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To Virginia Woolf's Lighthouse To Virginia Woolf's Lighthouse
by Abigail George
2014-11-10 11:48:12
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High school,Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘The light. What do you think of the light?’

‘It’s day. The light comes with day. The sun comes with dawn.’

‘It’s hot.’

‘It’s always hot. It’s South Africa.’

‘It’s post-apartheid South Africa.’ However, what she really wanted to say was I am in love with you. Marc, I am in love with the light in your serious brown eyes. Talk to me about anything.

‘You always have to be right about everything.’

‘You don’t think I have a superiority complex.’

‘No.’ she lied. ‘No. Who told you that?’

‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. I don’t really care. I mean if you say it’s not true then it’s not true.’ Marc shrugged his shoulders. It made him look even more handsome to her.

‘We should go to the beach.’

‘I don’t like the beach.’

‘Everybody likes the beach.’

‘By now you should know that I am not everyone.’ He turned around to look at her with concern in his eyes.

‘Are you okay?’

‘No, no I’m fine. I just had an argument with my mother again this morning. I don’t think she likes me very much.’

‘Maybe she doesn’t like the world. Maybe that’s what really bothering her, not you. Maybe your parents don’t have sex anymore. Don’t worry about you so much.’ Then Marc leaned in and hugged her hard.

‘I like the light today. It makes me happy. You make me happy. You make me laugh.’

‘Thanks.’ Marc said and smiled. He wasn’t wearing his glasses today.

‘I hate high school.’

‘Maybe you hate high school because you read Virginia Woolf.’

‘I think all her books are masterpieces.’

‘So what was Sylvia Plath’s masterpiece?’

‘Ariel. Chose another one Marc.’

‘Chose a masterpiece of Rainer Maria Rilke and Goethe.’

‘For Rilke I would have to choose and this is difficult but it is a book I love. Letters to a Young Poet. For Goethe it would have to be Faust. Please don’t choose Shakespeare but if you did because poetry is my first love I would have to choose his sonnets over his plays.’

‘Do you think we would ever get married like that?’

‘Like what? A marriage of convenience you mean.’

‘Maybe. Perhaps.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

Her hair was like a rosebush. It was full of tangles after her swim. In her eyes was the waves and the lighthouse. An empty house in an English novel on the coat that was once filled with children. Rumpus and an unmarried woman by the name of Lily Briscoe in her imagination. Her face was touched with salt and light followed the glimmer of the sailboats on the horizon. It was the anglers’ doing, catching all of those fish for an eternity. In reality, she lived in post-apartheid South Africa. In reality, she wrote novels. In her twenties, she lived in the adolescent wasteland of Johannesburg, a wilderness of people who had no concern for others.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘What are you really thinking about Marc?’

‘I am thinking about the first time I have sex.’

‘You’re thinking about the performance.’

‘You can’t really act as if you’re in love. You have to feel it. You have to feel all that loveliness in your bones. Would you choose madness or becoming a bride?’

‘Marc, you should know the answer to that one by now. I would choose madness.’

‘You know what? You are depressing. You’re stressing me out.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

In her thirties, after her homecoming, after that celebration she began to write. It would not leave her. The phenomena of moths flapping their wings incessantly in the light as if they were glad to see her as she rinsed the sea and the smell of the day out of her hair in the bathroom sink. Her father was calling. They would have a light supper together of tuna fish sandwiches and red cappuccinos. The world around her had lost its exploratory feel and she became engaged in writing about relationships instead of having them with the opposite sex. She detached herself from having a myriad of beautiful things.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘Let’s sit here and have lunch.’

‘What did you bring?’

‘Tuna fish sandwiches. Do you want to swap?’

‘There’s ants here.’

‘Ants aren’t going to kill us. Sit Marc. They’re not going to steal our lunches.’

‘I have peanut butter. Did you make your own lunch?’

‘My mother makes my lunch.’

‘We had wine with our lunch yesterday.’

‘What did you have?’

‘We had chicken. We always have chicken on Sundays.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

She removed herself from the world at large and material possessions. She no longer attacked vehemently the gender betrayal and the class system. Women who had the vote should now also have equal pay if they were to have equal rights. She knew how other woman lived. They were happy with their lot in their own way. Their families were dysfunctional in their own way. The married woman. The married man. She had nothing in common with them. Even the intellectual woman who wanted the same powers and killer instinct that the intellectual man had but did you see women building empires.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘Do you love me Marc?’

‘Of course I love you. We are best friends remember.’

‘Will we always be this close?’ As it happened, their friendship dissolved before their last year of high school ended.

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

The intellectual woman although she wanted the powers of an intellectual man did not want to be haunted the same way he was. She did not want to be reduced to a thing like the housewife with her domestic responsibilities. The homemaker, standing barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen taking out the meat from the refrigerator to defrost. To her in some way with her hair that was like a rosebush there were still feelings in her in that pathetic, lame way to long for things that although you wish for them you know will never be yours. It will never be enough to be fulfilled. She knew it would never satisfy her.

Early twenties, Johannesburg, 2002

‘Rain. You smell like rain. Your hair. I like your hair like this.’ A style like a ponytail never goes out of fashion. She wanted to say. A man whispered sweet nothings in her ear in a club where the music was too loud. Did she smell like childhood rain, rain from a garden sprinkler (where are you now mum, she thought to herself to save me from this)? She wondered to herself. Was it the kind of rain that smelled like leftover old spaghetti sauce that you heated up on the stove on a rainy day kind of rain with the fragrance of half an onion lingering in the fridge? Sigmund Freud’s kind of rain. For her there would always be sexual healing in that word ‘rain’.

‘You are a good girl. A very good girl. I’m sure you make your parents very proud.’

‘What about your parents?’ she asks slyly or shyly.

‘I think that is why I drink sometimes.’ He answers her candidly.

‘Your parents?’

‘My parents. I think it’s a product of my childhood. Does anyone have a happy childhood? I was always being told I had potential but I don’t know if I ever lived up to their expectations. In high school, I was always the disappointment of the family I guess. The black sheep.’ He squeezed her as he said this. In reply she mouthed, ‘Me and you both I guess looking for happiness in all the wrong places on a Saturday night in a club in downtown Johannesburg.’

‘I like you, you know.’ He had glassy eyes and she was moody. He was drinking too much and she had not even touched her drink. The ice was melting fast. She was thirsty.

‘What do you say? Do you want to get out of this place?’ he staggered a bit. ‘We can sit in my car.’ As they walked outside, he put his arm around her waist.

She wanted to ask him, ‘Does this mean we are a couple now? Do you think you own me? Do you think I am your possession?’

‘Look here, what kind of underwear are you wearing or aren’t you wearing any?’ She felt dirty and saintly at the same time. She abhorred the situation but she was caught up in the thrill of it as well. All she had to do was listen to his conversation, laugh with him, laugh at his unfunny jokes, stare into his eyes, moan at every inappropriate stroke, touch and caress.

‘Have you ever been with a man, lady? You hardly touched your drink. You could have at least had a drink with me. My wife. She nags. She whines. If you could just hear her. She was going on about this and about that today. It is a never-ending stuck record. How I never spend quality time with the boys, they’re just kids, what kind of advice should I give them? On the direction to take with their lives? They’re just kids. Both of them are just interested in computers. You ever watch pornography. You are pretty in that way you know. Okay. Okay. I apologise. I went too far. What good girls don’t get half the time is how highly sexed men are you know?

‘I’m sorry. I still respect you. Do you want to come with me? It’s warmer in my car. I can put the radio on and the heater and we can just talk, that’s if you want to do that.’ He begins to laugh and this makes me smile. Suddenly we are at his car and I do not have a care in the world. He knows what he wants. He knows what he has paid for. I am cold. The idea of sex. The idea of sex in the backseat of his car. I want my mother. He doesn’t even know how old I am. He doesn’t care. Does his wife know where he is? Out at a club drinking with a volunteer who works with mentally challenged and physically disabled adults. A female who is half his age.

‘This is not your first time is it?’ He looks at me a bit worried for the first time. I can pretend for your sake stupid boy that it is not and lose my virginity to a married loser person who is smashed out of his face, his skull. Brain cells tripping high. I need love as I need the light. The light breeze in my homeland of my hometown. The primitive intimacy of my tribe, my family. Do you want to know something? I want to ask him. Do you know I was in a hospital for crazies? Yes, that’s the right term. I was normal for a long time and then I woke up one day as if curled up in the foetal position in a psychiatric hospital. Discovered it was not a dream.

Go ahead. Do your business? See if I care. Just don’t ask me if I am okay. Don’t ask me if I am comfortable. Just make me forget about the fact that bad mothers happen in the wilderness off the sunny road, that sometimes mums don’t love their children, their mentally ill and anorexic daughters or they never said it enough when they were growing up. Sometimes they don’t have the time of day for their adult daughters. She wants to forget that I even exist. The woman who gave birth to me. The woman who brought me into this world. The woman who took me to psychiatrist who studied in Vienna and thought I had schizophrenia.

He was gentle. I remember that. He was open, vulnerable and insecure. I was emotional, vulnerable and inhibitory. He was hurting. I was hurting. Wounds are sometimes the most precious things in the world. They make the world beautiful in the end. See. Even a wreck can be indescribably beautiful. He didn’t touch my face. God, I hate when they do that because it spells a closeness, an intimacy that was not there before. Married people can be the loneliest people in the world. I learned that long ago from my dad. He taught me that. He live it. He told me stories about it. Stories from his childhood. Stories about the wuthering heights of apartheid South Africa.

Sex was different from lovemaking. Love was involved in one and not the other. Decision was involved in one and not the other, preparation, planting and progress. Sometimes there were two parties involved. Sometimes sex was lovemaking. Sometimes lovemaking was sex. Sometimes promiscuousness, intimacy, experience were involved to create this incredible emotional effect. The phenomenon of lovemaking could mean everything and nothing at the same time. You could create a bond between life partners or it could be a game. A dangerous, manipulative hurting game. Promiscuity was something else altogether. A one-night stand.

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

Thirty years old. Another birthday. Hone alone. She stood naked in front of the mirror surveying her triumph. Youth. Youth was still on her side. All the girls who had succumbed to motherhood around her from high school were losing their looks. Tired, strained, stressed out, depressed, humiliated although not all children were brats but then again not all children were angels. She pinched her skin. She was still thin. Thank God for that. She possessed skinniness as if nature possessed the world. Like a child observing the landscapes of life in rock pools.

High school, Port Elizabeth, 1995

‘How far did you get?’

‘You’ve got the Periodic Table so I couldn’t complete all these equations.’

‘Let’s take a break. Let’s listen to Shirley Bassey.’

‘Do you still have some of that wine left over from Sunday?’

‘I don’t think so. Why?’

‘We don’t drink in our house. My grandfather used to drink. I’ve never drank red wine before.’

‘Did he beat up on your grandmother? Your grandfather?’ Marc asked opening and shutting kitchen cupboards. ‘Nothing here I’m afraid. You’re out of luck.’

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Why are there so many things you don’t want to talk about? You are like a walking book of secrets.’

‘I like my secrets.’

‘Secrets are like open wounds. The more you don’t talk about it, the more it is like rubbing salt into that open wound. It stings. It burns.’

‘I have my scar tissue and you have yours. You know me so well. You are so wise, Marc.’ She rolled her eyes in mock-jest.

‘Why do you want a drink? Besides wine doesn’t really make your drunk.’

‘Doesn’t it make you forget that you’re lonely and sad and that nobody loves you, Marc?’

‘I love you even when you are this impossible to read and even when you are moody. I am going to put Shirley Bassey on. I don’t understand why you’re so moody today.’

‘I want to drink because I’m happy and because I want to remember this day forever.’ She could not believe it. She was happy. She was being honest. Too honest. She looked at his face.

She wanted to remember it forever. She wanted to remember what he was wearing.

‘You look funny.’ She laughed.

‘Why do I look funny?’

‘You’re wearing your glasses. You never wear your glasses to school.’

‘I still don’t understand why it’s so funny.’

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

The geeky river of language contained in a gene pool, even the gene pool of a rock pool was a private one. Biology was a beautiful subject dedicated to laws and sometimes amusing understanding. Its wards contain compromising powers and complex, complicated chambers. She remembered a dark-haired boy she used to know. All the boys she used to know where dark-haired and intellectual. This one wanted to be a family doctor and deliver babies. He had a superiority complex but she had loved him. What does an adolescent girl do when they fall in love with their best friend?

How do they forget the wars they fought and how they made up again? She remembered most of all how they both were in love with physics and music. All she could think about now was he rich (he was always good that way, talking about financial security) did he fulfill all his dreams, was he married, does he deliver babies, what color eye shadow and lipstick does his wife wear when they go out and eat in fancy restaurants, go to functions? What kind of shoes does she prefer, heels or ballet shoes? Does she have a good pair of legs? Does she listen to his speeches, how does his wife feel in his arms when they make love? Was she a Mrs. Ramsay?

She remembered his general knowledge, his laughter and while he progressed in school he left her far behind. At the end of the day, of high school he passed with distinction while she could barely keep up with him. She did not know yet then that she wanted to write and become a serious writer, a novelist. In the end, she became a strong swimmer. Today she was alone at the heated swimming pool. It was a beautiful day. Her arms were branches, warm and brown, the texture of bright leaves as bright as her eyes. The water danced and rippled around her. She felt a sudden anguish when she remembered Marc, her first love, her best friend.

Then everything went pale (the colour of the day). Everything went blank. There was a silence.

Then there was a tunnel notched into the blunt shadows of her subconscious. She began to swim and forget at the same time. The sky was like a blue atom above her head flowering like grease in breakfast pans across regions in nations across the world. There were a million clouds in the air. The ether was a white spot. The day was fluid. There was no wind to snatch tangles of her hair and twist it into a state as she cooled down after her swim. Damn those anglers! What a life? As if to say, they were free and she was not. As if she could never be, free.

Engraved on her skull was a blueprint, a school of thought of Johannesburg as she had seen it in the light. The winter light in its streets, its alleys outside of the club. Sunlight glaring. Glinting over skylines. Illuminated. Hinting at the experience of feminine sexuality up against a rough. About the morning after. Do you see that in films or only the heroic protagonist wearing the clothes that she had worn to the nightclub the previous night? She should drink. That experience would be good for her. It would help her to blend into the crowd. Fit into the maelstrom of society. People would say to themselves, men in particular, ‘Who was that girl?’ 

Marc had been her only friend in high school. She had never told him that she had been in love with him. In Johannesburg in her twenties, she befriended homosexuals. They had beautiful hands, light eyes, these tall Amazons. They told wonderful stories. For some reason they reminded her of Marc. Marc’s loyalty. They reminded her of how important it is to laugh, to dance, and to eat good food with friends. Thirty something and still missing her first love, Marc. Wires were growing from her head now and she smiled as she towel dried her hair. She had always had a love, hate relationship with her hair, with her ego, her lack of self-control.

The thing with writers. They never forget anything. If you are a woman, you never forget the men who left you, the men you drank with, danced with, and who shared cigarettes with you. The ones who got away.

Early twenties, Johannesburg, 2002

‘Switch off the light. Switch off the light. I don’t want people to see me like this.’

‘You’re dressed.’

‘No, actually I’m not.’

‘Okay, so you’re half-dressed. That was fun.’

‘That was what you would call fun.’ She was sad. Kaput.

‘You’re so tense sweetie. Here, let me massage your shoulders. I have to park the car first. It’s not safe out there this time of night. Never know what you might find out there out on the street.’

‘Don’t do that.’ She wanted to say. ‘Don’t leave me out there in the cold. Invite me in. Into your house, wolf in sheep’s clothing. Do your worst. I’ll still wake up brilliant in the morning.’ She thought to herself even though she knew it was dangerous thinking.

‘It’s late. Do you want me to drop you off somewhere? How much? How much do you want?’ She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

‘You’re not serious, are you? How much? Do you think I’m a prostitute?’ Do you think you would just leave me out here on the street to walk home in the dark?’ She felt her hands starting to shake. Shark. Coward. She started trembling all over. If was capable of this, then he was capable of anything. He was capable just as much of doing bodily harm and not for the first time, she was frightened.

‘Easy there. Quiet down. I still respect you.’ He laughed then and she felt dirty. He put his hand on her knee. ‘Honestly I still respect you. I had a really nice time, and you?’ He laughed again.

‘Did you lose something? Your innocence of the manic-depressive world around you?’ That was a dig at her now.

‘What?’

‘I’m sorry if you were expecting roses and moonlight. Coffee for two after the afternoon rush in a quiet place. Get out of my car. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of your mind games, lady. Go home to your mother. She should have taught you not to get into a man’s car in the early hours of the morning after a club empties out.’

‘My mother doesn’t want me.’ She wanted to scream in his arrogant face with its sharp features. A face that she thought beautiful in the moonlight. It was still a beautiful face though. The tone of his voice had changed.

‘Oh excuse me; I thought you wanted the same thing that I did. I thought you wanted a good time. Didn’t you know that is all that men have on their brain? Sex. If it isn’t sex, it’s the chase or pornography. Get the joke? There is no joke. This is a man’s world and I’m educating you about a man’s world.’

She thought to herself once upon a time Marc, you were my Louis Macniece, my Philip Larkin. You were nothing like these men. She thought to herself. Brutes. Gigantic and flashy brutes they were.

Thirty something, Port Elizabeth, 2013

The day. Poetry sublime. Symbolism wasting away. Uncertainty all around her. Status and power in the men around her. Limits. Limits. This had always been, to all intents and purposes was her survival kit for mental illness. The sea.

 


     
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