The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories from Abigail George
Water Never Forgets
That September I poisoned my body with food and my moods but understand this. It was my road, my map, my difficult choice, my path to experience, my journey. Speak thy name the plate seemed to say or forever hold your peace.
Food became like an alien subterfuge. Decay in the inner city. My inner city. I ate everything in sight until ‘it’, eating, ‘the war’ was over. Only then could I feel that I could safely breathe again. Navigate the emergency wards of trauma. Only scraps remained. Gravy and fear. Grace. Mashed potato left on the plate. I tried to fight against it but in the end could not. I remembered my grandfather. Mute on most issues until it came to where I had to attend high school. He was silent and remote. Words too are silent, remote once they leave a poet or a writer’s audience and hands. Hurried notes in a journal. Scribbled down into the black. A sea. A haunting effigy. A ghost of a man. I can still feel the sea in my fingers.
When I see a street collection. Picture ostriches. Their heads in the sand. Of course, now I know better. Now I know that we can never predict the future. The moods of intuition and purity are similar in some ways to cutting and bulimia. They have auras. An auric field. Their conquests too are silent and remote and come bearing arms. Perhaps if clay applied to a womb will make you get it. Then finally, you will get it. All the world’s stages and platforms seems to say make something of it. Food became a country. I found myself drifting. Food then became a continent. Then it became of little or rather no consequence. Of little or no comfort to me.
Let me tell you everything about my elegant mother who taught me how to be a bully and pick fights. Accept defeat and prizes graciously. As elegantly and sophisticated as she looked on the tennis court. I know now that I too have it within me to be abusive. There is humanity in all of us. In all of us. In our blood. In our water. Why did ancient woman not think of mapping out the sea I wonder to myself? Of thinking of becoming cartographers instead of mothers, wives, caregivers, nurturers. Mum is doing it again. I have words for it this time. I always will. This is preparation. Africa, you are breaking down the walls of my heart, brick by brick. Why do you not rather weep as if I do for your children, for your refugees, for your citizens? Instead, you are like mum. Poised and gracious on Sundays in her church stockings. Her mouth all bright pink with creamy lipstick. Her cheeks rouged. Her being inventive. Her conversation demanding, yet charming. Her words like thistles, effortlessly cruel. An uneducated swarm of bees must occupy her every thought, I sometimes thought to myself as a young adult. Her frequency vibrating under the cool spotlight of religion. She is happy. She is normal or at least her reality of the situation does not escape her. It is under her glorious control. She says the proper words in polite English. She is sad. She is brave. She is all like me and she is not like me at the same time.
Does that make any sense to you? I know it must. She is the jewel of the River Nile that leaves me to sink and to swim in the dust. It is all I can do to stay afloat. It is all I can do to declare this turning point a state of emergency. This is what it comes down to after a fight with her. She walks away with cool detachment while I resent her. She parades across the room. She is beautiful. She leaves me to write political poems although I do not know how political they are. I only know what my intention is behind it. To write is to escape this neon lit hellhole. I want to write truth. I already know that it comes with a great responsibility. My understanding of faith and obedience has motivated me to become a stronger Christian who is even more faithful. What does it mean when sadness makes a heart stand still? How do you get to grips with it coolly?
Winter rain evaporating. Everything is a blur. Lines, borders converging on each other. Collapsing on each other. What does mother love mean then? When that terrible scar is gone. Gone far into the asphalt jungle of the cities, and the rural countryside. When flung to a hitherto destination sealed waiting to be found like buried treasure. The art is not to fail. Breakfast of greasy French toast. The kitchen smells like bacon. I have wings. I have never stopped writing. It is a muscle. Life experience is the cartilage. Cartilage informs.
Vincent is no longer by himself. I on the other hand believe in weddings. Dancing in the church hall afterwards.
All the children seem mesmerised by the chocolate fountain. It reminds me of a chocolate hollow Easter egg. I will not go near it. I have seen people put their whole hands in the chocolate gloop and lick their fingers clean as if the dark, syrupy stuff tasted as good as fried chicken. The caterers have thought of everything. The food arranged out buffet-style. Nothing seems amiss until you realise the picture is missing a wedding cake complete with a tiny plastic bride and groom or a bride and groom that you can eat. Instead, there are macaroons. Cupcakes. Oysters. A king’s meal. Weather has its own body. Water-fat sang a gospel in plants. The orchid’s stem, a wedding gift, explores the muddy blue. Even the wedding photographer was singing a gospel with his camera. A landmine for a galaxy. A guillotine for a constellation. I am rereading John Updike. There is a music school behind his wet stone eyes. Vincent is by himself again. All I can see is his stone eyes. Once I saw the sea in his knuckles. A butcher, a baker lighting a fire. I saw Vincent amongst his future wife and children. The sand is washing up against the shoreline. I can see it from where I am sitting. A wedding on a beach. How romantic, cooed the mother in laws.
I made a fist. Caught the fragments of potholes of a waterfall. Watched it wash away again. My heels sucking in the mouth of the sea. Blisters where smooth heels should be. My shoes are next to me on the sand. She wrote. She wrote. She wrote. An epic poem instead of a speech. An epic poem instead of murder. Vincent’s manic-depressive cousin, the writer. The manic-depressive writer, well, she hurts in beautiful colours radiating an intensely fragile electricity, life and energy. Light and vibrations. Even the butterflies and the white moths want to be accommodating now. Forget me not they seem to say. .
Across motels, churches, a Californian sun shines in post-apartheid South Africa. Even the potato salad has a Californian shine in this world. Plants became exploratory. Plants spoke a language like the birds but it has no tenses, no chords, and no melody like the fractured wind. Plants explored the chilled earth like penguins and cats would in winter. The rituals of green fingers flooding tiny gaps. Shy air was ancient there until I came upon the sun. Shy ancient distillates. I came upon the late afternoon sun. It was shy there in certainties. Aspects of it planting itself next to a rudimentary sign that would have said, ‘Beware of the dog’, if people had lived there. Once I upon a time there I was connected to you, tethered to you by a tightrope called an umbilical cord. There were doves inside my bladder. This is why the sea does not glitter. It does not have stigmata. This is why the sea does not glitter. You do not see flying birds in winter. We took wedding pictures at the trains. Trains do not run here anymore. Left standing all they do is rust in the sun. The bridesmaids posed with the bride. The groomsmen posed with the groom and then the bridesmaids posed with the groomsmen. Vincent looked different. He was a married man now. I blushed when I thought of the wedding night. I did not like standing against the trains. I thought my dress would stain. It smelled like a farm. ‘Beware of cows’ the train tracks seemed to say.
After the wedding, I get a lift to my parent’s house.
All I want to do is curl up with a book by the scholarship girl NoViolet Bulawayo with a cup of chai tea. All I want is to come to life in my own tiny make-believe kitchenette. All I want is to shut the comaed-world outside. I put the kettle on to boil. I arrange light in my pots. In one, I stir up the flying solo contents of noodles that will cook in two minutes watching life passing me by outside my window. I want to find the exit out. I know that exit is not marriage and nor is it climbing Elijah’s mountain. Maybe when I find Jonah’s Whale I will discover it. The bible is too intellectual for me. I like the psalms though. They remind me of the bare bones of the psychological framework of poetry. People do not read poetry anymore.
I left my parents dancing. I grew tired of watching their blurred lines. Their happy faces. Their only ‘son’ happily married. I grew tired of watching people drink cocktails.
I wondered what color their station wagon would come in. I wondered where they would vacation every year. I wondered what schools their progeny would go to for higher learning. Would they achieve academically or would they be athletes always struggling with some injury every season.
Mum is wearing a dress that makes her look young. Her hair smells of perfume. Incense burning. Her lipsticks that taste like cream. Your comaed flowers. They plant their halos. You dig them up. You plant them somewhere else. Somewhere where there is sun. She knows the world. She knows it in the biblical way. English is not her first language. She has two daughters. Her son is the baby of the family. The avocado tree is flowering. Brought to life. Resurrected somehow. The pomegranate does not. Something is in the way. Nature’s bride. Climate change, global warming, bad jokes are an elegant mess. Mum is nature’s bride. Her hair is a halo. Tungsten. I worship this angel. All her trilogies. Her choir. With her sibling rivalry. She carried me in her womb for months. With a little, a montage of tangled up bitter, a little sweet nothing. I admire people who live in the wilderness. There is squalor out there. Daddy looks as if he is in the faraway autumn of his years.
Cacti in the desert. I worship the hills in her eyes. The valley that covers her physically. She experienced loss early in her life. We never talk about it. Our family is like that. Instead, we eat tuna fish sandwiches that taste like sand. A family picnic at the beach. I am a child. During summer, we ‘live’ at the beach. We watch the waves. We watch the surfers catching the waves. There are still swimmers in the dark (it is summer so it is still light out when it is seven in the evening) when we leave. There in the sea is this gradual unification of the soul and the spirit world.. We are eating crisps. Slurping warm sodas. Today of all days it is a Haruki Murakami shore. The day tastes of salt and light.
A woman must always keep a diary. The chill of the faraway autumn in my father’s eyes is always on my mind. The healing rain, starting the journey towards the voyage in the dark. For now there is extraordinary innocence written on the children’s faces. I envy that. The damaged always write with a spontaneity. A bittersweet anguish. This struggle for creativity keeps me up at nights.
Whenever I travel to a new place, I find I am always in need of a room of my own. I spy with my little eye a book on the bedside table that I put there that I want to read. “Winter Pollen” by Ted Hughes.
I think of married life. I think of my cousin Vincent and his Indian wife Rooka. The wedding that I missed. Their family life. I think of the suburb of Lenasia in Johannesburg. The smells in the kitchens in preparation for a wedding. I want to be happy too but my sadness is the familiar. The walls in my childhood, bedroom, the silence, the birds, the garden that my mother is hard at work, they are all familiar to me.
It is cold out. All I can think of is stigmata. Peaches. Rain washing away human stains. Rock, paper, scissors.
© Short fiction by Abigail George November 2015
Email address: abigailgeorge79 at gmail.com
I admired him from afar. His voltage. Worlds tasting of plums, frost. I am left collecting possessions, ephemera, photographs. In fifteen years, I still want him to say that he remembers me.
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