The Resting PlaceBy Abigail George
Her mum goes on wild wilderness trips on a Saturday afternoon. Off her mother goes running errands, buying paint at the mall leaving behind her eldest daughter, playing nursemaid to her father. There is the smell of wet paint on the walls. The housekeeper's lunch on the kitchen table. Her tea getting cold. It is now lukewarm and in a few minutes, it will be cold. There is the greasy pan, the breakfast plates in the sink. Later on there are children's stories to write, armchair travelling, a boring novel to page through (too many big words, the landscapes are bigger than her visions it seems, than her own soft, fragile awareness of the world at large). Society does what it wants with people the way her own tribe of people in her life treats others. If there is mistreatment, there is hurt. There is a wound. Rub salt in it. Go ahead. Her reflection in the mirror seems to be telling her. She opens the cold and hot water taps. Water spills into the bath. She hides her head in her hands. She sobs knowing that her tears will not be heard by anyone else. Her nose becomes runny. Her face is wet. She wipes her nose on her sleeve.
Is it dementia? It is that time of year again. The time of year for doctors and their well-meaning bedside manner. She wants to interrupt the handsome doctor with his sea green eyes. Well, they seem to be well meaning today. Not cruel like her brother's eyes. Her brother's hands as she lifts up her hands to protect her face. She wants to confide in him, this handsome doctor who is marrying for the second time. He must have a nanny for his children, she thinks to herself. She wants to tell him she is writing children's stories now. Tell him about her mother's mental and emotional abuse. Her father has taken to walking. He takes long walks. He is becoming forgetful. People are kind. They do not make him wait for anything anymore. People are kind to him. It also seems that people are kinder to her it seems. When her father goes on these walks, she wants to tell the doctor that it seems he will never return to her. She cannot live without him. She knows that the doctor will not understand what she truly means by this. Her father is her life. Nobody can understand this. Now she knows that there is no escape.
Now she knows that there is no Canada for her. This is called survival. Once upon a time, she had lovely bones, good bones (she only had to say obey, that was the spoken word), bones that understood the routine and order of the day, of the planning of meals but now they murmur self-defeat. They have a tongue (could be called an oracle). It is called renal impairment. She cannot have any kind of food that has table salt in it anymore. If she does, it will surely mean the death of her. She would be hooked up to all kinds of machines and tubes. Kidney dialysis they call it for the rest of her life. She can see things sometimes. Things that go bump in the night. What other people call ghosts. It has become so natural to her. It inspires her writing. Is it because she is bordering on both sides of the fence, bordering on life and death? She writes one word in her writer's journal repeatedly. Gethsemane. Gethsemane. She wonders to herself what does it all mean. Too much time. Too many ghost stories. She writes in her writer's journal.
Princess Athobella Ndamase is a woman who has had visions from childhood. At night, she always left her bedroom door ajar, slept with the light on, with the bible under her pillow. She is visited by men and women who have passed on to the hereafter who think that they are still in some indefinable way connected, tethered to this world, this earthly plane and to the ones they have left behind. Children, husbands, spouses, pets. She believes her auditory hallucinations are very, very real and that it is her duty, her moral obligation to record the conversations that she has with them be they writers and poets who have suffered the anguish and despair of suicidal depression (Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, and Anne Sexton). Be they South African men and women detained during apartheid (Dulcie September, George Botha, Biko aka Frank Talk), men and women of African, British (Anna Kavan, Ann Quin), North American, Dominican descent (Jean Rhys) or from the Biblical era (for example Moses, Jonah and the whale, Elijah, Job, Noah, David, Solomon, and Jesus, key figures in the history of civilisation).
This she does fastidiously, handwritten in black Croxley notebooks. When people around her can see that she is different, special in a rather extraordinary way they begin to doubt her sanity and she is found to be certifiable, told that she should get plenty of rest, be put under psychiatric treatment and put under the care of a team of doctors. She soon though discovers her identity. Its borders in the powers of her own feminine sensuality, her ego, the perpetual balancing act between the psychological framework of her intelligence, and intellectualism, and the final analysis of the sexual transaction. With that said, she rises to the occasion and meets her new life head under feet. She soon finds herself in the tiny one roomed library of the hospital and begins to read everything she can get her hands on from Doris Lessing but most importantly the genius poetry of TS Eliot. Once she surrenders to the fact that everyone around her thinks that, she has lost touch with reality she pursues love with an art second to none. She is or rather becomes Orlando.
She becomes Orlando in an asylum, in a hospital and finds that she must play her role in this establishment's class, gender and economic system. She becomes a phenomenal African version of Virginia Woolf's Orlando. Beautiful, wanted, adored, worshipped by men and women for her intellect in a dazed, confused world where pharmaceuticals, head doctors with textbook knowledge of case studies are the elixir, the essence of life. She negotiates the shark-infested waters of having intimate relationships with both men and women acutely aware of the danger she finds herself in of engaging in licentious behaviour. She is in danger of losing more than the fabric of her psyche, or her soul. She is in danger of losing the safe world, as she knew it as a child, youth and adult in her twenties. She finds herself in danger of losing everything.
Too much scribbling. Words seems to illuminate the tragic figure that she has become. God, she is thirty-five years old. The time has flown by. Sometimes she forgets that she has left high school behind. The other night she found an old high school magazine. Her face stared out at her. Youth! She realises now that she has lived with scarcity all her life. In the evening, surrounded by vegetable skins for the soup she is making from the special diet she follows now (a novel habit-forming, lifestyle changing diet) she dreams of ideas, thinks them up, and sums them up. The wheels of them. She writes in her writer's journal. These are the ideas for other stories. Perhaps books. Perhaps even shorter prose. Ideas for haiku. Ideas for poetry. Too much scribbling is not good for a woman.
It leads to disorder, killing, immorality and mayhem in unusual ways. Perhaps that is why her protagonists are always at the mercy of disorder, killing, immorality and mayhem in unusual ways. Perhaps that is why the past is now is always on her mind. She conjures up restaurant dinners from the past. Sipping a cappuccino beforehand. Jonathon on the phone with the 'New York' people. This is a tribute to you, farewell my friend. I have to begin writing tributes to all the people who were kind to me, she thinks to myself. I have to start with Tara, then with Garden City Clinic, then Hunterscraig. I have to go back to hospital life, aloof, indifferent nurses filled with grace nonetheless.
'You have sexy thighs.' She says nothing. For she is a clandestine Sappho, living through this Greek vicariously. She just remembers flying across the room into a chair, and then settling there struggling with the animal self inside of her. Not struggling with the knife in his hand. Red connect the dots in her hair, her head, all disheveled in her brain cells, the walls, the floor, her father's vest. The air tasted bitter. The hour past was filled with regret as the hours now were filled with regret. There was politick at play but where was the social cohesion? Where was the sweetness of childhood, her brother's gentleness, and her mother's girlish laughter? There are just empty beer bottles. One of the colour of urine. She has an idea now for a story. On the surface, it is true like all the stories she has written before. It comes upon her like a thief in the night. Catches her unaware especially when she is distracted or disoriented. Bees in mist, birdsong, 'catching the deluge from a paper cup' from a pop song. She continues to journal.
Stephen is five years old when he dies in a car accident. When his younger sister's daughter grows up and becomes a celebrated South African poet with her photograph in the local newspaper, she discovers a photograph of him in an old shoebox in her mother's childhood home. The shoebox is filled with blue airmail letters, postcards from her father's university days in London and buttons. In it, the little boy is serious, wearing a hat and a coat. Time has stood still for him but his family has moved on. Pushed forward intensely to forget their grief. The poet wonders why her mother never spoke of him, why her mother dislikes her intensely, remaining aloof, indifferent towards her for all of her life. His niece begins to write letters to him (Stephen) while she is admitted to a psychiatric hospital in South Africa (she stays there for six months), imagining him studying literature in a faraway country filled with castles. While her own emotional state hangs in the balance it is her mother that plays the role of the elegant, Christian with purified-and-holy-rituals figurehead in this scenario.
Her father is her anchor. Her father is a brilliant man. He keeps his distance from his son and second daughter and has a love affair with a social worker that cares deeply for him. They confide in one another but know their love cannot last. In a diary, we first discover the psychological framework of the protagonist of the story. He tells his daughter that his lover is dying and that she is the only woman, who has ever really understood him, loved, and appreciated him. His daughter begins to tell the psychologist that she has visions and dreams. The psychologist asks her permission to read her diaries. Notebooks she has kept since her nervous breakdown. He hopes that they will make a breakthrough together in the sessions that they have. The protagonist confronts her mother and asks her why is she treated differently than her siblings but her mother ignores her and does not reply. She also does not tell her mother about her father's affair. She has a dream about Stephen. She tells her psychologist she does not want to be discharged from the hospital because she feels safe there. She tells her psychologist that she can see Stephen.
The psychologist asks her has she ever had this encounter before. She answers in the negative. The writer cannot understand her strange behaviour ('her madness'). She cannot understand why her family rejects her. So in her mind's eye she feels the only way she can replace the 'hell' she finds herself in is with a kind of paradise and with revenge, the only way she will ever be accepted is to become promiscuous. She 'sells her soul', disillusioned with humanity, women, with men so her relationship with her younger siblings becomes more estranged.
She writes and writes and writes. Skins that she peeled from vegetables almost as longsuffering as she was on the kitchen table. Speech, speech! They seem to say. All colours. All shapes. Smiling and frowning at her. This helps. This is therapy. This is kitchen table wisdom. This soup will take me faraway from obesity. Soup. That is all she eats now. It is as if she is in her own dementia ward.
She has written a novella, volumes of poetry, and collections of short stories, a play, and a YA novel. She is the recipient of two National Arts Council Writing Grants for poetry and manuscript development. One from the Centre for the Book (this book was launched at the Grahamstown Festival), and another from the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council (ECPACC).
She has been published in Africanwriter.com, All Things Girl, Best of Beauty and Advice, Beyond Beauty Tips, Ezine Articles, Hackwriters, Identity Theory (Poem The Accident Editor's Choice), Indite Circle, Modern Diplomacy, New Coin, Nigeria Tell, inaugural issue of Peaches Lit Mag, Peoples Daily, Piker Press, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, and Spontaneity. As well as StoryTime, The Artist Unleashed, The Cerebral Catalyst, The Copperfield Review, The Dangerous Lee Network (The Creative Outlet of a Woman Named Leigh Langston).
The Istanbul Literary Review, The Maple Tree Literary Supplement, The Voices Project, Three and a Half Point 9, Unlikely 2.0, Voice Out Digital and Zimbabwe Online Press. She blogs at Abigail George's blog on Goodreads. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has been published online in other countries from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, (Istanbul) Turkey, Zimbabwe, to Canada, England, Finland, France, (New Delhi) India, and the United States. Her work has been anthologised in England, South Africa, and the United States.
Raised in a family of educationalists and schooled in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, South Africa she is a feminist, a writer, and fulltime poet. She writes a monthly article/commentary for Modern Diplomacy and contributed to a (2014-2015) symposium that appeared bimonthly on Ovi Magazine: Finland's English Online Magazine. Her work has been anthologised in Being Bipolar: Stories from Those Living with the Disorder and Those Who Love Them by Rachel Ellen Koski (Editor), Poems for Haiti (Poets Printery), a South African Writer's Circle anthology, the Sentinel Annual Literature Anthology, The Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV (Jacana Media) and Mini Stories, an anthology of children's stories (Kwarts Publishing).
Abigail George's work has appeared in and is forthcoming from African Writer, AIDS Here and Now Project, Birds Piled Loosely, [FictionMagazines] FIVE Poetry Vol. 03 No. 03, Hackwriters, ITCH The Creative Journal, Literary Orphans, Kikwetu, Modern Diplomacy, and Ovi Magazine: Finland's English Online Magazine, Peaches Lit Mag, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Spontaneity, The Artist Unleashed, The Copperfield Review, The Maple Tree Supplement, The Voices Project, Three and a Half Point Nine, Toad Suck Review. She is a feminist, a fulltime poet, and a writer.
She has been published in South Africa in Botsotso, Carapace, Echoes Literary Journal, Kotaz, LitNet, Ons Klynti, Ou LitNet, New Coin, New Contrast, Sun Belly Press, Timbila, Tribute, Upbeat, and Writing Works.
She briefly studied film. Her poetry has most recently appeared in the Best "New" African Poets 2015 Anthology, Lonely (an anthology), New Writing LitNet, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, New Coin, a Special Report in Modern Diplomacy, Vigil Pub Mag, and short fiction in Ovi Magazine: Finland's English Online Magazine.
Work appearing and forthcoming in Birds Piled Loosely, Brittle Paper, Bluepepper, Dead Snakes, Hamilton Stone Review, Praxis Mag Online, Sentinel Literay Quarterly, Spontaneity Issue 7 and Issue 9, The Five-Two: Poem of the Week, The Writing Disorder. Opinion published in Marie Claire, The Herald and The Weekend Post. Her flash fiction appears in The Harpoon Review. Fiction appearing in Vigil Pub Mag.