic flowers in a vase meeting us on arrival. The pictures on the wall. Paintings of whales, stones that look like peanuts floating in air, Picasso’s fish and an abstract collect the dots. All I see is the rules about arrival and departure times. The words ‘Tree Haven’. They said nothing about monkeys or load shedding. They said nothing about cleaning house or that people, strangers would be viewing the property while we would be staying there.
Frangipani met us on arrival in a small vase. Scenic views of the sea and mansions. Horses and cows. Boats. Trees. The restaurant menu has names like chick-o-naise, capsicum heat, cheese mecca, sweet chilli chicken, and chick dew. On the bookshelf, I find myself staring at one book in particular. The pages are yellow with age. Has it been that long since I read Memoirs of a Geisha? Did I read it in high school? At St Thomas or Collegiate High School for Girls. When my sister was mother hen. It was too hot to swim we discovered when we first arrived in Plettenberg Bay but it was not too hot to eat. To binge eat my way through hummus, snoek pate, and cold cuts. My hair was pulled back from my face into a greasy ponytail. I had put coconut oil on my hair. I was a female writer impersonating, living vicariously through David Foster Wallace. I wore my hair differently. I became a different person. The beach is for a younger generation. For younger people with a joie de vivre for life and laissez faire. I think of my sister eating a monster burger and that makes me reach for my second packet of biscuits that I am stealing from Seymour, my nephew. I open the bag of crisps my brother has been saving for his films coming on later that evening.
It is futile to curb my enthusiasm. Waiting for inspiration to hit and not curbing it. My sister henpecked everyone to death. It does not matter where you are, you are still the same person with or without the cigarette dangling from your slender fingertips, the pearl earrings at the lobes of your ears, hanging there as if for dear life but that belonged to another. Another life. Days went by and then it really started to feel as if we were on holiday. I watched a sunrise. I watched a sunset. My father and I sat outside in with our bare feet on the cool cement surrounded by hedges, mint, enchanting flowers, the wind, the sun speaking about every topic under the sun. Speaking about the family holiday. The solar system of Atlantis, which was code for family life. The Ambronese George Project. Yes, the family had become something of a project like Seymour. The baby would sleep intermittently. He would explore. Stick his sticky fingers into wall sockets and rejoice when we scolded him. Cried aloud when I hit his hand. All I wanted was to protect him. He was not my own.
I had never seen anything as beautiful as the view of the sea. Gorgeous. Blooming with people. The nights would bloom with confessions and laughter. My brother’s confessions. My mother drinking with us. Her three children. I found a book on verse the second day of the holiday. I loved the paintings. I would stare at them. Picture myself in them flying. A bird with wings. A bird with a mythical Chinese encyclopaedia between my ears. This holiday was really Ambronese’s rapid-fire journey into hell. Noah did not have a rapid-fire journey into hell. I really am doubtful about that. The trees looked different in the morning. Everything around me did. The environment. The mushrooms growing outside my window. The air felt different here. We had brought a baby, Seymour, with us on the journey, my nephew, my brother’s son. In the evenings with the television turned down low, everyone falling asleep, my brother smoking his last cigarette on the patio I would wonder as I watched my father inhaling and exhaling in the bed beside my own what the wind was like on Atlantis. What was the sun like on Atlantis? Did people drink and covet watering holes on Atlantis? What kind if any of alcoholics were they on Atlantis?
I am already dreading the trip back home. Restaurant here have names like ‘The Skaf’ Tin’ but we did not go out to restaurants. I wondered to myself who would have a chip on their shoulder. Who will give whom the cold shoulder? I shudder at the dreams I have been having. How real they have become. Taryn crying. Percy pushing me aside to protect his wife. What kind of a girl am I who will choose not to go to the beach but stay here and babysit my parents who sleep in separate rooms and write in her journal. All I can eat now is two hard-boiled eggs and tuna. Sliced tomatoes and cold lettuce. All I can eat now is healthy. Is the solar system of Atlantis anything like the renal unit at the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth? Out of this world with scary nurses that wear shrouds, masks, and staff the halls with them on? Nurses that will shout. I sit and wait my turn. The clinic will only open at eleven o’clock. The doctors are as handsome as Deepak Chopra is. They will listen to you but you know that you will have to assure them that they know more than you do about what is wrong with you. Am I dying? The doctor tells me I have water in my lungs but not to worry I can still go home and chew calcium carbonate pills in the morning but am I dying.
Nobody can tell me anything for sure since my previous doctor did not send the ultrasound scan with his doctor’s letter. The doctor that is as handsome as Deepak Chopra is cannot make out anything that the doctor has written. He even makes a joke out of not writing neatly himself. Inside the passage stands a deformed child. Every time they jab the needle into his arm he makes a face. I do not make a face. I do not think that this makes me brave. I am ready for war. I am ready for anything at this point really. I am so hungry that my hidden sadness has also seemed to take a family holiday.
‘Do you have a vein?’ the nurse that shouts asks me.
‘Yes, of course. Anything for you. I always have a vein.’ The sun has disappeared behind a cloud as she takes the bloodstained tissue taped to the counter off and puts her disposable gloves on ready for war.
There is no time here. No lizard’s master here. So I think of paintings instead and of how I want to escape and hide in the Hamptons or in the painting of that naked fat lady in the main bedroom of our rented beach house when we went on holiday in Plettenberg Bay.
‘That man must like fat ladies.’ My mother guffaws. Not very woman-like.
All I can think about is the jab. How many times a day in a week, in a month the nurse that shouts must do it. The trail of blood that the needle leaves on the tissue paper, on the arm of the person. In two months’ time, I think to myself will there still be a vein. Not to worry there has always been a vein. I can only drink a litre of water now. I still drink too much. I drink water like there’s no tomorrow. Like I am living vicariously through a living Tennessee Williams. Instead of alcohol, whisky, the single malt kind, water is my drink of choice. Drug of choice. I am sick. I am dying but for now, I am okay whatever that means. Nobody seems to be too overly concerned over my welfare. I am scared doctor man, watermelon man, nurse whose body is built like a whale’s carcass, who has a voice like a wolf’s howl and I want somebody to hold my hand and tell me that everything is going to be okay and not pandemonium. For now, I think I will pray. For now, I think I will meditate a little. For now, I think I will look into the eyes of the other outpatients at the renal unit waiting to be seen by the doctors, piss in a cup, waiting for their blood to be taken. For now, we are in this struggle together. We are comrades. My mother leaves me here. My father, my father is an old man. My mother has to fetch my toiletries, my pyjamas and fetch my pharmaceuticals for my bipolar. Is it not enough that I have a mental illness and a host of other illnesses caused by the bipolar?
No, God said it was not enough.
© Short fiction by Abigail George April 2015
Email address: abigailgeorge79 at gmail.com
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