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Memoir: Short fiction by Abigail George

Image by *F῀ via Flickr
Image by *F῀ via Flickr

My sister has the paper tiger empress down to an art.

I have embraced the physical art of suffering. I have surrendered to the primitive, the ancestral, the universal, and the totem. I am the clever experiment. I am the working class experiment. Relationships are driftwood in my hands. Exposure to a wilderness in my head. Darkness invisible is the land that borders on God. I long for the roar of the sea, zoo pretty, lush with its stone voice. In the sea, my body becomes creative.

Every impulse is recognised. Like a footstep on cobblestones or gravel. To me the sea is sacred. It has always been a sacred mystery to me since childhood. Salt cells in my hair. Light shining through me like a lighthouse. I am little but I am also tall. I am brown but I am also poetry. Waves fight song in motion. The sun in motion.

There I am breathing in salt and light until my feet no longer tread land. I begin to forget female writing, becoming Virginia Woolf, how lonely the house is now without the sounds of my mother moving around the rooms. There is just empty space. Where there is empty space there is also faith and loyalties, religion, a church, prayer, and spirituality.

My father and I have built those foundations. There are powerful forces in mothers. Although they have never experienced their children’s pain, they feel it. As if they have gone through it themselves. I felt something shift inside of me. For the first time truth is illuminated. Everything begins to blossom around me. I took my pills this morning and dressed.

I waited for the world to show up. I waited for grief too, and anxiety to show up and make waves. I was patient. Too kind for words. I had to be in order to survive. I had an idea of a river of dust, of privacy, of shelter, isolation, personal space and unquiet bleeding. A woman’s unseen bleeding. There were parts of me that understood that life was precious.

There were also parts of me that understood that life was wild and free. It inspired people, not only writers. It made you feel electric and it was an insane trip. A rollercoaster ride. I am damaged. There I said it. I brought it to life in this world like Frankenstein. Other people, worldly or spiritual are damaged too. Other people like me are also mentally ill.

Other people are also beautiful shadows swinging from the chandeliers. Other people also have visions of being neglected, and abandoned. I have put all my thirst and my longing onto a page. I have to erase it somehow. The lonely hunter within me hints at diminishing its powerful hold over me.

‘You are my disabled sister.’ She said on the telephone. Her voice was cool. It did not matter to me. Her voice was always winter. An asylum. This was how I lived now. With disability. It was not a tragic affair. I had built up my intuition, the psychic pathways to my third eye. My sister was my Hiroshima. Fat Boy. Little Man. We were no longer playing at Little Women.

I have always believed though that I had the qualities of a young mother. I remember sticky fruit in the hands of children, soup and bread, apartheid South Africa when I could not play on the swings or else my father would be arrested. To me there was always a ballad in everything. I remember how we made a Noah’s ark, and Jonah’s whale out of a fruit tree. A mulberry tree.

It stained the clothes on the line as it stains my heart now. Trees chaperone the garden now. My sister works in a bank. My mother busies herself with spiritual meetings, and her garden. She does not see me. I am invisible to both. Politics can crush you especially the politics in family life. Humanity will survive. Humanity will continue to dream, have those visions.

I believe in suffering, longing and thirst. It is a product of my childhood. I believe other children, and other adults are products of their childhood too. I have believed in it since childhood. The wounding of my heart started early for me. The early loss of innocence separated me from other girls and boys all through my early life. Those formative years.

So for a long while in my life there was spiritual poverty. I had a great father though who gave me everything. Books and culture. He shared his passions with me and I told him the secrets of my soul. Girls need mothers like fish need to live and breathe in the ocean. Daughters need their fathers too.

When people abandon you, when people neglect you, you end up in a bad way, in an anguished and terrible shape. You will either become phenomenal. A phenomenal success or a failure. You will either just completely waste away as an adult or contribute nothing to the world. You will never learn to love or you will change the world. You will learn to save yourself.

You will learn what family, being part of the world at large and humanity really means. I had been deprived my whole life of this beautiful and elegant woman who was also an elegant and beautiful monster. Abuse shattered me. Night and day was a voyage into dark but it taught me how to become ambitious? It taught me to become a modern girl.

It taught me how to spread my wings out and fly. It taught me to harvest tunnel vision, set goals for myself, dream, and to reach for the sun, that brilliant, brilliant light, the moon and my dark side. A child has lovely bones. When they say their first words or discover something novel, they enchant.

I wanted her to dedicate her life to me but she had work, two other children and a manic-depressive for a husband. She had the emotions of a wife. Chef, lover, teacher, mentor, tennis player, sister. She was a wife in apartheid South Africa and continued to be a wife and a mother in post-apartheid South Africa. She planted rosebushes. She lived. She loved with grace, mercy.

She baked but it was never for me. The modern human, be it the child prodigy, the gifted, the genius, the writer, the poet, the artist as the Outsider, all have suffered for their art. Their intelligence is elegant. For women the illusion is this, that we are the sum of our experiences, that we live in order to die, that to make sense of the world we must be educated.

Empowered and uplifted by the opposite sex, and the sexual transaction. The divine wonder that illuminates the world around us knits our brain cells and us together. Man creates. Through his creation he dominates. In our dreams comes the journey, the invisible monsters, and the fork in the road, the music, and the footsteps in the dark, imagination, what we worship.

The imaginary waves, the hallucination, the surreal, reality, the painted blurred lines, and the mental drum. The truth that exists for me is not the same that exists for you. Inside of Africa and outside of Africa. What does it mean to be human? What does the word humanity mean and how does it transform us, our view of the world, our thinking, our perspective on illness?

I can see the glare of the light now. At the end of the day, my father puts me back together again. It is his voice that I hear and that of my ‘second mother’. Magda Dumont. I have been deprived, homeless, lived in a shelter with other women who have also been deprived, homeless and have gone on living from shelter to shelter. I have been a wreck. I have been ‘shipwrecked’.

I have been to the lighthouse and back. I have been dashed against those rocks. I have been a ghost, told those ghost stories and come back furiously to life after being comaed. The veil of illness has begun to branch out into my body, that mental switch. Humanity has a body of fire, so does Africa, and the phoenix.

The flame of mental illness and disability licks that mental switch. To love is give something of your spirit, your soul away. Why did you not love me mummy? The physical me has been counselled, but what clinical psychologists seem to understand really well is textbook knowledge but not the day-to-day lifestyle of mental illness or suicidal depression.

The potential that humanity has for forgiveness is the same potential we have for being kind beings. It should not be alien to us, but for some it is alien. As much as I am baffled by, the expectations that society places on a woman by the world that she lives in, the pressure that they put on women not to call themselves feminists, or to even play that role.

To get no kind of certain pleasure out of life is difficult. Humanity is not perfect. It seems as if all the negatives have a perfect timing. They seem to weigh in over the decisions that God has in mind for us mostly leaving us building up the furious, those brick walls inside of us. Sorrow is nothing. War studies, battling stress, overcoming the limits of man and womankind.

Studying, observing love is pure. All love is meant to be pure. When I read, read anything from books to opinion, to essays, to short stories it is funny that I do not feel that isolation from my mother, the woman who struggled to bring me into this world, who waited five years for a baby, who went from doctor to doctor seeking a cure for infertility.

To realise that you are not accepted for whom you are, to gain no approval from loved ones because of illness has grief written all over it. I have a message. It is simple. Live with a force of human nature even though you are broken. Live as if that is your greatest intention. Your obsession. Your knowledge is powerful. Invent yourself again. Reinvent earth. Its textures.

The universe is there for the taking. In the end, as it has always nurtured humanity, the broken, it will and can nurture you. Your knowledge of prayer and your knowledge of fear. You cannot have one without the other. I have not found a cure for illness yet or disability. The closest that I have come to it is this. Laughter and being a daughter. Being caring. Being a poet and a writer.

I am carving out a place in the world for me, a future to live, a gifting, and in kind, I must serve to deserve others. It is a desert out there made out of ancient dust. The sun has baked that earth for centuries. Cacti has made it their home out there. The ground is not fertile not even for germs but when the rains come as they must come; memory and desire are washed away.

I will remember birthdays, Christmases, Easters, telephone calls made collect, Tara, Hunterscraig, relapse and recovery into oblivion with my hair splitting at the ends, running out of shampoo, and other women’s necessary things if you know what I mean. I was trying to live. I promise. I was trying to live. My brain pulp. It was in need of medicine. Yes, pharmaceuticals.

Can you feel it hanging in the air? Nerves. Nerve. It is there like language and mother tongue.

I breathe in the shape of aloes, that green feast. I breathe in lessons of despair and isolation. Am I not Antigone’s representative? Her disciple?

Dance with me as I write these words now. I will cha-cha it out of my system. I remember the lightness of youth so pure, so pure in girls and boys, but not me. In the heat of adolescence, I was left standing, carrion, and carrion, viewed the world from a foetal position, and cooked those meat and potatoes until there was nothing left of the meat but a dry hiss, a grandmother’s kiss. I remember that house. My grandmother’s kitchen. Sitting at her kitchen table and eating wisdom. Not getting enough of what my father grew up on. I remember solitude as if I remember the playing fields of an adolescent. I dream to the beat of haiku. Her hands smelled of camphor. This memory is precious to me. Grandmothers are always precious in the eyes of their grandchildren.

This world dazzles me. The world of the father and the daughter. It has a rich tapestry. God is woven into the details, and so is the gene pool of creativity. The outside world is disturbing to me. If I grab a hold of it, it will surely mean the death of me. This journal is my handbook. This notebook is worth its weight in gold. I am going for glory. I need new shoes. Shoes that do not pinch my feet. It is summer. I will need sandals. I need love like I need an appendectomy scar. What is it, what is love if you have never received it? What is wrong with me? Sorrow wounds me. Can you of all people understand that? Can you get to grips with that?

There is an art to experiencing life. You take the sweetness of it all. You take the sweetness of the wasteland, the history wilderness, the shape and landscape of it all. You drink it in. It is ritual. At the heart of it, that is what experience is. A ritual. A rite of passage. I am not finished with earth yet, with the material, with the observations of possessions, with the elegant stories that I keep on brushing up against. People have hurt me. The world has hurt me but still I go on living. Not dancing but living in a way that is against other people’s ideas of what it means to be alive. To be authentic is a savage way of life. I prefer stories to the wild measures of love.

Do you pray? I pray. Do you meditate? I meditate. Do you believe in yourself? I believe in myself. It must be why I am still here. The house is big. The television is in one room. Other rooms are filled with books. There are three studies. There is an office space. I had a childhood. Now I have another childhood. A grown up wonderland except instead of a rabbit I have ghost stories. I voyage up and down the house. I sail, brush against the cool walls, open my hands to receive what cool opportunities the world has for me in the form of canned fruit, the pomegranate and other fruit trees. It is a palace out there for the taking, but there is also blood.

I am not buying into that though. My history is beautiful. It is amongst the most beautiful things that I won in the end, and that I possess. There is pain there on that painted pilgrimage, suffering too. I have hid medicine there. It has a muscle called rejuvenation. People have called me by many names. In the end, what are tears good for? It has fed this eagle. I have fallen into the darkness of society. I have also seen the light. It is brilliant if you wait long enough for the afternoon sun, and when it hits your eyes it will hurt. You will be reminded, of everything that you have lost but also gained in the run for guarded illumination.

Soil erosion reminds me of something being loosed into the wild nature of things. Solitude is wasted on the young. They do not want to think or spend their time with books. Things of that kind of nature bores them, those machines would prefer being smashed out of their heads on a Saturday night with the warmth, the pressure of the body of the opposite sex against them. No love story there. If I had grown up like that no doubt I would be an alcoholic in recovery by now. My mother is leaving us. My father, daddy, and I am to take care of him while she splits.

She will come back. Back to her garden, her house, her ‘other’ life (meaning spiritual). My sister lives in the big city. A Johannesburg kind of big city. Her bones are not kind. Her mind, tone of her voice, her attitude. She sits on a throne at a bank. She runs marathons. She treats her dogs as if they were her children. She has buried me, cut the heads off the daisies to show me that she is what this world desires. She is what this world calls woman, beautiful, independent, and career-minded. I am disabled and with disability comes illness, isolation, despair and hardship. She is dangerous. I never had those wings. Never lived in an otherworldly place. People tell me stories. They think I am a ghost. They think I feel nothing when they smirk.

These people do not remember that once I too was a young woman. A young woman with sun in her hair. Once upon a time, a man took me in his arms. Perhaps there was a union there. I am not a woman to her. My sister is no church Christian. She thinks she is cultured and educated. She has won over my mother, that glittering prize. I am wise. In this picture, I am the shaman. I sing the blues. Inside something is scattered though. Must be my heart. There is ice growing, growing in my lungs (yes, there are days when it is difficult to breathe and to realise that I am not wanted, that I have wasted my life loving and wanting difficult people.

People who have watered gardens and watched them grow. Like water in wild places, unaccustomed to being swam in by young children with growing limbs, pleasure, excitement, elated galore, I remember my mother feeding me soup in childhood. I remember how obediently I opened up my mouth and how I received that nourishing warmth. I remember how beautiful her hands were and her wedding ring and how that morning she had braided my hair. Twisting it into a plait as if she was kneading bread before we both watched it tentatively rise after putting yeast in. I stood next to her on tiptoe. She stood clicking her heels on the tiled floor in the kitchen.

‘Magic see.’ she would say.

‘Magic.’ I would say after her.

Afterwards I lost the magic. Somewhere I lost the magic. She writes. I am lonely. The world is full of people but somehow I have lost my head, and my way home and I am on a downward spiral. I am afraid I can no longer lie and walk with my chin up. The world does not feel as if it is full of possibilities for me anymore. I have met all the people I have wanted to. All my dreams have come true. Nobody truly loves genius. If they tell you that they do, they are in fact lying to you. Does humanity appreciate genius? No. Do they respect or admire it? No, I really do not think so.

They want it for themselves especially those who watch true leaders from a distance. I am sad. She writes. Whom is she writing to reach her? The Magi. I have no one to talk to me, to find me interesting, elegant and intelligent but I have the world at my feet. I am my father’s brilliant chef, his nurse, his confidante, his companion, and his daughter. The house. This house. It smells like chicken. To me houses smell of kitchens, that or burnt pots, rubbish food or chicken. The innocence left behind of a childhood kitchen is almost enough to move me to tears. Did chicken smell the same in apartheid South Africa, the wuthering heights of apartheid South Africa and now post-apartheid South Africa?

I am reminded that I am my father’s daughter. That I am not built for that. To be every spoonful of a delicate dessert in the mouths of the liberals. The best I can hope for is a ghost story, becoming Woolf. The vision of Emily Dickinson in my brain cells. Days pass and it just my father and I pottering around the house. Rooms empty. I explore them as if I am a child again with glee. I take an online test. At the end of answering a list of questions, it tells me that I am an eagle. I am experiencing childhood all over again. As if, I am playing with my dolls again or rummy with my adoring boy cousins all much older than I am. Always in high spirits. Those good-looking healthy specimens.

Rain clouds my mind. She says to her father. His eyes are closed. He is sleeping but she has no one else to talk to her. This is how she passes her almost-comaed days. How do I write? Am I a good writer? I am a terrible writer. A liar, a failure, a front, a faker, a poser, and an actor. Give it to me straight world. I am what I am because I am a product of my own miserable life, my actions, and the choices that I have made and had to live with. I am not here to get along with people. In all my years, I have never got along with people.

I am the lone wolf, the loner, the Outsider. Earth is beautiful but to me it is one helluva of a hallucination. Surreal, imaginative, the real somewhat diminished, humanity evaporated at every turn. My father and I used to go for long walks. She writes. We walked around the church, next to the highway until we reached the local garage. My father would go inside and use the rest room while I waited for him. The cashiers would watch us grimly. I would turn my head and look away if I caught their gaze. I would look at the specials; look at the pretty packaging and think of how my mother disowned me because I was not ‘a proper woman’.

Too much, like your father. She would say. I think she would say it in an angry way and in a way, she was much more angry with herself than at me I would ponder. There had never been any success in the relationships I had with people. With the opposite sex in particular. Women, girls never held me in high esteem. Everything I know, my education started at my father’s knee. I never had the caring, overly protective, nurturer of a mother. I am dying inside but I do not say anything. If I did, it would pretty much be over for me. It would mean tickets. She writes sucking on the end of her pen. Pleased with the dark smudge on the page. Wet ink.

Almost as if, it was a kind of symbol for her mood. Her thick slice of bread with butter. My mother will not take pictures with me. There is a lump in her throat now. There are butterflies in her stomach. My mother. My mother. My mother. She writes in quick succession. The woman who gave me life disregards me now as if I do not live. As if, I do not exist. All around me now, the scent of tragic innocence, an air of disgrace, circles of values and principles, perspectives and views of the world. I dance madly to the beat of my own African drum. A drum of my own making. I am a feminist. Are you proud of me mummy? Tea please, daddy.

Winter trees wet with the cold. Watch nature’s bride. Watch the leaves merry dance on the ground, in the air, swimming, swimming mournfully in gutters. Heaven can wait. Paradise too but she thinks to herself that they mean the same thing. She writes in her journal. Everybody says she is wise. She is the writer. She is the poet. She is the fundi, the woman of letters, and the woman who reads books but who also unfortunately cannot create life, placenta, a baby’s patella, and mitochondria. There are other women in the family who can do this. Family, women who are not afraid of the world. Women who live in America.

The land of milk and honey, rich and thick. Other women can do this in the family. Bring life into the world. Indian women who live in crime-ridden Johannesburg, women who live in New Zealand, Swaziland. Ice fangs makes a journal. Broth. Daddy’s infirm body curled up under blankets like a cat. Mum is gone. It is just her way. My sister the extraordinary machine is gone. It is just her way.

There is no love story for me, no perks, just a wasteland of steaks and grease, just endless days that seem to stretch out into a blue nothing. You can feel it good on some days. Peace. Peace of mind. On other days, it feels hard to live just getting by on the basics. Foodstuffs and nothing else. If it were not for the pharmaceuticals, I would drink. I would be a coward; I would be the worst possible mother in the world. I would not feed my children. I would abandon those kids I created. I promise you this. So thank the stars that I cannot conceive. Infertility is written into my chromosomes.

Woven like a tapestry. Information on overload. You see outsiders can break you. They can break your spirit but your family are the worst. They can stab you in the back, walk away, do heinous things behind your back and you will still have to allow them to come back into your life. Truth is stranger than fiction. They can sabotage you and destroy you.

They will laugh and smile in your face while you cower in fear in front of them. Vulnerable as a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car, knowing that the life is soon going to be crushed out of it. Before I came home, I needed to know that I was not alone. It was just another winter for me. An uninvited winter. A blood knot. I can hear the shrill malice in my mother’s voice. Her voice is tap dancing on my bones. My skull. Her nervous, anxious energy becomes my nervous and anxious energy. I wanted to be sheltered with my whole heart but perhaps I never gave enough of myself as a child. She writes down a conversation.

She has potbellied conversations in her head and it goes mostly something like this. Always the same conversation because for three weeks now there has only been two inhabitants in the house. There is a rising up of fat aloes filled with sap. A father and a daughter. An old man and a watchful-eyed daughter, ever-present. This is what lies beneath a house. The winter revisited of a bride and a groom. Trauma, tears at the root of it all. There is even beauty, imagination and wonder to be found in the upright stem of hurt. Parents hurt when their children hurt. Sorrow turns its head. Says it is the wise river, the meek lamb.

Mother, daughters, and sisters. There is a burning sensation. A flame. Smoke rises up to meet me. Them and me. Always in this, little, little fight club. Are they your entourage, these pillars, these two people selling neon? You can heal broken bones. Cancer goes into remission but what about the song and dance of clinical depression. What about the ammunition that a hypomania carries? Look at me. Help me to help you. Help me to help myself. Daddy is a gift. My sister’s mouth is moist with cake. My mother is made of frost. Still I write. There are powerful laws in this world that govern writing, nature, brides, and the glare of light. Simply pay attention.

Broken, wasted, searching, and living with a kind of useless mentality that I have yet to come to grips with completely. I know this, that close-knit families pollute my fractured mind, identity and ego. This knowledge makes me more productive. It is like porridge to me. Manna. Family and friendship means nothing to me like land and lasagna, ownership and oats, property and the dark meat and potatoes, if you decide to treat me badly or to nurture me that is human nature. It means nothing to me. I kept showing up but unfortunately, nobody else did. In my case, blood was not thicker than water. I want perfection. Every writer wants perfection. I want family but have been disinherited like that Monaco princess. Every writer wants a home, wants a family.

Every poet wants to bring the chaos and disorder in the world, that maelstrom to a complete halt. Everybody wants to bang their drum, have their cake, and eat it too. Is the rain as lonely as I am? Including the people who live on those prairies where Native Americans once lived alongside totems and shamanic wisdom. Everything in life is a gift including your enemies, your parents, your siblings, your estranged family, and the black sheep in the family. Are mountains lonely? The valleys, the instructions to the mouth of the river of where it all began, of home, of the family wilderness.

Her roses are invincible, the middle child in the photograph (is it because I am not pretty, is it because of the disability, the unworldly illness that is not worldly enough). I am not brave enough to dance alone. To be that queen, the queen of the revolution from within, to stop the echo of the ego from vibrating from within. There is the unbearable lightness. Dream with me, says the portrait of the young girl.


Image by *F῀ via Flickr

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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