The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
I am having fish and nothing else. Fish rubbed with salt and pepper into its belly. Food has become compensation for love, the phases of the moon, for a collection of short stories, for shame, for fantasy, for literary revelation, for having the refreshing mind of a child sometimes. The light is like a blue screen, electric and sharp.
How easy this is. Preparing this light dish of hake. It feels like I can go on forever but no dish is immortal unless passed down. I told myself the pain could be over in a year but then how to eliminate the burden and face of pale depression, the pressures of stress, the emotional, the physical. And the idea of a novel that always comes with it, the older man and the young girl that is always there, questioned, the unbelievable. The spinach is always there cool and cunning in the fridge (promising slim hips but never delivering), cumin, Marie biscuits, soda water reminding me that for every person that comes into my life it means ‘it’ can be possible (to be a woman in love).
What is a woman in love? She is damned for sure, damned and beautiful. Something beautiful like the universe at night. I won’t be that woman ever again. Shivering in a man’s arms, slinking in dark corners in the middle of the night as a club empties out into a desolate street. I won’t be stealing precious moments of time as if it were a stream-of-consciousness thinking void of feeling, see I have nothing but contempt for all of that now.
I tell myself, I will myself to shut it out. Writing about a woman in love is challenging enough, as it is on its own. Stars falling down. There are stars in my rival’s eyes. My voyage into the dark was all lit up like a lamp. My rival’s skin is glowing. Clouds gather across the sky. As she speaks leaves are falling outside like snow. I can taste beads of autumn on my tongue mixed with the chicken we’re having for lunch. Rivals hunched over camomile tea. And she spreads her arms in the air to express herself. She keeps a journal. She confides in me, tells me she’ll burn it one day.
And in some ways I too was in love with my rival because she was my friend but she was his lover and I could see that. I could see that in the way that she moved so out of sync with my world. I wanted to inhabit their world, his world of light and love. Lovely light that burned so bright, woman lost waiting to be found, woman found standing in the rain without her coat on or an umbrella to shield her from the weather and then I come to love, and the chemistry of their love.
And in the end both friend and the man I was in love with became the bullies I had grown up with in childhood and teenage years. He gave her security. He gave her the gifts I’ve always wanted, was greedy for my whole life. If only he loved me. If only he cared. Poor me, poor plain wallflower me.
Everything would be simpler. I wouldn’t feel so scared (frightened to death of the people around me). The room was hot. When he walks past me, when he speaks to me I feel submerged in molten lava. What does a man think and feel when he is in love, when he desires? I don’t believe in laws when it comes to love. You must say what you feel how else can you live when you’re in love. I don’t know what he sees when ‘the man’ looks at me. All I see is my rival and how she catches his eye.
Rivals don’t have to make lists for dinner for one, simple meals that take no fuss, and no bright energy of a think tank and that will leave no dirty dishes in the sink. The very first time he met my rival he said, ‘Lovely to meet you.’ My mind became a fog in the cubicle next to his, a wasteland, a country to call my own, a moveable greasy feast from one generation to the next and I moved my seat back. Of course to hear more because he had been the subject of many of our conversations that we had since she started to work there. Everything about my rival spoke of the coquettish. She gave me incense as a gift.
I would run my fingers over the names on the boxes. Names like sandalwood, sage, myrrh, patchouli and cupid. Made in India. Before I lit the tip of the incense stick at night I would hold it under my nose and breathe in the sweet fragrance. I would be overcome with a funny spiritual hunger as I watched it burn.
I also wanted a man to say to me (did it matter what he said), to speak to me, to burn, to desire. Just to think of that word, ‘burn’ lit me up from inside and left a mark on me.
‘Better to be safe than sorry,’ my rival said. ‘Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’. ‘You’re such a walking mass of contradictions.’ My rival said, ‘On the surface you’re so, so vulnerable but then again you’re so strong after everything you’ve been through and I know how children can be. They can be cruel, can’t they? Have you ever, maybe I shouldn’t be asking this, but you must have been in love at some point in your life? Have you ever thought of wearing makeup? I do really good makeovers. Just think about it. You have really pretty eyes with such long lashes. I really envy you. I wear fake ones. I don’t really know if you can tell the difference. It’s hell to put on. Drives me crazy really. I’m really vain.’ And then she put her head back and laughed. I listened. I listened almost as if everything she was saying had its own external reality.
For my rival there was comprehension in what she was saying. All I saw was a ghost (my rival was that ghost) spirited from my roots, from my bones that have anchored me on my life’s journey. She motivated me when some mornings I felt that all was lost and I looked forward to having that coffee, chicken sandwich or wilted green salad with her.
‘Your hair isn’t as miserable as you think it is.’ ‘Do you like cooking for yourself? We must swap recipes sometimes. I only have yoghurt in the fridge.’
She could go on and on but she was pretty and it was almost as if you were watching a television show with everything made up. She made everything sound glam, grand and as if it was a gift to the world. She made it sound as if she was the gift to the world.
To me the only possessions my angelic-in-love rival had were her beauty pageant eyes. The Los Angeles heart of my crush, his Hollywood and Columbia University days’ neon-heat of shades was behind him. Now painted masks, painted tribal drums of his now South African plateau lay before him, a racist Johannesburg with a house in the suburbs and a garden in front and trees in the yard.
Note to self
I’ll go all dead on you in a flash until suffering is no longer here. I’ll go soft and teary-eyed. What will be left of you? Politics and love, the devil and love, a trembling fool and love, pleasure and love, subtle rage and love, the forgetting and the not forgetting of love. I remember the pleasures of love. I loved you then but it is harder to let go now. Time has stopped dead. Age has caught up with both of us. Are you a different man now than you were then? On canvas I don’t think you could be a different man. Let time weave stories. What has become of my rival? Tell me world what has become of her because I would like to know what she has achieved, and what she has accomplished.
It still means everything. How much have you ever loved me rival? In dreams I become a figurine meeting-and-greeting ghosts. Every poet ends up just dust meeting dust. My knowledge can be a slate wiped clean with brutal energy and force.
The rival’s journal entry
She’s disabled (she’s struggled with this her whole life, the left foot that is so out of sync with the rest of her although she can still walk) but she’s also in love. She talks about him all the time. She is a woman in love struggling with scrutiny, electricity, the alignment of her limbs from the world she lives in daily to another woman’s. She’s had enough of feeling this wretched way. It torments her. She’s a winner. She’s a loser. She’s a lover. She’s a fighter. She’s a girl. She’s a woman who lives in books.
She would be lifeless, loveless, homeless, infirm without them. She is a writer who is an artist (who sits in a cubicle) in the inner sacred cycle of that most personal of spaces. Even disabled writers are artists with their rituals and passages. I imagine her life must be like this. I cannot imagine what it must be to live without love. She thinks I’ve had everything since birth. I think she’s in love with me.
Sometimes I see her looking at me with such a fierce expression on her face, as if she wants to consume me, as if she was the sun and she wants to burn me up. I don’t want to talk to her about this because I don’t have a lot of female friends. I like her. She’s funny. She understands why I like him (because he’s older, he makes me laugh, he’s more mature, has more life experience, rich). We have our coffee and our cake and I can just talk, talk and talk with her.
We can communicate with each other as if we are just old ladies, kindred folk communing. She tells me about her observations. I listen. It’s important for me to just listen to her sometimes on how she observes life. (I wonder if he’s real sometimes this man she talks about or something she’s made up inside her head. I mean that would be kind of sad attaching goals to a dream in your head.) We talk about our dreams. We analyse them.
I read her horoscope to her from the page of a fashion magazine. I don’t think she reads fashion magazines. She’s so intellectual in her outlook but this is what I like most about her, that we’re different. But when we say our goodbyes at the end of the workday I think she’s a little bit sad because what does she have to go home to at the end of the day. She has supper with her parents and after that a night in front of the television. What can I say? Come out with me. We’ll have fun.
Go out to a quiet restaurant, have some pasta and red wine and then to a club. She’s told me again and again not to feel sorry for her. It’s her choice. It’s her life. She doesn’t want to be pitied. I tell her I don’t feel sorry for her. I tell her she’s a lovely girl and there is going to be someone out there who is going to feel attracted to her. ‘One day,’ she says too swiftly and too quietly. ‘Maybe one day. I just don’t feel comfortable with the idea for now and being in a very public and loud space.’
So for now I don’t mention anything of us going out anywhere after work. I say, ‘See you tomorrow and have a lovely evening.’ I don’t want to make waves.
At the moment she is concentrating on writing on Jean Rhys, her education, her descriptions of Dominica. She talks excitedly about it, ‘In the fantasy and elation of every woman lies the survival of the extraordinary,’ and she goes on and on about this. It all sounds very dark and depressing to me. But she seems to enjoy it, writing these dark stories and hoping to sell them and not work as a researcher forever.
When she talks about them she looks extraordinarily different as if she was all physically right there. Her face is lovely, she’s articulate, and nothing about her is faked. She’s no fraud. Truth has haunted me my whole life. What do these words mean to the inexperienced? She says, ‘Everything (the impulse) that I have thought about, written about has left me drowning or frozen at one point or another before I’ve surrendered it to life.’
She gives me lists of books to read. I nod (what else can I do). These are books I will never read but I pretend that for her sake I will read them.
© Abigail George April 2013
More life stories
Email address: abigailg at dbm.co.za
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