This year has been an odd sort off year. Exhausting on several levels. Round about the time my mother got sick, I was meant to have travelled to Uganda. I'd been shortlisted for this year's Writivism award. I couldn't attend, but you can read my story here
I ended up doing an interview with Praxis magazine about the near-non-experience. You can read that here. Name's been misspelled, a few other choice typos and interesting (if you have a dirty mind) gaffes. But all, good fun.
I think I overreached when I wrote a story and submitted it to Short Story Day Africa. This year's theme was Water. I didn't make the longlist. I'm disappointed, but c'est la vie. I'm rather amused that Short Story Day Africa tweeted a quote from the Praxis interview, the bit about just wanting someone to say "Yes " to my work, before saying No to it themselves.
Maybe I should stick with finishing the rewrite of my novel. Yes?
For now, the SSDA rejectamenta.
For now, the SSDA rejectamenta.
All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was ~ Toni Morrison
23 August 2014
I wonder what would happen? If I ran into you one day? There I’d be doing what it is I do. I’d look up. And there you’d be. Would I say anything? You think? I suspect I’d pretend not to know you. I suspect my heart would be racing and my throat would be dry. I suspect my legs would turn liquid; my insides would melt. But I’d walk by. I wouldn’t want you to look into my eyes. I could never control the stories they told. The You of childhood, always found that amusing.
When I’d passed you by and found a quiet corner where I could try to make myself whole again, I’d think about the zillion things I've wanted to tell you these last years.
Have you been following my life? Did you see that one of my paintings was sold to some famous tech millionaire? You know the type? Those who make millions off an idea that the world never thought it needed until these braggarts told them so? I didn’t ask Charl his name. It’s irrelevant.
It’s of you, that painting. Painted more with my fingers than brushes because of how I longed to hold you again. I rubbed my fingers together, felt the silken glide of paint between them. You. I then applied it, blending, mixing, bleeding line into line. And there you were. As I saw you. So much colour. Moody crags. A sun slipping behind mountains. And there I was. At your feet. A hut so small, I was a mere smudge. At your feet. Do you remember?
For the longest time all I ever painted was you. In seascapes. In people sitting in parks. In fields of flowers where children frolicked. Always you. And then I stopped. I’d filled that you-shaped hole in my soul with so many colours, so many paintings that were you that I couldn’t bear another. I then started painting abstracts. They all have mirrors. Always mirrors.
I live by the sea now. You’d like it, I imagine. You, my water sprite. At night the bay curves, a flaming scimitar, cleaving into the black ocean. In the daytime the view from my bedroom window is like a living painting. Magical. It turns transcendent when it rains. The windows weep. They blur the lines of the painting until it’s all a wet puddle at my feet.
One morning I sat down by the window wanting to write you a letter. Foolish me. Who writes letters these days? My redundance settled on me like all of Nothing. Asphyxiating. I went for a walk in the park. A man sits there each day sketching tourists. He’s young. Like I once was. Plump with the pretensions of youth. His smock looks like one of my artworks. I chuckled to myself, imagining the work he put into getting it to look like that. But he was friendly and I felt tempted to sit for him. Have him sketch me. But then I feared he’d see you in my eyes and that would ruin the drawing.
Sometimes I drive up the coast and seek out the estuary. There are sharks there, they say. So no one swims in the waters. Sharks wouldn't want me, I know. Inconsequence is never in demand.
I sit at the water’s edge, legs submerged, and regret spurning your offer to teach me how to swim.
I feel the current against my legs and imagine how many little streams gave themselves up to the seething grey-green river just so they could once more touch the sea.
24 August 2014
She said I’d never move forward unless I let you go. Unless I let go of everything that happened. There. In my room. In the dark.
But I proved her wrong. I proved everyone wrong. I’ve moved on. Moved far beyond you even though I haven’t really let go of you. Of us.
So here I am, writing to you. Again. You’ll never see these letters so I guess there’s no harm in confessing that for a time right through until I was 12, I loved you. You made me feel special. You were to me what she never wanted to be. You cared. After all, you stayed, right? Even after she pissed off. You were all I had.
And then you changed. It was as if my becoming a woman reminded you that you were actually a man? What the fuck was that about anyways? And that’s when I started hating you. What kind of a father fucks his daughter?
Because you were so epically screwed up, you passed that on to me. Like Ebola of the soul. Because of you, I couldn’t really allow myself to like boys. Never went on dates. You never allowed sleepovers. Everyone thought you were the ‘protective father’. If only they knew.
At least I had the water, though. The only mirror that I could bear. When I was younger, it was pretty funny, you not being able to follow me in. It shifted the power balance in our relationship. You should have seen the way your face would be all twisted up, how your eyes would pop when I went in too far. Seeing you all anxious was a little personal win.
As I grew older, swimming became my escape. The deeper I went, the less likely you were to try to follow; the more I could be alone, just me and my hatred.
I hope that wherever you are, you’re suffering. Paying every single day of your miserable life for what you took from me.
Did you know that my eyes are just like yours? That’s what you gave me. So now you know why I avoid mirrors. Seeing the bastard who ruined you every time you look into one isn’t my idea of fun.
Oh, I almost forgot, I bought a painting a few months ago. From some obscure artist. Well, I bought it from this gallery that sells his work. I think you’d like it. It’s an amazing landscape.
Not that I really care what you’d like. I hate you, remember?
Not that I really care what you’d like. I hate you, remember?
Then I went back to the gallery to get more of this dude’s stuff. Whaddya you know? His newer works all have fucking mirrors in them.
I say ‘he’, though I’m not sure that he’s a he. Paintings are signed FF.
Given that the bastard has just disappointed me, I figure he can only be a he. Hes always disappoint.
Oh and by the way, I read Lolita, like you suggested way back when. It changes nothing. I still think you’re a monster.
|Image credit: http://agechem.co.za/gallery/|
16 March 2015
This morning I woke up at the estuary. I sat up, spitting sand out of my mouth, feeling the grains crusted into my beard. I looked around. Not a soul in sight. I stood up, wobbling on stiff legs. Old age is not for sissies.
How did I get there? Why did I go there? They said this would begin to happen.
The sun was just beginning to wake. The entire eastern sky, aflame. Quite astonishing. For just a moment I wished I still painted landscapes. I dusted myself off and walked towards the beach. Surfers were already in the water, paddling out, in adulation of the Perfect Wave. Deep out, a head bobbed and I thought of you. Swimming, beckoning.
“Come. I’ll show you how. I won’t let you sink. Promise.”
I like to believe you really wanted to teach me how to swim back then. As you grew older, each invitation sounded like a ruse to lure me to my death. No, the water is definitely not for me.
But you, you were for me, querida. My beloved. Can’t you see? We were meant for each other. And however wrong the world led you to believe we were, however their notions of ‘what is done’ convinced you that our love was a sin, it wasn’t.
What is sin other than a foolish human construct to convince people of their imagined righteousness?
I don’t know where I’ll be a month from now so perhaps ‘tis best that I tell you that I was diagnosed with Cancer last year. A brain tumour. Remember those headaches I used to get?
When I told them I wouldn’t be going for Chemo, they were annoyed. They told me I’d start losing my memory. That I’d change as my body cannibalised more of itself. I shrugged.
That’s life, right? A bitch to the end.
26 March 2015
So, you tracked me down and sent me this letter? What do you want me to do? Pity you? I smiled, okay. I smiled when I read about the Cancer.
Because you, of all the miserable fuckers I know, deserve to have your body feed on itself. Deserve a painful, twisted end. Maybe once you’re gone I’ll be free. Well and truly free. Maybe once you’re gone, I’ll install a huge mirror in my bedroom. So I can smile and gloat and see myself doing so. Because you died. Because you suffered while you did.
08 June 2015
What. The. Fuck!
You listed ME as next of fucking KIN! ME?!
How could you?
I almost called the doctors and asked them to put you into a home so I would never have to lay eyes on you. But who wants to be tabloid fodder? And if the outraged anarchists on twitter got wind of this? Twitter would pseudo-break!
So I dressed (make me immaculate, I told my stylist) and came to see you.
Something inside of me broke when I saw what you’ve become. Small. SO very small.
They’ve shaved your beard right off. There are deep grooves in your cheeks. I’ll pretend they came from tears you cried over what you did to me.
I’ll pretend the smile you gave me, the way your eyes lit up when you saw me, the way you whispered my name, while your eyes leaked, that was all because some part of you was capable of loving me the way a father ought to love his daughter.
You’ll live at my place, we decided, me and the team. I won’t have to look at you. We’ll hire a caregiver. You won’t matter.
05 July 2015
I told them I’d be going to your apartment myself to pack your things. I was afraid they would find stuff at your place that would tell them what you did to me. I was a knotted mess as I boarded my early flight to the coast.
I like your little place by the sea. Like the coastline that’s like a smile.
Away from you, here among your things, I don’t feel so angry. I don’t resent the scratch that you’ve become, on the glossy veneer that is my life.
I walk up to a window with a writing desk pushed up against it. I can see the entire bay from here. For a moment, I imagine you sitting right here, writing me letters. Proper paternal letters. You, dressed in an old-father type cardigan. And then I feel like vomiting because I know you’re not that.
I look for your bathroom and retch into the mottled basin. I straighten and there they are. Your eyes staring back at me. I yank the cabinet open and all I see are painkillers. Bottles and bottles of the stuff.
I want to be glad that you’ve suffered. But somehow, I can’t find joy.
I go to a bedroom. I see this served as your studio. There’s an easel by the window, a painting on it. A table is an explosion of paints and brushes. There’s a pencil sketch on the desk. It’s of a girl playing in the waves. Her back is to you. She wears a bathing suit and a floppy sunhat. She looks to be about ten. Womanhood has not yet filled out her hips.
I remember that day too.
I walk up to the easel. An 18 x 24 canvas that has the outlines of the painting it is meant to be, pencilled in. I see mirrors.
And then my legs are weak. I look for a chair and pull it to me. It screams against the wooden floor. I sink into it. Drop my head between my knees. Stay like that until my breathing eases.
Then I look up, at the paintings you kept. The seascapes. The fields of flowers. The people on benches. The abstracts with the many mirrors. And in the corner of each one, is signed, FF. Our names, combined?
I’m disgusted. How pathetic am I that I cannot even bring myself to hate you properly?
That of all the paintings I could ever love, it’s yours that called to me. Yours alone.
I wander around your place then. Touching things. Imagining you touching them. Wondering whether they too, these things, felt dirtied by your touch.
Then I’m in your bedroom. The bed is a hollow behind my ribcage. It punctures my lungs, stabs my heart. I weep. For that little girl and for all the love she gave. And for how you dirtied that love.
Above the bed is a seascape. A wave is just breaking on a bank of rocks, sending up a shower that glitters, reflecting the full range of the spectrum. Rainbow droplets. An ethereal nymph sits on a rock. Her head is bowed. Knees drawn to her chest. Everything about her screams sadness.
Back in your living room now, I sit down at your desk. Open the drawer. There’s a pile of letters there, neatly bound with an olive green ribbon. I wipe my face with the back of my sleeve. With shaky fingers, I loosen the pile. I want to read. But am afraid. So afraid of what I’ll find.
But I do so anyway.
Every letter, every single letter is written to me.
They are dated. I pick up the last one you wrote.
It is dated, the 10th May. That’s about a month before I was forced to bring you to my place.
10 May 2015
Today is a good day. My mind is clear. Well, almost. At this stage I don’t expect any miracles.
Given that I doubt I will be around much longer. I should make my final confessions. That’s what religious people do, right? Confess to God?
Well since you have featured as my personal Goddess for much of my life, it’s only fitting that my confession be to you.
I am not really your father. I’ll give you a moment to take that in.
Your mother decided, right after you were born, while she sat in that hospital bed, with you, a bloody squalling bundle in her arms, that we should never tell you. She wanted you to have a normal childhood, she said. At the time, I wanted to ask her what was normal about an alcoholic mother. But I allowed her this illusion. Maybe because I liked the idea of you as my daughter. Liked how even as a baby, your most ready smile was always for me. Liked how you looked at me with perfect adoration. How toddler-you would dabble with my paints and create ‘art’ for me. Just for me. How toddler-you cried for me each time I went out for a walk. Until eventually I began taking you along because hearing you cry ruptured my heart in places that I’d never imagined it could ever be touched.
Your mother and I met at a bar. She was a busty boozy waitress. At the time, that was My Type. The day we met, she was pretty badly banged up.
“Possessive boyfriend?” I asked.
“I don’t do boyfriends.”
I liked her immediately.
She stayed at my place for a few days. You’re old enough to imagine what those days were all about. Describing them to you feels like a betrayal of what we shared, you and I, so I shan’t. And then she woke one morning and said it was time to leave.
“So, how many months gone are you?”
“It’s none of your business,” she snapped.
“I never said it was. I’m just curious.”
“Three months. I was stupid. I got caught.” She was shrugging on her clothes, packing her knapsack as she spoke.
“Stay here.” I know that was a precipitous thing to say. But at the time, I thought I needed a companion.
She stayed. Even now, I’m not sure why. Maybe she was tired of running from whatever demon it was that snapped at her heels. Maybe she just wanted a quiet place to have you. I don’t know.
It was strange sharing my life with someone.
I grew up alone. My father had walked out shortly after I was born. My mother died young and I was left to the Care System. Yes it’s a system. Totally bereft of Care.
So caring, sharing, these didn’t come easy.
And then you arrived. It was pouring that day. A distressed sky, thrashing, pouring out its agony on the world. I stayed with her through the labour. I don’t understand fully why. Fascination? Voyeur tendencies?
It was grotesque, that process of birthing life. All that pain. That torment. But also impossibly, achingly beautiful. And when you crowned, your dark head slick with the smut of birth, I fell in love for the first time ever.
So when she decided right there, high on endorphins, that you didn’t need to know that I wasn’t really your father, I agreed. I shouldn’t have.
Maybe if you didn’t think of me as your father, didn’t expect fathering from me, you’d have hated me less for what I grew to feel for you.
You must understand, querida, I resisted. In the beginning, I really did.
I told myself how wrong it was. How abnormal, abhorrent, despicable it was, that I should feel for you what I never once felt for your mother or any other woman. How maybe this was my own experience at the hands of my caregivers manifesting decades later. My own convoluted initiation into sexuality turning me into a freak. Abused become abusers and all of that.
But they hadn’t loved me.
When shaming myself failed, I began researching. Hours at the library.
I learnt that in ancient Rome, girls married from the age of 12.
I learnt that in ancient Rome, girls married from the age of 12.
That Juliet was a mere 13 when she fell in love with Romeo. Interestingly, Juliet’s mother had birthed her first child by age 13.
Marie Adelaide was 12 when she married Prince Louis of France. Even now in Mexico girls marry from the age of 14.
And I waited. Do you remember that? Until you bled.
Yes, this is me rationalising. Yes, this is me obfuscating. Yes, this is me.
I don’t know what this knowledge changes for you. If it changes anything at all.
What I want you to know though, is that it wasn’t your fault. Don’t hate yourself. And maybe someday, when you forgive yourself, you’ll find it in you to forgive me. Maybe?
I am sorry. Sorry that my selfishness hurt you. That my love was an acquisitive, tainted thing.
But it was…is, always will be, Love.
I love you, dear heart. Querida. Love you with all that is in me. With every atom in my being capable of loving. Loving you was for me, life itself. Loving you was hope.
I should have been stronger, I think. Should have thought of you more, of how my ways of expressing that love, my need for gratification, for physical expression eroded you. I wanted my love to elevate you. Instead it diminished you.
She returns in the dark. The moon hangs low in the western sky. Fat, full and orange. A blood moon. Stars are smudged apparitions. The air smells of magnolia blooms.
She slips into his room. He sleeps. Deep breaths that stir the sick smelling air. She reaches for his hand. It feels cold. She squeezes it and he wakes. Blinking in the half-light.
“Hello.” He smiles. “I knew you’d come. Querida.” his voice is raspy.
“You were right.” Wet streaks on her cheeks. “I want to set you free. Do you want to be free?”
“Swim with me?”
He’s already struggling to sit up. She helps him. Helps him slip on his slippers. They’re old-father slippers. She smiles.
His hands rest on her shoulders.
“Hold me,” he says. “Dance with me in the infinite pause before the next great inhale that is breathing us all into being… It’s not mine. It’s from The Dance. You should read it.”
She places both hands on his waist. She feels his hip bones jutting against her palm. He hums. Tchaikovsky. Serenade for Strings. She recognises it. He painted to it often. They sway. Slow circles, an almost-waltz.
He collapses against her. She holds him under his arms, pulls him to his feet. His breaths are shallow gasps.
“Time to swim?”
He nods and rests an arm on her shoulder. Together they hobble, a contorted creature of the night, to the pool in the centre of her house. Steam rises from its surface. Hundreds of little ghosts.
The moon is higher now. Presses against the glassed roof. It’s reflection on the water melts in the ripples caused by the pump. Is whole again.
She bends. Helps him out of his old-father slippers. Removes his pyjamas. He is naked before her now. He hangs, flaccid. The weapon of my annihilation, she thinks. It’s obsolete now.
She leads him to the edge of the pool, seats him there, legs dangling into the water. She then peels away her clothing until she’s left with just bra and panties. She dives into the water. A sylph. Swims to where he sits. Stretches out her hand. He takes it. Slips into the water with her.
“Walk with me?”
They walk. The water reaches their chests.
She begins to sing.
“Looking up from underneath
Fractured moonlight on the sea
Reflections still look the same to me
As before I went under
And it's peaceful in the deep
Cathedral where you cannot breathe
No need to pray, no need to speak
Now I am under…”
“Whose is that?” the water just reaches his chin now. She’s on tippy toes.
“Florence and the Machine.”
“I like it.”
“Really, after all this time you decide to like my music?”
“I always did. You didn’t need to know.”
He keeps walking. She swims beside him now. The water reaches his mouth. Covers his nose. Head. She swims along, just holding. Not lifting. He stays there. Submerged. Minutes pass.
“But I'm not giving up
I'm just giving in,” she murmurs.
The moon stares.
The moon stares.