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Asylum Piece Asylum Piece
by Abigail George
2021-11-07 10:22:25
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I water my plants when I come home. Snip off a dead leaf. My mother heard the key in the door. She calls out to me. She is in the kitchen making supper. I put my bag down on the countertop and reach for a mug. I take the milk out of the fridge, pour it into the mug and sit down at the kitchen table. It’s been a long day. Francis was all over me at work today. I had to do this. Do that. I forgot I had to do admin from the previous day. All I want to do now is take a bath and sleep. Kick off my shoes, massage my feet, pray after, write in my journal, and then sleep. My mother is still beautiful. I have this sense that she can marry again if she wants to.

My mother is wearing jeans and Gladiator-sandals. Her hair is pulled up, away from her face but there are a few strands that have come loose from the elastic band. Her shirt has barbecue stains on it from the previous day. We ate chicken the previous day. I want to ask her why she didn't wear that the previous day. I feel detached from her. My father truly was my best friend. I feel as if I’m reaching the onomatopoetic text of the objects on the table in front of me. I don’t drink coffee anymore. I can feel the adrenaline pumping through me when I do. I have had no child growing in my womb. No husband who dictates the priorities of my life.

asyl00001_400I think of my loneliness with resignation. How relevant is it to me that millions experience this? I stare at the ingredients on the table fingering the blue letters on the bag of flour. Watch my mother lift my bag and wipe the counter. We say nothing to each other for a few minutes. Soon she will ask me about my day. There’s a jug of water filled with slices of lemon at room temperature. It’s my mother’s tonic. It keeps her young, she says. I feel like a failure. I tell myself that I’m not depressed. What is it like to be a mother, have children, raise daughters, give them to the world? I dip my finger into the sugar bowl and lick it.

“Sweet. Hi.”
“Hello. Do you have any kitchen table wisdom for me today? Didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday?”
“It’s clean. Grab the recipe book and look up ginger pudding. How was your day?”
“Fine. No, it’s not clean. Got a stain there.”
“I just put this on for the flour’s sake. I know what you’re thinking. I am not becoming forgetful. Uneventful day?”
“I didn’t say anything. Sometimes it’s as if you can read my mind. It’s scary. No event to speak of. What are you making?”
“Spaghetti. Did you water the plants? That’s your job.”
“Your house. Your orders. Yes, as a matter of fact I did. When I came in. Is there cheese?”
“Cheese is not good for your cholesterol.”
“I miss dad. You don’t talk about him.”
“I think about him. I don’t need to talk about him.”
“I wanted to make a sandwich. I’m hungry.”
“I will make ginger pudding for after.”
“Yum. The kitchen smells nice. Thanks for cooking. I should cook more.”
“It’s fine. You work. It keeps me busy.”
“It’s also distracting.”
“Stop that.”
“Stop what?”
“Looking in my pots.”
“It smells good.”
“Make yourself a sandwich. Supper will be awhile.”
“I am going to take a bath. Wash my hair.”
“Alright dear. You had a long day.”
“Maybe I’ll rest afterwards.”
“You don’t read anymore.”
“I don’t feel inspired to read.”
“Just don’t feel sorry for yourself.”
“Work keeps me too busy to do that.”
“So how was your day really?”
“You asked me that already.”
“Did I? Is that guy still giving you a hard time?”
“He didn’t come in today.”
“There’s so much you could be doing. Why don’t you travel? Your sister is happy abroad.”
“That’s not me.”
“You don’t give yourself a chance. You should flirt. You’ll meet someone eventually.”
“If I flirt?”
“You should put yourself out there.”
“I don’t want to. I’m fine.”
“You’re always in the house.”
“Does it matter?”
“You say that an awful lot these days.”
“What’s so awful about it? I like being at home.”
“You should have a life.”
“You mean I should have a boyfriend. I should have a potential life partner. You know what?”
“What?”
“I should get a dog. A rescue animal.”
“You know what that means. I’ll be looking after that dog mostly. You’re not here during the day. You need a modern love story in your life. You don’t need a dog for company. You need a man. You need a companion. You should try inviting someone over. Don’t you have a friend at work?”
“You know me, mum. Not my scene.”
“You can’t possibly work the entire day at the radio station.”
“You’ll be surprised.”
“Don’t you eat?”
“There’s no time.”
“Why do you make yourself a packed lunch every day then?”
“I eat at my desk.”
“That’s not healthy.”
“There’s a lot to keep me busy.”
“You still write?”
“Sometimes.”
“It will be worth it someday, you’ll see.”
“I wish it was simpler. I wish my stories would sell.”
“Just write. It doesn’t matter if the world doesn’t see it, doesn’t read it for now. Continue with what you’re doing. It makes you happy. Exposure doesn’t happen overnight.”
“It matters to me. You see, I ask myself, is it worth it? Maybe I should be doing something else. Writing plays. Maybe I should start a theatre company like David Mamet. Maybe I should write a screenplay.”
“You know what happened with Joe. He didn’t pay you. All you could speak about for days was the American people. He took you for a ride. I trust your judgement, but I don’t trust producers from the entertainment world with their slick talk. You should have sorted yourself out with a contract first.”
“Don’t remind me about that fiasco. It was a good experience for me. A learning experience. That’s life. Things don’t work out sometimes.”
“You need more literary types in your world. Not film producers who don’t pay you for your intellectual property. Listen to me. Write what comes naturally to you. And don’t write for Wilf.”
“Wilf has been a good friend to me.”
“Wilf wants you to write erotica. Why would you even consider that? Why would you want to establish yourself with that? Think. You’ll simplify your life a lot if you do that and not jump in without any insight beforehand.”
“You’re preaching to me.”
“You need me to talk to you and make you understand. There are sharks in this world who will take advantage of you if you let them. They’ll eat you up alive.”
“Where will that leave me? Leave me for dead.”
“Yes, think about that. You’re not happy.”
“Why do I need to be happy?”
“You are doing all of this to distract yourself from living.”
“It’s getting cold.”
“Didn’t you say you were going to take a bath?”
“Why pudding? We haven’t had that in a long time. Usually, we have it on a Sunday.”
“I thought I’d surprise you.”
“I’m surprised.”
“I thought it would make you happy.”
“Pudding makes everyone happy.”
“Does it?”
“Suppose so.”
“I wish you were happy. I don’t want you to write erotica and don’t tell me it’s because of the money. Wilf doesn’t have money.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You’re religious. You had an opinion about this once.”
“Alright. I won’t write it.”
“He made you write that gay story. His own fantasy was brought to life. I know it wasn’t easy for you. We raised you with values and principles.”
“I wrote it. It’s over. We needed the money.”
“We didn’t need the money that much. We can do without that kind of money.”
“You made your point.”
“You need help?”
“I’m fine. Go bath. The hair dryer is in my room.”
“That’s the phone. I’ll answer it. Wilf said he was going to telephone.”
“After, change your attitude when you come and speak to me. I know how you get after you speak to him.”

“I wish I was dead.”
“Well, don’t say that. It’s not good for your constitution.”
“I don’t go out anymore. I don’t have friends. I don’t have a boyfriend. I don’t have anyone in my life.”
“You are important.”
“Why does that even matter?”
“You should teach English. It will give you some perspective on your life.”
“People are always telling me to teach. I have no purpose.”
“Why not teach? You have a purpose. You must find yourself again. What do you want to do with your life?”
“I haven’t thought about it. I don’t know. I don’t really want to think about it. About life going on without you in my life. You know, it was hard enough losing my father. I think about him every day. I can’t think about losing you too.”
“You need to setup goals in your life and stick to them. I don’t even know if I have the job yet.”
“Cape Town is so far away. I’ll miss you.”
“You can always come and visit.”
“You know I won’t.”
“Yeah, I know you won’t.”
“You really should get out more. I can hook you up with someone.”
“That’s not really my scene.”
“You can’t be alone for the rest of your life. Always with the ‘not my scene’.”
“You’re alone too.”
“But I’m seeing people. Searching for my life partner.”
“Searching for your life partner on Instagram. How does that work? That’s not healthy.”
“It’s productive. It serves its purpose. I meet people.”
“You sleep with them and then never hear back from then again.”
“I want to have a serious relationship and at least I am putting myself out there again. You sound as if you’re on your period.”
“I am.”
“Well, don’t take it out on me.”
“I’m not.”
“You sound hurt.”
“You hurt my feelings when you talk like that.”
“You know I can become aggressive when I’m being judged.”
“Oh, well. At least you have a love life.”
“When are you going to put yourself out there?”
“Maybe never Wilf. You’re my best friend. You’re the one constant in my life.”
“It doesn’t make sense. You’re perfectly capable of conducting yourself in a relationship.”
“Maybe I’ll find someone one day. I’ll think about it.”
“You won’t think about it. You won’t even try and put it into action. You want escape.”
“So, what!”
“You’re shouting at me.”
“I’m not shouting.”
“I’m not your father.”
“My father is dead. That was a very unfair thing to say. You’ve put me in a mood now.”
“You put yourself there. Don’t blame me. You blame the world for everything. You blame God.”
“I don’t do that.”
“You do. I must go now. Think about what I said about writing for me again. I can’t pay you right now but think of the experience you’ll get.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Have you contacted Antonia? I thought you would hit it off since you’re both poets. I was thinking you needed a friend.”
“I have friends.”
“No, you don’t have friends.”
“You have to go. Chat soon.”
“Right. Bye.”
“Bye Wilf.”

“What did he have to say?”
“It’s not important.”
“You’re making it a habit to sleep in your clothes these days. It’s not healthy.”
“I know.”
“So, you say. You can be so emotional when you get off the phone with Wilf.”
“I’m not.”
“You are.”
“So, you say. I thought there was still cheese.”
“I thought you were going to take a bath.”
“Why are you being so snarky?”
“I thought you weren’t going to be involved with Wilf anymore.”
“He’s my only friend.”
“You don’t need friends like that.”
“I’m lonely.”
“That doesn’t matter. You must learn to choose the company you keep. He is not your kind of company.”
“Stop being sad. Stop saying you’re lonely.”
“Maybe my personality is bittersweet.”
“You live in Africa. You should write about Africa.”
“What I should do is write a novel about colonialism?”
“Why would you want to do that? Write romance novels.”
“That’s not writing.”
“Well, write whatever you want to write. Romance novels sell.”
“I’m going to check my emails now and then take a bath.”
“It’s getting cold.”
“Well, it’s winter.”
“Yes, it’s winter. It will be my birthday soon.”
“We should go out and eat at a restaurant. I’m not such a great cook as you are.”
“Yes, we must do that.”
“You smell like flowers.”
“It’s the perfume you sister sent me.”
“Czechoslovakian perfume.”

She bends her head forward, dusts the flour off her shirt, wipes her forehead and sighs. I feel a rush of love for her. I’ve become closer to my mother now that my sister has left. She didn’t fit here in South Africa anymore, my father said. The light has a quantity to it. It has a function. It has triumph. A tree branches out of me. There is quiet. There’s too much light. The wind is fractured. There’s a universe that co-exists within it. The house is marked with silence. Death to the world. Death to my non-existent companions. The glaciers fall to pollution, global warning, and climate change. There’s a machinery in that. I hear Wilf’s voice inside my head. There’s no attraction but I’ve thought about it. There is ice in my heart because there is no man in my life. I feel the certainty of winter. There’s nothing glorious about the day. The bathwater is getting cold. I move differently in the world now. I am aging. I inspect my face for wrinkles and crow’s feet. There’s nothing there. I step back from the mirror as if it can hurt me. I hate my hair and drag it into a messy ponytail. I wash my face. I brush my teeth.

I dress myself. I need to buy tampons. What am I going to make for breakfast today? There’s no bread or milk in the house. There’s cereal. I am doing work on myself in therapy. I should volunteer again. I give out sandwiches as if I am some saint. I’m not. Somehow, I feel wounded by this random thought. There’s an autobiography inside my head. I bite my fingernails. It’s a disgusting habit. I walk barefoot to my bedroom with the clothing I had worn that day. I hung the wet towel on the bathroom door. My mother is still sleeping. I take out two bowls. Fill it with Cornflakes. I grab a can of tuna out of the cupboard and take the lettuce and mayonnaise out of the fridge. I put the radio on. I listen to the news. They are burning taxis out next to the Mercantile. I think of all those people not going to work because they don’t have transport to get there. I think of disgruntled employees. I do my face. Put lipstick on. Aren’t you happy, I ask myself? Suppose not, I say in return. Why are people always asking me if I’m happy? You never smile.

My limbs become branches. I stare at the wall. I expect my mother to walk into the room and ask me what I’m doing. She will only get up once I’ve left the house. The cold is lava flowing through me. I feel anxious. Now why should I feel anxious? There’s a map in my hands. You’re powerful, I tell myself. I don’t believe it. There’s too much psychology inside of my head. Had I been a good daughter? I have been a good daughter. I was the one who stayed. I talk to my sister on the phone. We exchange pleasantries. We never get to her aloneness. Her homesickness. She misses us. But she doesn’t carry through that information to us. Writing makes me feel alive. Working at the local radio station doesn’t seem to, anymore. I want to broaden my horizons. I don’t know how to do this. There’s no urgency from my side to be in a relationship. I am not going to write for Wilf. He is under the assumption that I will. Antonia and I did not hit it off. I wonder when I am going to tell him this. I ignore the Cornflakes. Spoon pudding into my mouth. Power is needed. I swallow vitamins. The doctor said I need more sun. That I’m stuck indoors too much of the time.

I walk out of the door. I stop. I forgot my keys. I will have to bang the door down so my mother hears but I hesitate. There’s too much winter in my fingers. I feel vulnerable standing there.

Somebody walks past the house with a dog on a leash and says, “hello”. I raise my hand and wave.


   
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