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Ballad of a Growing Intimacy: Short fiction by Abigail George


Left behind, out on the edge, to smile with all walls closing in on me, interiors seeking closure, comfortable borderlines distinct and pretty, infinite and mapping out a precariously wacky, sweet, precocious personality.

Talking to yourself again.

Just thinking out loud, musing, writing. It must be anticipatory nostalgia.

And what exactly are you thinking about?

I’m thinking of Kerry Cohen’s Loose Girl. In fact I just finished it.

Have you given up on The Bell Jar, Girl Interrupted and Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted? I do not want to talk about, debate, and argue about the take of female promiscuity in modern literature this evening. Can we just watch the news or a show in peace? You read too much. You think too much. You should start saving some of the stuff you make a point of throwing away as if it isn’t good enough. It is good enough. It is more than good enough. You should save it.

You should stop interrupting me when I am trying to make a point, when I’m writing and trying to watch you, watch you breathe. The light catches your hair, your neck, your eyes I wanted to say all at the same time. What’s on your itinerary for today?

You are on my itinerary.

You’re going to ruin your posture forever if you’re going to persist on lying on the sofa like that. What do you want to eat? Shouldn’t I just order something? We had the white fish, hake, and pasta this week already, a summer soup, pie and mash, and chicken wings with peppers that came out really pretty on the plate. Did anyone who has ever left this country forsake us and when they came back were they looking for salvation?

I really don’t know the answer to that question.

Do you think I am a good woman?

You want to be celebrated.

All women want to be celebrated. Shut up now I’m trying to follow the dialogue.

You started the conversation.

It was an advertisement.

All women dumb themselves down at some point in their lives.

Is that in response to what I am watching on the television? You think that women dumb themselves down? I can’t believe that you of all people just made that statement.

I am a man who believes in the greater good of the feminist movement but it has also caused a lot of harm.

Women thinking they can be independent, believe in equality when it comes to defining their relationships between men and women, that women can be free spirited, free thinkers and have it all? Isn’t every mother in love with the son that she’s created and the man he later becomes?

If women don’t dumb themselves down or stop themselves from doing what their mothers did in response to their father’s inexperience, demonstration of paternal love towards his children’s or a small child’s affection and argumentative attitude all the time, they are going to burn themselves out.

Waiting, watching, watching and waiting for him, always for him to make a mark. I study him as he makes his way from room to room. I’m a learner again making an acute observation after observation.

You want it all.

I could feel his eyes on me like his hands. I felt his hand on my breast, my shoulder, it lingered on my neck, and then on my mouth.

Leaving so soon.

You forgot to wake me up.

Don’t leave me to drown.

I want to be an instrument of change and of reconciliation, so many defining roles. Is that too much to ask from the universe? No, seriously, I want you to answer me. I want to be an instrument of change like Arthur Nortje, George Botha, Dennis Brutus, Zakes Mda, Mxolesi Nyezwa, Mzi Mahola, Nadine Gordimer – what a pretty name Nadine is – Fugard, Coetzee, Richard Rive, and Dambudzo Marechera. And perhaps be as relevant as Antjie Krog. White is the sun of my homeland. But the sunlight is black.

You want it all don’t you? You want everything.

I know what you’re thinking.

So you can read minds now too and be a brilliant teacher?

You can’t give me everything.

You’re insatiable. You’re insatiable, courageous, beautiful and determined.

I’m not beautiful. My mother is though.

You’re lovely in a different way though. Yes, I’ve seen your mother’s picture. The photograph of both your parents on their wedding day where they are standing outside the church, that, you keep on the desk.

My sister is striking. All the women in our family are. My Aunt Joan was beautiful too. They have spitfire personalities. You know, you of all understand my hurried notes, the journals that I have kept from childhood continued to beyond, the journal, the rejected novel, the reckoning, the poems that I’ve scribbled, lost, that time and energy and ego forgot. Then there are the black Croxley notebooks. I am determined to keep that away from you, and from the rest of the world for good.

He wounds me/them like an animal. His women, women, women, he winds them up as if they’re electric dolls. I heated up the livers, mushrooms and bacon, the leftovers, scrambled the eggs and listened to the morning news on the radio. The bus coming in from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg had flipped into the air off the highway. There were no fatalities. The plums were juicy and sweet. I would save them for lunch. I sat at the kitchen table, buttered my toast, drank my lukewarm coffee, crossed my legs, scratched my knee absentmindedly and stared out of the window. The breakfast’s grease was stuck to the pan. I could forget about it. And the more aware I became of the sky, the environment, the internal, the more aware I became of who created the invention, vision, dream, goal, and end of this line of sky, of blue, of this writer, this tortured poet, this bird?

If I painted your soul a million times would you promise to come back?

This alchemist, magician, illusionist, artist, and dream catcher. This older man who was different in a way than anyone else I’d ever met.

You’re different in a way from anyone else I’ve ever met, he said.

And I welcomed the warmth, movement, and space and curled up under the covers of the blankets.

This soup nourished our souls like a meditation on Bach.

I stare at the fable unfolding in front of me, forgetting the angels under the table.

She hung up the phone on me. In the silence that followed I realised that I had never felt anything like that before. I miss my sister.

You don’t have a sister.

I miss clouds dancing across the sky, being filled with courage and the white light of the afternoon sun, our almost telepathic connection from childhood.

You don’t have a sister.

I am not so good with friends (one part angel, one part saint, one part gem, and one part devil in the system).

I can still remember you speaking of the gems in my chromosome pool, my mitochondria, and my bilateral symmetry.

And that you said you were not good with people.

You said you had ‘poor social skills’.

You said you were ‘vulnerable’ and that you became more aware of it when you were with me. You asked me what the miracle of life was. I find that there’s a miracle in everything around me, in walking, in the contact I have with other people.

I felt his hand and then nothing.

She doesn’t love me.

Your mother never loved you?

Yes, she never loved me.

I don’t believe you.

But it’s true.

You’re making it up.

And then I felt ashamed.

Then I watched him walk away from me.

I watched him close the door on me.

The dream girl after leaving Johannesburg turned into a woman. She returned to the coast, to her father’s house, her mother’s kitchen, her mother’s wisdom and the thrones of her childhood continued, to the art of a heart undone. She returned to the coast where water could be found in wild places, where tides were subject to change, to the place where she spent magnificent blue hours staring up at the sky. She had her books. Her index finger would linger on the spine in her father’s grand study, his library, and his ‘London experience’. The house was dilapidated. It was in a bad way. The tiles were falling off the wall in the kitchen. The walls needed a lick of paint. The interiors were in need of repair. The whole house needed to be renovated. The dream girl had returned. The dream girl was also determined to change. She also wanted to be heroic, angelic and magical.

Writing about grief is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. Nerves I could fathom as I stood in front of them but what I really wanted to do was escape. Everybody always speaks about the miracle of life at a funeral. When death pays a visit there is no apprehension about discussing what music to play when the coffin is lowered, what hymns will be played, what verse will be read out of the bible, and who will make the potato salad.

What is it about the past that haunts you so?

In this picture I am the birthday girl with the red balloons, in the next a bird with a broken wing with the frosting of her cake on her hands in a place in time, a moment of reflection, fleeting sadness, on the verge of tears, a nervous breakdown? Nobody wanted me. Nobody wanted to speak to me, take responsibility for me, pick me up, and drive me anywhere.

Why do you remember that? It hurt you.

Yes, it did hurt me. It hurt me and that is why I am and always will be the bird with the broken wing.

Then let it go.

Why? Why should I do that?

Because the people who did that to you have moved on with their lives and they are looking forward to the future, they’re living in the present moment while you are living in the past. At the moment they were hurting you all they wanted to see was your spirit crushed, and your mind’s eye immovable. They don’t have your intellect, your psyche. All they have is ego.

They were unkind.

Yes, I agree with you. They were unkind to you.

Blow me a kiss.

Here’s a kiss from me to you.

Is this enough?

What do you mean?

Is this enough for you?

For now it is enough for me.

You mean for the time being.

What is this machinery you’ve put in place?

I’ve put it in place to spy on you. You won’t be able to handle it. Can you handle it?

I’m a professional. Of course I’ll be able to handle it.

Your skin is so golden. Your eyes are so bright. You’re a golden brown paradise road in a lover’s country. In a ripple of pale moonlight with the texture of something of the weight of water against my fingertips. You smell like pineapple, scent, perfumed soap and the afternoon sun, sunlight, vanilla, powder and salt.

It’s the new shampoo I’ve been using.

It’s the scent of a woman.

The wind here resonates with the euphoria I feel inside my heart, the heat, the color of the day and its song chills me to the bone. I feel as if the wind is in pursuit of something. I am in pursuit of something. The flowers are dead. I must rinse the vase out and put fresh water in. Nasturtiums. Violets. The violets are the colour of his eyes and the color of the day.

Your feet are cold. What are you reading?

Oh this. African stories.

What are you reading?

I am reading about the growing intimacy between a man and a woman. It is kind of a ballad of the growing intimacy between a man and a woman.

Is it hectic?

Hectic, yes, intense,

Winter guest.

Am I welcome?

Yes, yes, yes you are welcome.

Read me something.

So I can read you anything?

Yes, read me anything. Read me what you like.

I can hear the two of them talking, laughing, and drinking wine, circling love’s world, temptation country, lover’s country, and the split personality of the mushroom of black light.

The silent treatment again.

I’m reading spoilsport.

I watched you swimming today.

You did?

I was proud.

Yes. It was a very big first step. It was my giant leap back into the world, the planet, humanity and soul-defying gravity as it were.

It was the first time that you had been out since your aunt’s death.

Are you sending me a secret message from the divine? I thought I would never feel connected to the world again.

You’re a big girl now. I think you know what I am trying to say. I think that you know that what I am trying to tell you is that I love you. I love you very, very much.


© Abigail George


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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