The International Writers Magazine: From Our Archives
Incredibly Closely Illuminated
She searches for humanity and hope as a journalist. She did not believe in many things. One of them being mating rituals, treasuring lovers like keepsakes.
It was as if her intelligence projected itself from an astral plane beyond anything that screamed of chilled earth, of planting. Only she finds an alert kind of violence that she has a kneejerk reaction to. Her mother had been a maths teacher and had given tennis lessons in the afternoon to wealthy children at a prestigious school for girls. She herself had played the game with her siblings since she was knee high but it had never been the in thing for her. Her father had become afraid of many things after the divorce. Instead of separating when their children had been young they had clung to each other for life because of those vows and because of the children. But when their children had all left home both mother and father wanted to escape the emptiness of that nest and so one thing eventually led to another. Sometimes her father would come over to her flat for supper to escape the loneliness of his own flat. He would take so much pride and joy in reading and rereading her articles.
Every morning like clockwork she would phone her mother to check if she was okay. And the conversation would usually go something like this. About cleaning house, and how her father was doing. What he was usually doing on his own, coping on his own because her mother was knew one thing for certain that a man could do nothing for himself.
‘Mama, how did you sleep last night? I thought I’d call because I have writer’s block.’
‘So, so. Same old. Same old. You only telephone me now.’
‘So you should be. Is that all you have to say?’
‘I needed to go to the market to get a few things and run a few errands. Stop by the Post Office. Speak to my editor. You know that I’m looking after our father now.’
‘What about me?’
‘Well, that’s why I called.’
‘Anybody new in your life.’
‘Not particularly. Not since dad practically moved in.’
‘Weren’t you worried that I could have died during the night? Who would have come to the house? Who would have saved me? Who would have saved my soul, retrieved it from the wards of hell?’
‘Well you sound fine to me. I’ll bring you some fruit later on during the day. A pineapple will be sure to cheer you up and a bag of oranges.’
‘I worry about you. You’re too young to die you know. Get out of that profession. It’s going to kill you. Why are you laughing?’
‘My editor said the same thing to me this morning. How are you otherwise?’
‘I have more wrinkles that’s all. The arthritis is worse. The cough is hoarser.’
‘I did go to the pharmacy the other day to get you something.’
‘Well whatever it is it is not working. I still have that phlegm on the chest. The kitchen smells. The whole house smells of onions, dirty sweaty socks, camphor and old soup that’s been on the stove for days.’
‘I’ll see what I can do. I’m working from home this week.’
‘Your father is terrible. You’re grown up now. You’re an adult and it is beginning to show. You have to make your own choices and decisions now. You can’t let us think for you anymore.’
‘We’re just close. That’s all.’
‘Yes, you always were like that even when you were a little girl. You were a real daddy’s girl. You even look more like him than me.’
‘I’m growing older kid and it shows. It shows and I wish that it didn’t. Gosh, I was so beautiful when I was young. Do you remember when I was still young?’
‘Aren’t you happy you gave up drinking when you did?’
‘Yes, yes and yes. But still it’s there. Its blueprint is there like the cosmos. Irretrievable. Impenetrable. And it will remain there for eternity.’
‘Remember always that I love you mama.’
‘I love you too kid. Don’t forget no matter how depressed I might sound I am still feisty. Life has touched me. Toughened my innerness. And now to other things, much more important things. Wouldn’t you like to get married, be married, find a handsome guy, I mean I guess at your age anybody would do. You’re not that plain when you’re wearing make-up. When you’re dressed up and make an effort.’
‘I just phoned to find out how you are not to hear another lecture from you mama.’
‘Next you’ll be telling me that all I do is betray you.’
‘Well, yes, sometimes I do feel that way. Am I wrong for thinking that way?’
‘This house is too big for one person. I just wish it smelled clean. I can’t keep this this house clean. I wish for a glimmer of hope for that but I know that is just wishful-thinking. Obstinate wishful-thinking. I hate getting old. Every morning I wake up I am less beautiful. I am less hopeful. I am closer to death, to the autumn of my years. And your father? How is he keeping these days?’
‘I still don’t think it was the right thing for both of you to get a divorce.’
‘All of you children are adults now and it was not your responsibility to take your father in. How are you?’
‘I am fine. I am working on an interesting story. All hush-hush.’
‘You and your stories. I wouldn’t be surprised if your stories landed you in hot water with the way you talk about politics one day.’
‘You’re talking about me being assassinated one day again. I thought we would not talk about it. It is not a very pleasant thing for a mother to talk about to her daughter or just talking about predestined death in general. You know how I hate it when you do that.’
‘Otherwise don’t I listen to you even though you are not my doctor? Even though I gave up drinking years ago?’
She knew her mother wasn’t really interested, but that she was just trying to be nice and kind to the daughter that had not inherited her mother’s good looks. The daughter whose outlook and psychological framework was as intellectual as her father’s. That morning she had stared into the eyes of the man who had come for her. To kill her. He was tall. He was taller than she was and she was a tall woman. But that was the currency that journalists dealt in. A pound of flesh for a story. Although wasn’t life meant to be lived. If it ends up a tragedy who is to blame for that? She sat in front of her bedroom windows with her head in her hands. There were no more lovers to blame. There was no longer a mocking husband. The orange in her mouth tasted bitter. She sucked the juice out of the hole inside the orange and broke the whole fruit into two with both of her hands and worked diligently inside of her mouth scraping for the bits of orange stuck between her teeth.
Usually she was always on guard with strangers. Strangers deservedly must seem out of place, she thought to herself. When she found herself in another country, a rural countryside or city she longed for the comfort that strangers were sometimes known for. But when the car had pulled up outside the door she waited with a quizzical expression on her face. Not recognising the vehicle. Not recognising the person who emerged from the car. She waited for that knock thinking that perhaps it was for her father. She answered the door with innocence shining on her face not knowing that soon perhaps in minutes she would meet her death. It would not be asphyxiation. It would not be swallowing a handful of barbiturates and slitting her wrists after climbing into a bath filled with lukewarm water up to her neck. It would be more graceful. A fatal gunshot wound. Embracing the summit that is motherhood is not for everyone. And so she embraced this knowledge. What else could she do? See it as an experiment?
She grew up with this awareness since youth. Knowing that the arrangement of motherhood starts from birth for every daughter. Today was Wednesday. She was in the morning newspaper again. Instead she turned her vision of thought on something else. Something besides ‘Local author writes biography on her father’ screamed the headline. She felt like sunbathing. Kind of like releasing the stranglehold that the grind of life had on her. But it was cold out and later it would be wet out. Rain pouring down from the heavens. Another kind of paradise life illuminating and burying everything within its jewelled sight. She had never given any thought to what her last words on earth would be. She always thought when she was an adolescent that she was the type of girl to become a missionary. She was born to become a missionary, build churches, lead the praise and worship, sing hymns and pray but instead now she finds herself meditating. She finds herself in the lotus position. And then one fine day she found out that she was being propelled towards writing. Serious writing. Writing that could kill you heinously in the upright position. There is violence and beauty underlying everything filled with guts in this world even serious writing, even wonder, even journalism.
Sometimes she felt betrayed by other women. Women who had become mothers and she marvelled at her own inability to make sense of their world. Most of all she felt betrayed by her mother who had not taught her how to be a wife and a good mother. Had she not been a dutiful daughter? But her mother had been torn from the outside in. Married to a brilliant manic depressive teacher and poet who neglected his wife and children who worshiped him and put him on a pedestal. Her father abandoned them, his family for his work and his pupils. Her mother turned to domesticity and alcohol. Left her beautiful children, with their pretty rosy upturned faces of dolls everyone to their own devices. Her mother had let them down badly. Alcoholism was that silent killer that she drowned her sorrows in. Alcoholism seemed to illuminate the negative sum parts of her when she found herself amongst her children. Her mother seemed to say look at me I’m elegantly slumming. So by the time she was grown up and working as a journalist her heart had been broken by her parents over a myriad of tiny things about a million times.
And then she remembered that she had not made that morning cup of tea yet. That she had not telephoned her mother yet. That she had not finished that self-portrait yet. And she wondered to herself, not the first time in her adult life, how supremely self-righteous her own mother had felt over marrying at twenty-five. Her mother had probably had a superiority complex since birth. The complex that beautiful and intelligent women had who were the worshiped, the leader not the follower. The woman who had never played the shadow. Her mother had been the shadowed.
‘And did you write about those wars? When you knew that you were persona non grata and a person who was not supposed to write about affairs of that nature why did you go ahead and do it anyway? Did you not know that you were being watched? What about the death threats? Did you not know anything about them or did you instead choose to forget about them.’ the voice said.
‘Yes to all of your questions.’ She answered tersely.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean yes to all of the above.’
‘Why?’ the voice came back again as if in the phantasmagoria of a tunnel’s slipstream.
‘I wrote about those wars and you can quote me on this. I wrote about them because it was of human interest. I knew the public had no knowledge of them. I had to make it an open book.’ She tried to appear cool, calm and collected.
‘Did you not care that you were putting yourself, your life in danger?’ the questions came now thick and fast. The person asking the questions completely in self-control and giving nothing of themselves away.
‘My life comes secondary to getting stories. Journalism is my first priority.’
‘Tell us this then. Do you confess?’
‘I did not know that I had to confess to anything. I am telling you the truth. What more do you want from me?’
‘And you were an insider?’
‘Are you asking me if I’m a communist?’ And she knew that as she said those words that she was signing her own death certificate. What did communism mean in this society? People were now free to live in the world as communist, heterosexual or homosexual. Nobody cared anymore about homosexuals, even less about communists.
© Abigail George - September 2014
The Love Letters She Left Behind
And so I come to the lady in the water, the sinner’s biochemistry.