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••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Living on the Edge

Nerve damage and the history of light in November
• Abigail George
I reach out for the stillness of the sea hanging in the sitting room. I’m slowly going mad again.


There is magic to be made again, spells to read in tea leaves, books that linger out of reach, the melodies of rain, rest, and breath. I’m dead already, living, loving on borrowed time. I’m the saddest that I’ve ever been. Anything is possible.

I want to stay somewhere where the landscape is as forgiving as my heart, but I can’t seem to find that place. The space in the swimming pool is liquid-slow on the inhale, pure as the day, pure as the light, pure as waves hitting the shoreline with only their kind of holy grace and supernatural mercy, and at this time of day there aren’t many people about, and I think to myself what a beautiful world, but that I am the only not beautiful thing in it.

Insecurity can do that to you, you know of course if you are insecure you don’t quite believe that you belong in this world, to this world. Hypnotic, supernatural, ritual are just words. They’re just words that are bright with images and illusions. I sink and float in all of these images and illusions. The water spirits me away, cleansing me of every artifice. It takes away the sun, and offers me up moons in return. I think of the last time I made love to a man (any man). That was in my twenties.

And then I think of the image of the man, the man making conversation with the woman because he wants to, he wants to share something of himself with this novel woman, and also because he likes her, and I think of the woman in love, falling in love, clinging onto the man, offering up her physical world, the mental, the verbal because she wants to be pleasing to this man, and have an attractive personality. She is glowing with song in his arms on the dance floor in this nightclub. And soon they will leave together. He will park his car by the lake. Ask the woman if she wants a cigarette. The woman will say yes. The man will light two cigarettes in his mouth with a lighter. She will inhale, cough, a smile will light up her face, and say the last time I did anything like this, sneaking away with a boy from my friends was in high school.

I think of this man now as I am swimming in the local swimming pool, surrounded by the emptiness of the day, Florence and the Machine drumming away inside my head like the words ‘hypnotic’, ‘supernatural’ and ‘ritual’. I want to be my sister now, who is moving away to Prague to teach English. I don’t want to be the daughter who stayed behind and looked after a deaf mother and an infirm father, and forgot how to live, how to be young, how to be beautiful. I want to glow in rhythm and sleep, walking down the street. I have never been to my sister’s house in Johannesburg. She’s cruel and condescending, bitchy and evil and blonde now, never speaks to me or our father when she phones the house. And I think of the Johannesburg of my twenties, and the Portuguese man undressing me with his eyes as he hands me my order, and how men don’t undress me with their eyes anymore.

A-ha is playing inside my head now. If I wanted to I could have escaped too, under Billy Joel’s Scandinavian Skies. I want to be happy. Everyone wants to be happy. I am trying to be happy. I think what is that that is left for me in this world. I’m through being brave. I’m not brilliant at anything, I was not made to love, to live for a spacious house, and a kind husband, and dream of talented children. The aunts all look at me as if I’ve failed. The uncles pass me by after their wet kisses just meet my lips, oh, I know, I know what they think of me. Can’t have children, couldn’t get a man, oh, the shame of it all. I digress. I am going mad again. Let me get back to the basics of going mad. When I go mad, I have to be hospitalised. Recovery takes at least a week. The medical aid only pays for a week. I usually end up in high care on suicide watch.

After the week, I am discharged. The psychiatrist sends me home. There is nothing else that this private clinic can do for me. Take your pills. I swallow the pills. Drink some water. Mother wants to destroy me. Turn me into a nun. Turn me into a man. She takes the scissors to my hair. I am obedient as ever. I sit and cry as my hair falls in bunches around me. I am losing my crown, wonder how I am going to restore my femininity; she cuts and cuts until there is nothing left. I don’t move. I feel the shape of my head beneath my fingertips. The mirror wants me to be a woman. I think of Anne Sexton’s Bedlam. I must dream. I must dream. I will land if I fall from the blue sky up, my feet touching the eternity of shadows and shallows there, the life in geography there, and thoughts race through my brain. The bishops and the priests of the universe have deserted me. The world glares at me and tastes bitter. I am resurrected.

Now my mother has two sons. In my thirties I am resurrected. I am Lazarus. My sister is not lost to the art of travel. She’s worldly. She’s ticked off Florida, New York, Phuket, India, Bali and Prague on her bucket list. I’m homely. I’ve stayed at home. She wants to be making babies with someone ‘hot’. My mother encourages her. She must marry someone European. This someone must have ‘megabucks’ and ‘dollars’. My sister is leaving next year. All I can think of is cutting my wrists with a razor blade as a cry for help, and perhaps my sister will stay for me, for my father. Perhaps she will be responsible for once, or love me for once in her life. I go on no blind dates in my late thirties. I don’t go out on restaurant dinner dates. I don’t do internet dating. My sister has done all of this. All I think of is cutting and self-harm. I read random pages out of Plath’s The Bell Jar. I read Sexton’s Collected Poems.

I look at the photograph of her on the cover of the book in sandals, Capri pants, and white flowing shirt. I think about dying. I think of who will come to my funeral. I’m nearing my forties now. I’m still miserable. I think that Mindy Kaling is gorgeous. I wish I was famous like she was. My father has just passed away. Still, nobody asks how I’m doing, do I need anything like a casserole or psychological help or an appointment with my female Afrikaner psychiatrist who is also blonde. I tell no one that I’m thinking of taking my own life. I wash the dirty dishes in the sink, clear the dining room table, and think of taking my life. I watch Fox and think of taking my own life. I think back to my aunts who looked at me and looked away again, who made conversation with my sister fresh from Prague at my dad’s funeral and not me, and I think of taking my own life. I lose something daily; names, faces, places, door keys, car keys, my favourite headscarf, empty calories, take-out menus.

I inherit something daily; memories. There’s the memory of making love for the last time. The memory of love in the forest dark, the memory of a beautiful woman’s lot in life, and the care that she takes to remain as beautiful for as long as she possibly can. There are other memories. The memories of right angled jumps into fret, and panic-mode, and anxiety, and depression, and the coping mechanisms to combat all of that. Then there are the memories of being a bone-thin girl turning into a morbidly obese woman. My sister, well we Skype. Absence it seems has made our hearts grow fonder. Fonder for the bond we shared in childishness. There’s a word for everything that is lonely, and wild, and free. It is me. It is me. It is me Susannah. It is our first Christmas without my sister. It is Christmas 1984. My sad laughter is mixed with carol singing on the television, salty tears and red, red wine spilling on the carpeted floor.

I am in my mid-forties. I am nearly 47-years-old. The food that I make is still an experiment. I buy packs of menthol cigarettes when I buy bread and milk, but never smoke them.

© Abigail George 8.4.19
abigailgeorge79 at

Leaves that talk
Abigail George

I think of fruit, good olive oil, pasta, and tuna casseroles when I think of her name. I think of overripe tomatoes perfect for sauce. Of just how much I loved you, and how you never loved me back.

Dear Journal, it’s me, Alice
Abigail George

Books always marked our games somehow. The passage of time.
Growing up the house was (always) filled with books.

More life moments in Dreamscapes

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