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Burning in the rain continued Burning in the rain continued
by Abigail George
2013-04-11 09:15:58
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This morning the kitchen cupboard smelled like spices. She was scratching for something. She had to have it. Otherwise the meal would not be perfect. It would be less-than-perfect and she would prefer to have it otherwise. What made him happy would make her happy but today of all days she could not find it. The perfect ‘it’ that would complement the dish. She would have to turn the cupboard upside down but she didn’t want him to find her like this. With her hair in her face, tied back with a rubber band, strands everywhere. God forbid he found a long dark strand of her hair in the food, her food. There would be hell to pay. (Anything could start it off and the day was so beautiful. She wanted him to see that.)

She was flesh and soul, bone and buoyant spirit. She was a volcano, a woman with dreams, the caretaker of many, many things of useful wonder, a huntress and gatherer.

Fist fight, seeing stars, seeing red shooting out of a banged up nose, screaming coming from the somewhere of nowhere. It would not be a good day for a fight, to play tough, for feeling sore, loved-up with wounded pride and killer noise playing and rewinding inside her head like a mixed tape or an evil soundtrack. Dianne told herself that she was not up for playing the tough cookie today. I haven’t mastered the skill yet of letting go of the evil that he was sometimes capable of. Dianne let the words ‘capable of’ sink into the back of the mind. For a while it hung suspended between ‘must wash hair later today’. ‘Rinse stockings in the basin in the bathroom’, ‘reply to emails after doing the dishes left in scummy water for days now in the kitchen sink’.

Swords and shields, the perpetrator of evil deeds and the pearly shine of good ones, the blue death of her depression holding onto her as if it would never let her go.

‘Mop floors cheerfully with a smile and ignore the spatter-patterns of dried blood’, ‘vacuum carpets’, ‘throw away old fashion magazines’, ‘swim as if your life depended on it and ignore the flirting teenagers at the local swimming pool’. Forget, forget, forget what he said, what he did, what you said, what you did while you were waiting for him to cry and say sorry. But when she thought that, about the latter she wanted to cry too. What a waste two lives could be Dianne thought. Ah, there it was. Bisto to make the gravy. She had to make it properly because the last time she made it there were bits floating in the brown sea of it and he had said that it tasted like sand in his mouth and had come flying after her.

She, the builder and designer of empires, the interpreter of customs, wishful thinking and why couldn’t he see any of that again? She put her finger in the bowl, licked it.

She put her fingers around the box and pushed her spectacles up on her nose. On that awful, awful terrifying day he had called her beautiful. The day had ended with him saying that she made him feel claustrophobic, boxed in, and that she was bleeding him dry (not the other way round, lover, she thought to herself), she was draining him and he thought that he couldn’t take it anymore. But what about me, what about Dianne, she thought to herself as she lay on the floor. She felt a tingling sensation in her arms and her long legs were encased in tight black leggings. ‘Help me up.’ She wanted to say. ‘Help me up and then I’ll forgive you. I’ll forget everything if I can just stand and make it to the bathroom. Hell, please help me up Hugh.’

She could summon the wind, the birdsong, and even the song in the shoots of grass, the seasons, and golden feasts. Feasts he did not eat. Feasts that crash-landed.

‘All I want to do is to check my face and shake the anxiety and panic out of my limbs.’ He had just stood there a little shamefaced (until finally there had came a point when it had started to scare her just a little) with his head in his hands, murmuring or muttering or speaking to himself. It sounded like, ‘Look what you made me do.’ Thank God the flat was tiny and people had complained but living in a house was different. A house came with brick walls and a garden and neighbors that weren’t haunted by screams and things that went bang in the night or in the middle of the afternoon or even early in the morning, a bright Sunday morning as a matter of fact.

She succumbed. Summer to his winter, how could she ever remain indifferent to his behaviour, to his attitude? He was always the winter guest in her house of summer.

Dianne moved the cans of dolphin-friendly tuna aside with the spaghetti. (Fish cakes, he liked fish cakes she made a mental note to herself). Then when she wasn’t looking there was turmeric on her hands (she hadn’t been looking at what she was doing), oh hell how to get it off without getting it on her clothes, coriander seeds set loose from a box. There was always cheese and milk in the fridge (he checked). The air smelled of the juices of the succulent roast fragrant with rosemary and lemon. She could hear his footsteps and the car keys in his hand before he appeared in the doorway. He came inside and put his arms around her waist and leaned over the stove. She relaxed. When he was happy she was safe. She was as safe as houses with glass ceilings.

She lay a table for him but all he saw was the weight of water behind her eyes. He shattered glass. She swept it up, hid it away, the secret of it all.

‘Lovely morning, isn’t it? It is a perfect day.’

Smile please, she said in her head. Say something. Say anything. Say, ‘Same to you lazy elephant.’ Anything to make me smile. Call me mermaid even.

Smile and then nothing would be wrong. She couldn’t see his face yet but she could feel that he wasn’t pleased about something.

What was it now? What did she do wrong now? She tried to turn around and face him but he was still holding onto her. She wished he would let go now.

‘Playing the merry housekeeper today or the moody chef?’ he whispered into her ear, pinching her apron suavely.

It gave her hands something to do. Picking up his clothes and shoes, the wet towels on the bathroom floor, dishes, newspapers, mugs filled with cold tea, a drowned teabag.

He’s in a good mood so play along. Don’t let him see that you’re upset because he’ll turn the table on you just like that.

‘I’m half the merry housekeeper and the other half of me is the chef except I’m not moody or anything. I’m just distracted.’

‘Distracted? Now that could be a good thing. My swagger distracting you.’

She laughed. He’s in the mood for love.

‘Your hands are yellow, spoilsport.’ Something in the tone of his voice warned her.

He’s not in the mood for love anymore.

‘It’s just my fingertips. It will wash off. It’s the turmeric.’

Emptiness simmered. Emptiness that stubbornly refused to sink further and further away. How imaginative life could be without her even trying?

‘Yes, why don’t you wash your hands. You’re going to get everything stained with that stuff and it doesn’t come out. You know that, Dianne.’

You mean it’s not attractive, Dianne thought inside her head, cringing at the sharpness of his words. How it seemed to sabotage the day ahead.

‘I know. I know.’

‘So if you know then why do I even bother. Do you even listen to a word I say? And,’ he sniffed. ‘I don’t like herbs.’

Please, don’t, just not now and not today. Don’t ruin things for us.

‘You don’t like ‘mixed herbs’. You love parsley.’

Dianne’s voice was forced. I’m happy, she told herself. But she didn’t sound happy.

She found herself in a forest, dwelling in the possibilities and the choices she made for herself in her life. Spot the difference, she told herself. Buck up.

‘I love parsley.’ He said stiffly, aloof. He had walked away from her, talking to her back.

Why was he repeating what she was saying like that?

‘You love rosemary, lemony chicken, thyme drumsticks, fresh, leafy coriander in your curry.’

‘Yeah, as much as I love plain yoghurt. You know I hate that stuff, Dianne. I hate marjoram. It sticks in my teeth. You know that. If you know me you would know that, lover. Are you arguing with you or with me?’

‘No.’

Be calm and then he’ll be calm. Just wait for it. Watch the tone of his voice. Don’t get carried away.’

‘Boyfriend, you have perfect teeth.’

‘I know I have the perfect smile. Why are you telling me that? Trying to get on my good side this morning for some reason?’

I can read you like a book. What’s wrong with you? Is it something I said?

‘Oh, so you know what I like and don’t like better than I do.’

‘Don’t let’s start a fight.’

‘Whose starting a fight? Why are you looking at me like that?’

Out of the blue. So sudden like a jolt as the train journey came to an end. As it stopped at its destination and the people began to disembark.

‘I’m just asking a question. Something’s burning.’

‘Nothing’s burning.’

‘Watch your temper, temper, temper. Check your pots.’

The clip on the ear came out of nowhere and took her breath away. She looked hurt and something crumpled up inside her.

‘You promised,’ she said sucking her breath in deeply.

‘I didn’t promise anything.’

‘You promised that today you wouldn’t. Today’s special.’

‘Our anniversary, is it? Your birthday or mine?’

She heard his voice inside her head. You’re so good at weaving and threading stories, Dianne. Are you just as good as reading my mind?

‘You said you loved me, remember?’

‘And how was I supposed to remember that? Love is always important to the lady. I’m sorry. Everything okay now? I’m sorry.’ He smiled as he took her head in his hands.

‘Am I forgiven? Forgive me? Forget all of this and I’ll treat you.’

The sauce was as runny as honey. She could hear it, feel the sweetness in the air before his mood had turned to heat, warning her not to start trouble.

‘I’ll take you out somewhere smart.’

‘But what about all of this. I’ve been working on it the whole morning.’

‘The kitchen’s a mess, Dianne.’

‘But it will all be wasted.’

‘Wasted effort all for nothing. Stay in if you please. I’ll go out. Do something with ‘our’ friends for a change. You’re a mess anyway and in a state. Why do you always have to get so emotional.’

‘The roast is burning. The meal is burnt. Cinders. Soot. It’s all those herbs. It’s in the air, everywhere even your hair or is it just you that smells of it.’

It was a forest far away in the mists of time and there she stood behind castles walls a princess who had a tragic story to tell if anyone would take the time to listen.

‘The lemons are black. I don’t want a meal that tastes like ash.’

‘You’re being mean.’

‘And you’re asking for it, Dianne.’

‘You want to give it to me, then?’

‘Ready to pick a fight.’

‘You started it.’ She cowered under his stare. He picked up, balancing it delicately on the fingers of his right hand and it all came crashing down on the floor.

‘Me next then?’

‘Doll, I’ve had enough for one morning.’

She had a bird’s soul. Floating in the pool earlier in the week, hair tangled with chlorine she had moved swiftly out of the way as she heard, ‘Watch out! Jump!’

‘I’ll deal with you later when I have the energy. Clean this up, will you? Don’t cry, Dianne.’

‘I’m not. Really, I’m not. It’s the onions. I’ve been peeling them and chopping them up and it’s the skin. Skin on skin, I guess.’ She gave a small, self-conscious laugh.

‘And why do you always have to fry the cabbage like that? It’s disgusting. I’ve told you this before. When you do it like that it tastes like leftovers in my mouth. It tastes just plain awful. You’re a terrible cook, you know that Dianne. When I come home, that had better not be there.’

He said looking at the floor meaningfully.

Always what he wanted. Always what he said and not the other way round. And the words felt like stone. She felt like a cave (ready to cave in at any moment now).

‘I want this place tidied up. Don’t look so mournful. I didn’t even leave a mark this time around. Don’t you go crying a river now or else I’ll give you a reason too? You know I wouldn’t have minded if you had made fish. I love fish. I even love the way you make it and you were making so much noise this morning in the kitchen. I thought I would have a lie-in. I work you know.’

‘I know you do.’

‘Do you Dianne. It’s just that sometimes I wonder if you really do. I work hard.’

‘I know you work hard.’

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees.’

‘I know.’

One day there would be no one left to call and then what would become of her. Still crying her soul to sleep at night.

‘Although you seem to think it does. I get that kind of feeling sometimes and I just want to tell you that I’m hurt by it sometimes. I’m the man. I’m the provider but I think Dianne that you sometimes take it for granted that there’s an instant flow of money around you.’

‘No, no. I don’t think that.’

‘You’re just saying what you want me to hear again. Don’t do that Dianne because when you say things like that I can see right through you.’

‘ I just want to say that I’m committed to this relationship.’

‘I’m committed to this relationship as well and sometimes I have to be hard on you.’

The pain of feeling sore, a little fragile, taking out cookbooks to see what she could do, how she could remedy the situation. These were the thoughts crossing her mind early in the morning.

‘You’re not perfect.’

‘I know.’

‘I wish you would stop saying that.

‘Okay, I’ll stop.’

‘Good girl. Dianne you’re a good girl sometimes but especially when you listen to me.’

‘Obey. Isn’t that in the vows? Marriage, hey. We’ve talked about it but I don’t feel ready for it. All that kind of responsibility and compromising and you?’

‘I don’t know.’

Laying out a map of ingredients on the kitchen counter. Finding a recipe and staring at the stunning photographs of turning imagination into reality.

‘I know you’re the one.’

‘Ditto.’

‘Ditto Diane?’ he laughed ruefully.

‘We’re not two teenagers. It’s not exactly like they’re standing in line for you Dianne. There’s me and there’s you. The two of us, we’re perfection. Who else is going to put up with you and your moods and the depression? Cat got your tongue Dianne?’

‘I wish you wouldn’t.’

‘Wish I wouldn’t what now? What’s wrong now? What sin have I committed? Let’s talk about your sins for a change and what I have to put up with.’

She stared at the magnificent photograph of what she had never made before in her life. Poultry it is. She drummed her fingers on top of the counter, humming.

‘Burnt roast, yummy. Is that what you wanted to surprise me with today? Is that your wounded samurai face? Well, I’m going out. You’re no fun and I wonder whose fault that is. This chicken is swimming in gravy. At least now you know how to make it perfect-like.’

‘You’ll be here when I get back. Waiting, always waiting. Frowning Dianne? Is it something I said?’

‘Maybe not this time around,’ Dianne said under her breath.

‘What did you say? He turned around, his shoes heels squeaking on the floor.

‘I didn’t say anything.’

What on earth would she need oranges for? And she’d have to use her fingers to stuff it into the cavity and tie the legs together with string. Dismembering poultry.

‘Humming under your breath, my dear’ he said sarcastically.

The kiss on her cheek caught her unawares and she almost said what was that for.

‘Lovely. You taste lovely you know that. Just like rosemary and lemon chicken. You taste all lemony. Pity it’s all on the floor. It would have been the perfect day and now you’ve gone and spoilt it Dianne. But you look lovely like that anyway. Just do something about your hair like wash it. It’s all greasy-like. It’s disgusting when I put my fingers through it. I’ve been good today so put on your happy-face and when I get back maybe I’ll bring flowers to cheer this place up a bit. You’re unhappy now.

Would she be up for this? It meant work, preparation, commitment and cleaning up afterwards. She envied those women who had this kind of devotion.

‘It’s kind of making me unhappy. Cheer up, my pretty one! Laugh, smile, you’re on candid camera. You used to love that and now suddenly you don’t because the chicken is out cold on the floor. Okay, so maybe it isn’t that funny. You’re thinking that I’m the one who’s responsible for it.’ The last time he hit her she blacked out and couldn’t remember a thing when she woke up. She was covered with a blanket, felt warm. He was lying next to her, and told her he was just waiting for her to open up her eyes so that he could call someone. Dianne thought he had said ‘an ambulance’. Were you scared, she wanted to say. Were you frightened? Did you think I had died, was pushing up daisies and that the end had come.

Why did she have to cut the wishbone away? She thought that the word ‘wishbone’ was so pretty.

Now you know. Now you know what it feels like morning, noon and night. Escape, escape, escape and a teardrop, a waterfall, being boxed in, feeling claustrophobic, you coward are not the only one to feel that way. Scream. Go away now. I want to scream. And if I yell and shout long enough the neighbours will come running out of their houses and perhaps a good soul will call the police and today will be the end of it all. Today will be the end of everything you have done to me. My spirit smashed to smithereens and as cold as winter, just, just an uninvited guest. You’ve stalked me, haunted me, watched me, baited me, caught my spirit, me, me fool on a hook, called the life I live now heaven and paradise while you laughed in my face.

‘All in a day’s work for them, them domestic goddesses in and out of the kitchen. There we go with the oven on. Here’s hoping roast that you’ll come out beautifully.’ She whispered under her breath.

While your foot was caught mid-air before it slammed into my back again and again and again. I can still feel it. Those shoes were new. They were black and pointy and you were calling me a witch and a devil. I had devil eyes, you said. I’ll make short work of you, witch, you said. You were breaking them in on me. Dianne you asked for it. And it was all because there wasn’t enough salt in your food and the dish, the fish tasted like paper. Stop your wailing Dianne. Stop it now. Dry your tears. Here, use this. You handed me your handkerchief. You took my hands in yours and you asked me very quietly, very calmly to control myself and to stop being emotional. And you said, ‘I am not having an affair with anyone. I love you Dianne.’

Lovely little word that ‘wishbone’ and a kitchen scissors came in so handy. She put the kettle on for tea and patted her apron stained with giblets, skin and flour.

‘Now, no more questions about people, about women calling and hanging up.

Put that nonsense out of your head. Stop listening to your mother. I like that blue dress on you. Didn’t I buy that for you Dianne? Blue is your colour. I think it goes with your eyes. Stop that sniffling. I explained the situation. Maybe it’s just teenagers having their fun. The stuff of pranks or maybe,’ and this was said with a sardonic look, a glint of steel in the eye, ‘perverts.’ It was as if he was saying laugh it off Dianne. Make it easy on me, on you, on us. He wanted her to feel as if she was the one who had done something wrong, brought it on herself with this depression. When she had first brought the dress home he had said it just wasn’t her colour.

Somehow they had all landed on her. ‘Missile attack and those potatoes are not going to crisp up on their own.’ Using flour was a trick her mother had taught her.

And when she had ‘modelled’ it for him he had rolled his eyes and said, ‘Babe, that just isn’t your colour. So, so depressing. Take it back. Exchange it for something else. Something bright, colourful or something that matches your eyes and above your knees. Show a bit of leg. You’re not a spinster or do you want me to call you ‘old maid’?’ She had laughed gaily with him but in the privacy of the bathroom she had curled up in the corner and had a private cry with the door locked and the water gushing out of the hot water tap into the bath. Blue, not blue, and why blue? So what had changed? One of her sisters had said that love is supposed to hurt but all the time, that part didn’t make sense.

‘What a mess! Look at the state I’m in.’ she said out loud and she laughed as if she didn’t care. It was the perfect start to a wonderful day. Cooking for her man.

‘Does he hit you? If he hits you then leave. Pack your bags. Dianne, listen to me. I’m the oldest and I’m pulling rank here. Believe me. No man is worth it. If you stay stuff like that can kill your spirit. You’ll have no confidence, no self-love, no worthiness left. Have you stopped to think about that?’

 Dianne had to fight back. She had to fight for him, for her man.

‘But he cries afterwards. He apologises. He makes up for it.’

‘Ask yourself is that normal? They all do it. They make all these promises that they can’t keep. It must be in the genes or something. The things that people get up to behind closed doors. The scenes and people gossip.’

She had the awareness of another world’s earth and sky behind her eyes. If only he could see this.

‘People always gossip about scandal. Scandal is delicious. And they, the ‘victims’ in this whole scenario always say that their dad did it to their mother. So ‘I’ must continue the horror of that legacy I experienced as a child, that’s the way this type of man thinks like.’

‘He’s so sorry afterwards,’ Dianne argued. ‘Mum forgave dad.’

‘Well, when you’ve had enough of that kind of life. You know the one where a housekeeper does your laundry and you have a garden to lounge in at the weekends and a pool to sunbathe next to. The smelling-of-roses kind of life that is what I’m talking about.’

The mark under her eye was fading away. It had gone from black to blue to yellow and the colour of her skin was returning to normal. She had not gone out.

‘And I’m not saying it because I’m trying to be nasty or mean-spirited or jealous of you. Of you always having money for beautiful clothes and dainty expensive pretty little things. Of you having a large house that is not filled with animals or the pitter-patter of little feet, growing children, you know you can count on your real family, us, your sisters and even your mother. The same mother you are now badmouthing to me.’ Someone was gripping her arm now. Fiercely determined to get her attention. Gripping and twisting her arm now. It hurt.

‘That hurts. Let go of me.’

‘I’m speaking to you and you’re not here. You’re somewhere else.’

She remembered all the questions from everyone. ‘Where are you’ and the ‘where have you been’ and ‘has he been behaving all this time that you were off the scene?’

‘Dianne, are you listening to me? God, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said. Now I’m going to have to repeat myself. Tell you what. Erase all of this. This morning, the day, but don’t be blue or heaven, get depressed and dive under the covers when I’ve gone. I won’t be gone long you know and I want you to be good. No tears, no tantrums on the phone to your sisters or mum. The only clouds I want are the clouds up in the air. Dammit! Quit looking at me like that. If you want to blame someone you only have yourself to blame. Why didn’t you tell me that today was special and don’t I tell you everyday anyway just how much I love you? I care for you. I’ve gone the distance for you. The marathon distance because that’s what couples do for one another.’

He had wanted to put a slab of meat on her face and in the middle of her holding back her tears she asked him, ‘Now what am I supposed to do with that?’

‘You know once you used to look so enchanting in anything. You look really bad. Go put on something else. Scram! I’ll clean this up. Give me something to do while you’re making yourself look pretty and put some make up on. I hate having to see those dark circles under your eyes.’

You put them there was what Dianne wanted to say but didn’t.

‘Just go and for heaven’s sake don’t cry or else your mascara will run.’

You put them there.

‘You in a mood again? Well, you shake your head and I can read your eyes. I can see something else there, swimming in them.’

It’s to bring down the swelling he said. You’ll be as right as rain. Tomorrow there won’t be a scar and she had said with fear and alarm, ‘There’s a scar?’ It’s just a tiny scratch.

‘Depressed again? Your blue death again? Make room. I also want to watch the television and why must you eat all that junk. Women say it makes them feel better but better than what. I said move. Okay, I’m sorry. What was it I said? I take it back.’

‘I was going to have a bath anyway.’

‘Your show isn’t finished.’

‘It doesn’t matter. I know how it’s going to end.’

‘Is it about a murder? Why do you watch this rubbish? Why don’t you do what other women do and watch the soaps and read romance novels? You know there’s nothing sexy about you like this. And when you’re done make a grocery list.’

And she believed him. Ate it up like a warm pudding, a pie. Remember the good days that was what her mother always told her. Baby, I always remember the good days.

‘I’m going to the shops tomorrow. Give you a change of pace domestic goddess. You know that I’m not impressed with what you did today. You murdering that chicken.’

And that is why her father always came back. Feet off the couch he would say as if he had never been away and as if it was his domain, his castle, his empire, his girls.

‘Blue feet? Cold?’

‘Yes, I’m freezing.’

‘Come here. Come closer. Here, hold onto me. I’ll warm you up. Are you depressed?’

‘No, I’m not depressed. What gave you that idea?’

‘You’ve been quiet today.’

‘I’ve been tired.’

‘Tired of murdering chickens?’

‘I’m not laughing.’

‘You know, I’ve always found you enchanting even at your worst.’

She remembered her mother peeling an apple in a long thin green stripe. And when her father was gone they never saw a newspaper in the house or watched the news.

‘What are you reading?’

‘The Bell Jar.’

‘Give me that rubbish.’ He picked the book up and threw it across the room.

‘It’s a classic and I like it.’

‘I thought you weren’t depressed. And if you say you’re not, you’re telling lies.’

‘I’m not depressed. I already told you.’

‘What’s the book about then? Cat got your tongue?’

‘Reading helps me to fall asleep.’

‘Excuses, excuses. If you want to talk to someone, why don’t you just talk to me? Psychologists cost money.’

Wind rustling in the trees, the birthday present presented to her with a gung-ho, devil-may-care attitude when all she wanted was peace. Kind of like that wind in the trees.

‘I’m a good listener.’

‘We talked about this already. About me going to see someone.’

‘So you are depressed.’

‘That’s not what I said but maybe it would be good for me to talk to a professional.’

‘A professional good listener.’

‘You’re angry?’

‘So you don’t want me to be upset. There’s nothing wrong with you.’

‘I know there’s nothing wrong with me.’

‘Except the depression part of you.’

She told herself one day she was going to dance in the wind, write that poem, curse this mad life and ask God why was he so spiteful.

‘But you want a professional good listener to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you. I’m going to bed. Read your book except I can’t sleep if the light’s on.’

It was then that Dianne thought of leaving him. How easy it would be just to leave a note or not to even decide to leave a note, take nothing with her, leave the suitcases, all the useless trinkets anyway and the release she would feel once she closed the front door behind her. There were things to do that had an educated degree of guesswork behind them. He was handsome, a catch and in the beginning he had been so determined for her to love him in the same way he did and for her to share ‘everything’ with him. She felt him brush against her leg, heard a muffled, ‘I love you.’ 

And when she fell asleep that night she dreamed that she was flying. It was a different kind of flying. Flying of the imaginative kind.

‘I’m in the mood to pick up shells. You don’t have to come with me. Go swim. The sun is really nice. It feels heavenly. It’s nice and warm. Swim with the grannies. I’ll keep the kids company with their buckets and spades.’

‘I don’t know why you’re being like this.’

I’m behaving. You’re not, caveman. Do I have to do everything with you? Do I have to do everything you tell me to?

‘Okay if the water’s warm then I’ll dip my feet in the water.’

‘The whole point of coming to the beach is to swim. Am I inside you head again, lovely?’

Just don’t say that you give up on me. Dianne started to count till ten.

Alarms were going off inside her head; bells were ringing signalling warning. Poultry in motion through the air, landing at her feet, painting the tile in swirling-brown.

‘You’re warm.’

‘You’re cold. It’s the sun. I feel like a piece of toast out here on my towel.’

‘You look stunning though.’

‘I do?’ Dianne smiled.

‘This look suits you, golden girl. The bare legs and a tan look. Though maybe you should cut your hair.’

‘I thought you liked long hair.’

‘It’s not the style anymore, is it. You smell like flowers. Is it a new perfume, your hair? A new shampoo and the water’s warm, water-baby.’

I can’t face him anymore. I can’t look him in the eye. It hurts too much to think, to breathe, regain my strength and to pull myself back together again.

‘It’s too hot. Too hot to move and too hot to think. I think I’ll stay here.’

‘Well, when you change your mind you know where to find me.’

She shielded her eyes with her hand and watched him splash his way through to the breakers, where the other men were until he became a speck on the horizon. Safe for now, Dianne thought to herself. Safe from too revealing conversation, teasing that was really taunting, mocking her from a distance. He was swimming like a fish in the water now. Using his arms and his legs scissors-kicking them behind him. He propelled himself through the waves and past other people while she thought that it took stitches and threads and weaving a connection to gather her train of thought.

‘Oh gosh you’re bleeding! How can you say it’s nothing, Dianne?’

Because you of all people know you hate the sight of it, Dianne said in her head. Get even with him for a change. Say that you’re miserable and you want out but what if he starts crying like a baby. ‘You’re hissing at me.’ His voice was dirty noise and butterflies flitting through her consciousness. Her memory was sharp. He was the one. The one who was playing twisted lovesick games with her. There’s something celestial in her carrying her physical pain, her ardent detachment from it as if to say that there is nothing that he can say or do to finally break her spirit. Come hell or high water her first instinct will always be to survive and crack the spell he has over her.

‘Perfect. Now don’t move.’ She watched the camera in his hands. The sensitive hands with the long fingers she had fallen in love with the first moment he had taken her hand in his after the early supper they had at a pizza and pasta restaurant for their first date. He said they could go anywhere to eat that evening and she had said, ‘Well, I know this place and it’s in walking distance.’

‘I’m tired of this and you know I don’t like having my picture taken.’

‘You’re just self-conscious. It’s only called having an inferiority complex. Nothing a glass of red wine can’t cure.’

‘I hate wine and you know I don’t drink that stuff.’

‘Just relax. You’re in my capable hands. Nothing to worry about, babe.’

‘Stop it. You’re making me laugh. Why do you want to take my picture anyway?’

‘Because you’re my lovely girlfriend. So strike a pose. Smile please. No looking depressed. It is not allowed.’

‘Just so you know. I absolutely hate this.’

‘I don’t know why you feel so uncomfortable.’

‘You’re making me feel that way.’ And she tilted her head, pouted her lips before she laughed out loud at the funny faces he was pulling at her.

‘Beautiful winter woman speak. What’s up, Dianne? What’s really bothering you so much that you can’t really talk about it.’

She turned her head away from him. It pained her, sending pinpricks shooting through her veins. She didn’t want him to see her eyes filling up with tears. She didn’t want him to explain himself. He was a grown man and a man had to be responsible for his own actions.

‘Oh, its nothing. I’m just tired and distracted at work.’

‘Are the other women there bullying you again?’

But the look on his face was one filled with love and concern and in a way that frightened her even more than when his hand was up in the air ready to strike her, at her. And she returned to that day at the beach where the water was like a veil. Figures on the beach, sunbathing, playing Frisbee, darting in and out of her frame of reference, blurry then turning into whirls, floaters on her pupil. Why couldn’t she leave? She felt there was a sense of urgency about this. Do or die or be brave. Chin up. Be headstrong and nonplussed about the finality of it all.

How do you end a relationship when you’ve invested time, energy, devoted commitment into loving a man who couldn’t care less about how enchanting that scenario looked like when you were curled up into a heap on the floor. Remember. Remember this. Remember. Remember that. Fight fair, she had often said to herself over and over again inside her head. You know what his upbringing, his childhood was like. How challenging his background was. How in the beginning how sketchy the details were of his own father and how long it had taken for him to confide in her.

He had told her things that made her cringe inwardly, that made her reach out to him in ways that she had never imagined. She had connected with him like she had never connected with another man or even another human being, another woman for that matter. There was always a small part of her, a piece of her soul that believed in him. Those half-truths, white lies and most of all his deception at keeping secrets from her, from the rest of his family. He had turned it into an art. Inside she burned. When she thought of love she thought of weddings in their clouds, their feasts of white, tame orchids standing tall, puffy arum lilies holding up under the pressure of the all-seeing eyes of the guests, the love of cake.

Oh the tears that came with defying gravity, explanations, the words (ancient and sacred vows), the observations and the love songs. The compilation that the DJ played at the reception or that came over the airwaves of the radio.

‘Is my English not crisp enough for you enough?’

‘What I can’t hear you! I’m drying my hair.’ Dianne replied.

‘Don’t you scream at me when I am trying to have a level-headed, adult conversation with you.’

‘I’m not screaming at you.’

‘I know why you hate yourself. I know why you sabotage yourself. Why you don’t feel emotionally secure in this relationship even though I give you everything. You can’t stand to be happy. I’m inviting you now to tell me why on earth you still hang around here. You always have so much to say about me to your own mother and sisters. Oh, forget about it. Just leave me. Leave me alone.’

And there it was in that tone of voice of his, warning her once again to behave or she would come undone in his hands, by his hands, his voice, his eyes and the reality of the situation. She could feel the rising tension in her skin, not only behind her eyes. It had somehow made a home there like a book that could change a life page by page. A book that was asking you to say, ‘Hello world.’ He could hold air in his lungs. She was sure of that whenever she was on the receiving end of one of these screaming matches. Often she did not know where to look. She tried not to make direct contact with his eyes. So her eyes often settled on a wall, something banal. Something that could communicate nothing and that something was not to communicate when hurt when punched, when flying through air, landing not so graciously, blood everywhere, clothes, floor, the edge of the sofa.

She always found herself wishing she was somewhere else, a paradise. She knew she came undone under his fingertips. When darkness fell upon the house and all its rooms and its inhabitants until always staying in the same place for her came to feel somewhat prehistoric. No clandestine history there only a stark and roving eye, her eyes going over the day, the basics, rushing to get to a mealtime or what felt like routine.

‘Genius. You’re a real genius Dianne. Always brilliant at getting me started on something. Don’t tear up now because I am not going to feel sorry for you.’

It is too cold to swim but she takes his hand. It is beach weather but it is still too cold to swim. She knows she is being brave at this point; even her rage is poetic as she feels the world, her world and the information in it blackening around her. Everything is becoming more and more intense (she can feel it in a jarring physical sense in her cells), barbarian, savage as she clings to him, her life partner and most of all she also feels mindful of detaching herself in secret from him. She is waiting for him, never questioning or fussing. Waiting for him to join her where she is outstretched on her side, her side of the towel and she is smiling up at him.

‘Here, let me dry your hair for your.’

In the car, he pulled her hair and before she could even blink back the tears he slapped her hard in the face.

Curls never smelled as sweet like this before. It’s the sun. The sun pressed against her cheek. Her body is brown and tingling all over from the swim and the wind and her tears. He’s an invincible work-in-progress. In the interim she’s left to burn, to explode. The lines are there of her passion, her experiments into family life (cohabitation), intelligence and her value to this the most modern of society’s. Her survival she thinks up to this point has been extraordinary.

‘Hold still. Hold still. There’s sand in your hair.’

‘Pull yourself together right now or else I’m leaving you here.’ She licks her lips and tastes blood. Has it stained her clothes, she wonders? Blood is hard to get out.

Dianne in the kitchen, out the door, walking, in the afternoon quiet laying down in the bedroom with the curtains drawn, frying steak or chops, watching the hiss of chips in the pan for his lunch (instead he comes home with pizza, a weak smile on his face and he runs his hands up her arms, up and down her back until she feels light governing all her movements), watching the daylight until it is gone, listening to the forked tongues of laughter coming from the television. She feels all of it sliding through her as if she was a string on an instrument. It smells like rain so she gets up and stands in the draft, closing her eyes. The door is open. The security gate locked and bolted. Is it to keep her in or the madman out? She believes in him and whose fault is that. Who’s to blame? Has she gone mad?

Is he finally going to kill her? This scene has not lost its touch and the only thing that is going to take the edge off of things is if she starts to scream.

The next day the phone rings. It’s her sister, the one from Port Elizabeth, the younger one, and the outsider of the family. ‘Is he ready to start a family yet?’ is usually what the hot topic of discussion is not why are you crying? What happened last night? Talk to me? Why do you let him do that to you?’

If she checks in the bathroom mirror, will he notice the turn of her head from the bed? She is drowning, Dianne is drowning but can he see?

The words coming out of her are, from the darkness of her tongue are broken links in a chain. There is no inner space, no room for forgetting the violence. When she is done with the out of town call, she plates two portions of breyani for herself, which the other sister, the eldest out of the four of them, the matriarch made for the entire family. When Dianne has had enough of feeling wretched, she sits on the couch and eats in front of the television before he comes home from work in the evening. He only comes home when it’s dark out. God knows what he gets up to or with whom, she imagines to herself. She has exiled herself from the hive of shouting, the flying fists, when he has her pinned to the floor under his weight, when she has blacked out.

‘Have you gone insane? I’ve had enough. I’m going to leave you.’

‘Have you really had enough, Dianne?’

‘It’s all a fog.’ She told the magistrate. She knew he didn’t believe her but she said it again as if he had misinterpreted her the first time. ‘It’s all a fog.’ The magistrate had seen this kind of case before. ‘I can’t remember. I don’t know the exact date. I did not call anyone. No, I didn’t pick up the phone to call the police or a trustworthy family member whom I could confide in.’ She didn’t add that she couldn’t move because she was in so much pain and her jaw hurt and she thought he might have broken one of her fingers. She didn’t add that he; her boyfriend had sent dishes with the leftovers of their half-eaten supper crashing to the floor. She remembered how dark his eyes turned at the table at the mention of his mother calling earlier that day when he was not at home.

‘What did you say?’

‘I said nothing. I just said that you would call her back as soon as you got home.’

For Dianne, she finds nothing to wound her imagination, that illusion of all illusions without flaws that delights a child and even more so, a woman, a female poet waiting in the wings. So when she says those words, ‘I believe in you’ or ‘I love you’, she says it in part with fear, as if some harm will come to her if she does not say those words with meaning and a giddy, mad dance of happiness, as if she is standing on the brink of a new world that beckons.) Her alienated family remains alienated, everything in her world that she can no longer cope with becomes more or less challenging to face. She begins to fear voyeurs, walking around with her life history inside their heads and then there’s she, ever so willing to give it up at a moment’s notice without any hesitation at all into her work.

‘I didn’t touch you that time. There’s not a mark on you. It’s just shock and panic rushing through you. That’s why you’re trembling. I didn’t mean to scare you like that.’

Hours pass.  ‘What is wrong with me,’ Dianne asked herself with the bedspread under her chin. It’s afternoon and she is still in her robe. ‘What has finally defeated me, all of that anger bottled up, fizzing inside of me? Was it the holocaust in childhood that exploded in my face like the freezing cold in winter, while I played in the dirt, played at ‘being mother’ or was it the veteran inside of me’s damage, rage and brutality, the poet’s inside-out abnormal sensitivity, the black dog of depression, that coveted prize of recovery that followed spells of mental illness that came with youth.’ She is tired of being brave, her suffering in silence and inclement rage. There is no heady, formidable sky to reach out to her in her physical pain and offer her solace. She is not perfect.

They are not perfect people. He says, it was just an accident waiting to happen and that she is just a voice with no sensation of armor.

She is the firm catalyst and when he starts swinging wildly at her, he cuts her deep to the very heart of her until she feels she is nothing, not worthy of being spoken up for, just a heap that has bottomed out that once had the potential to be buoyant. Cry baby standing her ground against brutality, a fragile bird caught in the fray of domestic violence, hair unkempt and one emotional cripple tied in chains to another; she finds her own blood enthralling. He wipes the floor with mummified her. She is stained by darkness that flows out of his fighting spirit to the point where her dreams meet reality; she is just a passenger. She only comes to life in silence, when she realizes what her situation is.

All she can do is shout out loud. If she quivers at the sound of his voice, he will leave her like that, watching her soul spill into the ether.

What does she need a social worker with a rapidly increasing in-tray of case studies for? It’s not like they’re considering marriage. These skirmishes are just skirmishes, intermittent but she can still blot them out. She drifts in and out of waves of real time, paralyzed by periods of resting, imaginatively counting the seconds between the blows before finally falling asleep. She feels as if she belongs to a tribe of moon women. Everything about them delicate (suicidal) and if physical harm should come to them (if they walked into a door for instance) they would go to the moon hospital surrounded by caring nursing staff, head doctors who are experts in their field. He cares. He does. Why would he apologize, buy her expensive gifts?

She can’t go out like this and she has told him this but he’s not listening, doesn’t give a damn or he’s not paying attention. ‘Use makeup. Hurry up. We’re going to be late.’

There was still something inside her that wanted him to stay. She was frightened of leaving, what that kind of ultimatum would say to her sisters and brother. She would be set loose on the city as a single again. She was too old for that scene. Through all the uncertainties holding her back and the silent treatments she endured in front of the television, in the bedroom, from the bitterness choking her, that climbed into her, curled up inside of her, head spinning she ran water for a bath adding bath oil under the hot water tap. She watched the water turn a constellation of milky white. She was a kept woman, the proverbial housewife with spiritual and physical tasks demanding her attention with nothing to fill up her time but to look after him and his needs.

Being emotionally dead was a serious condition. She needed to replenish the energy she was at a loss to explain how it got away from her. ‘I can break you.’

She knew that her dependency on him had to be seen as an addiction, ‘Dianne’s’ addiction. She slid into the hot water, a rag doll, her features out of focus in the mirror, far away from her conscious being. She closed her eyes as if to brace herself from a fall. To reach the green fields, the other side of the mountain, you had to climb hills.  All of life is drama and drama is a painful way of learning, Dianne and you are slowly becoming a master at that. Even when he wasn’t there in the house with her, she could hear him breathing down her neck, stalking her as if she was prey, carrion, talking to her as if she was blind. It was too late for her to learn how to look after herself. She had to be joined to another soul to feel strangely creative. That was part of her generation’s lifestyle. 

‘I can’t be held responsible for your behavior, Dianne. You’re behaving like a child, talking like one, acting like one. Does that make you feel brave, standing up to me?’ 

Tea, a private affair for her, always helped to put everything away, to shut the face of her depression up as far as humanly possible. In a time capsule it had more perspective. She could let go of the song of the wind in her hair and him trailing markers of black lines wherever he went and beneath the highs of that surface laid alarm, still waters and the intertwined remains of a girl. She would leave the bag in a mug, pour boiling water over the teabag and leave it for a few minutes. For her ‘going out, flying away’ face she would stand in the bathroom curling her eyelashes making Hollywood-lashes, applying lipstick, rouge, scent and powder but for now she relaxed and opened the hot water tap again.

So she would continue to feel like a foreigner in their home (it was her home too, after all she was the one who kept the home fires burning). She struggled against his fury even if it was futile. She packed away the empty bottles of wine where he would not find them and every evening she would compose herself before he came home. If she conceived, the child would be demanding but her splintered life would come full circle. The spiritual quest that had spread for most of her life in front of her would come to an end, and normality would reign. But would that be enough? She reembered the day at the beach, waves crashing over her head, bluish sky, while inside she felt miserable, homeless while the commodity of the sun burned up, leaving her a luminous falling angel.

 


      
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