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••• The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories

• Abigail George
It’s winter. Johan is writing on his laptop in the kitchen while she’s making coffee. This love affair was finally going to turn into a marriage. This Saturday morning felt as if she was living on an island with her favourite things. Food and Johan. The radio was playing classical music softly in the background.

toast and jam

    Chapters of inland snow are curled up at the edges of a lake view. It’s a winter made up of a chilled coast, with woods made up of twisted harsh lines, mystery, hearts staring across snowy landscapes, weather that chilled you to the bone, and flesh made of even harder borders of living on the impoverished outskirts of rural life.

    Grayson’s mother had taught her daughter to be brave in the face of dark waters. Despair. The treachery of a-single-woman’s-hardship.

    Grayson Wakefield is a woman who has had visions from childhood. At night in childhood, she always left her bedroom door ajar, slept with the light on, with the bible under her pillow. She is visited by men and women who have passed on to the hereafter who think that they are still in some indefinable way connected, tethered to this world, this earthly plane and to the ones they have left behind. Children, husbands, spouses, pets. She believes her auditory hallucinations are very, very real and that it is her duty, her moral obligation to record the conversations that she has with them be they writers and poets who have suffered the anguish and despair of suicidal depression (Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, and Anne Sexton). Be they South African men and women detained during apartheid (Dulcie September, George Botha, Biko aka Frank Talk), men and women of African, British (Anna Kavan, Ann Quin), North American, Dominican descent (Jean Rhys) or from the Biblical era (for example Moses, Jonah and the whale, Elijah, Job, Noah, David, Solomon, and Jesus key figures in the history of civilization).This she does fastidiously handwritten in black Croxley notebooks, but when people around her can see that she is different, special in a rather extraordinary way they begin to doubt her sanity and she is found to be certifiable, told that she should get plenty of rest, be put under psychiatric treatment and put under the care of a team of doctors. She soon though discovers her identity. It borders in the powers of her own feminine sensuality, her ego, the perpetual balancing act between the psychological framework of her intelligence, and intellectualism, and the final analysis of the sexual transaction.  With that said, she rises to the occasion and meets her new life head under feet. She soon finds herself in the tiny one roomed library of the hospital and begins to read everything she can get her hands on from Doris Lessing but most importantly the genius poetry of T.S. Eliot.

    Once she surrenders to the fact that everyone around her thinks that she has lost touch with reality she pursues love with an art second to none. She is or rather becomes Orlando in an asylum and finds that she must play her role in this establishment’s class, gender and economic system. She becomes a phenomenal African version of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Beautiful, wanted, adored, worshiped by men and women for her intellect in a dazed, confused world where pharmaceuticals, head doctors with textbook knowledge of case studies are the elixir, the essence of life. She negotiates the shark infested waters of having intimate relationships with both men and women, acutely aware of the danger she finds herself in, of engaging in licentious behaviour. Of losing more than the fabric of her psyche, her soul. The safe world as she knew it as a child, youth and adult in her twenties. She finds herself in danger of losing everything.


    Grayson sat nursing a warm soda. She was with her best friend, Marie, from high school. They were sitting in a restaurant having a late lunch. It was years since she had seen her.

    ‘Do you believe in ghost stories, Marie?’

    ‘I don’t know. Never really thought about it before,’ Marie said. She was eating a hamburger. She wiped the relish from the corners of her mouth gracefully.

    ‘Ghosts are just an illusion. A play on images that you remember from your past. Flashbacks. It’s normal if you have flashbacks. It’s a reminder of our troubled youth.’

    ‘Sometimes I think I’m a stuck in a rut. The wheel keeps on turning but I’m on a road to destination anywhere. Does that make sense?’

    ‘Of course, it makes sense. We all feel that way some or all of the time.’

    ‘Of course, ghosts are homesick for the life they lived once. It’s natural, isn’t it. To belong to a tribe or a family. What do you think? Do you think we’ll come back one day to haunt the places we loved before?’

    ‘Perhaps,’ said Marie taking a long sip of her smoothie. ‘Why’d you order the orange juice?’

    ‘I need the vitamin C and I’m trying to give up smoking,’ said Grayson brushing her plait over her shoulder. ‘I’ve had the flu and just want to clear it up before I leave for my holiday. I’m meeting Johan’s parents for the first time. They live in Cape Town. Can you believe it? I’m engaged!’ Marie mumbled something with her perfect mouth full. A mouth that Grayson had kissed once in a dare at one of those high school parties. A high school party without parents supervising rowdy kids. A party held in the basement of somebody who was popular because of their looks or their athletic ability’s house.

    ‘I’m sorry I never came to visit you in the hospital,’ Marie said apologetically.

    ‘You’re not a saint. Nobody is. You can’t do the right thing all the time, I mean.’

    ‘Does this mean that I’m forgiven then?’

    ‘Of course, Marie. You’re my oldest friend. This is not a contest. People always think it’s some kind of contest to be good, to be kind. To be understanding. It’s not.’


    Grayson and Johan walked arm-in-arm on the beachfront. Content.

    ‘You never talk about it.’

    ‘About what?’

    ‘You’re changing the subject, Grayson. The six months you spent in that hospital or posh clinic or whatever.’

    ‘I was somebody else back then. I don’t think you’d like that person.’

    ‘I love you. I love all of you.’

    ‘That doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter to you.’ They walked in silence to the car in the parking lot.

    ‘Are you hungry? Do you want something to eat?’

    ‘I had a big lunch. I met Marie today, remember I told you. We had a big lunch.’

    ‘Oh, yes, yes you did. Let’s get ice cream then.’

    ‘Okay,’ said Grayson. She was feeling peckish again. ‘I’ll wait for you in the car. It’s cold out. Too cold for ice cream.’

    ‘It’s never too cold for ice cream Gray. Which flavours do you want? I’ll get two scoops.’

    ‘Just vanilla and chocolate for me, thanks Johan.’

    ‘Okay then, I’ll have the same.’


    That night after they had made love, Grayson felt drained. Johan had fallen asleep almost immediately.

    She lay awake thinking of the day she had spent with her oldest friend and the man she was about to marry.

    She needed patterns in her life. Universal patterns. Sacred patterns. Totem poles. She needed the physics and chemistry of love in her life as much as she desired waves and vibrations.

    She felt lost like she did in the early scenes of high school. The same way she did when she was sitting across from the nurse who took her blood pressure every morning in the hospital.

    Grayson felt a deadness inside of her as if she was a winter guest in the greater scheme of things.

    Was there something complex about being a mistress, she thought to herself. Marie had a twelve-year-old daughter. She had started young, Marie always said with a laugh.

    Marie was, like Grayson, in her early thirties. Johan and Grayson had spoken about having children in passing.

    ‘He wants kids.’ She had told her mother over the telephone. ‘The thing is I don’t know if I want to have them. If I have it in me to be a good mother.’

    ‘Oh, you’ll be fine when the time comes. Every woman thinks like that, dear.’ Grayson’s mother had said with a finality as if she wasn’t going to entertain this kind of talk until kingdom come.

    Grayson always wanted her mother to be more supportive of her. Her mother didn’t want her to be a teacher. Underpaid. Underappreciated.

    She wanted a daughter who had daughters of her own, raising her family, cooking steaming pots on top of the stove and cleaning the house. Doing the laundry. Grayson’s mother had been an English and History teacher.

    Grayson didn’t want to predict anything. All she wanted was to be a good wife to Johan, have his babies. The medication helped her to forget.
© Abigail George August 2017
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