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••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Dreamscapes

When I consider how my breath is spent ...
• Abigail George

Beach House

My mother is lava. Empty days are like lava burning as bright as any flame. Empty nights are like lava burning as bright as any flame. Empty houses are like lava burning bright as any flame. Here, an empty soul is like lava burning bright as any flame. You know that beggar man with your rosary around your neck. You’re degraded by this material world’s itch in a thousand ways in a day and a hundred times at night. You, foolish animal soul married to chains. In this city so poor you walk up and down streets feeling the breeze on your face. Be thankful of this hot coffee. Accept this bread as a sacred gift. Put this food in your mouth. Feverish, eat! Nameless, weary, lonely on your journey to nowhere you live like a stray dog. I see you’ve lost your teeth somewhere on your journey. Your smile is so mysteriously small. You’re in your own dark prison. There are no windows there. Even close-up I can hear your soul’s cries.

Stupid, stupid girl I’ll never find you spotted, pale as a fox in snow, green as a snake in by a pool of water, boy hiding behind a tree. You will forever find me keeping my business to myself. These walls talk as loud as a new red coat, tennis legs, honeyed legs that go on forever. My mother has a magnetic shield around her. This voice though belongs in the wild. I know these sheets like I know the back of my hand. Even the wet plate in the sink has a voice like an insect in mist. Even the plate has a phenomenal voice. The width and breadth of this swimming pool’s edges are wet with my tears that vanish as I speak. This life filled with cool and distant and edgy layers and chapters. Slipping into these cities made of river is humanity and letters marked return to sender. I crack open the shell of the egg.

I mix the essence of vanilla and small and white beads of castor sugar in the bowl to make meringue. I will divide you, mother, to love you. You are spring. You are red wine in a cup. You are desolate despair in need of repair. Here is my heart, scar tissue, lungs. I’m finally alone on this stage. Let the priests come to translate this. That was my life. I used to be a girl. Men turned me into a woman. I used to go to hotel rooms in Hillbrow in the middle of the night and leave in the early hours of the morning. We would have a few drinks. Dance a little. I would dance wildly. He would take his time. He was a smooth dancer. He didn’t make hand gestures that the homosexuals in the club would do from time to time after sipping on their daiquiris and Cosmopolitans and brandy and coke. I’m the bone-thin woman. It’s the phoenix that’s the monster.

The homosexuals would be sipping on Irish coffee near closing time. I would be thinking of my shitty childhood, my pretty mother, her hands on the steering wheel. I turned my face away watching the girls inside the shop. I could see the girls who were watching us and staring at 9-year-old me. My mother wanted sanitary towels. She didn’t believe me. How could a pharmacy be out of stock? But that is what the girl had told me. I repeated it but she still didn’t believe me. She screamed at me. You, you, stupid little girl! You don’t know anything! Look at you! Rubbish! Liar! Just look at you with your four eyes! You think you’re as smart as your dad! Get out of my face. I dug my fingernails into my hands. I clench my hands into fists. I blinked back the tears as she screamed over my head, into my face trying to find a healing space.

I sat there in my school uniform. I was shivering and then I was trembling trying to make her voice go away inside of my head. Not knowing that this vicious cycle would play itself out on numerous occasions in my youth and adulthood. When the rain came, it was early morning. The images of my sister as the painted bride with painted lips and painted smile and a painted harpoon in my hands that she caught her whale-man with not lost on me. I’m a hungry little angel, a schoolgirl mouse, insecure. There’s violence to come. Doesn’t violence always come with a revolution? I’m a dancing mouse. There’s a difference between loving out of guilt and loving out of responsibility. This bridge called language. Falling, falling, falling into a war zone and then finding the exit out. I want to drown in a love story, in the ocean like Jonker. I just can’t seem to take much more of this life.

The words are like jam (as sweet as honey). I still worship the man I call ‘father’ and the woman I call ‘mother’ in my house. I think of the bone parade of my house. Rich man, you’re showing not telling me of your desire. I have words and you have words. We both have the moves of this mad dance that I’ve written about before. I’m done with being moon-sick and lovesick and starlit and sunburnt and all burned up. I wrote this for you, Dr Prinsloo, my psychiatrist. I wrote this for you, with love and admiration. Isn’t it pretty to think of writing a poem about a lazy Sunday evening spent writing poems about friendship and birthdays. Whenever I think of the sea, I think of you saving me. I think of how the sea is never-ending, always beginning. How you’re never-ending, always beginning. I hover, in search of stones to skip across the surface of a river.

‘It is cold out.’

‘I know an out of the way place.’

So, you’re saying that the night does not have to end here. Everything’s closed, I thought to myself but I knew what he wanted. He did not want to let me go yet. He was lonely. I was sad.

First love is such sweet despair. My father was the first man to cry in my arms when I was just 9-years-old. I was 14-years-old when I fell in love with a much older man. Come see, this is what love does to a young girl. It puts a spell on her. When she wakes, all she sees is the man of her future dreams. I open the curtain. Think of Paris. I think of Hemingway and Pound’s Paris. I fast forward to forty. I don’t believe in love anymore. Don’t believe that men can save me. My mother is still strange and beautiful to me. We do not speak and still the future hurts. My sister travels overseas. Prague is her hometown. I try to live. I try to live, but all I do is come close to the edge. All I do is fall apart. All I see is darkness visible. My sister is strange and beautiful in photographs. Once, I thought she loved me in the same way that I loved her.

I open the curtain. Remember walking away from relationships (dancing away from men and women) in my twenties in Johannesburg but now there’s a hole in my heart and I feel empty inside. Tears in my eyes and I don’t know how I got here. My mother says no one wants me, she’s vain like that, and that I am to blame because of all the choices I made and suddenly the spell is broken. I am home and the garden is sanctuary. The bright lights of Johannesburg far away and I look at my mother in photographs taken of her on her wedding day. She looks strange and beautiful and exotic. She looks like a winner. She is holding onto my father’s arm. I need to get through the day, so I write. I open up the curtains in all the rooms. I make coffee for my elderly father when he wakes up and I try to forget that he was the first man to cry in my arms.

I can still feel my small arms around his neck. I try to forget hugging that depressed man I did not know. I try to forget hugging his bulky frame. The wetness I felt against my cheek. I don’t have a future anymore licking like a flame or standing like a temple. I’ve buried my potential in the abyss of an underground inferno planted in a hole in the ground. Memory licks old black and white photographs. No one was as sheltered as me. No one was as shattered as me. In photographs you’re brighter than sunshine. I try to live without you but all I realise is the future of first love. The history of water and that I am breaking my heart again. I’ve seen you pull away from me. I thought that we’d only know this in the future. Little birds build the world they want. Agriculture reminds me that everything and nothing dies a natural death.

Even innocence dies a little. You’re all tender when you want to be. When you hate, I become like the bleak light in a cell wall and you’re the surgeon’s glove. When I feel I’m losing you, I’m dazed. I’m swept away at the water’s edge. You lead me to the supernatural commonwealth of the burning road. You lead me to the waterfall and the tear in my heart. I tell myself this time you’ll catch me. This time you’ll search for me like driftwood at the beach. You’ll find me there like a fantasy, I tell myself, if you decide to fall to meet me. You’re the mystery like snow in fog. We sang ‘walk like an Egyptian’. We danced to The Bangles. We grew up Christian but you don’t pray anymore or think that anything is holy. You’re the material girl now. You’re gone. You don’t phone. You don’t visit. You’ve gone cold. You’re set around me like confetti. I understand that the world has hurt you.

I came upon the sun one day but you were no longer around to see it glow. I listen to Coldplay and pretend you’re still around. Still pretend you love me. The sea does not glitter anymore like it used to. You don’t come home for Christmas. You only talk to our mother. Prague is your future. I plant tomatoes and basil. Your nephew plucks snails. Eats green gooseberries. He didn’t want to talk to you when you telephoned on Tuesday afternoon driving to boot-camp after work. You remind me that I need to cheer up. You remind me that I chose this life. And I think that perhaps it’s my fault that we’ve become strangers over the years. We’re strangers. We’re strangers. Weather has its own body. Water-fat sang a gospel in plants. Stems explored the muddy-blue. I fought for my sister. I’ve fought for you love light of my life but you don’t see it. I am the one who sees it. I’m tired of this loneliness.

The photographer (my sister) sang her own gospel with her camera documenting our holiday. She chose everything. She chose the food and the beach house which was a different one each year. We used to drive down to the beach. Walk barefoot on the hot sand. I would watch my nephew carefully. Watch the music school behind his wet stone eyes. I would see the sea in his father’s knuckles. The butcher, the baker in him lights a fire amongst his girlfriend and his son. We’d all get lost in the day. I made a fist in the wet sand thinking of the hours I would spend writing and writing and writing in the cool bedroom that I shared with my sister. Conjuring spells into love poems. At night, we would all drink. Drink cocktails that my sister made. Drink in the warm weather, eating barbecue chicken and ribs. Pizza made on a fire.

Drink in the memory of family we used to religiously visit like the manic-depressive cousin who sang opera we never heard from anymore. His parents in their seventies were getting a divorce. This was the future now. My sister, the photographer was the future. My brother, the financial planner, father, my mother, deaf and pretending that she was still young and looked good for her age. My father, elderly, diabetic, who had trouble with his legs. In public, he would push away my arm, embarrassed that he needed help to walk. Weather had its own body that summer. Sunlight against the wall, we’d all sleep in the afternoon. Wake up late in the mornings. My sister would take charge in the kitchen, in the shops carrying packages. Now her heart is set on Prague, on her falling in love and of her becoming wife, lover and mother.

She’s walking past lakes, dreaming of leaving her fragile family life behind in South Africa and I learned that summer that even poems have lungs.

Abigail Short fiction by Abigail George - Jan 21st 2019

The Split Personalities of Elizabeth Donkin
Abigail George

I had a wood when I was a child. There was a forest near my childhood home. At night, before I would blow my lamp out I would stare out into that darkness that seemed to be stalking me. Forever stalking me, do you understand?
And guide me on the everlasting path
Abigail George

The photograph is of my mother. In it she looks like someone else. Perhaps someone else’s mother. Our relationship is fraught with difficulties. I’m a fat cutout or rather the curator of fat cutouts. Dark water inside of my head.

Sessions with the Psychiatrist
Abigail George

Today, I thought about the things I would never forget in my life, people who swam out of my reach touching my fingertips. People like Carol M., Vincent, my mother and my sister.

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