The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
Young woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown
Pain, the lines of beauty on the face of a lonely girl and her kindly cell, that furious secret place of depression, frustration, suicidal illness, (having otherworldly beauty was not enough for her, mouthing foggy love poems, progeny at her hip, North American prairies and beaches, Paris, her younger brother Warren, the Exeter and Harvard man, New York, obsessively-written sonnets and short stories, Otto, Otto, Otto, the Nazi-lover, all the beekeeping villagers have been ripped from memory. The perfect love of parties, the tumbling into and of cocktail parties has gone too. Oh ghost, oh ghosts she was much too nice this empress, much too honest and dignified, she was much too pure, and where was the justice for this scholar, this thinker, this intellectual? How will she be remembered? Oh, just in dozens of books written by other starry-eyed scholars, thinkers and intellectuals and of course her poetry. She warned me, she warned me, she warned me with her words, with the force of her intellect, with her vocabulary, her mind’s eye’s perspective. No witch, atheist, pagan was she just a beautiful memory stuffed with a diary, notebooks, letters home filled with sadness. Did she pray, did she meditate when she was soaking up the sun on the beach?
And then she was thirty in a flat in London with two small children and composing Ariel, her masterpiece. Where was Ted Hughes? What was her last memory of Edward Hughes? In whose arms was he when she was looking for linen and sheets? Who was he sleeping with? What was the measure of the man? Was he extraordinarily gifted? Yes. Was he brilliant? Yes but did he know how to love, wasn’t he impulsive, wasn’t he a creative genius, wasn’t he a cheat? Didn’t he kill people, push and engulf women in sweetness or was it the woman who said kill me Ted, take me to bed? So he wasn’t a murderer, he was a poet, a broken man who suffered, what did he give up?
Men are cruel. Beautiful men are cruel. Intelligent men are cruel. And if girls reject them how on earth will they become transformed into women, transplanted into queens with kisses, how will they see the inside of a church in a wedding dress or a kitchen wearing an apron, perfect roast in the oven. How will they get that ring on their finger if they do not fall in love?
It is monstrous when bipolar leaves you numb, broken. There was always a quickness to it. How it enveloped her, how it enshrouded me. How did bipolar depression leave Sylvia Plath numb, clutching at straws, it left her with avocados in a suitcase in the The Bell Jar? There’s nothing dignified about it and the end of love. It is not just the end of fireworks but also that romance is an eternal curve. What’s love anyway when you can write, when you can write poetry? Sylvia in a hospital bed. Sylvia and Anne. Anne Sexton. Sylvia receiving therapy. Sylvia writing. Writing poetry.
Speak. Speak. Speak. The pain felt sharp. It burned. And I felt burdened. The pain felt like a knife. Pain is poison, a silent feast for some, for the vampires camping out in the woods, a winter guest writing a poem.
Ashtrays and cigarettes fill his house, papers, verses, correspondence. His mother is dying in Yorkshire. He has brought his lover with him. His father won’t sit at the kitchen table with her. He takes his meals in his bedroom. This is domestic bliss, golden living matter. The sex is medieval. His hands smell like a butcher’s. He is Satan. He destroyed her and she destroyed him, the dreamer in him, the father in him, and the husband in him. He had knowledge of lovemaking, taught her everything he knew with his frozen skill, his soul’s map, his wide-eyed country of transformations, his white picket fence.
They are swimming in this dark room together, soft dolls with delicate cores surfing over their wounds, touching the surface tension of the interior, wrapped up in the knowledge of the grace of the physical, the mental glare is no longer there. No more anguish. No more Sylvia.
Look at them. We are glimmering, gulping, our flesh and blood is dwelling, shining, illuminating the world around us.
He anointed her. The physical body sinks into another physical body, gnaws at it, its eaten magic, and its sum, its language as they exchange fluids and there is nothing and everything logical about it. There is a story here. Is it love? Does it need to be told? She is here to stay. She needs belief. The exotic, alluring Assia Wevill. She is a killer. A convicted murderous, Ted Hughes’s housekeeper, Sylvia Plath’s rival, a lover, a wife, and a mother too. Will she be another German Jew survivor?
‘Assia, my beautiful wren.’ He says, his hands on her shoulders, the nape of her neck, brushing away strands of her beautiful dark hair. ‘So exotic, so alluring. There is so much I want to say. This space is a proverb, this shape just here beneath your collar bone I like it best. You burn so bright. Writing is my little addiction. It is the life and death of me. So what do you think of my work.’
‘Admirable. Intelligent. Impressive. What do you think of my work?’
‘Admirable. Intelligent. Impressive. Clever. Very, very clever.’
‘Why are women always clever and men intelligent, fierce beasts, admired? I don’t think it’s an accident we met. It was simply meant to happen. Am I a good mother Ted?’
‘Yes. What a strange question?’
‘I want to be a good mother, a good wife, a good life-partner for you. I think we’re perfect together. Don’t you? I was a beautiful child and then I grew up and I wanted to see the world. And of course men saw my looks first but it always made me feel self-conscious, the interloper. Making love. I was always good at doing that. Falling out of love, falling in love, getting married. Let’s get married. Do, let’s. I love you. You’re the man for me. Think of all the adventures we’d have together, the places we’d go. You love me. We’ll have this picture-perfect family. Beautiful children.’
‘Wrists so fragile. Thighs and breasts so pale. Grey eyes. Wrap your legs around me. Are you warm? I want to feel you beneath me. Your breath is like vapour. What was it like on that train when you were a child? Were there really SS Officers walking up and down.’
‘It was cold, that’s all I remember. I was leaving the only home I had ever known. I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘Come here. Then we won’t talk about it. We’ll think pleasant, happy thoughts. Nothing will ever scar you ever again. I will diminish your fears, all the difficulties that you have, and erase them. I will unlock the gates to that nest that you call your brain. I will love you come rain or shine, come the madhouse of the heightened sky, I am rowing towards the sea in your eyes, swallowing all the hurt and humiliation that you have ever felt in this world.’
‘Ted Hughes I think you are the most profound man I’ve ever met. All of this will become history, craft, and ritual. Past is past is it not? Hell is behind us, that terrifying hammer and whatever has tormented me.’
‘There’s a self-portrait there Assia. Well, there’s really one in everything.’
‘You see poetry in everything. I need you Ted. I need you. Can’t you see that? I will give up everything for you.’
‘Don’t talk now. Hush. Pleasant, happy thoughts remember. Try and get some sleep now. If you’re not tired yet read a book, write something or read something that I’ve written. I’m too tired to talk now, to have this conversation.’
‘We can raise the children together. We can build a family, a real family-life away from the prying eyes of London, of your London friends, of your family. I know what they think of me, that I’m to blame for everything, for what happened to Sylvia, that I live in her house, sleep in her bed, and have stolen her husband and children, Sylvia Plath’s family. I am not responsible. I am not the traitor that everyone is making me out to be. Ted, I can’t go on living in that ghost house. I don’t care what people think. I tell you I don’t care what people think anymore of me, of you. Us. It’s done nothing to your reputation as a poet. People talk. People will always talk. Idle gossip. All lies. You are still you. You are still Ted Hughes.’
‘Assia, enough. I’m tired.’
‘I’m sorry. I just get so worked up sometimes. I’m trying Ted. Can’t you see that? Maybe I’m just insecure but I’m in love with you. I’ve never felt this way before. I’ve been married three times and I’ve never felt this way before for anyone else in my life until you came along. I’m trying for us. I had the abortion for us. I know now we can have other children. I’ve always been maternal, had that instinct within me. I live in her house for us. I take care of the children for us. I’m just excited about our new life together. You’re the best man I’ve ever met. The best lover I’ve ever had.’
‘Beautiful Assia Wevill. I will never, never hurt you.’ And then he kissed her forehead damp with perspiration, kissed her neck, stroked the arch of her back and caressed her arms. ‘Have men hurt you before? Made promises to you before that they didn’t keep?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t want to remember those times, the person that I was then, I’m different now, I don’t want to remember the past, and there were so many men. I told you this before. I was a pretty child who grew up to become a beautiful adult, but an insecure woman but do you promise Ted? Do you promise Ted Hughes that one day I will be your wife?’
‘Yes, yes, yes. I promise.’ Edward Hughes cradled Assia Wevill in his arms that night like he had never cradled another woman in his arms before. He held her until he felt her fall asleep in his arms and he knew her dream would never be. It had come to an end whatever ‘it’ had been. Allure she had, she could put men in a trance, attract them, hold them down in bed, reject them, make them go kaput but did she know how to love? She was a sex object.
And now we come to me. Clothed, unclothed, shamed, and unashamed for now you are mine.
Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill, the daughter Shura, Edward Hughes are six feet under, pushing up daisies, dead to the world but not to the world’s imagination. There is a knot of silence pulled tight in my throat, and I am pushed to naming home. Love for me is not home. It will never be home, mean home to me. I wither, men wither, and stories wither.
It is a mystery to me why he did not, could not love me. There was no tenderness there, no constant craving. I could not understand my infertility. The knowing of pain comes after sleeping, after waking from his touch.
I cannot remember lust. I remain unmarked by it. I hurt. You have hurt me. Energy has left me. Humility is like a cloud in the sky with a silver lining. I will not behave. I will not sit still and behave. I will fidget like a lunatic until you say that you love me, until you say that you will not leave me, leave me for her. I am in the garden of fire, of the dead and the living. I am dumb. What do I know about love? I know this. I want to feel your skin, read your bones with my fingertips, bath in your bath as you stroke my back, turn your world upside down, and harvest your moon. I am a mess but I am not your mess. If I was your mess you would stroke my face and ask me gently why I am crying. And I would say please stay with me, don’t go. Tell me that you like me.
Suicides have no glory when they die, they do not go to the last resting place up in the sky. They are driftwood.
The women have no sun, cure, dress, heels, pot of rouge, no furniture to move around, no laughter to speak of, and their family is ghost protocol.
There is a gun, a piece of rope, a fur coat, a car left running, and a bridge, a running leap.
Smile or you’re dead. And then there was nothing. There was silence in the kitchen, children sleeping in the bedroom, milk and bread untouched and gas. There is no longer any breath, any oxygen in her throat. She is deader than most.
© Short fiction by Abigail George August 2014
abigailg at dbm.co.za
Learning from Genocide
She is old before her time. They all say that whoever they might be.