••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Life Stories
The Muse walking away
“You’ve heard of Rilke. My husband writes like that. Isn’t that wonderful, don’t you think. Exactly like that documentary on Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck. That was a bit like my life. All my life I’ve been a wreck, a train smash.” Eva grimaced as if she was in pain. Truth was, she was in pain. She was in a kind of mental pain that could not be explained away, but could be soothed by anti-depressants. “I love his poems. My husband thinks he’s Rilke in his own way. Well, it makes him happy.”
“But what makes you happy Eva? These last few years, what has made you smile, laugh even?”
This line of work Charles Rosenthal was discovering to his chagrin was stressful. His girlfriend had left him. His mother did his laundry, ironed his shirts. He had wanted to make a difference. He had wanted to change lives when studying psychology. He hadn’t bargained on it changing him for good, influencing his moods. He had been good-natured, bookish, nerdish, not the life of the party, or an extrovert. Now he felt withdrawn. He hated getting up and leaving the house in the morning.
“But I don’t want to be a writer. I wanted to heal people, mother!” Charles Rosenthal threw his hands up in the air.
“All these stories, well why don’t you write them down, and make some money. It will be good for your own mental health at the end of the day.” His mother continued to eat neat bites of her cottage pie. His father said nothing to this outburst, thinking that a male psychologist in the family was as good as a male nurse. He thought his son effeminate.
“You’re my addiction, Charlie. You’re my cocaine. I’ve never smoked a joint in my life.” Eva Murdock crossed her feet at her ankles. It felt as if somehow the walls in this room were caving in on her.
“I’m a disease you mean.” Charles Rosenthal was young, Jewish. He didn’t always feel up to this kind of work. Today was a day like that.
“No, I mean it. I mean you’re my addiction. You’re the only thing that can sate me, all my energies, turn off all of my tantrums.”
“Dear, you have me all wrong. I’m here to help you, you know. We’re not supposed to fall in love. It’s not meant to happen like that.”
“I’m your Zelda. Say it. Say that I’m your Zelda Fitzgerald”.
“No. I think you should go back to your room now. I’m not going to fall in love with you Eva. Not today and not any other day. You have a husband who is madly in love with you. Think about that.” Charles Rosenthal said gently, convinced she was bipolar.
“Yes, yes, yes. He is madly in love with me, isn’t he? Why is he in love with me? Why doesn’t he leave me? He should leave me or he should have an affair. It would be good for him.”
“Now that doesn’t make any sense to me. He is besotted with you. Your husband is concerned for you. Worried for you and you want him to go and have an affair. You’re ill. You’re ill.”
“I slept with a married man once. Oh, this was when I was in my twenties. I didn’t care very much about myself then. I had no sense of self-worth. I was going through an identity crisis, but every weekend, or Saturday I would go to this dingy club in Newtown and dance my heart out and have men buy me drinks, and sip cocktails. You would’ve noticed me. You, you would have asked me to dance with you, not ignored me like you’re ignoring me now.”
“I am not ignoring you. You are beautiful. You’re an attractive woman.”
“Am I beautiful? I feel old. I feel as if I’ve been put on the ash heap. Sleep with me. I won’t tell a soul.”
“No, Eva. No, please.” But there was something about this invitation that excited Charles Rosenthal. She was beautiful. She was startling beautiful. There was something seductive about her speech, her eyes, the way she crossed her legs at the ankles.
“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m deeply unhappy. I’m just a deeply unhappy housewife with two children. I can be young again. In your arms I can be young again. My breasts can be supple, my legs can be exquisite and go on forever, and our lovemaking can bring me back to life.”
Charles Rosenthal stared at her. He looked at her neck, her bare arms resting on the chair, he glanced at the clock beside him, looked at Eva Murdock’s enchanting face again with her bright eyes.
“Is it because I’m mixed? I know some men, men like you, so tall and pale like you won’t bring themselves, they think they are lowering themselves when they sleep with women of mixed-race descent. You don’t like the colour of my skin. Do you think I should be ashamed because of the colour of my skin, the way I’m flirting with you, being honest about the fact that I want you? Will it make a difference if I said that I was falling in love with you, Charlie?
“But perhaps it was not meant to be. In another time and place, things would have been different for us. My husband studied at a London University, you know. When he told me that, I was like so impressed. Nobody I knew had even left the town where I came from. You liked him then when you met him?”
“Yes, yes I did like him. I think in another life we would have been good friends.”
“If only these walls could talk. If only these walls could talk.” Eva’s voice trailed away into silence.
“Why go on and on about this, I think in another life. So, this is probably the last time I’ll see you. I’m going home next week.” Eva uncrossed her ankles, straightened up in the chair, looked at her fingernails, and cleaned her glasses. “You’ve really been so good to me. Not taking advantage of me in any way. Other men have not been so careful around me.”
“Why now? Why tell me this now? We’ve been seeing each other now for a few months. Not once have you said anything.” Rosenthal was angry at this statement.
“It doesn’t matter now. You’ve really been a stand-up kind of guy and a really kind type of person. It doesn’t matter.”
“How would things have been different, Eva, how would things have been different for us?” Charlie Rosenthal leaned forward. He could smell her perfume. He could brush her hair back from her face with his hand closest to her.
“I would have been your muse.”
You can stop pretending that you care one jot or one iota. You can stop pretending that you love me or even like me all that much. I know deep in my heart of hearts that you don’t. See here now, I’m something of a seer, some Khalil Gibran or Rumi. I can see things. I can read things. Look at me, he (Charlie, Charlie, Charlie) seemed to say, I am a man. Look inside my soul. All you see is the disguise of the white page. Eva seemed to be running in a wide circle, always finding male hearts, and never finding the right one to tame.
Charlie you’re the other life, you’re the blood pumping to my heart, you’ve numbed my soul like sex, and lies and cassette tapes. I’m alive and wife because of you. I’m mother because of you. Look, the organic hurting has gone away, and you’ve sealed the wound shut, you’ve rubbed salt in the wound. Charlie, kiss me again. Charlie, whisper sweet nothings in my ear, and kiss my wrists again and again and again, kiss my forehead as if you were anointing me.
All these years he and his mother had spat me out as if I was bad seed even after the children were born. They had moved forward effortlessly in the world, while I had remained a girl. What is so bad about remaining a girl, I hear you say. A girl never marries. A girl goes crazy for love or cracked up if it’s not meant to be. A girl finds limits and borders when she goes looking for them. A girl never finds someone suitable. A girl has neither wife nor husband. A girl has children out of wedlock. Are nuns girls then, I hear you ask.
She was looking for love. Eva was looking for love. When she looked into the faces of her children, or her husband’s face she was looking for love. When she went grocery shopping she was looking for love, whenever she baked biscuits when the mood took her, when she returned her romance novels to the library. She would never reach the librarian’s eyes or try and read the expression that this woman wore on her face. She had come with her father to this library a long time ago when she had still been a child.
Eva as muse walking away (thirty-something)
She had come to this library when her parents’ were still joined to the hip (meaning “sleeping together”, meaning “having sexual relations”). Perhaps she didn’t understand sex and the sexual impulse in both men and women. Oh, she had been with women but she thought that Charlie wouldn’t understand about the women. She had even lived with one for a while. And then the lady fell out of love with her. This older lady, a tenured professor fell in love with another promising student.
And so, Eva moved on, she got a job, got a flat, she visited her mother more often in the nursing home. Sometimes Eva looked in on her three or four times a week. Sometimes her mother would be sleeping, or reading her Bible. She would sit next to her mother’s bed, dreaming away the hour or two that she spent there. She thought of her hopes and her fears. Eva didn’t want to live in the past anymore, and so she married, found an exit out.
Sleep has his house (forties)
“Do you remember God, mum; do you remember God breaking your heart?”
“I remember Moses. He was a beautiful man. He used to come to the house all the time. He loved the tea I used to make him with the cucumber sandwiches. That I remember. Tuna fish was my favourite when I was a little girl.”
Eva would always start with, “Do you remember dad, mum?” and her mother would answer, “Who, never heard of him, were we close? No, I don’t remember anything. You know that. I never had any children, never had the time and energy for family life. I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind. I always found things to do like knitting, sewing, or crocheting. I believed in church. I still believe women must sacrifice much to triumph.”
“Mum, you’ve changed.” Is what Eva really wanted to say but she didn’t say anything. Mother and daughter were once again estranged as they had been in real life. She remembered coming home one afternoon (it was a Model C school and they were just now allowing children of colour to attend), the house wrecked. Sheets stripped off the beds, glasses and plates broken in the passage.
She never brought friends home from school again after that had happened. She remembered the raised voices of her mother and father arguing back and forth in their bedroom at the back of the house. How dazed and simply confused she felt. She just sat there like a crash test dummy, numb to the bone, to the core of her, ignoring her friends. If they were worried for her, or cared for her, she didn’t care. She wanted the exit out even then, even then.
She looked for love while surfing the channels, whenever she ate spaghetti or cereal or pecked at her (bird-food) muesli. She had had lovers in her twenties when she was at film school at the University of Cape Town. All had been unavailable men. All had been married men with children. All had been married men with seduction and action on their mind. The one that she had deep feelings for all these years was still an enigma to her.
He had studied at Sussex University in the UK. Yes, he had a wife. Yes, he had grown children. To her, all these years he was still elegant and perfect. He was still a dream. Roberto, Roberto, Roberto. She had phoned him once. Once was all it took to realise that her dream of him didn’t quite match up to the reality of him. She didn’t even think of her own dignity and pride.
“Are you laughing at me?” she asked in a small voice, hurt; lonely, frustrated, feeling pathetic and disgruntled at the same time. To this Roberto said nothing. She wanted to say I’m dreaming of being at your side as wife and mother, but she didn’t. Her children were playing in the background. Don’t you want me to be your girlfriend, was on the tip of her tongue. He would only feel sorry for her, pity her.
Think that she was unstable, losing her mind, and that she needed somehow to be fixed through psychology, cognitive behavioural therapy. That was what her Croatian psychiatrist had suggested. Whenever this lady spoke to her, she felt she had to prove herself somehow. Prove that she was normal, that she lived in a normal reality. She had to prove she was happy and coping and not falling through the cracks. Not trying to find the exit out of her misery.
This side of paradise (fifties)
Yes, I was in love once, but that was a failure too, Eva would think to herself, combing through a magazine in the Croatian psychiatrist’s waiting room. She would sometimes drive through Stanford Square and buy a hamburger and pink milkshake through the drive-thru with her grandchildren on the backseat whining at her.
She would eat it in the parking lot while they kicked the seats in front of them, unconcerned about the fact that the doctor had sent her to a dietician and had written in his note to the doctor that she, Eva Murdock of the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth, had become in the span of twenty years morbidly obese. She was in her early fifties, struggling with weight issues when she went to see Agnes. She liked Agnes. Agnes was soft, and pleasing to look at. She became a mother-figure in Eva’s life, even though Agnes was in her late twenties.
“You just want someone to hold you, don’t you?” Agnes, the Croatian psychiatrist had said this to her just recently. Eva started to cry.
“All this time, I mean all this time, you finally understand! It has taken me an eternity to understand that I am not a ghost, I am a woman.”
“You’re no longer a girl, Eva, why on earth do you want to do this to yourself? Make yourself sick? You have to take responsibility for your own life now.” The Croatian psychiatrist handed her a tissue and stroked her hand. “Darling, I’m not your mother. I would never, ever dream of hurting you. You have to start letting go before the healing can begin.”
“I don’t want to let go. I want to heal, but I don’t want to let go. I want to remember. Always and forever I want to remember that I am the original angel, that I am scribe and sage twisted into one.”
© Abigail George June 2019
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