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Abigail George: Triptych

Risk is a mistake. There’s beautiful thinking in the red wildflowers of my sister’s hair. The ingredients for breakfast grow out of the kitchen table. We work in silence fixing something to eat. Edna takes the frozen pies and places them on a baking tray. She cracks an egg into a bowl and mixes it up with a fork. She takes the milk out of the fridge while I do the dishes contemplating the lives of the people that inhabit this house. My sister and her husband are renovating their house and for now they’re staying with my parents. I live here too. The water in the kitchen sink is greasy. Slime sits on top of it. I let the water run out.

Open the cold tap, the water gushes out and washes my hands. My sister brushes her hand across her forehead. I am getting hot. The kitchen is hot. Pies were a good decision but not for Edna. My sister is on a diet. The pies are more for her daughter and our dad, but she’s decided to make a salad for lunch. She’s become health conscious ever since the birth of her daughter. Our mother is very energetic. She paints, has a circle of friends that she goes for coffee with every week. They talk about their husbands, their children, and their grandkids. My phone beeps. I pick it up. It’s a message from my boyfriend. I ignore it and put the phone back down.

I am setting up modules for a creative writing course for university students. I have the rest of the day in front of me. I plan my day around the university life and the men I am seeing. I have been thinking a lot about personal growth. How organic that process is. Regeneration and optimism, growth, and decay, to wither, to gain life, to make friends, to meet a new lover. The inner workings of that chemistry and attraction. I watch how the branches sway in the wind. The dog scratches its ear, stands up and with a primal instinct it barks at another dog on the other side of the wall. There’s old growth when it comes to relationships.

There’s a dance between a man and a woman. The man is made up of atoms. The woman particles and this love can nourish both. But my sister Edna does not approve of my lifestyle. Her daughter has saplings for fingers. It’s unbelievable how quickly children grow. I want to be free. I think I will be free if I swap South Africa for London. The only person that concerns is me. Maybe I am looking for companionship in the wrong places. Perhaps the men I date are unsuitable and they’re much younger. I can’t please my sister. I hide my lifestyle from my father. I don’t know what my mother knows. She’s indifferent to me. To how I live my life.

The day is a tomb. I wonder what else I need to shed from my life. The hours seem bundled up to me these days. I feel as if my insides are composed of instinct and a forest. There’s a lesson in everything. My toes are cold. I stamp my feet on the tile. My sister looks at my bare feet and frowns. Yes, disapproval again. She does this. I have a seedling in my hands, that will develop into a plant and if I love it right it will sprout flowers. I see that in myself. In the work that I do. The intellectualism of my students are the flowers. What I can teach them gives me hope. The pies are smelling. I glance in the oven. They have turned brown nicely on top.

I suck a hollow into my coffee. When I am amongst nature, trees, I find everything symbolic. I think of my boyfriend’s off-campus flat, how tender he is after we make love.

“You’re not going to answer that call? Oh, I see. You’re ignoring him. You know, there’s something poetic about the way that you make coffee, how you mistreat people and don’t look at it that way.”

“I’m busy. I’ll call him back. If we had different parents what would our personalities be like now?”

“We both would’ve been married by now.”

“In other words, we both would have been happy.”

“Many married people are unhappy. Evolution of self, have you heard about that?”

“I am evolving.”

“You think that you are.”

“I disagree. I know I have responsibilities. I know I am accountable to the greater good.”

“Who are you lecturing? You are preaching to the converted.”

“I’m involved. I’m engaged. I’m knowledgeable.”

“This writers’ organisation that you’re a part of now is good for you.”

“It’s political.”

“That’s life. You have to consider politics in everything.”

“I don’t like conflict.”

“You put writers in a room, and you run workshops. Don’t you find that fulfilling? You teach English. You go away with friends. You’ve met someone.”

“But is it love? Am I loved?”

“You’re always going to be loved, Nazley.”

“I have to start putting things into perspective.”

“Listen to your older sister. Start believing in yourself and that starts with acceptance.”

“I do care about myself.”

“Sometimes I think you make a grave error by putting other people first. Take this relationship for instance. You forgive too easily. You’re agreeable. Are you listening to me?”

“What is it?”

“Tell her no more butter.”

“You tell her.”

“You have to start laying down the law.”

“Give her the butter. It’s not going to hurt her.”

“She’s going to get it all over the place and I’ll have to clean it up.”

“You’re in the movie business now.”

“It’s not as glamourous as you make it out to be. It’s just a favour.”

“It’s unbelievable, innit? That we’re both writers.”

“Well, we both have other interests that occupy our time. I have a daughter. I’m a parent. I’m an artist. You’re involved. You’re engaged. I’m going to give this child a bath. She’s got this all over her clothes. You are naughty. See, she’s not listening to me.”

“Be patient with her. They have a limited understanding at that age.”

“Maybe I should show her a slipper. Stop with these young men. They’re much younger than you. Live your life now. Live your dreams now.”

“I know I have to make hard decisions.”

“Do you?”

“I need to get a handle on this Edna.”

“Well, at least you are talking about it.”

“I need to stop this maladjusted behaviour.”

“You can’t do this to yourself. Pay for sex. It’s not healthy. You’re attractive. You shouldn’t be doing this. It’s crazy. You’re hurting yourself. I’ve told you before. These are not relationships. You need to love yourself. Self-care.”

“Easier said than done. It’s difficult. I’m damaged. It came from childhood.”

“Blaming it on not being loved by the same sex parent is not going to help you. Yes, perhaps you’re wounded but you have the tools to do something about it now. It will transform you.”

“I’m wounded. My heart has been broken. Our mother broke my heart.”

“No. I said no. No more butter for you. I can’t believe this child. I’ve heard that story before. You have to take ownership of the mistakes and the choices that you’ve made.”

“Are you happy?”

“Most days.”

“I am not happy.”

“A husband and children won’t make you happy if you’re not happy with yourself.”

“You’re hard on me.”

“I have to be hard on you. No one is going to be as honest as I am with you. We’re family but someone else might not go as easy on you as I am. Aren’t you ashamed? You go through all these men. You have these random encounters. It’s not safe. What if you find yourself in a situation that you have no control over or say in if it gets to that?”

“I don’t know. Call the police?”

“And if you didn’t have your phone? What then?”

“Don’t talk like that.”

“Well, consider the worst-case scenario. I can’t believe that you would do this to yourself. That you would consider this, think about doing this, this kind of harm to yourself.”

“Next, you’re going to give me a speech on how I wasn’t raised to be like this and don’t go rolling your eyes at me, Edna. It’s my life.”

“You’re on a dangerous trajectory and yes, you can use that argument. That it’s your life but I wish you wouldn’t do this to yourself. You should listen to yourself. Think about what you’re saying. You sound as if you’re against the institution of marriage.”

“I am against the institution of marriage.”

“You haven’t met the right person yet.”

“Random encounters. I’m getting older. I’ve met someone. He was a random encounter.”

“You’re trying to justify your actions now. To me. I know you. It’s not going to last, and he is a university student and you met him in one of your workshops.”

“Go see someone, you’re going to tell me next. Go speak to a therapist and you know how many times I’ve done that, and it hasn’t worked.”

“You blame our mother for everything. That’s your problem.”

“You had a different relationship with her.”

“Change of subject. When are you leaving for London? I suppose Tom doesn’t fit into that picture.”

“I need a change of scenery.”

“I need to get my visa and then I’m off.”

“Well, we’ll miss you.”

“Yes, I’ll miss you too but think about this kind of opportunity to further my education.”

“You could have done that here.”

“I need this experience.”

“You’ll go on doing what you’re doing now. London won’t change anything. It’s just a landscape.”

“It’s a valley.”

“What about the mountain? Life is an uphill battle. I don’t think you take life or yourself or anyone else for that matter seriously.”

“You are very judgemental.”

“Oh, that’s being so specific now.”

“You think that you’re the expert on human behaviour.”

“You have father issues. I think this is you doing this to yourself. You were too sheltered, you know, and you were the favourite.”

“I don’t see any truth in that reasoning. Wanna smoke a joint with me. Oh, there’s the rolling of the eyes again. You never had a problem with this before.”

“I’m a mother now.”

“We did this two weekends ago and now you’re preaching to me. You decided that you’re a mother now two weeks after the fact.”

“Maybe later. After Thandi has a nap. I wish you could see what I see when I look at you. You’re more than random encounters with much younger and unsuitable men.”

“I’m not promiscuous but that sounds like a lie even to me.”

“I don’t want to judge you. You must make up your mind. Make your own choices and see if you can live with yourself within that realm of possibility. And this relationship now?”

“He’ll break it off eventually and before London. He’ll find someone much more suitable and younger. Someone who is not me. Someone who is not wounded.”

“You have such a pessimistic view on grown-up relationships. What if he doesn’t break it off with you?”

“Then I’ll break it off with him. He knows that this is not a long-term relationship. I buy him things.”

“So, you buy him things. Clothes, a phone, a television. That’s not ok.”

“Nobody would say anything if it was a man doing that for his girlfriend. Don’t judge.”

“Oh, well, when you put it like that it makes sense. You’re digging holes for yourself.”

“I don’t think I’m exploiting him and he’s not taking advantage of me.”

“I need to give Thandi a bath.”

“Is there beer?”

“It’s my husband’s beer.”

“I’ll have one beer.”

“It’s not good for you. An afternoon of joints and beer, that’s a sin.”

“Don’t judge.”

“I will judge. Enough. My daughter is more important to me than this conversation.

“Be a friend. Be my friend.”

“I’m your friend. I’ll always be here for you.”

“It doesn’t always feel that way.”

“Never mind. You were going to bake a cake for later.”

“Chocolate or vanilla?”

“You choose. You know what Thandi likes.”

“She likes chocolate. So, chocolate it is.”

“You choose.”

“Mum will be coming back from the gallery soon for lunch, so you must get started on that.”

“Ask dad if he’s finished shaving and if he’s going to come and eat with us or when mum comes home. It’s a good thing that you’re leaving home, you know.”

“Well, it will be a new experience for me. I’ve never been abroad like you have. India, Thailand, America. You’ve been. You’ve experienced life.”

“Oh, they were just holidays. You need a blast of authenticity.”

“But it’s life-changing to travel and see the world.”

“My daughter needs a bath.”

“Well, I have a module to write.”

I am a tree. I am cemetery grass. I am Whitman. I am Rilke. I am Dostoyevsky. I am Akhmatova. I want the magic of conversation with my boyfriend but I’m dead to this world.


Image by Laura Moraña from Pixabay

Abigail George
Abigail George
South African Abigail George is a blogger, essayist, short story writer, screenwriter, novelist, and poet. She briefly studied film in Johannesburg. She has two film projects in development and is the recipient of two grants from the National Arts Council, one from the Centre for the Book and another from ECPACC. Her publishers are Tendai Rinos Mwanaka (Zimbabwe, Mwanaka Media and Publishing or Mmap), Xavier Hennekinne (Australia/New Zealand, Gazebo Books), and Thanos Kalamidas (Finland, Ovi). Her literary representative is Morten Rand. She is a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net nominated, and European Union Poetry Prize longlisted poet. Her poem “The Accident” was Identity Theory's Editor's Choice for Spring. Ink Sweat and Tears chose her poem “When light poured into me at the swimming pool” as a September Pick of the Month, and she recently made the shortlist of the Writing Ukraine Prize 2023. She is a poet/writer who believes in the transformative, restorative and healing powers of words. Her latest book is Letter To Petya Dubarova (Australia/New Zealand, Gazebo Books). Young Galaxies (a poetry book) was released in 2023 from Mmap and a memoir When Bad Mothers Happen is forthcoming. “Clarissa, Hector and Septimus Redefined” was recently published by Novelty Fiction in Kindle format.

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