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African Renaissance

There are two kinds of lovers

Abigail George

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Before 39

I think of my wife Diana. Diana the paramedic with the reading hands, the quiet smile that plays on her lips while she eats my spaghetti.

I am standing on my flat’s balcony. Barefoot, her dark hair loose she hands me a cup of coffee, kisses my cheek, and asks me what I want to eat for supper. There’s birdsong. I look at the gardens of the ground floor flats. They stay with me like a page in a J.M. Coetzee novel. I think of campfires burning in the dark, telling ghost stories at Scout meetings, Khayalitsha burning, the children who lost their lives in that fire. I think of iron faces, winter news in the outline of this, as I read the newspaper. There’s nothing as beautiful as the woman in the photograph who is the bride of high summer days. That woman is Dawn, my mother. I think of Port Alfred, my father at the wheel of the car, I am fighting with my brother. We don’t speak. The last time I saw him was at my mother’s funeral. He was growing older.

He still looked handsome though in his dark suit and Rhodes tie. We spoke briefly. His son was at university studying music and his daughter was finishing off her last year of high school. After the funeral we get home, Diana and I make love, I watch a National Geographic documentary on how climate change and global warming is affecting the rainforest. I eat a pear, and catch the juice with the back of my hand dribbling down my chin. It’s drizzling. The clothes on the washing line is getting wet. It’s too late to save them. I think of my brother as I heat up the leftovers of a takeaway chicken curry from the night before. I eat standing at the kitchen counter. Drink a glass of water. Rinse my plate in the sink, dry it and pack it away. I think of Dawn, how bone-thin she was. She was a minister’s daughter, her mother an English teacher.

In the weeks to come I am overcome by grief. I buy dirty magazines. Hide it under my side of the bed. I start seeing a therapist again. Talk about the close relationship I had with my mother. How she was the only woman who ever really understood me. Sometimes I talk about Diana, how submissive she is, my brother, how we’re not close, how successful he is, how envious of that part of his life I am. I like this therapist. She reminds me of Dawn. The shape of her lips, her well-toned arms, she likes to wear dresses, heels. She’s very feminine, full of life, joie de vivre; she has children, a dreamy husband. The husband is stern-looking in the photograph, so are her two boys. I tell her about washing Dawn’s back, drawing infinite circles on Dawn’s back as a boy. How Dawn taught me how to drive, how she bought me my first typewriter.

The next documentary is on owls in Great Britain. There’s an owl flying through the air in slow motion on the screen. I look at Diana beside me. Her mouth is open. She’s wearing a slip. Her eyes flutter in sleep. I touch her face gently wanting her to wake up, wanting someone to talk to. I want to run her a bath, wash her back, and draw infinite circles on her back. I want to hold her hostage in my arms again, listen to her breath deepen as I kiss her neck and shoulders, gathering her to me. Later when we’re watching the National Geographic channel together I go to the kitchen to make a bedspread picnic of crackers and cheese and green olives in a bowl. We drink sparkling white wine in paper cups. I watch her fingers reach tentatively for the olives. She eats the cheese off the crackers before biting them in half.

Before 19

I come to life in my brother’s Cape Town flat. This was Dawn’s idea. That I stay here while completing my degree. I never see my brother. When we meet up with each other we’re like strangers. Sometimes he picks me up, takes me for an expensive meal, and shows off his car. Then he disappears again. I never see him for weeks. The less I see of him, the better. I think he must think I’m very strange. All I do is study. I never invite friends over to the flat. I don’t have a girlfriend. I think he feels sorry for me. I hate thinking, feeling that. Mostly I eat pasta. I eat lots and lots of pasta, watch cooking shows, and learn how to use two remotes, take long walks up and down Long Street, and I buy ice cream which I eat with a dessert spoon out of the tub while watching Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and Ava Gardner films.

I’m watching an adult film. It’s a gay film. It’s the first time I see a man naked. The television is on mute. Outside it is raining men and women. I’m thinking of people who only say things to be polite. Of how before I do things now, I have to wait for the tiredness to lift from staying up the entire night studying. I’m thinking of my brother and Dawn. How everything around me is fragile when dissected. Sometime I think of the hospital room I found myself in when I was barely twenty for depression. I sleep with married men. I sleep with married men for money. I buy clothes with this money. Tell Dawn I have a job at a campus radio station. Dawn tells me I don’t need to buy new clothes. She tells me I should save the money, and that my brother will look after us. I don’t think of my dad who died in a car accident when I was a baby.

When you are too much alone with your own thoughts you go mad if there is no one to distract you from your studies, your cave, from your books. Whenever I feel like this I go to the beach. Wear my swimming shorts underneath my jeans. Find my own warm sandy space on the beach, spread out my towel and strip down to my swimming costume. I sunbathe. It gets hot, then hotter. I take out my sunscreen out of my tog bag. Put my sunglasses on. I want to fuck. I go swimming. The first wave hits my waist. I duck my head beneath the next one. In a way I feel free. I watch a couple run into the waves, the white girl shrieking in delight as her coloured boyfriend follows behind her. He splashes her, playfully grabbing her arm and pulling her in deeper while she laughs and screams. It’s like I’m watching a soap opera from far away through blurred vision.

I watch them kiss as they step out of the waves. The white girl is wearing a white bikini. She looks exquisite. The boy is holding onto her waist from behind. He is nuzzling her neck. They hold hands as they walk past me. I pick up my book. It’s Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. I read, I swim, I turn brown in the sun, I drink warm soda from a can that I bought before I hit the beach, I pick up the book, I put down the book, and when I get bored I watch the people around me. A man reading a newspaper, his feet in leather sandals, sitting beneath an umbrella with a cooler bag, his wife (I presume) sitting next to him in a similar beach chair, also wearing sunglasses. She would intermittently press a sandwich in his hand or something to drink, or his reading glasses. She was paging through a glossy magazine. I watch young families, the mixed race couple until I fall asleep. 

Before 29

I’ve come out here to Grahamstown to write the great post-apartheid South African novel. I rent a room in a Bed and Breakfast. I sit outside by the fireplace in a patio chair. Rusty nails are coming out of it. I think too much. That’s the trouble with me. Instead of green hills I see blue hills. The trouble with madness is that you think too much. I let the sun shine on my face and try not to think too much. In a land far away, people are on the move as fast as mating rituals in the animal kingdom. They are getting out of bed, waking their children, taking showers, fixing breakfasts, fixing their hair (in that order). Yes, writing bold lists, drawing up hot itineraries like lost beak-nosed birds with fire in their belly. And like me they are surely writing out what their priorities for the day are. And later, everything around me is covered with an intense aura of pink light.

He is back from buying cigarettes. His name is Jakes. His hair is wet (from a ten-minute shower). I can’t shut him out no matter how hard I try. He is my education. He is my companion guide to angst. I know when he leaves he will not leave a note telling me where he has gone, what time he will be returning. He will have vanished into thin air like the thin man. Please love me I said in my youth and my early twenties. I met Jakes on the Translux bus to Grahamstown. He was young, and I’ve never been with someone so much younger than myself. I’ve always slept with married men. There were always children, a wife, but I had a connection with Jakes. When the bus stopped he gave me a blowjob in a bathroom stall. It feels incredible to be desired in this way. Jakes makes me think of the very first time I was with a man.

The man was older, European, a media and communications lecturer. I loved him from afar for the first semester. Turned out he had a thing for his students. He liked going down on them, being dominant, giving pleasure. He was the first man who kissed me. Afterwards I asked him how he knew I was gay. He said it was the love struck way I looked at him over James Baldwin. We would spend Sunday mornings going to church in the mornings and driving to the beach in the afternoons. He had a thing for the beach, church, fig preserve and for picnics. He cut a romantic figure in my solitary life. I told no one about this relationship which lasted the better part of a year. He introduced me to his golden cocker spaniel Sully. He introduced me to mediums and astrologers and consulting them on my future.

He introduced me to Cape wine tastings, weekends away to Franschoek, tiramisu, Anna Kavan, Karin Boye, Ann Quin and Anna Akhmatova. Jakes and I spent most of our time in the bedroom of the Bed and Breakfast in Grahamstown. I even took to smoking his menthol cigarettes. We’d watch soap operas, and cooking shows like I had when I was his age at university. He is young and restless, frustrated with his business and finance courses. On weekends he disappears with his friends. Let slip that there was a girlfriend who is a first year. Of course I was angry. I felt used but it was Jakes who reminded me that I had a life waiting for me back home and that there were two kinds of lovers in this world. I confide in Jakes. Tell him when I broke up with my lecturer I stopped going to church.

Religion didn’t seem important to me anymore. I don’t know why, it just didn’t. I thought of my maternal grandfather, Dawn’s father, the minister. How he would let me sit on his knee, brush my hair out of my eyes, tell me that I looked like Dawn, had Dawn’s eyes, her hands, her smile. How safe he made me feel every time I saw him behind the pulpit. Jakes said that in this world people love all the time. It didn’t always make sense when they left. I loved his energy, the fact that he seemed so lost and fragile to me, couldn’t decide what to study or follow his dream of becoming an actor. His head seemed to be in the clouds, messing around with a first year, a girl fresh out of high school. On our last night together Jakes and I ate a fancy steak in a fancy restaurant. I felt all the eyes in the restaurant on the two of us. Jakes said I was imagining things. We held hands, kissed when we left. It was dark. Nobody could see us.

Before 42

Disguise yourself in any way, shape, and fish. Form, variety, tree, bulb, flower, seed and I will accept it. I think of Diana. Of how when I introduced her to Dawn I said, ‘this is my future wife,’ or something like that. I remember how gracious Dawn was to her.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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African Renaissance

The gravity of the lover

Abigail George

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So, mother, like Johannesburg, you cut me in deep, imaginative and resourceful ways. A cut from you was a project. Thinking of you, staring at you, looking at you, your progress illuminated the world around me. Everything was brighter and so, I was always regaining strength. The love I had for you was lost on the pages of my journal. Lost (always lost). You laugh and say nothing and it hurts. The bright heights of it. Lying on my back I’ve been draped with a blackening world’s information. When evening comes it is even more poetic than the previous day’s evening. And when I spy the afternoon sun, that great yellow balloon, I am a woman found who dares not speak of the insanity (bipolar) found in her family. I have lived in chosen exile. On the surface prayer is like a vision, cold is a delight, the silver lining that passes by, salt and air meeting on the wind. In poverty there is always decay, the song of a choirgirl, crystals of light, a graffiti of them. I trace them on my arm, the windows and my palms. What he, the lover does not know won’t kill him like it kills me? I am slowly destroying myself. I have nowhere to go but down, down, down and there is no one to rescue me, to pull me out from under the dark towards the light.

His roses looked (for some reason) like cabbages to me. Red cabbages, a red song for the mad girl, a flower for my bleeding heart. The boy I used to play chess with in the park, sit on the grass barefoot, walk to the library with. He doesn’t have a name. His face doesn’t exist in my memory anymore. He has become a dark line, a dark fantasy although I can still hear his voice but it is from far away. All these affairs of the heart have made me feel strangely creative. They slide through me, teach me, whisper to me in the dark. I hate the dark. I need the light to burn bright even in the middle of the night. I pull sheets over mirrors. And I imagine the lover whose dark hair smelled of rain. The rain of a child’s world. This is my sky, my grass, my rage (I view the world as an Outsider). Girls are drinking beers in fancy restaurants trying to make conversation. Crystals of light evaporate in winter rain outside my window. Sexuality is really not of the flesh although most people think it is. It is of the mind. It is of the ego. It is intellectual. When is childhood ever at an end? This planet is unstable. I am unstable. I was tangled in an obsession for being a ghostly not of the flesh sexual object. I thought that that would open doors for me to humanity for humanity’s sake. I thought I would be able to hear the chords of the earth’s harmony. It kills me to say this. Madness can be as magnificent as euphoria. If only my childhood was different. Anne Sexton. Sylvia Plath. Robert Lowell. Confessional poetry down a brick lane. Confessional poetry for a coquettish girl. How beautiful and extraordinary those words seem to me now and forever more.

When is childhood ever at an end for a writer, years of history and the educating of a young girl’s mind? I saw pictures of a formidable brick wall seeming to close in on me in those affairs of the heart and the mind. Disjointed, evaporated fragments of the spirit. And every one becoming more and more apparent to me as the long days and the longer nights went by of my late adolescence and early twenties. Everything is disjointed, in fragments, there’s no clarity in what I have written down to me the reader. Everything is a journey. I’ve had enough of feeling this wretched way. Enough of the dead heat of a hot summer season, a season of fruits challenging me to think and to escape into a voyage in the dark, a sheltered experience, the blue-eyed wonder of the sky, stars falling down, stars in my lover’s eyes pleading with me with a clean perception during the midnight hour, scrutinising me openly with likeminded possibilities like clouds gathering across the sky. Everything in life is a journey. One must walk the path of inexperience to get to modernity, influence, perception and wisdom. I think a writer, writers like Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Keats, Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a poet like Emily Dickinson knew this.

Two Muslim girls are standing outside my office window smoking as if their lives depended on it.  I hated the taste and smell of cigarettes when I lived in my hometown before I left for Johannesburg. I don’t know where the children get the impulse to smoke from these days. At this moment I am concentrating on improving myself. Having a set routine, sleep hygiene, working on not having sleep deprivation, writing in my journal. And I wonder do they think of me, the men, as often as I think of them or do not think of them? The sexual impulse is sacred but I never saw this between a man and a woman, never grew up with it only with the realisation that sin matters. I couldn’t stand to be happy. When darkness fell upon the city of Johannesburg, I came undone under his fingertips. I didn’t know why I hated myself so. Why certain books changed my life? Why I could only surrender when a man touched me? Love comes with paradise, tears, the explanations, the words, the observations that comes with gravity, the love songs, and it will leave you wanting lying in the dark. There is no such thing as organic time or a clock. White meringue weddings are for girls, for orchids, for arum lilies, for tea light candles, delicate material like lace (not meant for a wonder guts like me, a tough cookie). I will not appear the same in the photograph as I do in memory. What do children communicate when they laugh, when they smile? Is their world not filled with joy? Why not mine?

The faded leaves of grass under school shoes, bubble-gum stuck under a school desk, reading Athol Fugard’s A Road to Mecca, remembering all of these childhood things brings something temporary to the surface. Not tension, not indifference, but a feeling of love for being young and not being in an adult world yet. A feeling of being fearless, so motivated that I got the lead role of an archaeologist (or anthropologist, I forget) in a house play. I don’t know what courage means anymore. Can you see the fragments now? How disjointed the narrative is? But is it enough? Is it enough to want desire? Sometimes I think that is enough. The sexual transaction can be far removed from being ‘a moveable feast’. Dampness seeps into the lining of my coat as I enter the hotel in Johannesburg (fifteen years ago) with someone else this time. He does not put his hand in the small of my back. He does not offer to buy me a drink. He falls asleep almost immediately as his head hits the pillow. The relationship is over before I know it for sure.

They don’t come back to me. Am I so forlorn? Is youth and wisdom wasted upon me? Maybe they’re seeking much more high maintenance girls. I just wanted someone to understand me. It wasn’t so much the educating part of it that I wanted. Dead writers have taught me that the pinnacle of creative expression is to challenge conventional wisdom always. I’ve surrounded myself, invoking their spirit, reading and rereading lines of their work, succumbing to their world of madness. The world is not the same for women as it is for men. The role that women plays is still a diminished one in the equilibrium of space and time although there have been women who have been visionaries just as much as men have been. Women have taught by example, led by example just as much as men have but what these women have known is that wisdom comes later rather than sooner. It comes with maturity. Darkness falls and I feel an emptiness inside. I am alone and I’ve finally surrendered to it. I am more in love with love than being in love with someone. I am Eve taken from Adam’s rib. A daughter doing what her mother did and did not do. 

Secrets, keeping secrets is a demanding world. And then there is the rural countryside filled with patches of grass, the history of how to grow pomegranates, catch fish, the heritage of ruins, rain pouring down like a ritual taking its place in the hierarchy of the food chain, seasons that come upon us and pass, steps, leaps, stars, human stains, animal stains, blood, shark teeth, a school of fish, whales. This world is meant for sessions of personal injury, hurt, deep pain, smiling laughter, you calling your daughter darling, the grim existence, and the caged existence of the young poet. I am capable (every young poet is) even though the cigarette smoke’s vapour’s injury starts with a mocking signal. I am not lost. Bold heaven is pulling at vital me. I am a romantic as I become more and more curious and the objects around me transfix me. The death of a relationship is in the air like horses in a race to the finish line, an aloe’s sap and tears, mirrors, your reflections, encounters with angels above and angels below on the earth’s alchemic plane as consciousness travels the globe, alongside the dimensions of spirit, the elements of soul.

The poems of Ted Hughes is the music that has shaped my nutritious isolation, my night swimming, my eternal waiting, and my frantic, hysterical weeping. My night swimming comes with its own frequency and rhythm. My limbs take on a life of its own (so poetic, I am guarded against humanity, my imagination, inspiration, the Milky Way, the knowledge of other galaxies, the light of the shy laughter of a couple not far off from me swimming in the dark), suspended between the pull of gravity on earth’s plane and other parallel dimensions. The parallel dimension of my pure flesh and intricate bloodwork, my dreams and goals, the gift of my personal space (that most private area), an arena that so few have viewed. Daughters do not always become mothers and mothers are not always perfect. They have their flaws. Ordinary mothers. Extraordinary mothers. Put them in a box. Every goddess-mother. I see my mother’s brilliance pick a valuable and beautiful object up and suddenly I’m transported to the room in a mansion. And there I shut Pandora’s Box. Plant a flag there. If only God could hand out a medal for every birth-pang. Every mother has pulled funny faces when she was a child, held a cloud of a helium-filled balloon in her fist by its string before it became a shred, dreamed of a childhood continued when she became a youth in her sleep, as she paged through fashion magazines reading her horoscope not knowing yet that her future was predestined, that she was predestined to be a sexual object on her wedding night, a friend and confidante when she was wooed by her future husband, that her eldest daughter would be a failure, her second a major success and her third child would be a Scout, a quiet, bookish, loner as a boy who suffered from asthma and a beautiful intellectual, funny and sweet, a deeply imaginative-thinker, oh-so-serious who would be charming and artistic, sensitive and understanding as he grew older, and that this introverted leader would be both spiritual and show humility when it was called for in political meetings, a man after Winston Churchill’s and Abraham Lincoln’s own heart.

Betrayal is lethal. Plath a gone girl in young womanhood reaching dazzling heights like me. Live or die. Those were Anne Sexton’s words. Pure. Introspective. Demanding a haunting interpretation. Yet their craft and bittersweet verse still defies terrifying and manipulative electricity, attachment, movement. Clever girls. Mother had daughters who were clever girls. You were no woman in black, mother. I put my suicidal illness inside a jar like a butterfly and leave it there for the moment. I escape into the pages of my journal, those hard lines, the physical, emotional, and mental appetite beckoning. The landscape changes every day in leaps from green. Once I was in pursuit of Hughes, advancing upon him, closer to the flame in his psychological framework’s psyche, harvesting his cool gaze, that tower, that secret winter. His throne burns me, my guilt flares lap after lap in the Olympic-sized local swimming pool like diamonds in the sky marking the distance to the stairway to Heaven, the ladder to the Milky Way. Hughes sits at my table (I want to say that he should explain himself). Mice in the kitchen, tails between their legs in the universal-solitary-shape of death after being wounded by the mousetrap, no survival guide for them, escape-route, seductive exit and their whiskers no longer move baffled by the world around them, there’s just an ode to the mute and I begin reading my letter from home that serves to improve the fragile, loved half-lie I’ve been living.

Where, when did Pablo Neruda find the time to write twenty love poems and a song of despair? Hughes is in my life again. His Winter Pollen. I’m staring at his photograph. He comes to me as if in a dream sequence. He is even more handsome than I remembered. I remember going back to the city’s elements. The city of Johannesburg. The watery-prophetic eyes of women and children, decay, dirt, spiritual poverty and that there’s nothing pretty or picturesque about the pain of the mind. It can be more acute than the pain of the body. Johannesburg to me is a kind of Hemingway Paris. A psychological construct made up of childhood dialogue, the female writer who speaks in code, the young women who would slip away in the early hours of the morning arm-in-arm with their dream man of the night after a nightclub closed. Johannesburg was a Freedom Land’s anchor, a feast where the abnormal became normal, running with scissors, poetry in my twenties, knives, guns in the air. Sacrifice is not effortless. Midnight is but a voyage into the goal of a dream. Laughter keeps me alive. I seem to have been born with this intuition. Even now Johannesburg makes me think of the stale smoke of a cigarette and men who have moustaches.

Boats have become arks. Girls have become quiet women. Here there are no ducks in the park in their own world of silence marking time with their song. My sister adores her reflection, her face is a lake, the face of a scholarship girl. I watch her swallow shiny things, flicker, go up in flames, rise towards truth in the flesh and the spirit, her celestial madness and I ask myself does she never feel fear or vulnerable, does she never meditate on the sun only on our silence. She was a pianist when she was younger, tap-tap-tapping the clouds of the keys. I can only survive with the memory of my Johannesburg. I can no longer kill the sirens with their elegant-shapes. The sirens who slit their wrists, jump off bridges, leave the car running, and hang themselves. They’re becoming as rare as the rainforest, pilgrims. Perhaps they were too pure for this world, the heat of their sensitivity could not withstand any thing, withstand a pilgrimage, listening to the noise in a glitter-ball-world, arrows of ballads flying through the air landing at their feet like dew, sounding like a symphony or Beethoven. Every dress, every heel, silk stockings, perfume is a gift but who will receive them? Daughters? Orphans? The Salvation Army? A fete’s jumble sale? Is it for a wedding, a baby’s christening? Beautiful women become ghosts of themselves like leaves. Now, weaving delicious spice sinking inside a curry-pot, (wet masala, mother-in-law, ginger and garlic, turmeric, fragrant curry leaves), I concentrate on the bowl, open my mouth wide to taste.

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African Renaissance

Virgil

Abigail George

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I have to stop smoking so much. I think of knitting. I think of the wool I will buy. I think of everything I will make with the wool. The tapestry I will finish of a girl wearing a blue ribbon in her hair and her dog sitting next to her. This image makes me smile. It makes me happy. As much as the man makes me happy. Well, smoking it has become a dirty habit. A filthy habit that I cannot seem to get rid of and all I want is to see him as I wait for him in the courtyard or the terrace. He is all-important to me. He is all I want in my heart but there has to be room for science too and the fourth industrial revolution. There has to be room for my research. There has to be room for the politics of the moment to become as visible as the imperfect self. All I want is the man. All I want is the boy who lived next door to me and asked me to play hide and seek. When we kissed for the first time, I thought he could feel my inexperience like rain falling on the pavement when you have left home with no protection whatsoever, such as a raincoat or an umbrella. All I have is the hours. Hours like the baking of bread, or birthday cake, or children.

Summer is here boy from Mars. You blow my mind every single time I look at you. I see everything. I try not to see everything. I am falling in love. I am falling in love. Sleeping in a chair by the window. I thought you were standing over me. I thought that I could feel your presence. Thought I could feel you watching over me during the day, and watching me from afar when I go to the shops for groceries, or bobby pins, or to look for wool. You don’t smoke, it comes from memory or it comes from desire or it comes from childhood, my childhood friend. I turn my head away and blow the smoke out in expert rings of cigarette smoke and I think of snow on the mountains in Swaziland, in Switzerland and in Austria. In the beginning this is how we talk to each other. Slowly and tentatively. I reach for his hand. He reaches for mine and we sometimes sit in companionable silence. Saying nothing for an hour, and then the hour stretches into two, and I go into my elderly parents’ kitchen and I carry cups of steaming hot black tea with two sugars to him. Does this make him happy, I wonder, and is this enough for him, and doesn’t he expect more, he is of course a man now, not an adolescent, not a boy, not a child? There must have been others. Other women. Beautiful women and then I feel that my heart is breaking, I can’t breathe and not for the first time, when he looks at me and smiles, I can’t breathe, when he gets up and asks me a question, or makes me laugh, or tells me a story,  and can I handle myself around him. He loves me. I love him. Are we ready to embark on this adventure called life together? I am still afraid of the dark. As a child I was afraid of the dark. It terrified me like lucid dreaming and cognitive behavioral therapy and men who said to me in my late thirties, come and keep me company.

There is electricity in the air as he takes my hand. I can see it in his behavior, his body language, isn’t that what the clinical psychologists says, instead I look into his eyes. I am staring at him, giddy with joy and happiness. I can’t stand to look away. He is my church. He is my shopping mall. And all I want to do is touch base with him. Hold his hand in my hand. Hug him real close as we part, feel the texture of his jacket with tenderness and the pull of vertigo in my fingertips. He is important to me. I think he knows that. I think he does. I haven’t told him that in so many words, only so many ways. Only in actions. Only in words. I am writing to him now. Always on the phone waiting for it to go off, waiting for the bread and the rusks to come out of the oven. I experiment madly in the kitchen as I experiment in the darkness. Summer is here and it feels amazing on my skin. My entire body tingles as I slide into the bath and I think of him. I think of him mostly. How amazing he looks. I think of his eyes, meeting mine as he listens to me. I listen to him in return.

To his innovative mind, his forward-thinking ideas that sober me; the coward and the fool inside of me. Do you think you could ever come to church with me, do you think you could ever pray with me, and I say, perhaps tersely, or am I imagining that I sound like that, to this boy from Mars? We grew up together. We were childhood friends. He invited me to play hide and seek. What do I remind you of, I ask hi? I want to know. Our childhood, he says in a heartbeat without blinking. And overnight he has become important to me. Overnight, I have fallen deeply, truly, madly in love with him. I have waited and waited and waited for the right pilot to come. The right pilot to make intelligent conversation. He had no money. He was a history teacher who dreamt of writing plays like Athol Fugard. I know Lisa, I said once. I know her in passing. He looked confused. Lisa? He said. Am I supposed to know her, know who that it is, he says, pensive and confused and I feel as if I have cast him aside as if he is some toy that I have become bored with? I am not bored. Far from it. I am a woman in love. And in that moment that has now come and gone all I want to do is protect him, all I do is love him more. I think of his beard as perfection.

Think of his lips and mouth on mine No, darling love. She is Athol Fugard’s daughter. He lives in Los Angeles now. I think, I think, I think. I kiss his hand. I take his hand in mine. I kiss his face. I kiss his lips which are warm and sweet and taste like Glen tea. The man kisses me back, unhooks my brassier strap and runs his hands up and own my back. You feel good, he says. He takes a step back, meeting my gaze, making eye contact, making me feel safe and wanted and adored and most of all desired, and he says, you are beautiful. The man says while he reaches for both of my hands and I look a sight, or a mess with my brassier bunching into my chest, you were always beautiful, did you know that. And something inside of me is turned on like never before. He has been with women. I have been with people. I have been with men but not like this before. Never like this. It felt as if I was coming home. It felt as if I could call him sanctuary. His hand in mine felt steady and cool in mine. I could feel something turn inside of me like a revolution. I felt myself at night thinking of him, and then the impossible would happen I would not, could not fall asleep without medication. I lay awake the whole night thinking of him. All I wanted was to lay in his arms and feel his arm around my waist. I want to know what love is. I wanted people to show me. I wanted them to come to me and hold my hand, and tell me that everything is going to be ok, that I need not worry.

My people they loved me. My tribe, well, that they supported me. What is an overachiever. What is a perfectionist. What do people do besides make love and have babies and raise their family. Tell me please. Tell me quick. Look at my blue wrists. Look at the blue veins on my hands. Tell me that you love me mother. Tell me that you love me father before I destroy myself in the fire. I let the cancer burn. I let the black veined leaf burn that I balked at and turned my head away from and it felt good to do that for the most part. But the vision of her, the apparition of her red fire engine lips, her dark hair falling down over her shoulders, over the middle of her back like silk has always stayed with me. She was mother. She was mother. And in the bedroom, she was lover and wife and belonged to my father. Her name was, I sometimes forget, but it will come back to me soon enough. There were times when she made me feel as if I was the most important person in her life, and then I wasn’t. I was replaced by laxatives. To be the best she taught me, you had to be thin. Model-thin and it was a woman’s lot in life to take laxatives.

What do people do, I would ask her. I don’t know. Ask your father, she would answer. Drifting away from me. It was my father who hovered. Who hovered in the passage of our house, of my childhood house? It was my father who took me with him everywhere he went. I was made to feel wanted by my father. I was not made to feel wanted by my mother. There was always a lack of energy there. There was breakfast and toast. There was the congealed yellow sun of the egg making a smiling face up at me. I badly wanted friends but brought nobody home. One day as I was playing outside as they had a screaming match. The usual. Although usually I could predict it as clockwork. We sat outside and I was as numb as a gun. Listening to my mother’s voice going higher and higher like an orchestra. I don’t love you anymore, you know. I don’t love you. She stripped the beds. She broke her wedding crockery in the passage. In the face of my mother’s madness and sabotage and destruction he became calm. I became a gun. I became the bullets in the gun. I put a helmet on to shield me from her gaze. But of course, she could not see me. She had as usual forgotten I was even in the picture, playing with my friends after coming home from school. Your daughter. No, Miranda, our daughter. Your daughter, she said hissing.

The daughter who looks like you with the high forehead, will she ever be beautiful. I want a child, Thomas. I want a child. Give me a child, and my mother collapsed and cried and cried. I want another child. A child who looks at me the way your daughter looks at you. She hates me. It is because you give her enough reason to do that, Miranda. Can we try, can we please try to have another child. And after that, came my father’s patient voice. We could hear their entire conversation unbeknownst to them. I will stay. I will stay, Thomas. I am sorry. Yes, Miranda, you always are. Let’s make love, Thomas. Make love to me. Make me forget about this never-ending day. I am bored. You work. You go to work. You see people. I imagine you see beautiful women. Answer me, Thomas. The children, you forgot about the children, Miranda. And I looked at the man and everything mattered from his eyes, to the touch of his hands. You think too much. Don’t think so much, said the man, his arm around my shoulders. I am falling asleep, love. I felt something letting go of me inwardly. As if finally, the insane life and a sane life was had met in the middle, as if there was a coming together and I rested my hand on his shoulder and closed my eyes.

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African Renaissance

Starling

Abigail George

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I never had that kind of attention. I never received that kind of loud applause. Never called love rapture, or, passionate. We don’t talk anymore about the frog hospital, me landing up there again, relapse after relapse. You never called long distance about the war inside my head, my inner torment, the clinical madness of it all. Of stress, then burn out, then manic highs and seduction theory after seduction theory, being low. You become a parenthesis. But you don’t know the half of anything. That you’re a watermelon midwife and the blues in the middle of a road-trip in the Kalahari. There are days when I can’t seem to think. Can’t do anything really. Everyone seems to be leaving. They want to go to greener pastures. Find their purpose in life there. If you find it there where you are, please tell me.I have failed you all. I have let you down badly in the past. But you don’t let me make it up to you. You don’t click send. I have never felt discontent so alive before. You’re a quiet place. You’re with your boyfriend. He’s an artist. You ignore my messages. I try and understand. You. This bipolar life. The life that I’ve chosen to live now, as novelist, and it’s as if we’re coming home from the sea again, but we’re not. You’ve fled to Europe. I’m the daughter that stayed put. Found her purpose in writing. You’re the tenacity of this water flowing under the bridge of this. You holding the structure up with arms made of layers of steel and magnolia, prairies as if you wandered there on your American experience in youryouth. You have legs made of iron in a machine-age. You’re three, four, five poems. You’re a modern fever.

You believe that I’ve never lived. That I don’t know anything about the price of swimming. That taking is for the asking. You walk on a cloud floating down the universe. You never ask about it. You never asked me about it. In conversation it wouldn’t come up like a weather report. I find my life derailed somehow without the great marriage my parents had and the three children. I say good morning, and the word reconciles life with death, weddings and funerals take the shape of the sea, the place of fake mortality, the bleak outlook of the abnormal, the washed-out neuroses playing itself out inside the reality of my head. I put my hair in a scarf, go outside. Hear the sound of glass breaking. I can’t take anything much anymore. Everything sounds like glass breaking. You grow up with it, it eventually becomes your entire life world. You begin to crack up. To deaden and numb the pain you take more pills. Sleeping pills, tranquilisers, anything. More pain medication to dumb and dull what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, who you’re with, and the people that you’re not with. You’re a million miles away in thought in the middle of serious conversation. Might as well be another planet. And everything feels like death, but on good days everything feels splendid. Feels well. Then you’re into this world. You want it all. I am drowning. I am in the black water. The water is as black as night. So, is this voyage into eternity. You want everything in it. You’re walking on a dreamt hat you’re holding in your palms. I take to my bed holdingon to to this dream of being the other daughter. The good one.

Whenever I think of our brother, I start to cry, take to my bed, take more pharmaceuticals. This time I have really lost my mind for good. I am not normal anymore. I am crazy for sleep, insomniac that I am.I thought he’d always stay. Now he wants to leave (with a girl)all of us behind. Just. Like. You. The other daughter. I can’t save myself anymore. My mind is gone, gone, gone. They’re trying to erase me. They got it right. They got it right. The monsters swimming outside my window in the city lights at night have got it right. Tears drip from my eyes like candlewax. All I want to do is rejoice in the world, reinvent my life. Can’t. Can’t. I want my future back, but years have gone by and I’m not fearless anymore. You left, sibling. Gone for good to Rilke’s Europe. I can’t rule the world anymore. My life is finished. It is over. It is over. I wake up, all I want to do is sleep it off. Leave me now just like everyone else. The bipolar flame is inside of me for good. Everlasting. And every year I relapse. Nothing good for me in it. Except always this contrast between nightfall and daybreak. This knowledge thatof course, I am not normal. I don’t fit into broader society, broader society does not want, or, accept me. Inside I am dead already. Can’t you see, can’t you see, I can see, I can see. My life is over. It is gone. Farewell into the sun. The sun has taken everything that has belonged to me, eaten it up, turned every wound to fire, every hurt into cackling women who chase me away from their homes. I cannot accept sanity anymore. Only flashing lights, strange dreams that come upon me. It could be the drugs talking.

There is a hell, just as sure as there is a heaven. There is a paradise that I recall from reading novels. And when I wasn’t having a relapse, they still locked me up in high care. With the people who were there for professional help. They wanted to do away with me, the monsters. Those red furious beasts who want to see me having a bipolar life, for the rest of my life. So, I am writing to youin the Czech Republic, and I am not writing to you. And I want to call you my darling sibling. You call me nothing at all.And I wish I had no shame. I wish I had only love. But I can’t be with or without my madness personality, I’man ellipsis. I have no desire. When I am apart from the teaching of the manic-depressive personality, I am ignorant of the abnormal. I say that like it is a good thing. I can’t say anything. Anything at all. So, I push up dead daisies around my body in sleep. They just grow from within me root and plant and stem and all. Madness is the psychiatrist. Madness is my shame. You can’t tell me anything about it, Like the history of water in wild places in the wilderness. Water found in lakes, in swimming pools, in the oceans wide. I take holiday snapshots of my madness at the sea, it strikes a pose in a bikini at the beach, and I worry for it, about it. It will last me as long as this life. It is a lonely life a madness life. You will lose everything. Gain absolutely nothing back which you lost. People call you mad, black sheep. People call you bizarre lunatic. They don’t return your calls. They pretend they don’t know you in the street. That you never existed for them. They forget your kindness. Your face. Erase your number.

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