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Such happiness!
by Abigail George
2016-06-12 11:54:05
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I know the places of love. Like water in wild places. Let me explain. I’ll start with my mother. The significant changes in my father.

She could feel the warmth of his hand in hers. His hand was just plain warm. Not sticky like a kid, some knee high kid who was eating an ice cream cone fast disintegrating. A kid who did not know where to put the melting cone once they had finished with it. A kid who was tired of making thorough work of chewing through the half frozen ice cream.

afr01_400_03Her husband, well he wasn’t the clingy type and he preferred that his women were not like that either. He didn’t cling to her in a way that reminded her of the heat of the day. The heat of the day that reminded, and that made her long for air conditioning. This, when they were together, just the two of them without the children, reminded her of the early days of their relationship when they were just a couple. Boyfriend on fire. Girlfriend being difficult. She was only pretending that he didn’t teach her what pain meant yet.

She was only pretending that she didn’t find the wilderness in her garden fun or funny yet. Painful to knock stones out of place found in soil with a spade that dad seen better days. Painful to rake, water, plant verdant shrubs, rosebushes in day after day under a hot sun that came out even in the late afternoon.

In those early days all she wanted to do was to please him. She cooked and cleaned for him. Her first pregnancy was come and go but she never spoke about this to her grown up daughters. To her son she said bake cake. Make dinner. Make me something to eat as only you can. I want to taste your sweetness. You, only you, make me happy. My daughters fill my heart with regret. I’m bitter because of the choices they made with their lives. When her son laughed, she smiled. She could say I gave him life. I brought him into this world. No one will ever make him as happy as I do. I know that I’m not the only woman in the world who is prepared to be shattered by him.

One day she woke up and decided she wanted dancing lessons from a professional dance instructor. Yes, she wanted to go dancing. No, her husband said. No. What was he so afraid of. Stepping on her toes. No, he said. No. I just don’t want to go. They’re not my kind of people. She smiled. You don’t love me. What has that got to do with it. It has nothing to do do with it. Dancing lessons this week what will you want next week. Give me some space. That’s what you always say, dear. She smiled her Mona Lisa smile again. She wanted a fight. Fists clenching and unclenching. She wanted to go dancing.

What he didn’t say was that he didn’t want to be made a laughing stock of but she wouldn’t be able to understand that. She was a woman. She was just being difficult. You’re just being paranoid. You’re just being weird. It’s because of your parents’. No, it’s because of your mother. Can’t you see that? It’s because you never had friends when you were growing up. Yes, he would answer her. Yes, you see you have an answer for everything so I am not going to fight you on this one. Let’s go dancing old man.

Well then she’d go alone and maybe find a willing enough partner there to step on her toes but he knew she wasn’t going to go without him. She never went anywhere without him if she could help it. Anyway, she drove herself around town never telling him where she was going. Her friends. Did she have friends, did she call women that exclusive group a ‘sisterhood’, a tribe, a secret clique.

Her adult daughter wrote letters to the editor of their local newspaper. She used to do that when she was in high school, and for a while (meaning years) it stopped but now it started up again. She wasn’t taken with the burning bush and manna as much as she was taken with the fees must fall campaign on campuses throughout South Africa. Protests! Marches! Slogans! Affirmative action! Xenophobia! Corruption! Politics! Her adult daughter had never been loved by a man in her life. You can see when a woman has been loved. She wears her hair differently. She plays with makeup that once belonged to her mother. Painting her face with a myriad of brushes (one for mascara, another for a pencil to stain her eyes). She paints her nails an exotic color, her wet mouth oozing with creamy lipstick).

Her daughter does not smell like perfume. She smells of layers of onions, a wet dog coming out of the rain, sweat, and tears. The rooms in the house are filled with the perfume of burning incense. She can’t stand her daughter. Her husband’s favorite daughter.

She remembered how she felt when her first proper boyfriend went down on his knees to ask her to be his wife. Happiness! She didn’t care about what anybody was thinking. That they weren’t exactly a match made in heaven.  She remembered the birth of their first child. Happiness! She was difficult to get along with in the best of times. They all said but they were happy those first few glory years instead of just fooling around with it inside their heads. Stroking their egos. Sweetness touching their palate.  In the early years he would have said yes to dancing lessons.

You’re lovely, He said. Am I? She said. Happiness! Honey, you’re perfect. He said. Do you think we’ll ever have children? She asked. Of course. It’s nothing. It’s a glitch. He said and the way he said it made her feel very happy inside as if she could just float away on a cloud. As if that word that they never spoke about (the word ‘infertility’) did not belong to them. His arms said sink into me. I will hold you until the end of the world comes upon us. Lean into me. I’m your bridge. She felt she could love him forever.

There were times after arguing in the morning she consoled herself by going to the mall. Coming home with cheesecake and expensive groceries. Olive oil, egg noodles, grapes, Edam cheese. Groceries that didn’t make sense. She didn’t pay much attention to the aisles in the stalls. She took what she needed. She took what she needed to make her beautiful. To make her feel strong.

As if she could take on the world again. Later he shouted. Later she screamed at him. You’re killing me. Why don’t you just leave, I know that’s what you’re thinkin of doing.  I see the way you look at other women. I see the way you look at other men. You don’t know if you should be with a man or a woman. They didn’t care anymore if they fought in front of their children. There were no closed doors and their voices carried to all the rooms of the house. Only two of their children remained at home. A daughter. A son who was in the family way. A son who had a son.

She could still feel the warmth of his hand in hers. His hand that was just plain warm in hers. I don’t know why after all these years I still let you touch me. She pulled away from him. Ignored his gaze that followed her. She sat down on the bench and look out at the sea. It was high tide.

‘I am time. In other words I am place (I am also the other half of ‘she’) but her (my reflection in the bathroom mirror’s) eyes are windows. I talk in inverted commas. My mother doesn’t need them. After all I am the adult daughter. My brilliant manic depressive of a father’s favorite. Childhood is not easily forgotten if you were not loved or liked. Instead, childhood was just a game. My childhood, and that of my siblings, my sister who takes after my mother is long dead. Buried, pushing up daisies. The world was no longer made up of nonsense, searching for brave, bright luck that finding four leaf clovers would give us,’

She wanted her mother to tell her that everything was going to be okay. That she would never be hurt ever in her life. She was never going to feel lost, or wanting, or needing, or desiring of another. She wanted her mother to tell her that all her dreams would come true. That eventually she would leave the nest.  She would be smart, tall, intelligent, independent, beautiful instead of fat, fat, and depressive.

She wanted her mother to tell her that when change came, it would transform her, her life for the better. She wanted this open communication with her mother. To always have it. To never let go of it. She wanted to be in control of emotions like her mother was. She wanted above all self control. She wanted to ask her mother what she must do when a man took her in his arms but she blushed when she thought about it.

She couldn’t put that thought into words. When she fell in love she wanted it to be perfect but love was never meant to be perfect. She wanted her mother to tell her that the right man would come along one day.  You’re so intense a woman told her once. You’re interesting.  I could learn to love you a man told her once. All of her mother was a dream. Her mother’s life was a dream. Her laughter, her soul, her very climate, and energy, all the skills that she kept hidden was a dream.

‘I think about the day that I will have to say goodbye to her forever.I think about not hearing her footsteps in the passage. Her heels clicking down the passage as she makes her way to my bedroom to draw the curtains wide open to let the sunlight in, and open the windows. I think about her not pulling up in the driveway. Brushing the tangles out of her hair. I think of her as ghost matter, and I think of her at peace.’

She watched him out of the corner of her eye. The adult daughter who wrote letters to the editor because her time was not filled with seeing to a husband's needs, his desires, or encouraging him to fulfill his goals in the workplace. Her time was not filled with whining children dancing on a sunny road.

She had nobody to listen to. Her father was eating a shredded chicken mayonnaise sandwich and making such a mess of it on his nice golf shirt. His cupboard was full of golf shirts. He got them from a cousin (I guess this, hand-me-downs makes us poor). She knew that she was going to have to clean up after him. She wanted to say that she loved him. Did he love her? Of course I love you why would you even ask such a thing he would say in return. Why are you so insecure now all of a sudden.

Growing up, during those childhood years she saw pain most of all but also her mother’s intelligence on how to deal with it. The best way was to pretend it did not exist. Sweep it away. Under rug swept. Bury it. Bury it. Chop it down the middle with a make believe axe. Her mother’s, her aunt's’ (cancer, diabetes), her brilliant father’s manic depression, her own chronic illness.

I don’t want anything to do with you anymore do you understand that. You are not mine. You did not come from me.You are not my flesh. You are not my blood. It was true. I did not look anything like her. She was beautiful. She was sophisticated. Elegant. A class act, and I was a fat little cherub. A chubby-chubby Buddha. This was what anti-depressants and pharmaceuticals, sleeping tablets, and over the counter pain medication can do to you, but watch out! The good doctors keep that to themselves. I was taught that to erase the word ‘escape’ from my chronic illness I needed to think good thoughts. I needed to remember that I had a purpose. In fact that I was wired to it.

Did her mother ever want to travel, I asked her reflection in the bathroom mirror? She knew love, but did she ever want to find out more about the world besides watching her favorite soap opera on the television while lying on the couch on a school day. It was always difficult feeling the cold. The months of winter. I could feel it even through my stockinged feet. I started to write because I needed to be told I was pretty in some way. Lovely. I didn’t think my mother could understand that. I know she would have made a joke about it.



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