Fiction

Abigail George: Hibiscus

hibiscus
Image: M Rishal on Unsplash

Who listens to smoke? Breath pumps through me. You’re a symbol. You’re good and kind folk. Perhaps you’re a Lutheran now or Methodist. There’s a story here. I find the supple-subtle words drowning in deep despair and loneliness, pathetic frustration, listless and lethargic yet alive. Bone is envious of flesh. Mother abandoned me. Father neglected mother who in turn neglected me. I think back to those wasted years of my twenties and early thirties. I think of the rich men. I think of the rich men’s character and personalities. How the rain always showered promises on top of my hungry head. I’m an innocent. You’re the devil. You’re the devil walking around as if nothing can touch you. As if you’re some kind of martyr. You’re still living and breathing just like each of those rich men while I’m in need of prayer, reflection, introspection and meditation. Lucifer is my brother. My brother is the convict. Sexton was a beautiful woman. I’m an imposter. No woman am I. Plath was a brilliant poet. Please, please don’t ignore me. My tangled tongue carries winter news with it. I am mad somewhere in Africa.

Pretty soon I guess it will evaporate. I’m running out of space. The words aren’t there. I’m not safe to be around anymore. The sea just opened up. The sun has come for me. There’s no us anymore. Why can’t I just have one friend? Why do I have to be the one to watch my father die while my sister teaches English in Prague? I like this world now that you’re in it. I’m old. I’m more aware of time slipping away. I am greedy for the gulls that fly overhead. The birds here fade into the sun. They worship there. Your face is sleeping. There’s prophecy in the veins of driftwood. There’s a prophecy in the birch, willow, walnut tree in the backyard. I’m in need of a cure for this sin I’ve been carrying. I’m abstract. I’m dressed to kill. There are flaws between these sheets that you need to be made aware of. My mother is a pretty woman. She was the prize. I’m a failure. I’m the failure in the family. Her one failure and she is the vertigo above and below my mad dash into society. I did not know my love had a wife.  Daddy, daddy you’re fading away. There’s no place here for forgetting, only a place for the psychiatrist.

Space seems to have taken up every conceivable realm and to even survive seems extraordinary. I’m like a rabbit or a fox down the hole. Smile, please smile, I say to my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I wish to drown, fall, escape, drown, fall, escape, drown and find the key. Find the exit out. Again, there’s isolation. Sleep deprivation. Again, I’m counting sheep. I know I have a history of it. Again, again, again, this vision that you have is big. All the paternal relatives printed this invisible writing on my chest. Once she was the light of my life. Now all I know is that this world is an inhumane place. She knows what is wrong with the company she keeps. I keep finding gurus. The girls here are models. Please tell the rest of the case studies, all the psychologists, I’m learning how to forgive and forget. I’m learning to surrender. Please, look at my aunt, is she kind? She cooks and she cleans and she carries my dreams wherever she goes. She brings with her the glory of the flock of my maternal family. She gives my madness the courage to grow.

Please tell someone, anyone who cares to listen, who has the willpower to open their heart wide open, the family doesn’t think this behaviour is cute anymore. That the world is a space made up of dark matter. It becomes a circle that swallows me whole blue wrists and all. I do not have a swarm inside of me growing arms and legs. I don’t have it in me to bring progeny into the world. Did I tell you that I love your third eye? And did I tell you I’m crazy for your love, for you? I’m a bad feminist hungry for you. Don’t forget all about me. If you do, I’ll haunt you for the rest of your life. Even the paintings in our house spoke a language. There’s an accident-prone child in the house. You don’t belong to me anymore, anymore. And the sane tigers come at night. You’re a hunter. You’re a photograph. You’re a story. For my flesh and blood sisters I’ve fixed my anxiety with sorcery. Let it all out. I let it all out. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I cannot see the future. They’ll say one day, “While she had stars in her eyes, night and day bathed in her flesh.” I followed the law’s world.

I carried a knot of tenderness in my heart for her heart, my cracked soul for hers; my spirit lived for her spirit. The game of being estranged from my complicated family is what I’m good at. How do I deal with that criminal rejection of that ruffian writer’s block? You have given me your church. Spread your message of love to the world. All I ask is that you believe in me, as I have believed in wise, wise you, good feminist. I keep on finding nuns where, when I should be finding you. You’re Atlantis. You’re a rhyming avalanche, my beauty. You’re beloved to all men. You’re on fire for their adoration. You’re a know-it-all going through life with a permanent smile on your face. But me, I’m afraid I’m going down that cold road that leads to nowhere fast. It’s as hot as hell out there today. You’ll find waves of desire in sanity. You’ll want to call a ‘normal’ reality (a strange new world) home. We can be blind to our own faults, our own flaws, and I remember when we didn’t have much in the way of anything. We had each other and that was enough. You were noble and I was a prince.

This year I fixed up the garden of anxiety and death for you. I still remember how I stunned you when I called your heart ‘home’, ‘sanctuary’ again and again and again.

Whenever disaster strikes me in my world, I think of home (home as sanctuary, soft place to fall in flight, and adrenaline rush), or I go home. Welcomed by elderly parents, a happy dog licking my hand.

An old man forgets everything. Daughters, though, have long memories. Memories of their wasted potential, and their mother’s wasted potential, memories of the tender eyes of the first high school boy they kissed, memories of painful things, memories of regret, and desire, and of wasted pain. I always thought, I don’t really know why, of angels hiding in the dark ocean. Coming out into the light like volcano-lovers, or smoking, and drinking like Hemingway and Fitzgerald in France.

I thought of the poet Sharon Olds, and the writer Patricia Highsmith, oh, gosh, how much I wanted to be like them, how much didn’t I want to enjoy sex, being kissed, pulled in close, held in a man’s arms. But for most of my life, I was a blind oak, a sleeping woman, in pieces, in phenomena of constellations, found in galaxies of other worlds, dominated by the guy in quasi-relationships, and in the end, I forgave my father, what else could I do. He was in a wheelchair in the autumn of his years.

I thought that marriage could save you pain, but it only illuminated my mother’s. Sex was non-existent for her for years after my birth. I forgave my mother for staying with my father when I was an atheistic- teenager. I looked at her, and wanted to be her. In control without antidepressants, and sleeping pills, sane, with a half-man, half-female, sane, without a man. There was something about her intuition that was divine, almost natural in the supernatural. Then there was her faith, her courage, the price she paid.

I was raised in the household of a strong woman, leaf falls to ground. Belief defies religious belief, norm becomes opinion, girls have fun, let loose at university, but I didn’t. I lost myself in films, and art exhibitions. The rain always took on a pensive transformation for me, for the sea I would dress in skinny jeans, comfortable sandals, and t-shirt if it was warm outside. It was always important to me how I looked to men first, and women, girls second. All women were affectionate to me.

My father always had self-destructive patterns in his behavior. He used to drink, was popular with men, and women, dreamed him up a bisexual persona, that I had to live with, my mother had to live with. There was always talk, Sunday mornings he was in church beside my mother, and my mother was ever-protective of me, her only child, her only daughter sheltered me from my father, the cheat. Told me to grow up to be a radical, politized feminist writer, and thinker. To be an intellectual. Nothing like her.

She was a housewife, and sang in the church choir, sometimes taught Sunday School, the piano, and participated on the stage sometimes, acting a bit part here and there. Always a supporting role though. She was a dreamer, everybody said so. Then they looked at me and said that I was just like her. We had the same large brown eyes, same hair, same dreams. I had to have goals, and plans, it made me forget about the time I found my father wearing pink lipstick, and peacock-blue eyeshadow sleeping it off.

Summers meant holidays, hiking, and in my own writing it meant wilderness. Anything could be planted there, stemming harvest, and my history with boys in high school was always complicated, but not my writing-history. It made me feel complex, the writing one of my teachers said once, unfairly, was more quantity than quality. How I hated her for that, planned her death from a mugging, and a gunshot wound to the head, and I even planned my own death from an elixir of sleeping pills, and neat whiskey.

There was always an emptiness in my life, even when I was with other people, a guy, or my closest girlfriend, we’d be laughing, talking, drinking, but there’d still be this void inside of me. The bullets would be heart-shaped, and I’d be playing Russian roulette with a make-believe gun. Now, I think of my mother, of my own androgynous beauty, what had attracted her in the first place to my father, that first sexual impulse, the first time he touched her, that was the catalyst for my own writing, touch.

I remember my writing from childhood, and adolescence, how dark it was. The color of the day, the stolen blue in the middle of it, a sea of wave after wave that belonged to the ocean of my youth. My ex-lover is at work. I wonder who he is attracted to now, if he’s fallen in love, who is the secret object of his beloved affection, and I wonder what her name is, what she tastes like, smells like, moves like on the dancefloor in a nightclub, sounds like in church, how she walks, how she talks on the exhale.

Books always tasted of sea light to me, the thrilling cadences, and rhythms of borders, and salt, and air. That strange hissing sound as meat touched grease in the pain that hit the air, a woman’s perfume like a risky adventure with an exciting, and tall, dark, and handsome stranger from an off-campus bar, sea air in my lungs, the vibrations of classical music reminding me of waves hitting the shoreline. Peak breaking, trough meeting trough, and light. The sea, like the kitchen table was always sacred to me.

I remembered Paul’s words, but what could words do anyhow. She, (he was talking about me), doesn’t even know how to do sex, how to kiss even. That’s not all she doesn’t know how to do in bed. The guys guffawed. The guys cheered him on to tell them the whole story, the sob stories, the scenario in the bedroom. He said, she said, the talk got louder, the conversation boisterous. I turned inward. My identity cemented in this crowd of strangers.

What could intimacy between a guy, and a girl possibly mean, he’s infatuated with her looks, she’s infatuated with the vision that he has of her.

It is a lonely hunting-and-gathering game between the two parties. One searching for meaning, and respect, the other a sign of devotion, admiration.

And again, I turned inward, felt like an orphan from a country orphanage, self-pity rising up in me like an award for the role I was playing.

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Image: M Rishal on Unsplash

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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