‘The Ducks are on the move Father Squirrel.’ Said Mother Squirrel.
‘What do you want me to do about their gay marriage? They have rights too you know. Are they kissing? Now that would be something.’ Said Father Squirrel.
‘In the eyes of the Lord, it is not acceptable. Maybe I could wish or stop it from ever having happened, maybe? Protect Mamphele Curious Squirrel, your daughter from the politics of the animal life in this farmyard.
‘What is that? What is that noise? I have been hearing it ever since this morning.’ asked Mamphele Curious Squirrel.
‘The animals are gathering for the animal caucus.It is going to change everything. Be the change you want to see in the world Mamphele Curious Squirrel. Never forget that. You will go far. Perhaps even to the World Bank. Everybody who is anybody in the farmyard is going to be there.’ Said Patricia Mother Squirrel. ‘Please, Mamphele Curious Squirrel, do not stare at the Ducks.’
The Ducks had confused all animal life on the farm.
‘How can two Mother Ducks raise ducklings? There must be a Mother Duck and a Father Duck. It is not normal. It is called politics, I think. Dad says everything is political. All I see around me are Mothers and Fathers. What is wrong with them? Is it in their genes?’ Mamphele Curious Squirrel asked.
‘Good question. It can happen.’ Said Father Squirrel behind his nut.
‘Do not encourage him Father Squirrel.’ Mother Squirrel said with a sigh.
It was spring. A pale September. This time of year before the harvest, the whole farm came to life like the farmer’s wife’s prizewinning rose garden. Her rosebushes was known throughout the country.
Helen Mother Duck, Lindiwe Father Duck, and their wide-eyed ducklings wide-eyed with fear, excitement, trepidation and anticipation as they made their way to the pond on the farm. The ducklings all wore matching kerchiefs around their necks with red tie-dyed bandanas wiggled their way through the hole in the fence in the orchard filled with the licking flames of sunlight dancing off apricots, leaves of grass, the open air of the mountains in the distance.
‘Oh, what a beautiful day. You know preparations for the animal caucus is underway.’ Mother Duck said to Father Duck. The ducklings were looking forward to going to the pond. The older ones by a few minutes were playing ‘I Spy’. The younger ones tried to keep up with their older siblings but fell over their feet. Dust in the air, mud on their kerchief, they dusted themselves off, wriggled their behinds and set off once again in the direction of the pond.
‘I worry about Thabo. He gets around that snake. Even though he is a snake, I still like him. The trouble is because he is whom he is, the people that he knows. He is a very diplomatic fellow, and he is a damn good negotiator. I worry about him. I lose sleep nights just thinking about him sitting on the fence all day long with nothing to keep his hands busy. Now if he had a foundation then maybe he could make a real contribution.’
‘He does not have hands dear that’s the trouble to keep him busy. There, there dear. You have other responsibilities now.’
‘All together now, family.’ Father Duck said. ‘Left, right. Left, right. March, march, march on. No dilly-dallying. Remember, there is no wizard. Now remember what I told you. At the hole in the fence, you wait for me to take the lead. I lead. The strongest must always lead. No stopping to breathe in the robust country air.
‘Oh, just look at my happy family. Today I am so proud of my ducklings.’ Mother Duck looked at herself in a puddle admiring her reflection.
‘Will there be breadcrumbs, mother?’ asked one of her ducklings.
‘There will be swimming. I can promise you that.’ Mother Duck said as she fluffed out her tail.
The ducklings had never swum before.
‘Remember there is no Oz.’ Father Duck yelled.
‘Oh, dear, are you okay?Is it the voices again? Are you seeing things? Order, order ducklings. Do not forget yourselves and the values you were raised with.’ Mother Duck asked in a worried tone of voice but she was used to his outbursts. Her own mother had raised her eyebrows because of her daughter’s choice of life partner. To say that Father Duck had had a certain reputation in the farmyard was to say the least. Some of the animals had called him a poet. Others a mad-duck. Mother Duck remembered what she had told her mother to try, and win her over.
‘No, no Mother Duck. It is just the pressure of this caucus. I think I will have to say something, you know because of our family situation. He for she and all of that. People just do not understand our family.’ Father Duck replied.
‘I love him, mother. I really, really do mean that. I want to build a home with him and raise a family. Please try, and understand that. There is no one else in this world that can understand him the way I do.’ Mother Duck had said plaintively stating her case.
In her day, Mother Duck had been raised with certain values. She had been a very sophisticated and intelligent bird.
‘Mother Duck, I have not slept at all in days.’ Father Duck managed in a small voice.
‘Do not worry, dear. I will be brave for the both of us. Remember this is a big step for both of us.’ Mother Duck replied.
‘Mother Duck, two heads are better than one.’ Father Duck
The children of the farm were not encouraged to name the ducklings. Unfortunately, for the Duck family they usually made their way to the kitchen table and then the dining room table
‘Wait. Stop. Wait for me, I said. I am your father. I do the leading around here. You do the following. Stay out of the way of the border collies Boston, Stoker and Thumper. Their bark is just as bad, as or even worse than their bite. Enough is enough with this Life is not a game. There is a great design to life.’ Said Father Duck but his children would not listen to him. They looked at him grunting with his giant potbelly halfway through the hole in the fence holding their sides, tears falling down their cheeks.
‘Look at dad.’ They nudged each other between guffaws.
‘Children, my precious ducklings, please behave yourselves. Stop undermining your father. He has a weak heart ever since that time he had a run in with the farmer’s wife.’
It was a perfect morning. The ducklings paid much more attention to their mother than they ever did to their father. Mother Duck laid down the law. Rules were rules when it came to Mother Duck. She was very clever. Had still kept her figure. At the end of the day, Father Duck turned to in a crisis Mother Duck. When he felt depressed. When he needed someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off, to talk about ‘that day’ when he had come very close to being a roasted chicken served to the family, his neck strangled, feathers pulled out of him but the ducklings were very innocent of their father’s wild days.
‘Youth is wasted on the young Mother Duck. Where are you Mother Duck? Save me Mother Duck. You are the only one that can under these atmospheric conditions.’ Said Father Duck.
‘Watch your constitution, dear. Not in front of the children, dear. We will have a conversation about this later on, dear. I agree, children should be seen and not heard, dear. I am coming. I am coming. Hold your horses Father Duck before your guts have you for garters Now, is it the other way around, or is it that your guts will have you for breakfast. Children, behave.’ Mother Duck pushed and pushed and pushed. As she pushed and pushed with all her might, she thought to herself. If only he had not overeaten that morning (he was always promising these days that he would watch his weight), and that had been his third helping. She remembered the words of her mother. The words her mother had heard playing on the radio.
‘The early bird will catch the worm. If you love him. If that is your decision then I will support you but do not get too attached or to used to the good times of animal life on a working farm. You will see. Things are done differently out there than a city allotment, my girl.’
‘Yes, dear.’ Mother Duck answered sanguinely. ‘Ducklings do you see the pond. Where are you, dear? Dear.’ Mother Duck looked around her to find Father Duck.
‘I just have to catch my breath, Mother Duck.’
The ducklings gathered around their mother not certain what to do next.
‘It is easy. Just watch me my chicks. It is just a simple, gliding action. That is all there is to it. You just ease your body onto the surface of the water. Just do not look down. Float. Pretty soon you will all be floating like butterflies.’ Mother Duck put on a brave face. When confronted with misery, the macabre incidents on the farm, the twists and turns of daily animal life Mother Duck always put on a brave face.
‘Duckie. I need you. Well, that is that then. This is all on me now and your father was so looking forward to giving you your first swimming lesson.’ ‘Duckie’ was Mother Duck’s pet name for Father Duck. He knew he was in trouble when she used it, when she needed his help desperately, or when her brave front was failing.
‘Are all my twelve ducklings accounted for? When I shout your name, yell ‘present’ as loud as you can and then shake your tail feathers’
‘Off you go my beauty. Swim, swim, and swim. Do not forget that when you get in the water push off in the direction of the fields and just kick as hard as you can with your feet.’
Absolutely nothing discouraged Mother Duck. The people who had owned the allotment where she had been born and raised, and abandoned by her father (somebody had left the gate open one day and he decided to ‘escape’ the good life forever, her mother had admitted to her one winter’s evening) were church people.
‘What is our mantra darling ducklings?’ Mother Duck trilled.
‘Show no fear.’
‘Now where was I? Yes, Sylvia. Eleven to go. Just perfect. Sylvia. You are setting a good responsibility for your brothers and sisters. I am so proud of you. Holding thumbs.’
‘Do not jinx me mum.’ Sylvia shouted.
‘Well, I love you too, Sylvia. Now, now, look who is here. Your father. Okay, chicks. Like I said there is nothing to it.’
‘Oh, you mean Shakes the housecat.’
‘The one and only.’
‘He is always trying to corrupt me.’
‘I know my place, Mother Duck. I know my place in the world.’ Said Father Duck morosely.
‘Well, well. What is Shakes the Cat up to now?’
‘Up to his old tricks, that is what it is, Mother Duck.’ Said Father Duck.
‘Praise Sylvia. Go on. I do not have time to talk about Shakes. Look at what we made.’
‘Oh, I thought they would all be out on the water by this time.’
‘Must I do everything, Duckie?’ Mother Duck exasperatedly.
‘I am looking at all of our children and as usual they surround you and laugh at me. Just like Felix the Cat.’ Said Father Duck. ‘I just do not have it within me to walk away from someone who is talking to me even if they do think that they are high and mightier than me. I have twelve ducklings and an elegant wife. What does Shakes the Cat have besides a collar with his name on it? Pride of place in the family home.’
‘Enough of Shakes the Cat now. Just look at our children.’ Mother Duck squeezed Father Duck’s feathers conspiratorially.
By now, all the ducklings had presented themselves to their mother and had made the transition from land to pond water smoothly.
‘In a perfect world, ‘Mother Duck whispered to Father Duck so her beloved ducklings could not hear. ‘Every day would be this perfect in the farmyard. Take for example banter with the rest of the animal world. Animals would be looking out for each other and not trying to bring each other down or corrupt each other. Watch out for that pond scum chicks.’ Mother Duck shouted out gaily.
‘Sometimes, I have to confess this to you, Mother Duck, I think that Shakes the Cat besides being a know it all snob is also a politician. Eating gourmet fish all day long can brainwash cats.’
‘Just what we need in our lives. A political cat whose swagger ends up making waves while the rest of us just survive animal life in the fanfare of this farm narrowly. Head and chin up is what I always say, Mother Duck.’
Boston, Stoker, and Thumper the border collies were sulking in a corner under the shade of a mulberry tree. They wanted to go fishing with the family who lived and worked on the farm, bark at fish in the river, drown tadpoles by holding them down with their paws, but they were moping. The family had bundled themselves into the car for church. Sunday morning service and then lunch at a neighbouring farm. The barbecued meat would be falling off the bone. Father Duck came close Mother Duck had to get the smelling salts for him. Shakes the Cat was always saying that there were pills for things like that. That there were pills for every physical ailment underneath the sun. The children would swim in the dam. Get sunburnt. The teenage girls would slather coconut oil on their shoulders, neck, and arms and sunbathe on their towels until they turned brown. The younger ones would soak in the dam until their fingers turned into prunes. The sun would make them thirsty and bored robots. Tired of swimming, they would just sit in the water; tracing their names on the water. With the wind in their hair, they would watch the sun go down.
Jacob would watch these same girls from afar when they came from neighbouring farms to visit the daughters of the farm. He would get excited as if they were coming to see him. Soon he would be slaughtered. Replaced as if he never was. Jacob always liked having women around him. All his life Jacob had been a doubting Thomas. He had low self-esteem even though he was the biggest pig on the farm. In fact, he was the biggest pig on earth. Even the farmer said so. ‘Dirty, filthy pig. Dirty, rotten scoundrel. All you ever do is laze around while I do most of the work here. You have no work ethic. You do not know what the meaning of the word is. You better be dreaming about a better life in the afterlife while you still have a chance. Pig. Pig-face. Piggy smells. Yes, piggy smells. Not just here, here, and here but everywhere. Every day I am done with you, I smell like you. My pits, my armpits smell like you. My gonads smell like you. Do you know what a gonad is? Do you pig? You should. You sure know what to do with it, if you know what I mean. Jacob could never understand why Cyril was so cruel to him. Why Cyril would say those cruel words to him? Some days, Cyril would go on and on non-stop. You know how I know that. Do you, Jacob the fat pig, know how come I smell like you? Why do I smell like your doo-doo Jacob? My wife tells me that. She tells that every night before I go to bed that I should shower or take a bath and marinate for an hour in my own filth before I come to bed. This is what you do to me. At least you are worth your weight in gold. I can feast on you for months pig. For a season. That is three months and if you had brain cells, you pig, you would know how long that is. Poor Jacob. He had to endure this kind of abuse day in and day out. The farmer would sneer at him, kick him in his side and make his life a living hell. One day, the farmer walked past him and said, ‘Not long now. Fattening you up. Christmas is around the corner.’ What Jacob did not know was that the farmer would never dream of killing his prize possession. Every night, he dreamed that he was transformed into a man. A man bigger than the farmer. If he was a giant pig, he could destroy the farmer but if he was a man, he could marry the farmer’s teenage daughter and ride her until kingdom come. Giddy up, he would say (but that is if he was a man) and she would moan his name repeatedly. He would see to it that she did. ‘Oh, Jacob. Oh, Jacob. Oh, Jacob. Please, do not stop. Ride me repeatedly. Yes, yes, yes.’ Jacob smiled to himself when he thought of this. It also gave him a tingling feeling. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter was that Jacob was a pig, with trotters, piglets, a sow, and swill. He would be the main speaker at the animal caucus. He would and could only be a farming man like Cyril in his piggy dreams. Jacob thought to himself, ‘Oh, Cyril, what did I ever do to you?’ They were friends once. When Jacob was born, Cyril had named him. Cyril had been so proud of him but over the years, their relationship had sadly deteriorated. Cyril spat on the ground when he walked past Jacob now. Jacob remembered the days when a younger, sprightlier Cyril had told him whenever he walked past Jacob how much he loved him. There was a mutual adoration society and then one day, Jacob woke up almost unable to walk because of his size. All he could do was eat and eat and eat. Cyril walked past him and said, ‘Good morning, monster.’ When Jacob heard that barb, it twisted like a thistle in his heart. Jacob cried. Of course, when pigs cry it is not noticeable to any form of human life. Same goes for cows, pigs, hens, frogs, rabbits, snakes, birds, sheep, lambs, spiders, horses and piglets.
‘Mandy, do you know, but if you did not know I am about to tell you anyway. Let you out of your misery. You are making a terrifying sound. Snoring like that.’ Said Felix the Cat.
‘I cannot help myself. I have to turn. The sun is on the other side of the farmhouse this time of day.’
‘Oh, is that what it is. I thought it was snoring. Well, whatever.’ Said Felix the Cat.
‘Watch out for who?’Said Felix the Cat.
‘Boston, Stoker, and Thumper. They are on the move.’ Mandy the piglet said smiling deliciously to herself.
‘Oh, those miscreants that think they are so clever. Have they nothing constructive and productive to do with their time? I, on the other hand, am a highly functioning animal. I do not have to call other animals to order with a gavel. Well, I cannot hear you if you mumble to yourself.’ Said Felix the cat, licking his paw as if he was the cat that had got the cream.
‘I was not mumbling.’
‘I think the last time I saw that big Thumper was saying something about smelling bacon frying.’
‘Really?’ Mandy asked in a very small voice.
You, Felix think you are very sophisticated because you sleep in the house and I have to sleep in a muddy hole. It was not the most unpleasant place in the world. Mandy longed to say this with her whole heart but she kind. She was a nice piglet. She had pretty manners. If only her nose was not so big, so twitchy all the time. If only she did not think of food all the time.
You are so mean, Felix. Leave Mandy alone. She is depressed.
We are all depressed. I mean what with the icebergs melting, climate change
You are just a fat cat who enjoys eating gravy and tuna from a can.
Do we not all enjoy eating gravy and eating tuna from the can.
Felix liked to think he was cleverer than everyone else was on the farm. The children loved him, adored him. He was always getting treats.
I think that you are fat, Felix.
Moi? I have to say that you are mistaken Wendy Spider. Look at you. Look at me. Now look at you again, this time carefully as if you have a paper bag over your head and you have cut holes in it for your eyes. Look at yourself, up and down. From side to side, very, very carefully. I am Felix the Cat. I am perfect. Now take this imaginary paper bag off your head. Look at me. Look at you. Fat. Did you say I was fat? I have an eating disorder, if you must know.
‘I have a gun (and crates of rotten tomatoes that my comrades have gathered from my farm. Do not worry there is plenty for everybody and if you like your bredies, there are enough tomatoes for your bredies too. See, I only want to be your friend and comrade. We are in the revolution together).’
‘Who is this clown?’
‘I am Julius.’
‘Oh, he thinks he has a message. He thinks he is another reincarnation living vicariously through the Buddha. Oh, I think I saw this in a made for television movie that was broadcast on etv.’
‘No need to get alarmed. Please do not stand up. I said, do not stand up. Did I not tell you not to be alarmed? I am confused now, cadre. Animals screeching. Animals running to the exits. Look, if I take it out. I promise not to use it. Ahem, not to hurt anyone with it. It was a joke. It was all a joke.’
‘The damage has been done already. We are never getting out of this barn alive.’
‘I am frightened for my kids. I have daughters. What is this world coming to that anyone can carry a loaded automatic handgun?’
‘We all need a reason for living. What is my reason for living?’
‘It is only a handgun. I have a permit for it. It is also for my own protection. Remember those words so that they do not become a memory for you.’ Julius the spirited horse smiled.
‘No, no, no, no, no, no. This is not happening. Look, here, you moegoe, if I have to speak in the language that only you will understand, this is not apartheid, awe? Awe. We are free now. We are free to speak our minds. I can tyoi-tyoi with the best of them. I will not stand to see the Rainbow Nation’s long walk to humiliation and ridicule in front of the world press and national media. Do not make a mockery of my South Africa?’
‘Ag, sies man.These pigs.Ek is nou rerig gatvol van die nonsens. I am leaving this caucus. I do not want to be a politician but I take the gravy train everywhere I go. What am I going to do if I leave political life, teach, lecture, or retire?’
‘Why do the young animals on this farm have to be so dramatic? In the old days, all it took to ruffle someone’s feathers was to have gone to a university and flash your degree. Oh, by the way, I have six honorary degrees.’
‘Really?’ yawned Thuli.
‘Hey, girlfriend. Want some gum?’
‘Oh, hey Winnie. No, I am fine.’
‘You looking mighty fine. You have pretty hair Thuli. Girlfriend, you look sexy. When you get older, you think I must not take the time to look sexy but nowadays everybody in politics is sexy. They think it is supposed to be what you know, what you have between your ears and whom you are networking with. No, no, no it is not about that. It is how you look. The external point of view. ’ Said Winnie. ‘Who does your hair, chommie? Women these days. They say they do not want to be political or be politically motivated. Ag, strond. What do you think Thuli? Patrice is so handsome. You know who else is handsome. My grandson, Julius. Perhaps you have heard of him. He moves in high circles.’
‘You must stop protecting him.’
‘I have to. He is a very sensitive young man. To tell you the truth he does not like being in the spotlight. He calls me ‘Ouma’. I am very proud of him. I tell him, ‘If there is a revolution do this first and then that but you think he would listen to a cadre. Do you think woman to woman it is because I am a woman? Do you think it is because I am a strong woman?’
‘Oh, Winnie. I do not know what to tell you. You are an old soul.’
‘Aiesh sista! You know it. Keep on talking to me.’
‘I have a gun. It is in my back pocket. I can feel it there. If I grab it and pull hard, my package will come out and I will stick it to you. No, I will poke you with it inside and out.I promise you I will poke you. Do not look at me like that. As if, as if I am a terrible mistake. Revolution. Revolution. Revolution. Bang, bang, bang I will make national headlines. No international headlines. The world will know and feel the wrath of Julius rooikoppie. Ag, Julius is just playing. It is not a real gun. See, it is not even loaded with real bullets. He-he-he-he-he. What does Julius know about guns? I told him to buy that expensive leather jacket. Yes, yes, it was I. Winnie, I pinky swear it. Julius knows more about fashion than he does about guns. My Juju.’
‘I will shoot you if you disagree with me. You, yes, you. You were nodding your head. Why were you nodding your head? Oh, you were sleeping. These proceedings bore you. This is a caucus. Animals. Even Jacob knows about animals. They graze the whole daylong. Enough I say. Enough. I bring South Africa to its hands. I bring South Africa down to its toes. Down on one knee. Oh, no. That is marriage. I mean I bring you all down to your knees. I am the fox. I am the hare. No, I am the wolf in sheep’s clothing. I am the wolf in the fairy tale. I am going to eat you up. I am going to eat you up. I am going to eat you all up. Please do not interrupt me speaker of the house. The time is over for South Africa to graze in the countryside. I am taking grassroots to the next level. Ouma, join me as I sing this sweet refrain.Chant with me. Sing with me, cadres, revolution, revolution, revolution.’
‘Please sit down, Julius or else we will have you escorted out of your seat from this caucus. We are the authorities.’
‘No, speaker of the house. I am the authority here. You are the bad people. Me, good. You, bad. I am going to through a rotten tomato at you Thabo, for always sitting on the fence and another one for you Jacob. I am going to throw a rotten tomato at you Patrice because you are so rich and gave half your fortune away to charity and can afford to buy as many expensive leather jackets as you want to hang in your designer wardrobe. Please, speaker of the house. I do not want to leave. It gets very lonely for me on the farm. Sometimes I even get depressed watching animals graze the whole daylong.’
‘Order Julius. Order.’
‘Aiesh. I am so misunderstood.’
Once Rilke’s Wife
The Invasion is over. Russia will display its power and its might in a victory parade in Mariupol on 9 May which will take place on the same day of Moscow’s Victory Parade Day, which celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany as if to remind the world of genocide and its high cost.
The cost of life, of the innocence of young children, of livelihood, food shortages and resources. The resistance fought bravely under the leadership of a man who came into office with no military experience but a law degree and a first lady who models for the fashion pages.
What did the United Nations Secretary General and Putin discuss behind closed doors? We do know that a finality has been reached and that we have God to thank for that.
Zelensky and the Ukrainian resistance can now breathe a sigh of relief but for how long and what are the long-term repercussions of this war. We need to look at the end of the Second World War when the spoils were divided amongst Great Britain, the United States of America and the Soviet Union.
Mariupol is a city that is situated in the south-east of Ukraine. This is where the centre of the celebrations will take place. As we speak the bodies of the dead are being removed. In Bosnia we saw mass graves. In the Ukraine we saw mass graves, but nobody has spoken of the Igbo genocide, the Rwandan genocide and the South African genocide where millions of people disappeared without a trace. It is as if the world is saying that a European’s life matters more to humanity than a Non-European’s to God.
If I had to pen a letter to the authorities, it would read as follows. President Zelensky, you care about your people but now they are refugees. Is it safe for them to come home? African students studying abroad in your country were not given a safe passage to return home. To return to safety and out of harm’s way.
I feel that everything in Zelensky’s life had been leading him up to this moment. The moment where he did not surrender to Putin’s conditions
but with the West. Zelensky has been principled, patient and prepared but then again so has Putin and both have stuck to their ideology of winning the war at all costs. It mattered to neither side how many lives would be lost. They only wanted to win. Putin came to the negotiation table. Zelensky approached the negotiation table but was enamoured by the West and Biden. But Biden has his own personal struggles. He has suffered much grief and personal loss in his own life. All these men have been living on the edge since the beginning of this year.
A woman calls standing up for her rights a war on feminism. A man is quick to pick up a gun, throw down his moral compass and pump bullets, shrapnel and limpet mines where children play, couples walk hand in hand discussing their future or gazing into their eyes.
What is left now for the world to do? We looked on in horror as there were executions but that is what happened during the apartheid regime and even then, the world turned their head away as unspeakable acts of horror and terror were the order of the day.
I suggest if you want to know the history of Russia from the USSR to the Soviet Union (and if you want to understand the legalities of the Cold War and that this is just a case of history repeating itself) you must begin to educate yourself by reading and I suggest you start with the Russian poets before you start with War and Peace.
The mug seemed to have taken on a mysterious illness. Something which she could not fathom. She thought of her lonely and homesick sister in Rilke’s Prague. She thought of Rilke at the Military Academy also lonely and homesick. Now she was lonely and homesick for something that she could not begin to imagine. She began to think of the man. He had not become an illusion to her yet. She had been beautiful and desired in his arms. Wondered if that would happen to her now. Had she been rejected because she was plain she would have understood. Sometimes illness just had these magical repercussions.
A kiss is something that is very personal. You give someone your soul with a kiss and in return you take theirs. It has been two years of un-joy and unhappiness for her. Whatever that means. All she knew of sadness returned to her in the man’s absence. She became eccentric in her longing for him. The woman no longer had any rights or ownership over the man. Your lady, she thought to herself. Who is she? She wondered if the man was David in his planting season. She thought of the invasion. The woman in the pharmacy her mother had happened upon whose nieces had left for Angola and the Congo.
The woman was reading her journal in the bath. The bathwater was crinkling up the pages in the corners. Her fingers were turning into prunes. Everything seemed mismanaged. A woman is capable of many things. Managing the personal intrigue of the affairs of the heart. This woman wasn’t aligned to the celestial navigation of her mother and grandmothers and tribe of wilderness aunts. She was shy. People did not really know this about her really because boy could she write frankly and talk about the sexual transaction frankly in her stories. Getting up on the stage and talking in front of people was an ordeal.
It filled her with an intense anxiety. She began to write a poem balancing her notebook on her knees. She called it “Breathing Space”. Don’t allow me room to breathe. Don’t. Don’t love me or placate me. Call me docile or pet. Read my lips. Mark my words. Just let the river come Virgil and flow into your narrative and my back story because I value you. Will always remember you and value the opinions you shared with me. This I promise you. Privacy is just an interruption. I do not know anything about Paris in the Springtime. I do not know your deliberate interaction with the world anymore.
I called my own ability a limitation. And when I speak of you now to the hours, to the silence I speak of desire and memory. Moonlight falls. Leaf fades. Dishes pile up in the sink and I have errands to run but you’re still magical to me Virgil. Still muse. Still inspiration. Lockdown was something else. It was not magical. I carry you in my soul. In the palimpsest. Your heart goes on. And I find myself in another city’s paradigm shift. Oh, to not live vicariously through Anne Sexton’s poetry religiously you know. I had to confess when I greeted you at the door. You took your seat and I took mine.
Everything had been said by a look, a glance. Now you’re as alive to me in this room as a branch in springtime. I imagine the flowers bloom in your eyes. I think of yours hands and your nature and your instinct. I miss you you know. More than I really want to. It feeds and nurtures my malnourished veins. It keeps me alive. It keeps me stronger than death. You are the craft of leadership and workmanship Virgil. The bathwater was becoming cold. She lifted the pen to her lips and began to play with it in her mouth before setting down her thoughts furiously on the page in front of her again.
I need love. I need love. I need love but you’ve gone away. I must go on living this life without you. Without you binary star. Without your auxiliary map. Without your infinite grace. Without your castle. Without your song in my head and currency in my hands I am nomad now. The dune has a kind of consistency this morning. I am efficient deal-closer. I move efficiently in tune with birdsong as I listen to the radio. Combined they make a symphony. You’re beach and I’m disappearing underground needing wave to validate my era. I don’t go out anymore. That sun is a bully. Dang it! Be you.
That’s all I can be when I look at my introspective face now that you’re gone. I don’t want to think about you but I do. Perhaps the man had come into her life to remind her that she was still a woman. She remembered as he turned his head away from her, how he made her laugh. It had been a joy to be in his presence. I remember our romance, she would recount to her second oldest nephew’s teenage son. You could have married, they all said that. But I would not have married the one. The sadness remained. Sadness from childhood, sadness from romantic entanglements enveloped her in her eighties. Be kind but don’t forget to love.
“Why are you here? I mean why are you here?”
“I have come to see you.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I am thinking of us. When we were still together.”
“Stop staring at my reflection.”
“All I have is this pool of water to keep me sane.”
“Ah, so you are going insane again.”
“Come back to me.”
“I live in another country now with my wife and child.”
“Something which I could not give to you.” The woman said sadly.
She began to disrobe then. Having made the decision to drown herself in the pool of water. The man in the water began to grow excited. His mindset had become enthusiastic.
“What are you doing?”
“Death. Death to self. Death to ego. Death to the man.”
“That’s impossible. In your world I no longer exist.”
“You exist inside my head.”
“You won’t find me in hell or heaven since I am very much still alive.”
“How is that impossible? You were too plain for me. I needed a beauty in my life.”
“You needed a wife. I could have become a wife. Your wife.”
“My wife. You were too old to have a child.”
“Are you happy?”
“I am generally unhappy with my life.”
“All men need beauty but what does the woman need or want or even desire?”
“You have to answer that for yourself.”
“I wish you were still here.”
“So do I. There are days that I miss you.”
“That is just the illusory self talking.”
“My psyche is fractured because of you.”
“My identity is fragmented because of you.”
“Dance with the moon. Let it guide you. Be your spotlight.”
“We are no longer together. I am not going to do that for you anymore.”
“Dance in the moonlight. Go on. For me.”
“Nothing but wishful thinking.”
“You still love me. After all this time when you could have had another.”
“Why would I have stopped loving you? For a woman matters of the heart are never that easy to explain.”
“You were as plain as paper.”
“You were a soldier another life.”
“I think of the conversations we could have had.”
“I could have been your Eve and yet you rejected me.”
“That is neither here nor there now.”
“I will eat now.”
“Why? You don’t have to eat alone.”
“You don’t get it.”
“I still love you.”
“I’m sorry. Has it come too late?”
“No. It is alright. I understand now. We were never meant to be together.”
“Perhaps we both weren’t ready for love.”
“So the tide turns.”
“It has turned cold out. Put your clothes back on.”
“Talk to me about your son. The child we would have had together if I had not been too old to have children.”
“He has your eyes.”
“That’s enough for me. Thank you.”
“You were the first man to tell me that I was beautiful.”
“I know. We were so innocent.”
“There are days when I feel like such a failure.”
“Because you lost me?”
“Because I lost you. I can’t blame anyone else but myself. What are you doing?”
“I am crying.”
“Tears mean nothing to me now.”
“I have to stop thinking about you but I can’t bring myself to let go of you just yet.”
“You come to this pool of water everyday to look at my reflection, to sunbathe and to swim.”
“If I don’t I overthink.”
“Fall in love again.”
“I can’t. You were the one.”
“Make love to another.”
“That’s impossible. I can’t.”
“You have to let go of me. I am not coming back to you.”
“I know this. I know this but I can’t let go of you.”
“You’re only hurting yourself.”
“Is it because I hurt you?”
“I’ve been hurt before.”
“You told me this. You promised we’d remain friends.”
“It’s going to rain.”
“It would be so easy not to wake up tomorrow morning.”
“I am trying to be happy.”
“Yes, you did say that.”
“I found spiritual comfort in church.”
“You asked me to come with you and I was afraid.”
“Why were you afraid? Why are you telling me this now?”
“I want things to be alright between us before I go home.”
“You sound brighter.”
“I have to leave soon. Rainclouds are gathering overhead.”
“If we had met at some other time we would have made it.”
“Yes, I know.”
“If there had been no interference by your father, mother and brother we would have made it.”
“Yes, I know.”
“My answer to you is this. That you are the world’s hope as a writer.”
“I write novels now. You’re just not around to see it.”
“There’s a river in my soul now that you’re no longer in my life.”
“There’s a pale river that runs through the narrative of my next book. I am outlining it in thick Croxley notebooks. You have made me so happy Virgil. My inspiration. My muse.”
“Find another. When you find another you will plant another season.”
“I’ll be alright.”
“You can’t live in the past.”
“Don’t lecture me. This is what makes me happy.”
“To live with a man who does not love you anymore. You need help.”
“Well therapy has not worked.”
“Continue to write then. You need to work me out of your system.”
“I have really never felt loved. Never abandoned myself completely to it. So all the men who have loved me in return I hold onto them as if they are gold.”
“Remain authentic. Be the best version of yourself.” the man yelled as she turned her back on the illusion of him.
“Always.” she shouted and started running as the droplets hit the grass marking muddy puddles where the ground wasn’t level.
The woman began to shiver and put her articles of clothing back on again as if the interlude had never happened. The man watched her but by now he was in disguise. Rain began to pour down from the sky and the woman had a bus to catch to town. She started to run through the park. Her hair damp at the nape of her neck leaving the memory and desire of the man far behind her. She could see the Eiffel Tower from where she stood and what she badly was in need of was a coffee and sandwich at one of those cafes because whenever Paris became a feast in July it became a feast for the senses. Tears burned behind her eyes.
The Lesbian Passion of Virginia Woolf
And so I come to the lady in the water, the sinner (but in the end aren’t we all sinners). Virginia Woolf in the flesh, that death of the drowning visitor. Her brain cells turned into the cemented atonement of dead moths. Deaths that can be accounted for. Physical bodies that can’t be spirited away, mended only souls torn from the material. Absolutely nothing escaped Virginia. The glory of love (she had that white wedding, the gift of love, she knew it, she knew of it, defended it graciously, she was no failure. I am that failure). Nothing escaped her passionate seeing eyes, her liberty, her meditations on nature, her platelets, mitochondria and bilateral symmetry no more. Only the grit, the brick walls, the mysterious interiors of the mansions of her work remained. Left behind. Granite. Diaries left behind for apprentices. Her intuition, breath and vitality has left this damned for an eternity to hell corpse. What does she have to do with the parenting skills of my distant manic depressive father and my elegant and cold mother, my cool mental illness that needed a room of its own to coexist with my brother’s cigarette smoke, his fatherhood, and his triumph where I had failed and then I voyaged inwards. River Ouse captivated me. I am a woman who writes. Virginia Woolf was a woman who was a wife, a lover and woman who wrote. My ordinary madness became a thing of beauty to me. Me an empty vessel who found bright stars in women, in their husbands and children, in flowers in a vase, in the fabric of the universe at night. I am Orlando. I am Lady Lazarus. I have lived vicariously through Hiroshima, Jean Rhys the demimonde and artist’s model and the feminist Sylvia Plath’s cutting-edged authentic words signalling warning, communicating threads of wisdom, and protest poetry. I needed to understand the London scene, Ted Hughes, Assia Wevill, and the child from that union, Shura. I’m afraid of modernism because it’s not modernism that is taking over the world. It’s writing. The interpretations of an inner life, innerness, marriage, creativity and madness.
Vita and Virginia sitting in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. Don’t ‘look’ at me. Look at ‘me’. Our intimacy is something special. Your skin is a fabric I could drown in. I can do without religion but I cannot do without you. You have given me the highest form of art, and that is inspiration. How can I ever repay you? Come to me you elegant creature with all of the hopes that you have for yourself. Your goals have become mine. Your dreams my own. Beautiful, elegant Vita. My Orlando. When I read your work I am filled with a clarity of vision, astute perfection, and I feel as if I am your sole possession to have, to have, to have. Can I borrow some of your inhibitory nature, your anticipatory nostalgia, your poetic descriptions, your sky, and the sky in your eyes, your flowers, the flowers that you meditate upon in your garden, your compass that navigates you across the passages of London and Europe? And I want to share something else with you if you will let me. I have come to care very deeply about you. Understand this. Understand that I don’t want to own you, claim you for my own as I am sure others have wanted to do in the past, and I do not want to possess you, and enter your world as a lover and leave as an interloper. When we are together like this, you reading my words (because there are parts of me that want to be completely honest with you about how safe I feel with the charming and seductive you). When we sit together there is still a veil of privacy, an idea of privacy on my part. I am sure the same goes for you too.
You’ve become my obsession and I can think of no one else’s company that I want to be in. When I’m with you I can feel electricity.
I find your poetry, your humility, your abandonment, your inhibitory current stunning, Vita. You are the second love of my life. You are all the dimensions of my world. I find you clever, so artistic, your work is electric, so imaginative and dear Vita.
I’ve always been curious of married life. I thought I would be surround by the walls of a prison and then I married, became a wife but did not have those children and I discovered how far from the truth that was. Marriage frees you in a sense in so many wonderful and illuminating ways. I wanted Leonard. I wanted love but not necessarily a husband because I didn’t think that love came with having a husband. Love comes with having a likeminded companion. You, Vita, are that likeminded companion. You come with love, with passion.
Observe the adjustments in my personality carefully whenever I am with you, study, and evaluate my dying in your arms. Learn my half-truths and white lies as I do yours Vita. I only have to hear your voice and I thrive. I achieve a new intelligence, a new acting, a new materialism, and a new language in that dry season. It should be as obvious to you now as it is to me that I am utterly besotted, smitten by you. I am in love with you. Let’s set up house together. Get away together if that’s impossible. And when I am without you I am a winter guest in a cold storm. I want to tell you that there is something luxurious and soothing about your skin. My Vita.
I am at your mercy. Your perfume fills my head. And when I begin to live vicariously through you, self-consciously or consciously my sadness has a complex wavelength. Brutal accomplishments threading my humanity. I have longed for them my whole life. The gratitude I have for you being a part of my life has become educational.
And they did not think of the extraordinary consequences of the gift of their relationship. They did not think. Period. They lived for love like other women did for being regarded as sex objects, parties, men, the London scene and flowers. Instead they are transformed.
The lovers whisper to themselves. They don’t want to part. The grass was a dream. And they were both brides rushing to the end of adolescence, the English summer weather, its immediacy of sustaining both women’s ideas of silence in the complexity of detachment. Here in the countryside, shielded by multitudes of simplistic chores, sharing the routine of waking up to their literary work, neither woman could untangle herself from their ‘marriage’. These elegant English heroines, English novelists whose writings were hypnotic were oblivious to reality, the outside world, and men were rendered insignificant, invisible. Men became others and humanity, the female of the species existed in a time and space that became known as the unknown future.
After the dust, the sexual disclosure, the impulsivity of the lesbian love affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West no sentence could shame the both of them, their writing process, their divine prowess. Woolf gave Sackville-West authority over her physical body, and in return Sackville-West did the same. Gaps, flashbacks, embarrassing regret should come with the territory of an affair that comes to an end. The silence is textured with what is not being said, the acute longing, and the despair of loneliness, of a seductive theory identifying the beginning of this lifelong romance, the mutual admiration committee between these two gifted English women.
I know what it is to suffer. To live with the face of enduring love shining upon my frozen countenance, love realigning my psychological frame, my sexual pace. Your power stifles me, a thing. And a woman alone.
At first it’s a glance framing reality, a sensual anticipation and so the landscape’s feast becomes symbolic of what will come after this inconvenient love.
Photographs survive. Historical events, knowledge, actors but not manic depressives, the mentally ill, people who have an absence of order in their lives. The living do not survive.
In our world morals are made of shrinking ice. Our love is fingered apocalyptic bliss. The detailed built foundations of the sublime. To hurt someone else is an inconvenience. To be hurt in return embroiders negative patterns in your thoughts for an unseen lifetime, it cheapens secrets, weaving, slaughtering the golden, the sensual image of the physical body.
There is nothing that can be a replacement for the latter.
Virginia Woolf. Was she still that molested child? Hurt, confused, yet her mind still cool and pure, cleansed of any illness, elements of fantasy, climate change, global warning, world poverty, trafficking did not coexist in her field of vision yet. She delayed the information. The bridges to the onslaught of mental illness. All she wanted was freedom. And this she found with Vita Sackville-West.
And as an adult did she not want children, a whole screaming tribe of them of her own, a child so that she could mend all the wrongs of the past.
Already she had a plan while writing in her diary Virginia, ‘I know I’ll never love this way again.’ And then the River Ouse was upon her like a lake. And there it was. She wanted to die. She wanted to waste away. Find a wilderness of her own making. She wanted to beg to the gods. The unwritten freedom which had been her church, and like a religion to her had left her angelic perspective. The dead end the shortcut to a hellish parade, the seducer. The hook of injustice was in her heart. She lived (it was but a pale gesture) but in death she lives extraordinarily.
Short fiction by Abigail George
The outbreak of war in Ukraine has left millions displaced. There has been no solid partnership between the West and Ukraine. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelinsky asks for help, addresses governments with a plea, speaks about the turmoil and devastation in his country and the West remains diplomatic about the situation on the ground.
Refugees are now making their way across Europe. So far they are seeking refuge in Poland, Romania and Germany. The West has used a soft approach against Russian president Vladimir Putin and what about the ceasefire? Ukrainians want the Russians to leave. The world wants this war to stop. We all want peace but Putin does not want peace. Putin has an agenda. Zelensky accuses the West of cowardice. The West refuses to stand up to Putin. They have every right, we have every right as humankind to be very afraid of the outcome of this war. We are living with the knowledge of humanity existing on the brink of a “nuclear war”. It has become a daily reality.
The war has conditioned all of us not just Ukrainians to cope, to defend ourselves against the blueprint of depression and anxiety. I have seen Ukrainians in the news living in refugee camps develop survival skills for the conflict situation they find themselves in.
What do you understand about Russia’s invasion in Ukraine? Are you angry, sad, frightened? This may mean the war is affecting your mental health in direct or indirect ways. War does not discriminate unfortunately. In war soldiers need mental strength but what kind of strength do civilians need? Church services have been held to bring communities across the Ukraine together. People are standing together in solidarity across the world.
What does it mean to flee your homeland? What does it mean to pack a few belongings, just what you can carry in two bags and leave your home overnight, making it from the country of your birth to the border of another country and literally walking your way to an unknown future?
In the eyes of the world the West is not protecting the civilians of Ukraine and the country is on the brink of a catastrophe. Daily people are preparing for Russian assault. Conscription age is between 18-60 years of age. The most vulnerable in this war are afraid for their lives and in a state of shock as is the rest of the world. Everyone in Ukraine knows they can die at any moment. Will the Russians get their comeuppance? History will not forget how Russia behaved.
The world accuses Russia of genocide. The country has been ravaged by war for weeks and it is taking its toll on the inhabitants and children of the Ukraine. Supplies of food and water are at an all time low. Time is running out for all of us but for the children of the Ukraine their childhood has come to an end.
What impact has this invasion had on the psychological framework of the citizens of the Ukraine? Tension is at an all time high. Is there hope in the coming months this war will come to an end, that there will be a reconciliation between Putin and Zelensky? Will they at the end of the day be able to see eye to eye at the negotiation table and what will be the next phase of their “complicated” relationship to say the least.
The ongoing crisis has seen the loss of thousands of lives, employment, and places of business. Ukrainian men who can stay and fight have made the ultimate sacrifice by abandoning their families and taking up arms. No vital progress has been made to end Putin’s war since the beginning of the invasion.
The figure of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky as a hero in this struggle will remain with many for a lifetime. The invasion has been life-changing. The mood of a battlefield is still in the air. Amnesty International has accused Russia of war crimes. What will Putin’s tipping point be?
This war will stay with us for a long time. That goes without saying. We must remain cognisant of the lessons we can take from it.
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