••• The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes
Felicity and Nadine
Felicity was going to night school. Taking a class in how to learn French. Writing in her journal.
‘Do something that makes you happy". Her mother advised.
There were days Felicity thought that she would have been happier married with children. A not too large house, just spacious enough for a family, for hosting dinner parties and family get-togethers in the backyard but she never had those children. Most days she was happy anyway.
Felicity had a job with a small income at a library and that made her happy.
It was a cold Saturday afternoon. Her sister’s daughter, Carol had come anyway. It had just started to rain.
‘Don’t you mind if she gets a cold?’ she asked her sister, Nadine.
‘Oh, children get sick all the time and she misses you all. Asks about ‘you’ in particular all the time. I have a cold too.’ Nadine said with force.
‘Oh.’ Felicity said like she had found that information interesting.
Felicity was painting her nails. It was an exotic colour. It didn’t really suit her mood.
She had just washed her hair. Stepped out of the bathroom. The child was still small. Green eyes framed by dark brown hair. Dirt under the fingernails. The child would either throw a tantrum or scream at the top of her voice whenever she got annoyed, irritated or was not getting her way. That would make Felicity see red.
She didn’t know how to talk to children. So she stayed in her room and read John Updike, Gillian Slovo and Graham Greene.
Her mother was in the kitchen cooking meatballs and spaghetti with sauce (more a thin broth). Her father was reading. These days he was always reading. Books on curbing diabetes. It made her father happy so she stayed out of his way and out of her mother’s way especially in the kitchen.
The child switched the light on and off. On and then off again. The child made Felicity happy. Made her think that happiness was more than a choice of words, wishful thinking but staged for a performance.
‘Grief makes you weak (Felicity wrote). You begin to assume the worst all the time with each day.’ She looked up at the sky.
At the grey clouds swollen with downpour gravitating towards delivery. As an adult she was amazed that her parents had stayed together for as long as they did. She thought that sometimes they belonged with other people. Her father was a fragile, shipless manic depressive. Her mother a heap of a mess and then there was her sister. The flame of Nadine’s tangled hair framed by sunlight.
Do you think I’m beautiful?’ she wanted to ask the boy in her class. He had brown eyes and was shorter than she was. People say, well, my mother says that’s being vain. Shallow. Silly. Stupid. It doesn’t last, she says. It makes an impression on people. Doesn’t matter if they’re man, woman or child. It doesn’t last (the writer in Felicity wrote in her journal). The weather is cold and wet outside the classroom in Port Elizabeth. She felt the boy’s eyes resting on her before she even looked up and met his gaze. He did not look away. Absent-mindedly she touched the top of her head, smoothing away stray curls. She blushed. Felt the heat rising in her face, fidgeted with her hands, clenching and unclenching her fists and turned her head towards the man standing in front of the classroom. Pouring all of her attention as if he were made of a liquid substance into him. She sinks and swims in the local swimming pool, the noise like a vapour in her current environment evaporating and remembered bullies from her old high school days.
Their names flashed in front of her eyes. Minirth. Meier. Jacobsen. What and where were they now? Were they unhappy, happily married or did they have a thick middle. (Green eyes framed by dark brown hair.) Did they have any children? Daughters or sons? The light was pale there under water.
Her shoulders were brown.
She doesn’t think about old boyfriends. The origins of consciousness when it came to meditation. The smoke and mirrors, the mist and thinkable, contradictory exposure of it all.
She doesn’t think of the Johannesburg people anymore. They were just a bunch of natural born eco warriors.
Saving water, planting trees, and tending a patch of garden where they grew peach trees and a variety of vegetables their children eating their broccoli,
The days when she was so exhausted she couldn’t even get out of bed she felt fragile. There were days when she thought to herself that the sunlight was like syrup. As nutritious as eating. Good enough to eat.
She would shield her eyes and the rest of the world from the bedridden image of her while she made notes.
Scribbling furiously in black Croxley notebooks like the stash of secret notebooks that the writer Jean Rhys kept hidden away from the world in a suitcase.
She wanted to know what that strangeness within her was.
‘Don’t you want children?’ her sister asked her once.
‘No.’ she turned her head away.
‘By no, saying it like that, you mean you haven’t really given it much thought, have you?’ They were making mugs of herbal tea in the kitchen. Her sister’s daughter was sleeping and so were their parents.
‘Children change you for the rest of your life. Haven’t you realised that yet?’
‘Don’t you want that for yourself?’
‘I’m happy. Really I am.’
‘I worry for you.’ Her sister leaned in and hugged her tight.
‘Stop worrying. Don’t worry so much.’ She blinked back her tears.
‘This tea is hot.’
But it’s not my destiny don’t you understand is what she really wanted to say to her sister.
She got up out of her seat and gathered her notebook and textbook. She imagined the boy striding across the room to meet her, driving her home. Film school had not made her happy. Instead she felt she wanted to do more but more of what she did not know. The boy had sensitive hands and an interesting face. She did not want to share him with Nadine. Film school had exhausted her. She had felt tired all the time. Burnt out but she could always feel the sea in her hair.
Waves inside of her. She could feel it in her fingers. Feel it washing over her.
The thin winter downpour did nothing to mask her loneliness. It seemed to expose her. The white blinding vision inside her head. Down came the rain. An ancient ritual much like family and tenderness. The bloodlines of the phoenix. The house was dark and the rooms felt empty. Carol, the innocent who picked up empty snail shells in the garden and kissed them was sleeping next to her mother Nadine.
In memory of life, the sweetness of life Felicity cooked. Eggs, chicken and soup. She read the books of Anita Brookner and Jean Rhys. Feminists, ahead of their time. Jean Rhys had been a mother so it wasn’t impossible for her, for Felicity to also have a child. Perhaps as a girl, she thought to herself, love meant eternal sacrifice to her mother. What did she give up in Johannesburg when she moved down here to Port Elizabeth? To cook and clean and keep house.
Have two daughters.
‘You’ve been doing it for a lot longer than I have. Living in this world I mean while I am left in the dark. The lone outsider feasting on stones. Wanting peace but not getting any of it but I don’t mind. I must live before I die, right? I must love before it is too late. I must forgive you where and when you have cut me down to size. And when you’ve cut me down to size, mum, my ego, my flesh I’ve watched you stitch me back together again as if that was more than enough. As if there was truth, meaning behind it.
I am left digging to find you. Digging to find my soul. The park is not wilderness. Life there, well it has a delicate, dazzling angel skin.
It is not only poor people who are broken-hearted but rich lovers too. Their departures are like the hibiscus found in winter. Poems found in nature. What do people do when they find themselves in places of weeping? Carol’s hands were across her face. She was softly weeping.
Trying not to draw attention to herself but she caught my eye. A child standing alone. What does life have to offer her?
I am a girl again. Pure like snow but its fleeting. This whirlwind.
All out of love where are you running to now David? I’m not who you think I am. Just a coloured girl. I’m not the same girl I was in high school.
I’ve been part of a study. I was under observation in a hospital. Also a girl, restless and frustrated in the big city. My love for you has always been in vain. I have got to get you off my mind.
I didn’t even think to ask if you liked the poetry.’
Nadine cornered Felicity in the kitchen.
‘What are you always writing down there? Is it a letter?’ Nadine picked the notebook up off the sitting room table. ‘Who is David?’
‘My David. You remember him. From my film school days.’ Felicity stretched her free hand to the bowl on the table and helped herself to beef flavoured crisps.
‘The one that made such an impression on you. Yes, I remember him. It’s not good for you. This writing. It makes you remember stuff you shouldn’t.’ Nadine muttered under her breath.
‘No, you’re wrong sis. It helps me forget about the past.’
‘Does it Phoebe (Nadine’s nickname for Felicity) or are you only telling yourself that?’ Nadine greedily slurped soda from a can.
‘Well write away then if you think it helps. Are you going to help me make something to eat or watch rubbish television the whole afternoon?’
‘I’m watching cooking shows. Leave the book on the table. I’m not finished with the story yet.’ Felicity answered annoyed.
‘Now we’re writing stories. Whatever poet!’
‘I’ll come and help you later.’ Felicity replied by pulling the blanket over her head. Her voice sounding slightly muffled but still Nadine hovered. Felicity could sense her sister was still in the room, drinking the soda noisily.
‘Are you learning something in that class? Say anything in French. Dazzle me.’
Felicity ignored her sister.
The boy in her French class did not remind her of David. David had been older. Leaner. British. In other words, white.
This boy’s skin was the colour of ochre. As if he came from the soil. She was sitting alongside the boy in his car. They had stopped outside her house.
She knew he could not come in with her but inside that white blinding vision of her head they were together.
A couple and then she could feel his warm breath against her neck. His arm around her waist.
She listened to the song on the radio. Words that weren’t English. Words that belonged to him. That only he understood.
‘A love song.’
‘Oh.’ Felicity would say sighing.
‘It’s in Hindi.’ The boy would reply.
He would always reply to her in words that were made in an ‘age of iron’. Words that were ‘lost in translation’ to her.
She didn’t even know the boy’s name in her French class. She was lost in the textbook. She hadn’t been paying attention.
Focus Felicity Darling. She reached for her cardigan.
Euphoria. Magic. Courage. How can a child be so young but already have their own understanding of what they are?
‘It made me forget about the dark house of my childhood. The voices in my bedroom when I switched the light off at night and switched the bedside table lamp on. I knew the voices were there.
The insomnia was always there. Insomnia burning bright at midnight. Into the early hours of the morning.
I am my mother’s daughter but I am also my father’s daughter. All I know is that for a long time I was lost.
Lost like Moses in the wilderness from Religious Instructions in school, eating ‘manna’ at the clinic, waiting for the ‘burning bush’ in the parking lot for Nadine to come and fetch me. Waiting to be plucked or found.
David was kind of like a Hemingway to me. He moved differently in the world than I did. I longed to move in his social circle.
I was from a different class. The working class. There was something in his smile. It sounded like music. Fury too but you see you can never predict what is going to happen in the future.
The boys you will meet. That being ‘different’ was good.
‘Carol, come and eat!’ Nadine called.
‘Don’t bully the child.’ Their mother said sitting at the kitchen table scrubbing and peeling potatoes. ‘She will eat when she’s hungry.’ Nadine rolled her eyes.
‘You bullied us plenty.’ Nadine said under her breath.
© Short fiction by Abigail George
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