Fiction: ‘Advice For My Sister’, ‘Linger’ and ‘I Will Boast In Christ’

April 16, 2018 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

Magadelena Roeseler photo

 

By

Abigail George

 

 

Advice For My Sister

 

 

Pray. Take a warm bath at night before you go to sleep. Just hug a child from a poverty-stricken area and tell them that they’re special. That God did not make junk. Tell them that one-day mercy will bring them to their knees. Tell them that heaven has a story that can lift spirits. I think of you in faraway Johannesburg eating sushi or a plate of Thai curry fusion-style, and keep taking the medication even if you feel you don’t need it anymore. Love. Love all, or is that too difficult an undertaking for you. I think of the rock of faith of Christ (how there is not one thought that is hateful for animal-flesh, how it does not envy or boast for lost generations), the scientific and factual promises of our entire moral genetic makeup. Be more patient with me. You’ve liberated me. I’ve discovered faith and will, progress and imagery. This costume.

 

I love you. I love you.  I love you to the moon and back. To the circumference of the sun. To the planets. To the stars. To Jupiter rising. To the maker of the earth. You stand above other living souls. The dead female poets I have come to love so much. That I have come to worship and praise. These women are like God to me, and only you understand that. You’ll be leaving soon. You’ve finally found the phoenix-exit out to Prague. That homeland of Rainer Maria Rilke. He will find you, in the same way I have finally found you. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. That is my story. Only part of your journey. I’ve known reckless wastelands and wild, open wilderness filled with grace and stories and pictures and seawalls. You’re really, really something beautiful. There were times when I had a deep hostility for you.

 

I have known precious few people in my life that I could call friends or even social futurists, and I have understood the social dynamic of history and historians interpreting that history, those paths made of fire awaking our souls to honesty and morality, hope of all understanding, and with that comes the understanding and tolerance of things that people who did live the childhood we lived. Dear sister, you are the light of my life. You are my ocean and river. You are the overflow of day breaking into a million cracks of darkness in the prison-system of nightfall. In teenage years, you were my unknown. You were hidden (a hidden image) to me in the same that soundwaves are. You are the honest impossible to me, the subtle, the magical.

 

You rise to meet me. You know, you know, you know how all I need is one room with a view.

 

I don’t really understand your style when it comes to worship what you call ‘the aesthetic phenomenon’. I don’t understand how long it takes you to make friends in a new workplace. I don’t understand your trust issues or your abandonment issues. I don’t understand this. How I neglected you when you were growing up. How I neglected you when you were becoming a woman, or even in the past when you were becoming a mournful adolescent walking on the waters of the investigating what would become your truth. I wondered all this time and still do about who are your closest companions. All the pain was worth it now when I look back on the years we spent or did not spend in each other’s company when we lived in the same house. Look at you now! You’re victorious! You’re victorious. You don’t have to feel ashamed. Hate.

 

You really have become something of an obsession with me, like the democracy of our childhood country, the sins of our leaders playing out in digital and print media. I turn to look for you now. You’re not here anymore. You’re faraway in Johannesburg. You’re gone, gone, gone, and I miss you. Yes, you are loved. Yes, you paid a price, and I made a price, and our brother paid a price for having an elegant, sophisticated, and narcissistic mother, and a brilliant manic depressive father. You were conceived in love, you said as much or didn’t say once. You are part of my life again, and I’m finally free of the same chains that imprisoned our father. The same genetic material found in me as in him. You’re as complex and complicated to me as Nietzsche. I just want you to be happy now. Find yourself. Go now. Find the ultimate you!

 

If it means releasing your burdens in another country, staring a new life in Prague. Meeting and marrying the love of your love, having a child there and not here, then so be it. So be it. I can’t be the judge of that. It was our father who composed the future-goals we had for our lives. I mean God knew ahead of time what our individual destinies would be. It was our father who taught us about speeches, lectures on philosophy, the burdens of being educated, having an intellect that could rival no one in his dreams, in his, in us, his children’s daily lives when we were kids. It was Daddy who taught us to fight fire with fire. Daddy who taught us to believe in each other, not just the individual right. That just individual fight. He taught us with a kind of holy instinct to desire with our entire being. He taught us about humanity’s good and evil.

 

He was the first man who taught his daughters about the existence of truth, and beauty. Keats spoke of that. Keats wrote that down and somehow, somewhere it became a significant part of history. I burn for you when you are not here, and now you are moving not just to another city, but a European country. First it was Port Elizabeth, then Cape Town, then Johannesburg. I’m standing solitude, but I know that I would not be here if it wasn’t for you. I love you. I’ve only realised now just how much now. Death to everything now that stung me in the past. The wasted words that were said in a moment of haste. I don’t know how your faith was made stronger (in me). I don’t know how, why, when you became so wise, this so, so graceful woman in my presence, who can cook, and bake, and love, live, trust with so much energy, and fun.

 

Is this goodbye, I don’t really know. I only know this. That I love you now with all my heart. You’re the most beautiful person I know besides the magical person that our brother created, whom we both adore. The heir apparent to our father’s throne. You’ve schooled me, instead of the other way round, or perhaps all this time, in all of these vibrations, and waves around us, invisible or visible to the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful mind’s eye we’ve been schooling each other. What is this longing to be whole, to feel significant in this world, and for this brief, challenging moment because even joy and happiness, they are not perfect, and we were never perfect daughters, or that the perfect imperfect balancing act of our mother? I long for your embrace now, the sound of your voice, just your merciful presence near, or far to me.

 

It is a Christian morality that calls to us now like a sculpture, or important visual art like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. To make sense of this bleak life, this senseless culture that bankrupts us at every seam, every thread, the fabric that makes up this uniquely patterned costume that we wear. The seam that we call fantastic shroud, the thread that makes up this universe and all the worlds in it, both public and private. Personas that are focused and determined like an ocean-sea. You, my dearest sister are like spiritual medicine to me. My eternal joy and happiness. I am saying this now to you so that you can leave with this knowledge and be happy, and grow. We’ve covered the treacherous abyss of what life was like before, and now we look towards the after-future. This organic navigation that our mother, and hers, and so on travelled.

 

And in a split second you will be gone. The plane rising up into the air, disappearing from view. Distance lends enchantment to the view, said our father. I remember that line so well.

 

I don’t know why I write about it the way that I do. I’ve always wanted you to believe in me. I have always wanted you to be prouder of me than I am of you, but you’re already no longer here with me, with us. You don’t belong to me and you never really did. Go beautiful and make the world your book complete with your own happy ending. You’re the woman with the graceful neck, ocean, soul, a snow jewel. Just a fragment of my human body. Particles rising.

 

 

 

 

 

Linger

 

 

My dad is one of the lucky ones. His voice merges alongside mine like beautiful scraps of material. This is a story about a man but not about any man. It is a story about my father. Fathers are special people. Mostly they encourage you. You tell them about your list of goals and in return, they inspire you to fulfil them. They are the ones standing on the side lines. They are the ones who give you that standing ovation. They are the ones who mouth the words ‘I love you’ and ‘I think that you are brilliant’ when you feel like you did not do as brilliant as you should have. They are the first ones you go to when you feel sad or when you are happy. All my life that is what my father did. He was not all of those things all of the time. Sometimes he was sad and as a child, it made me feel very angry and confused when daddy cried or was upset. Now, I imagine him as a young adult as a hunter. A lonely warrior whose head was bursting out of his skull, his brain cells tormented by the Periodic Table, smashed up against elegant words like bilateral symmetry, biology, anatomy, dissect, zoology and mitochondria surrounded by a mountain of books, hills and green valleys of physics and chemistry textbooks. My father was like a beautiful shadow, my beautiful shadow that always lingered in my presence. We will talk for hours on everything and nothing at the same time. I do think that I am a poet because of him because are not all writers are poets at some stage in their lives or at least have the potential to become poets within them. He is a writer and a teacher who wanted to become a medical doctor but life had other plans for him. He has been writing all his life to get to this point in time and even now, he is always in pursuit of something or other. He believes in many things and most of all his spirituality, the nature of his soul is like that constellation beyond the trees. Primitive, ancestral, universal and that of a dream catcher. My father is a funny and sweet man. Understanding my love for this funny and sweet man who in his own words has had a curious relationship with his hair on different continents and with the pencil test, whose life story reads like a book of secrets, claustrophobia, vertigo, therapy and it has set my life journey on a trajectory that is (simply put) out of my hands. Human beings do not know as children whether they are truly destined for great things. Whether or not they will be the follower or the leader but all children have the potential for greatness. What unlocked my dad’s greatness? I really do not have an answer for that question. Maybe that surprises you. Maybe you expected me to say that perhaps it was his depression or the fact that he had a mental illness. Most of all, I want your life to be changed by this man’s life and the people who came to love him when he was at the crossroads of the depths of despair, isolation and rejection (and don’t we all fear rejection) and the edge of hypomania. I think that every person who suffers from a mental illness has a hidden life. When you are depressed, it is another habitat. You are closed off from the rest of the world. Shut off from the rest of normal (what is normal anyway humanity). You are in that void, that black hole separated from the people who love you the most and there is nothing, nothing that can bring you back from that brink. People tend to think that people who suffer from a mental illness cannot recover completely from it (I think people who think like this think that recovery is the furthest thing from their mind).  Depression damages people and that is a fact. The ego has a mind of its mind here when it comes to chronic illness and the road to recovery. I have seen my funny, sweet, generous and forgiving father happy and unhappy. Seen lucky him, my best friend, through laughter, tears, and the grim winter of depression.

 

After her bath Anita hung her underwear and stockings up in the bathroom pausing for a minute to study her reflection in the mirror. She smiled to herself. I am a likable person. She thought to herself. Lovable. I am lucky too. I have everything going for me. I am a beautiful person inside and out. Any man would be lucky in his boots to have me. I have a wonderful heart. I am giving, and gracious. Don’t you remember, Kwame? Those are the reasons that you left me. I was too wonderful. I was too giving. You left me because of your wandering eye. Your wandering hands that could leave me feeling hot and cold all at the same time. I could read you inside and out. You could cry in my arms at night but you’re not here anymore, and I don’t have to pick up your wet towels on our bedroom floor anymore. I don’t have to listen to your rock music pumping out of your car stereo as we went to visit my father at the frail aged home. I knew you then as I know you now. That you are a very unforgettable creature, you, you psychiatrist. You could read your patients at the government hospital so well. There was a pill to medicate this and that. You were full of fatherly concern and advice, you baby. I remember how you lit your Camel cigarettes. You, called yourself ‘the ultimate Camel man’. Puffed your cheeks up and blew the pale smoke out. You said, I can’t see you anymore. It’s not right. There are boundaries.

 

Doctor. Patient.

 

 

 

 

 

I Will Boast In Christ

 

 

‘I know that it’s always mattered to you what I look like. I’m growing older now and you can see it. He can see it. The wrinkles. The crow’s feet. The smile lines. My sagging knees and sagging everything else. And then there was his attitude about the cancer scare. There are days that I can’t breathe. Do you know what that feels like? When he rests his head against mine. Do you know what that feels like? You want me to leave him, mummy, but I can’t. I just can’t do that to a man like him what you did to a man like dad. I know dad was in the war and those days were just different. Men were the hunters. These days’ women are the hunters too, you know. He likes his eggs and bacon greasy. So, I make them that way, for him. To please him. Everything that I do is to please him because he is the number-1 in my life. I mean I love him. That is what you do when you love someone, isn’t it? You move in together or you get married or you have a child together. Life sucks when you’re alone. I talk too much. I know I talk too much. Mummy, are you still listening to me? Are you still there? I don’t know what it feels like to be young anymore. Young, carefree and beautiful. I mean I used to be sophisticated. I used to be in therapy and it feels like I should go back to being as insecure as I was in my twenties. He says that he loves me all the time. What do you mean do I believe him, mummy? Of course I believe him. I married him. I married him in a church. Said those vows. I’m going for a long walk this afternoon on the beach. Alone. Yes, alone. It always settles my anxiety those walks on the beach. It’s almost as if I can breathe again, you know, afterwards. All that fresh sea air in my lungs, and sometimes I just sit there, alone. Perfectly alone mummy, and I think to myself of how lucky I am to have this guy in my life. I mean he’s not perfect. Yes, he’s not perfect but then again, I’m not so perfect either am I now. Remember when I was dating in my twenties and all the guys that I was dating back then seemed so perfect. Seemed so honest. And you said, you said mummy, wait for that guy who will sweep you off your feet. Who will leave notes on your bathroom mirror telling you just how much he loves you. How pretty you look in that dress. Meet the guy who buys you perfume and diamond jewellery and you have met the one. I mean mummy those were the things that you were telling me in my twenties and I’ve been now with Deon for what seems like forever. Of course, he didn’t want children. I understood that. He had grown daughters by the time he met me. I’m me. I’m me mummy because of you. You and dad made me and God knitted me in your womb and all of that. Do I still think of having babies? That ship has sailed, hasn’t it, mummy? Aren’t you happy though you had me? After dad left, after the divorce you had me and I have my walks. He drinks but he’s not an alcoholic. Deon talks to you, mummy. He respects you. Yes, he respects me. Why would you say something like that? I wouldn’t have married him if he didn’t respect you. If he didn’t respect me. We’re lucky to live so nearby the beach, don’t you think? I’m so lucky to have met him when I did. After the depression. Don’t call it that. Don’t do that. Don’t call it the nervous breakdown. Deon saved me. He nursed me back to health. I was still able to take photographs after that of cute babies in the cutest baby competition in the local newspaper. I’ve changed. How can you accuse me of not loving you, mummy? Of not doing my duty. It was your own decision to leave your house and move to the nursing home. I knew you would say something like that. Deon said you would say that. He thinks that you’re jealous of him. Jealous of me. Is it true? It sounds true, mummy, when you bring up my depression and make it sound as if I’m having panic attacks again. No, I dream now. No more nightmares. Yes, I remember how I used to dream of our baby, a daughter, but Deon said he was too old to have small children in the house. Running around, spoiling everything. Falling in love with me. He said the only person who was supposed to be in love with me was him. It was much more of a difficult transition for his older daughters. They couldn’t bear to share their father with me. But it grows easier with time. Are you still there, mummy? Please forgive me if I’ve said something to offend you. Deon says my mood goes up and down these days, and I need to rest after my walks. Deon and me are trying out being vegetarian now.’

‘Yes, of course, dear I am still here. Still alive. Still kicking. When are you going to come and visit me? I need you to come and just breathe some fresh air into my room at this nursing home. I know, I know. This was my idea. I miss my house. I miss my kitchen, you know. I miss you.’

‘Of course, I’ll come and visit you soon. Of course, I miss you too mummy. It’s just that I can’t get away right now. I have all these doctor’s appointments. Check-ups. I mean mummy, you know how that is, don’t you?’

‘Of course, I do. Well, if it’s difficult for you to get away now, I understand. Do you still go swimming?’

‘I try. I see all these teenagers at the swimming pool. All these young boys trying to impress the girls, fawning over the girls and I fall in love with each of them. I’m reminded of high school then. I think of dad. How the two of you met. I go swimming at least 3-times a week. In the afternoon, not the morning. I have lunch with Deon in the afternoon. I go for my swim after he leaves for work again at the pharmacy.’

‘Just take care of yourself, Annie.’

‘I do take care of myself. I love Deon. We’re going to stay together. We’re going to make this work, mummy. I mean, he did say it was a fling not a long-drawn-out affair. He did not encourage her.’

‘She was young. You did tell me she was young. Forward.’

‘Deon said that she came onto to him. Am I right? Am I missing something? I believe him.’

‘Yes, I guess you’re the person to know that. That you’re right about that. And what if your depression comes back.’

‘I’m fine, mummy. I’m fine.’

‘Do you need a repeat prescription of your Wellbutrin, your Ativan?’

‘No, no I don’t. Not now. Don’t talk about it like I don’t know what’s been going on in my house these past months.’

‘I love you, Annie.’

‘I love you too, mummy, but you have to stop doing that. You have to stop acting as if I don’t know my own business, my own husband, my own house. I know you want to be there for me, but just love me. Please love me a little less. Please love me at a distance.’

‘I’m your mother, Annie. I can’t, I can’t love you at a distance. I already feel helpless. I’m in here. In a nursing home. I can’t get to you. If something happens to you I’ll never forgive myself.’

‘I think sometimes maybe I did make a mistake.’

‘With Deon and all of his emotional baggage.’

‘No. I mean I think I sometimes that I made a mistake bringing dad up in therapy.’

‘Your dad was a long time ago, honey. Why’d you bring him up anyway? He made his own choices. It was his life and he didn’t want to be a part of your life.’

‘He was in my head all the time. All those lost Johannesburg years when I started to take photographs.’

‘But you’re safe now. Safe from the memory of your father. His choices’

‘I want to make Deon happy, mummy. I know you couldn’t make the relationship work with dad. I know dad didn’t cheat on you. But it’s a fact of life that men cheat on women, and sometimes women cheat on men. It happens, you know. It happens.’

‘Then make it work, Annie. Make it work. I love you, kid. Fix things if it will make you happy.’

 

 

 

 

 

Abigail George

Pushcart Prize nominee Abigail George is a South African-based blogger, essayist, poet and short story writer. She briefly studied film at the Newtown Film and Television School followed by a stint at a production company in Johannesburg. She has received two writing grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg, one from the Centre for the Book in Cape Town, and another from ECPACC in East London. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Aerodrome, Africanwriter.com, Bluepepper, Dying Dahlia Review, ELJ, Entropy, Fourth and Sycamore, Gnarled Oak, Hackwriters.com, Itch, LitNet, Mortar Magazine, Off the Coast, Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, Piker Press, Praxis Magazine Online, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Spontaneity, The New York Review, and Vigil Pub Mag. She has been published in various anthologies, numerous times in print in South Africa, and online in zines based in Australia, Canada, Finland, India, Ireland, the UK, the United States, across Africa from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

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