Fiction: Woman Reading

May 24, 2018 Fiction , POETRY / FICTION

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Abigail George




“Are you alive? Come swimming with me.”

“I’m tired.”

“That’s a no then. The exercise would be good for you lazybones. Just tired.”

“Yes, just tired. Will you get up and make me some coffee?”

“In a few minutes. I just want to finish this page.”

“Oh, never mind then. I’ll do it.”

“Hang on a minute. I said I’d get up. Give me a few minutes.”

“Do you remember the good days?”

‘Emma, we still have good days.”

“Do we Neil? Do we? I’m not in the mood to have this conversation.”

“You brought it up. You were the one who said that we could still make it, and not all couples live their lives a lifetime in the honeymoon phase.”

“I write to live. I thought that that would be enough but it isn’t. I thought if I stayed, if I forgave you. If I wiped out every trace of the woman. Filtered everything from her lipstick, her perfume, her shoes it would be enough, the way that she dressed. You’re not listening or choosing not to listen.”

“No, I am listening. I feel that what you have to say is important. I love you.”


“Yes, you’ve said that over and over again. That you love me Neil. Oh, I’ve heard that one.”

“Why’d you have to be so?”

“Like what? Why don’t you just go ahead and say it? I know you want to.”

“Let me just finish this page and I’ll devote all my attention to you.”

“You gave up on us, Neil.” Emma sighed, pulling the sheets off her to get out of bed. “If I don’t write I don’t feel alive.” “If you were music I’d switch you off. Pull out the plug out of the wall socket.”

“When the souls get out listen carefully.”

“What are you trying to say Neil?”

“Sometimes when I’m under the water I open my eyes and try to read the other people’s souls.”

“You know what Neil, maybe you did stay with me because you love me.”

“Swimming. You get a new perspective on life in the water. The water puts a spell on you.”

“I’d just like you to say once to me, just once Neil, now listen because this is important and I don’t want you to forget. I’d just like you to forget the page you’re reading and listen to me for once.”

“Explaining away the moon. That’s what you’re so trying to do right now.”

“I know you love women. You love all those sob stories they come to you with. With their families and children and husbands. Their work, and the work that they do to stay in shape. I know you.

I’ve been married to you for 11 years. I know you through and through. You’ve already forgotten about the coffee.”


“Is the woman still fresh in your memory? Remember I left her. I came back. I decided to work on our marriage.”

“Maybe it would have been different if there was children. If we had had a daughter or a son. Twins or triplets then I wouldn’t feel this angst all this time. I wouldn’t feel as if something is missing.”

“Nothing is missing Emma. Nothing is missing.”

“Don’t look at me like that. And I am not in the mood to be kissed today by anyone. By a long lost relative or you Neil. You’re not my Neil Armstrong anymore. I want you to know that. I want you to hurt a little too. I mean you wounded me a great deal. Those months when I didn’t see you because you were working late. When you were making love to her.”

“Althea had a lot of problems. I think that is what attracted her to me. Me to her. She reminded me of a younger version of you. The woman reading in the library.”

“All my life I’ve been attracted to the older man. I know all those women with all their sob stories would fall in love with you even before we were married. It was just your way. Just your confidence I reckon. Your charisma. No picture of the wifey on your desk. I’ve always wondered about that.”

“I think about you all the time. It’s been 11 years and I still think about you all the time.”


“It’s all those women. The men. I can understand why they disappear after a few sessions. They can’t live up to their wives’ expectations and yours.”

“You’re so intelligent.”

“Oh, now I’ve got your attention. Ah, I’m intelligent. Of course, that’s the first thing you tell me. Not that I’m a great cook, or that I’m beautiful. So, tell me something I don’t know.”

“No, I really mean that. Don’t take it any other way, Emma.”

“I wish you never met that woman. I mean that. I don’t care that she took her own life. People like that. They’ll never change. They can talk until Timbuktu, but you’re not going to save them from being molested in the workplace, or sexually harassed, or from domestic violence, or from a partner that’s emotionally distant, or from spoiled children. Spare the rod, spoil the child was always your philosophy. I know that from my teenage stepchildren. You let them get away with murder because you felt you were never there either for them when they were younger or for their mother.”

“If you must know, Althea was abused when she was a child.”

“I don’t need to know the sad details of her life.”

“She carried that with her throughout her adolescence, into her university years with professors who wanted to so-called mentor her.”


“Althea wasn’t a beautiful woman. At least I don’t think that she was beautiful. I think she was a hateful, hateful, hateful person. What do men see when they see a woman who has been abused? They see, in my own personal capacity, speaking on behalf of my gender, someone who is easy to take advantage of. A woman who is easy to take to bed. You’re a psychiatrist, Neil. You should have been able to read the signs.”

“Yet, you’re still here.”

“Yes, yes, Neil. I’m still here. To death we do part. I took vows. You took vows.”

“A part of you still loves me Emma. I do, I do love you. In my own way. I am a difficult man. You are the only person who really knows me. Who really understands my loneliness, my silences, and   the walls that I’ve put up? The mother who died when I was hardly a teenager myself. The alcoholic father. The brilliant manic depressive brother who took his own life.

“It all makes sense now, doesn’t it Neil. When we talk like this. When you talk me out of leaving you. I give in because it is the only sane thing to do. Because you are the only person in this world who will love me, and I am the only person who will love you, and accept the fact that sometimes you will sleep around. Yes, Neil. I will never leave you. I will stay with you because he beat you. He beat you and your brother. I will stay with you because your father blamed you for your mother’s death. Because you were asleep on the back seat of the car when the accident took place.”


“It’s my turn now Emma. You should go downstairs. Write something.”

“I don’t have the energy to write anything these days. Althea is still fresh in my memory, Neil. Neil, why do you love me? Why, after all those women, some really beautiful and clever, did you choose me. Don’t look at me so. Please don’t hold me. I am not in the mood for tears or hysterics.”

“I married you because you’re an artist.”


“Honest. Emma, only artists truly understand the pain of others. Writers and poets have always been putting their own pain on hold for others. I loved how you expressed yourself from our university days.”

“You’ll leave me, I’m sure of it one day, Neil. You’re grow tired of me. You’ll see me growing old. You’re grow bored. You’ll go mad or I’ll go mad before you. After all I am an artist.”


“I think you should go downstairs and write something. I’ll bring you the coffee just the way you like it. I’ll even sit with you for a bit if you like and read the morning paper.”

“Yes, Neil. Psychiatrists are meant to be good and kind. Handsome like these women’s own fathers and brothers were perhaps. Oh, I don’t know, are we going to make it after all years. Psychiatrists are really sharks in the flesh.”

“Just remember Emma that Althea chose me. I did not chose her.”

“How do you choose them? Are they the ones who didn’t have father figures in their lives or a lack of mother love from an early age?”

“You’re just hurting yourself, Emma. Stop this now. I mean it.” Neil reached for her. Put his arm around her waist. Rested his chin on her shoulder. “Don’t cry, my darling. I’m yours. I always will be.”


“Yes, Neil, yes. You’ll always be mine. You’re the only man who ever told me how beautiful I was. The first man I made love to. Would life had been any different if we had had a child?”

“You’re the most talented person I know.”

“It’s because I remind you of your mother, isn’t it. Her love, her affection, her adoration. It’s because I worship you and put you on a pedestal, isn’t it?”

Emma buried her face in her hands and began to sob. “I wasn’t good enough for anyone. My whole life I wasn’t good enough, or pretty enough, or talented enough, and then I met you and I was transformed from this tragic figure looking for a divine husband who found a divine husband. Is it that these women aren’t intellectual and brilliant, bold and brave like waves and flame, is that what attracts you to them, Neil, Neil, please answer me, please. I can’t beat this. I can’t bear this. Did Althea take her life because you refused to leave me?”


“Emma, Althea was a very troubled young woman. Divorced with small children. It’s sad but it has been nearly 2 years now. She’s gone. She’s gone. Emma, listen to me.” Neil stroked his wife’s arms.

“She’s gone. Never to return, but there will always be someone else ready to take her place. Ready to live and breathe for you in exactly the same way I’ve lived and breathed for you all this time. All these years, Neil. I drink cups and cups of tea. My flesh in the cool night feels as if it’s on fire. A pale fire. My gown feels like a ghost fur. The darkness is bewildering and I remember walking to the beach. I remember a dog a man was walking growling at me. Ships at sea. Fishermen with fishing gear. I think of the first time I drank red wine. How old melodies melt the years away. Looking at you now, looking at me now. Bipolar tore my heart out. The light of the day put it back in. And how the day turned into hours, night and day feeding the beasts, the last autumn leaf, the landscape, the ocean, and prayers made of thorns hidden in flesh and bone.”


“Emma, when the souls get out in the swimming pool I can see how man contemplates wife. Daughter contemplates mother. The males versus the females. When I can’t sleep I think of you.  Althea is atoms and particles now. Wherever she is now she’s safe. Happier in her own way. The world is a sad place filled with reluctant few who take a chance on love.”

“I have no babies of my own. I have no kids of my own. Who is going to look after us, after me when I’m old? When every hair on my head has turned white.”

“That’s another heartache. I know. I know. Remember our first date.”

“Ice cream at the Boardwalk. You’re playing the death game again. The death of all your sins, therapist. It’s a game you know so well.”

“Go and woo the sun with your words, Emma. Play your doo wop tunes on the radio. I thought you had new poems for your editor.”

“The dogs need to be fed, and I need my coffee.”

“We can take them to the dog park later on.”

“I miss you during the week when you’re seeing your women. Your divorced women and suicidal girls with their blue wrists and eating disorders. That’s what I get I suppose when I married a psychiatrist. Why do the men just disappear?”

“I don’t know, Emma. I don’t know, Emma.”

“I take it back, Neil. Althea was a very beautiful woman. So disenchanted with the way she looked when I met her. When I stood in that afternoon for Sandra, your receptionist. I need to write about this. To get it out all out of my head.”

“Just don’t use real names. You’ve done that before.”






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,, Bluepepper, Dying Dahlia Review, ELJ, Entropy, Fourth and Sycamore, Gnarled Oak,, 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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