••• The International Writers Magazine:Life Stories
'I loved the daily grind. The business side of it. Yet, I also felt crowded, pressured to be happy because of the heat of the day'
You don’t know my situation although I wish you did. It’s too late to offer up any sound explanations through gritted teeth and clenched fists with a heavy heart. The field of the sun is beautiful when translated. Its world giving. A formidable journey into morning. It feels as if there’s a fever the size of the Atlantic inside of me. A burning sensation like my father’s hand felt like in his one found white glove on his wedding day. Ian, you’re faultless when you’re disguised. It feels as if a thousand years have passed but it has only been a few hours since we broke up on the telephone.
There are ripples of emptiness. Ian, you’re another ghost in this city. Your journey is out of focus. Flowers are like mothers. Language is like the fear of swimming for your life. Your touch is blue. So is the business of distance from the sky, to you, to the ground. Ian, you held winter in your hands. The dark frightened me. I’m unhappy. I’m lonely. I’m floating on my back in the local swimming pool. Joyce, my sister is not lonely. Joyce is as cold as a river in winter. During weekdays the house is kept busy by sighing.
Its inhabitants listening to music. They watch television, gathering anticipation for an evening meal. I think of Ian with nostalgia. The dream of him (the strong, masculine introvert). I know he cares nothing for me. Doesn’t love me. Doesn’t think of me while he still keeps me up nights. The world here in Johannesburg is wonderful. I swallow branches (the outside in), the sun’s conceit, Hollywood fingers, black and white films, contact lenses that change my eyes from golden-brown to sea-green. In another instant I am home. Joyce chatters away as if she is talking to herself, while I pretend to watch my soap. I sleep as if I know exactly what is good for me. The world here is wonderful. The weather is wonderful.
People still appear at weddings standing about with the confetti in their hair. Ian your face, older, is still fine. I imagine now that perhaps his voice changes in the summer months. His words seem fewer and far between. I know the truth and the revolution that he brings with him. The roads that he has travelled on. He has turned his sadness into an evasion. I buried him alongside clouds, a sleeping couple like an island behind the dunes. I am ready to greet the dawn’s yellow, the sunrise, and the blue horizon. I am a tourist on a beach. I am a tourist on an island. I am a tourist rising from my bed, living in a hotel room, getting ready for life. You, Ian, move like a volcano in this world.
I’m delicate. Fragile living has done me the world of good in the thickening of the night’s middle but even in the departure of the dark I am able to see you. Ian’s identity is as ancient as the branches of an oak. Tales of acorn and unicorn. Themes of mood disorder and uncertain circumstance. The texture of a swimming shorts made out of viscose material and bare knees. You’re the atmosphere found at the sea, glare, grace, the ghost of tears that haunt like the rain does.
Sunlight as white as bone. How can one man and his American life inspire and indulge the imagination and creativity of a poet? His identity is an avenue up a cold street. A landscape embroiled in Lucky Strike cigarettes, fertility, his countrymen’s shamanic wisdom, a neurotic panorama. Portraits of silver cutlery, glass made out of crystal, expensive crockery made in China. This vessel must adapt to the current, to reading channels of emptiness in the eyes of others, to reading hands. The water’s swell roars in my ears. All I see in front of me is the hard and calculating faces of attractive females in the workplace. All I can think to myself is this.
How does God manage the rain clouds as they gather, the fish in the sea, shark teeth, a woman’s pair of shoes, coat, hat, her preparation of tea, how does God manage the mud found on a man’s boots? Ian’s hair is cut short at the perfect sides of his head. Under my trusting shroud of the affair of winter I find that beneath each session with my therapist lies the inner music of sadness.
Beneath that, tension and even further beneath that the inner muscle of rage that carries through itself the meaningless bleak outlines of the city skyline, smoke, mist, fogged up windows, the shine on a sill. I don’t have anything in common with the living. Ian has given up on this clear image of me. His newspaper dashed to the ground. The only things that were free in those days were the little birds. What is our language? Language is this. It must be translated. It must be spread across countries from Europe to Africa just like the smell of frangipani blossoms and jasmine in my mother’s spring garden. Yesterday, today and tomorrow meeting present and future at the same time.
Ex-high school girls turned into wives, lovers and mothers, present and future. Shame and stigma present and future. Obstacles when I was an adolescent seemed few. The air fresh and cool and still seems to fill the fibre of my being today. In Johannesburg, it was cars and traffic, not birdsong that greeted me every morning with each sunrise. I worked as an unpaid intern at a television production house when I was twenty. Making photocopies, telephone calls, coffee and running errands for some of the most important people working in media in Johannesburg.
I loved the daily grind. The business side of it. Yet, I also felt crowded, pressured to be happy because of the heat of the day. There was no wind song that was apparent. No afterlife of the pouring rain. No dewy grass just as cool to the touch as the air. No birdsong scratching at the surface. I missed the branches of the trees of my hometown. The rhythmic dancing of life. I finally knew what ‘the world so cold’ so meant. A world that ‘offered me no warmth’.
Ian, you’re you. I am the innocent. You were the tenderness. I was the naïve one in the relationship. In my dreams repeatedly I find myself in the city by the sea covered with bright lights. This is what I know of the world. Separation anxiety. His green eyes (fleck framed by dark black hair). I’m occupied with thoughts of belonging. Longing to find myself in this world. I want to place the universe next to the keys in my pocket made of cold winter. Stars slept while I searched for the seat of mum’s soul. The location of gravity. Autumn's blood knot. Ruffians like the big, bad wolf in fairy tales belonging to a childhood insomnia. Eyes large with terror afraid of the dark night I searched for a woman called ‘mummy’ but instead found monsters under the bed. In the closet.
It is found below. The same place where volcanic rock resides undisturbed for millions of years. Underground. A mother’s love is a bit like finding buried treasure. I remember the haunting fragments of my speechless reflection. My winter expression. My grandfathers came out of the soil. Each could move mountains. Mountains would tremble when they spoke against them. They could touch that dead world found between heaven and hell. Noble men. They were stuff made of champions. Common sense doesn’t mean that you’re soft. They both knew of the despair of war and carried the bearings of truth in their faces until they were old men. Their children grew up in front of them choosing obedience and discipline. Trusting those images. The image of home. ‘Home’ in other words sanctuary. When I turned forty Ian would become home too.
Studying the passage of a difficult relationship means to look at others in society. Humans in their environment. Writing about people means I get to dissect them. Pull them apart at the seams. Live with them for a short while, love them, and then leave them. There are two kinds of girls in this world. The 'Madonna' and the 'Mother Teresa of Calcutta'. The instant was swept away just as quickly as it had come upon me. The road in the distance was magnificent. The heatwave in summer electric just like she, Jenny, my best friend in high school (and my mother) was.
Jenny brought the sea to me. Rain gathered overhead. The heavens opened her floodgates. Jenny’s fingers tap out another language on the piano. She told me once of how she had nearly drowned as a girl in a hotel swimming pool. Her mother brushed her blonde hair as thick as honey as I sat next to her. She’s all mouth and perfumed hair. Fragility. Her mouth was filled with French verbs. At the beach her cousins were hard on me. I was half in love with her. I wanted to be her. Look like her. Her memory is as faint as a drum roll now. She doesn’t know me anymore. Jenny’s become a stranger waiting for her train at the station, the future of seawater towards immortality, dust singing of sick birds. My sister too was the former and I, the latter. The night is spiritual. The country of beauties is a haunted land filled with the proverbial thirst. The measures of longing. Of dying to belong to feast and the imperative. Every broken family is filled with cracks in their system.
Their lungs overflowing with flame like a fireplace in a mansion. I don’t know whether this shoreline will still be here in a decade. I’m thinking of the wind. Feasting my eyes on gulls. It’s beautiful out here. The singing geography of here reminds me of Alice in her wonderland.
A word like ‘emphasis’. Growing up in Port Elizabeth there were always two Vincents in my life. One a cousin, the other a painter who died penniless but whose art is now worth millions. Vincent was the ‘other man’s son’. We adopted him. I loved him like a brother. My father was the ‘other man’.
The other man was dominated by melancholy. Onwards, I found my father there in letters, a diary from his London University days. He took long naps while writing up his assignments about autism. I found my father in his grandson’s sandpit. I spoke to him collect on the telephone when I phoned home from the Salvation Army in Johannesburg. I remember speaking to him about the last white president of South Africa. Our voices merged as one. The loudness like freight trains in the dark going fast-fast-fast-fast. It was only later, nearing forty that I understood what my father was trying to teach me. If you want love, have a need for it, or desire, then begin to have a love affair with yourself first. Understand this that before you can love anyone else, worship anyone, possess them, you have to take yourself, your reflection in the bathroom mirror and like everything about yourself, from the top of your head to the bottom of your soul.
The things that are important to remember are that there are manuals out there for everything. You only have to look for it and you will find it. There were men who wanted to dominate me. Men who wanted to love me. When I looked at a man, a new world was born for me. There would be a gaze, a meeting of the eyes. Nothing would be said. Everything would be said. There would be an arrival of tenderness. A show and tell of it and that would be enough for me. You will still find in this day and age that the physical, the body in half-light in the morning would be enough for a girl new to the city. A man can take and take repeatedly. What can a girl offer but her instinct for life, her intellectual capacity for love, she will in return give everything she can simply to be adored, or to be a trophy girlfriend, trophy wife. In retrospect a girl only truly blossoms when she is touched for the first time. When she makes love. When a man tells her for the first time that he is in love with her. It is far easier to say, ‘Be my girlfriend’, than ‘be my wife’. Men can say anything to the object of their affection with fire in their loins.
If a woman wants to be a woman in a man’s world she has to pay a price. Her femininity goes away. First she has to wear the ‘suit’. She has to wear the ‘pants’. She has to be ‘tall’. Yes, her femininity goes. There will be a symbolic cut between what reality is and what is not real. She will surround herself with an entourage of men because only men can understand her situation. Only men will appear trustworthy to her on the surface.
© Short fiction by Abigail George October 2016
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Felicity and Nadine
Felicity was painting her nails. It was an exotic colour. It didn’t really suit her mood.
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