Fiction

Abigail George: Berg

alone
Image: Artem Gavrysh Unsplash (modified)

The garden is an ice ruin. Stinking leaves curl at my feet. The ground feels saturated underfoot. Pleasure here is a disease. You taught me that. These are the goals of my life. There’s an aroma from the kitchen. A mouth is filled with utility. Teeth a machine. Every activity has an agenda here. The growing frustration is solitary and apostolic. There is loneliness in the valley that I am walking and an emptiness to the day. I’m in a storm digging under. Digging my heels in. Muddy boots and all. There is a river of mud. No sun. The windows are closed. The room is stuffy. We must eat. But that will happen later. Now we sit in front of the television. Slippers on my feet, wrapped in a blanket I start to cry. The day has become sad. My foot knocks over a now cold cup of tea on the floor. It spills on my slipper.

We watch mindless YouTube videos, but we are mindful of our faith. Our progress concerns futility. I watch a documentary with a prophetic edge. The prophet is a humpbacked whale. I get up. I move towards the light. There is no sunlight but there must be. Outside the sky is pale. There’s a winter sun. The city protects me. It is therapy. The day branches into particles. You will find me in the deep. Into the river. I stand at the kitchen door watching puppies grow with life. I stand there watching the shape of winter oozing out of the garden that is an ice ruin. The tears start coming. I ignore everyone else in the room as I start to cry. They pretend there is nothing wrong. She wanted to watch this. Change the channel. Be kind. Well, I can’t tolerate this behaviour anymore. I don’t stop crying. I get up. It’s the weather. It’s her mood.

Later I try and find my sister in the kitchen. She is not in faraway Europe yet, but she is. I imagine her in Rilke’s world writing to the poet. When I write a poem, I see the world in perspective. I see a pale European stranger with Slav cheekbones. I don’t read anymore. When I go into the study, I look at the books. Pick one up. Read what’s written on the back of the book. I put it back. I run my fingers across the spines of the books. I rub my fingers across titles soaking up an education. There are books on meditation. Brink. Zadie Smith. John Updike. Salinger. Plath. Sexton. I am trying to find who I am. I imagine my sister giving me advice about the situation I now find myself in. She’s here. She’s not here. I’ve left my brother with my parents in the family room. It is our turn to cook. I pretend she’s in this country. In this house. She’s not. It is my turn to cook. I’m alone.

I’m alone again. Left to my own devices. They trust me. I don’t trust myself. I am generally unhappy. I store the language of trees inside of me. I branch out into embryonic miasma. I was a brilliant student in a past life. I must force myself to make breakfast in the morning. I can’t bring myself to achieve anymore. I can no longer perform with excellence.  I drink too much coffee. At the hospital I was alright. At home I am not alright. I have a blog. All day long I fool myself into thinking I have order and a kind of routine in my life again. I have conversations with my sister in the kitchen in the evening. The kind of in-depth conversations we never used to have. I imagine we’re best friends now. We’re not. I imagine she’s proud of me. She’s not. I have a morning schedule. I watch clouds. I wonder why I didn’t have a horse growing up.

It’s a lonely day made of flame and God’s bits of wood. The puppies are golden angels. The man is a forest. I remember his boots, his shirt, his hair, and his hands as if it were yesterday. It’s not. He brought me to life. I am a stranger to life now. There is the grief for longing for something that I no longer have. I didn’t know I was capable of decay. Of withering away to the neck of anthropology. I can only think of oppression now. Ridicule. Persecution. Angelic dispensation. The aloneness dancing to a tune inside of my head and turning into vibrations. There was an original concept. The day is windswept. I am outside now finding it difficult to inhale. Challenging to exhale. I am eight. I am poet. I am twelve. I am published. I am in my early twenties. I am home after my first nervous breakdown. I begin to write seriously. I give up everything to write. I am drowning.

The kitchen is empty. There’s no storage space left inside of me. I imagine my sister standing there. I wish she could save me from the monster that I’ve become. She’s the unseen. Of course, I told her about the man. She had a man too by then. But she never asked me anything about him. It seemed both tragic and unreal at the same time. In time I began to do the same thing to her. I began to withdraw. I said hello, how are you but my voice seemed to come from somewhere else. She has become my colonial master. Adopting Europe. European mannerisms. You’re a woman reading. Life is fabulous here. I wish I could visit but she doesn’t say what I want to hear, which is, you can come anytime. It’s far. I never travel. I never go anywhere. Illness can do that to you. Her life seems wonderful. Of course, I am envious. The monster scares me. Monsters don’t travel as a rule.

I lick my lips. I taste sugar crystals and a wetness. My life was sent on this path. The path of emotional pain and judgement by others. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to have this vulnerability. I don’t want to be this isolated. My whole attitude has changed. The rosary has become holy and significant. I light a candle. Smell incense burning. Did she forget? Did you forget you’re cooking tonight? Is she normal or sad? What do you expect? Have you spoken to her today? How is she? Is she coping? Why are you asking me? Why don’t you leave your son alone and ask your daughter yourself? She wants to be called S. What does that stand for? I don’t know. I think of the non-reality of the past. Of the extensive work I have done since hospital life, hospital people, hospital food and hospital outsiders. I am not an innocent.

“Toasted cheese? Ham and cheese? Salad, soup, tuna, sardines? You there? Just testing to see if you are still there. You’re not invisible you know.”

“Please just leave me alone for now. I just want to be left alone.” My voice comes from far away. I can feel waves starting behind my eyes.

“What’s wrong with you? You depressed.” But to this I say nothing. The voice comes again. “Cat got your tongue. Oh, I know. It’s the man. It’s because he doesn’t come anymore.” The voice is talking. I don’t hear anything. I go inside of myself. I shut out the world. I shut out the pale light of the day. The smell of layers of onion, red and yellow peppers frying in a pot on the stove. I don’t want to think about the man. I regarded him as hope.

“You sad?”

“Why, what does it matter anyway?”

“I wish it could be true. That relationships made people happier and well-adjusted.”

“What happens at the end of a relationship?”

“That’s a good question. There’s general unhappiness. You feel sad. I can see it.”

“Well, I can’t see it. I can’t make sense of things anymore.”

“Give it time. You’ll learn ownership.”

“I wanted to live. We were going to get married. Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Everybody wants to get married. Single people want to be married all the time.”

“I wanted to get married. I was in love. We were in love.”

“He was a soldier.”

“Soldiers can’t fall in love?”

“I don’t know what you want me to say to that. You seemed happy. Perhaps he wanted to marry you.”

“Perhaps there is some truth to that. That’s what you’re saying. Of course, I’m sad. He’s not here to explain himself to anyone. To me.”

“He has disappeared and there is a part of you that is disappearing from view too.” I busy myself at the fridge. I say nothing. I miss him but I don’t want anyone to know this. The air is cool. The fridge hums. I reach for the garlic and ginger, red chillies. The gravity of life hits my third eye. I close my eyes. I see colours.

“I wish you were happy.”

“But now I’m sad.”

“Yes, you’re sad. You’re sad but you’re not suicidal.”

“Not now.”

“You can’t blame a nervous breakdown on everything.”

“You don’t know anything. You don’t know anything about that.”

“He made you sick.”

“I made myself sick.”

“It’s always something with you. You always blame yourself.”

“There’s no one else to blame.”

“Blame your father. Blame his family’s genetic makeup. Their predisposition for alcoholism. It’s not your fault that the guy left.”

“Yes, it’s my fault. I’m mad to be in love with someone who doesn’t want me. He wasn’t the one that needed to be fixed.”

“If he wanted to be with you, he would still be here. Just breathe. Do the work.”

“Yes, I suppose so but now he isn’t here. I have to wake up to that fact And, you want me to console myself with a hot water bottle and a good book.”

“Why don’t you go back to writing poetry?”

“I don’t want to write poetry anymore. I don’t feel inspired.”

“You have to find inner joy. It’s not like magic.”

“We had magic.”

“Let it go. Was it really all that you imagined it to be?”

“Was it love, do you mean?”

“What’s love anyway? Mum and dad aren’t in love anymore.”

“Says who?”

“I say so.”

“Why would you say that?  You don’t know.”

“I know you’re hurt. I know our parents don’t speak to each other anymore. This is the first we have spoken like this in a long time.”

“Since I came from the hospital?”

“Yes, since you came out of the hospital.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Who said that you had to talk about it?”

“It’s always what you want. I have no rights.”

“You have all the right in the world to be sane right now. To be in this house and feel alright.”

“I am alone.”

“What is aloneness anyway? Millions of people feel alone.”

“I feel lonely.”

“You’re searching.”

“You have an answer for everything. Why doesn’t he come anymore?”

“He’s not in love with you.”

“Perhaps he isn’t anymore.”

“Well, he isn’t in love with you.”

“You don’t have to repeat yourself. I heard you the first time.”

“Then accept it.”

“It’s not as if I don’t want to accept it. It’s the third time it happened. He left. They left.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore who left you. It’s in the past.”

“That’s where I live. I live in the past.”

“That’s not who you are. It doesn’t define who you are.”

“Breakdown after breakdown after breakdown. I chase men away.”

“So, what. You sound depressed.”

“They run away from me. They sprint. I’m sick. I’m not depressed. Depression is not a state of mind. It’s a clinical disease.”

“You’re not a disease and stop talking like that.”

“I want to be happy.”

“Then be happy.”

“But I wanted to be happy with him.”

“It doesn’t work like that. You have to be happy on your own.”

“I don’t care. Maybe I don’t want to be happy.”

“Everybody wants to be happy. You want to be happy. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong to want to be in a relationship. It just happens that you were in a relationship with the wrong person.”

“What made him so wrong for me?”

“It is what it is. You have to find peace of mind again.”

“Where do I find this peace?”

“You have to find purpose again.”

“Where is this purpose? Where is this meaning?”

“Find purpose in activities again.”

“That’s like telling me to find my inner bliss.”

“Living with joy comes at a price. You have to value yourself.”

“But I do value myself.”

“You don’t see yourself anymore.”

“I want him back.”

“He’s not coming back.”

“Why?”

“You know why?”

“Yes, yes I do. He’s gone back to his wife.”

“Don’t say it like that.”

“I am saying it with finality and closure. Aren’t you happy?”

“Why would I be happy?”

“Doesn’t it make you happy when you have to rescue the people in your life?”

“That’s not fair.”

“What’s fair? Life’s not fair. People fall in love with people. People fall out of love with people. Everyone has to be an animal about it.”

“You have to face up to the truth. That he didn’t love you.”

“He didn’t love me. He just went away. Never to be seen of or heard from again. That’s so sad. I want to cry.”

“Cry. Heal. Heal in your aloneness. Take this time to think. Don’t make the same mistake twice.”

“I want to make the same mistake twice.”

“You want a repeat of this.”

“No. I take it back. I was out of it for such a long time.”

“You were.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“Right about what?”

“Right that he was responsible, but you see I stopped taking my medication.”

“You thought you were well. You thought you didn’t need the meds.”

“I was happy. I was so happy.”

“We were frightened for you.”

“I didn’t know I scared you. I’m sorry.”

“He wasn’t good for you. He came with a lot of emotional baggage.”

“I have emotional baggage too. I know he doesn’t have a wife. I know you made that up.”

“It doesn’t matter now.”

“Yes, nothing matters. I’m alone again and nobody cares. I don’t have a life.”

“How is the cognitive behavioural therapy going?”

“I talk about how I don’t have a life anymore.”

“The relationship was not good for you.”

“Can I decide what is good for me? What is toxic for me?”

“People cared about you. Please, remember that.”

“People made decisions for me. People made decisions on my behalf. People don’t care about me.”

“People care a great deal. More than you will ever know or accept.”

“I wish I had had some family loyalty. I wish that this connection I made hadn’t been so frowned upon.”

“I wish you could see it for what it is.”

“I am nothing. No one will ever love me.”

“That’s self-pity talking.”

“No, that’s me talking.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I live to pilot aloneness now.”

“You’re sabotaging yourself again.”

“And you’re adversary. You were all in this together. To keep us apart.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I do.”

The monster is the champion. I pretend to have make-believe conversations with my sister. Yes, the man doesn’t come anymore. He doesn’t pull into the driveway in his big silver car that I sat in one evening. He did not speak to me. I spoke to fill the silence watching the skateboard on the screen of his mobile phone. It was warm that night. It was before lockdown. When futures didn’t look dismal, far from reach. I wasn’t yet in the habit of saying, please leave me alone. Now I am quiet. Silence fills rooms. Snow fills my veins with a quiet essence. I watch rubbish television. I guess to drive the helpless anxiety away. I’m yonder. The man doesn’t come anymore but I had no role to play in that. I blamed my personality. Perhaps it was my psychotic break with reality. My sister keeps telling me that it doesn’t matter what the truth is. I listen but there’s an African Renaissance waiting for me, a journal and a coffee.

————

Image: Artem Gavrysh Unsplash (modified)

About the author

Abigail George

Abigail George’s fiction was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film at Newtown Film and Television School in Johannesburg. She is the recipient of grants from the National Arts Council, Johannesburg, Centre for the Book in Cape Town, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council) in East London. She has been widely published from Australia, to Finland to Nigeria, and New Delhi, India to Istanbul, Turkey and Wales.
Her blog African Renaissance can be found online in Modern Diplomacy under Topics.
She contributed for a year to a symposium on Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine. She is a poet, fiction writer, feminist thinker, essayist, and a blogger at Goodreads.

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