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The Monk’s Mission: Short fiction by Abigail George

lonely woman
Image: Pastel drawing by Katidjah via Flickr

I sit here as the aftertime explodes into life continued. Dirty hands from constant gardening, the bloody-everything of war on the television, in the air, in the newspaper, feet on the stairs, and a stampede in the house of childhood. And I remember the visions I had of men and women, older men and their wisdom and how now their aching vulnerabilities have become much more apparent to me. To insecure, eternally morally bankrupt, withdrawn me. Now my lonely oftentimes humiliating experiences feel like electricity to me. It feels like a rich, beautiful tapestry. The folds are magical. The details angelic like my mother’s hair, my lovely sister’s hands. She has come home. They have finally both come home to me.

She is leaving for Bloemfontein after Christmas. I love her so much that it hurts. An older sister. A younger sister much more skilled sister. She is returning to her cool, calm and collected self. She is returning to the villagers of Johannesburg and all her self-fulfilling prophecies. In the meantime what happens to the rest of us? There will no longer be any waves of dissension, and you will not be able to cut through the air with a knife. Conversation will not wound. Words will not be sharp and ring in the air. There will be no talk period especially of suicidal illness and the book on the Rivonia Treason trial that my mother stole from the library, hid amongst her other textbooks because she wanted to know Nelson, Kathrada, peace in our time, Winnie, Drum magazine. I could go on but I think I will stop there.

Love changes everything with its dramatic highs and lows. Now I am in my father’s wardrobe. I’m remembering the peeling love I have for him, for his obstinate, sometimes arrogant turn of his head. His suits brush against my arms. Once upon a time he was some girl’s illusion before becoming a spouse, a husband, settling down and raising a family. Young love is a playful kind of love. All I see is a diary of pain, anxiety and madness when it comes to infinite love, the love that you find in a sonnet, resonating in the bond between mother and child, Mary and baby Jesus. All the reckonings of suicidal illness.  All poetry isn’t poetry without God, substance. Poetry isn’t poetry without poverty. Without the good things that are born from painful experience.

So the well of loneliness continues in this space, the most personal of spaces and the well has her song. It is a melody whose intuition flows as deeply as any river. We, the reader and the writer have come here and you might be asking yourself now that you have reached this turning point what has been the purpose of leading you up the nowhere with another Christmas story. My sister. She is perfect. She does not need to wash away her sins with organic descriptions.

She does not wish to visit shamans or old wise men or look upon totem poles only to travel to Peru. Everything about her is extraordinarily pure, a golden state, a garden state and private. It tells me, shows me every day that there can only be one winning woman at the end of the day. There are times when she smiles and something is lit up inside of me like a volcano but I do not lift that veil. I dare not. It is the only time when I remember the time when we were both curious creatures of a childhood where we played at being spiritual overachievers in Sunday school. When we were left to guess the first five books of the Old and the New Testament, taught to leave our ancestors lurking in every silver lining and the dust. Home was the place that other children called safe haven but what kept us anchored in our own was our dystopia, eyeing the vulnerable in others and keeping a look out for that, after finding it holding onto it for dear life (that was me). And I’ve never stopped doing it.

It’s another holiday. It’s another lavish affair and an unhurried feast-meal. Nothing unchanged about that only it is another year drawing to a close of an interrupted life in an interrupted world (my interrupted life, my interrupted world). She’s treated like a slave, a worker-bee, a drone, and I am a zombie untouched by the work ethic that must pull all of this tiger-of-a-holiday together. My beautiful sister is a bright, all-powerful and illuminating glare of nature.

The cat drinks out of a glass of water that has been standing there from the previous evening that I left out next to an apple’s core. I made short work of a midnight feast of a glass of water and an apple. Before we sit down to lunch there are telephone calls to get out of the way to family in Johannesburg. The Johannesburg people. Cousins, cousins’ children I will never know. I will never watch them grow up, hear them call my name, they won’t learn to admire and respect me. Most of all they won’t watch me grow old defiantly. In the middle of the lines caught up between the grey areas of madness and despair there is still beauty there but I will never, never have the opportunity of teaching them this. It is my mother’s – love that bleeds into my eyes. When I was a child it was warm, sticky and sweet like Billy Joel’s voice on the radio when he sings. And now it is pins and needles, diamonds of stars in the sky and now all I hear is her voice telling me that there is room for my gift in the world too. It is as if we are seeing the river, the novel wave, the wave, its burden for the first time, afresh, purified like a Catholic ritual.

Vodka for the pain. It’s fragile up there. There’s a faraway storm, an emotionally damaged gene pool in every battle study, an angel tongue, for every weaving of a scream there’s a lucid one. There’s a stem, a Jacob’s ladder, a lover, a mother, an orphan, a wife, a constant gardener who has now taught her son to be a constant gardener. My mother has sacrificed. The world has given me her back. Every flawed, schizophrenic muscle in modern society has given her back to me. She is my sun, my heat, my pouring rain, my high, my low. I mustn’t give up because this siren is the one who sustains me, pulls me through.

Even in the heightened realities of nucleic acid, bodily fluids, human stains, case studies, identity theories what it all comes down to is this really. Family is family, and we all belong to the human race, a human family. And now we come to love again and we approach it from a different angle. It can give us so much glory, pleasure, it can take us from the paradise of heaven to the stairways and wards of hell.

I am at the gates, the city streets behind me, the history of violence, silence, loneliness is a shell like suffering, sanity, the bittersweet aftertaste of alcoholism, my brother ‘locked’ behind the gates in rehab, the passing death of someone close in the family. Magda, Magda, Magda shining star that I am still addicted to like gravity, halo above the lost tug of an ocean sea of emotions wherever you are now. I will never let go completely of you.

I am home. I am flying. I am dreaming. I am a vessel and even though in some of my dreams there is an accumulation of emptiness housed there. So this year Christmas wasn’t completely ruined. I wasn’t torn. There weren’t raised voices behind closed bedroom doors.

And now we come to exploring the form of the memoir. But perhaps this is not the flowery exit you have come to expect because when love is up for discussion then so is the plan of departure, chemistry. A book a year is not enough for me anymore. The bite of a story with a human face a week is what I live on.

I have lived even though you don’t believe it. I have loved even though you don’t believe it. Think of my love life, my life so far as tragedy speeded up if you will. Don’t pause. Don’t think. The weight of water was never the enemy in the sea or swimming pool with the chlorine burning my eyes. Every stroke towards the wall (whether it’s the wall of the horizon in the distance or the opposite wall of the pool is a small goal achieved). It’s a leap of faith. It’s a feast I pour my roots into. The stems of me.

Say you remember. I think of him. My winter’s sadness. My heart’s suffering. We haven’t even kissed yet. But I remember how alive I felt with his arms around my waist. His dark hair wet at the nape of his neck means more to me than sensuous imagery. He’s dangerous. He can ruin me, my reputation and he has and so have I. I am an intern. He is something else. With him I am a goddess, desired and beautiful. Bitterness no longer cuts through me hot and blistering. Without him I am a god, a little female impersonation of the Buddha. He is a dream. He is a memory. Silence has grown between us all through these years. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. Writing to reach American you. I don’t have a Christmas party dress. I see to my father. His needs and not ‘the man-about in the office’. His medication, his pharmacy, his meals, making his coffee, helping him dress in the morning and evening and I have found a newer, brighter shape of love. I’ve discovered its elements are more authentic than sometimes the dryness of writing, and the sensuality of the therapy of cooking. To some thirty year old me this means motherhood.

He (the-man-about-the-ice) has never looked more beautiful in the pictures of my mind. I needed him to forget about childhood, adolescence, every past Christmas. He makes my mind and heart race. He makes me think international. I need to win. I need him now. He is my first love and as I grow older and sense I will never meet him in my future-men he is my only love. And now his eyes, his laugh, his smile, the dimensions of his clothes, his wuthering height strikes me thin. This is my life now. The past becomes fresh, the present mean and the future doesn’t seem to build up to a future of the rewards of big dreams.

Here are the elegant questions. Where is the connection? What is love when it occurs in humanity’s first catalyst? It is merely a survival instinct shooting straight from the first spirited heartbeat after falling. Even a hard man with his cunning and his brutal ways can win a ‘sexual transaction’, and a woman with her pretty ways, even a silly woman can win a man if she is feminine. Now we look at the prostitute, the promiscuous, the socialite and what do all of them have in common. Everyone is lonely. Everybody hurts. Everybody is fighting from the con man and con woman is fiercely intelligent because everybody has to live. Are we all truly born equal, is freedom in our land nothing more than a psychological construct, what separates the rich and the poor, the talented in their own right, the introverted leader and the gifted and savant from the ordinary? Those with an equal share of darkness, the criminal in them have to fight for the dark world, those forces to overcome their authentic godliness. Their goodness. The voluptuous light within them.

It is Christmas. Everyone is home. I remember my first love as we sit down to eat. He lives in another world filled with normal, sanity, convenience, discretion, a wife and a child who has a horse. I am no longer afraid, ashamed of walking away instead of towards the brilliant eye of the storm (sleeping with the enemy). I do not orbit the world of powerful men, star people anymore. My mind has changed. It’s charged, wired with calculations about what other people are doing, thinking and the harmonic cultures that exist outside of my own. It’s been years since I have entertained, left those playing fields. Less than a golden decade has passed, and my feelings for most of them. I am a woman now.

My ministry has changed, opinion, point of view. I sit with my mother, my sister, my brother, his pregnant girlfriend and my father I feel blessed. I have a journey, a Plan B, a mission, love, family. Another year. Look at all of us. Some of us have become more introspective than others. We are all soldiers every one of us. We each have our own psychological makeup that cuts us, political ideas, and philosophy about life.

There’s something about the monk in all of us.


(c) Abigail George

Image: Pastel drawing by Katidjah (Lonely Woman)

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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