It feels as if my bones have been put into a box for safekeeping until I am sane again.
Until all the madness in my life has left me. This makes me happy, elated but I am also left sad. I am surrounded by water. I know when winter comes then I will not be able to stand the water. It will be too cold to swim. There were days when the insanity was like having a sweet tooth. There lies a blazing a trail. There lies isolation in front of me, behind me. The fall, Lazarus, berg falling slowly, and what we keep when our world shifts and family and early life. You are gone. My second mother and the love of my life. The bonds that mothers and their daughters have are like veins. I never anticipated this moment of nostalgia for one second. How much I would miss her and the conversations that we used to have.
So, what if I searched for intimacy in the wrong places? Everybody else was doing it so why could I not do the same thing. I knew that it was not an experience of love or respect. This temporary feeling. I lost someone. The lighthouse was no longer beaming down at me. All men could do was scheme. At first, I was oblivious to that. To their movement in the world. I wanted to survive on the little affection that they gave me. I wanted them to scribble affection, written on my body I thought that would make me complete somehow. I think of loss and of how this had affected me. In every moment, I anticipate you. I think and I dream. I have goals. I try building a foundation that will lead me back again to the lovers but all I can think about is my aunt who died of breast cancer. Of how I was never there. Never present.
I think of my mother's job. Teaching Afrikaans, accounting and needlework to high school kids. I think of the lovers I had and the lovers I will never have. I think of my father's dissatisfaction inside of his own skin. I think of my sister and how I can make her less golden. I think to myself how beautiful she is. Gorgeous. What can I do about it except crush it into smithereens? This jealousy. This streak of envy. I am the only person who knows about the sorrows of my suffering. They exist as constellations beyond the trees, secret lives that are lost in love, a chronic city. I think to myself about how I can bury the cities of the past, our intimacy, and the pain of my mind. How can I wake up tomorrow fresh and happy? I think of my voyage into dark. I think of the waves. I think of my room. Silence filling up the algorithms of my bedroom.
I make an omelet, all the while thinking of gender betrayal. I have the tickets for that. Later on, I find myself in an aisle in the supermarket perusing the state of melons. Constructing sympathy for each melon with a landmark exhilaration. Light beckons now as I make my way to my car and with the light comes awareness, a vitality, and energy. I put the radio on as I drive home. A female writer is being interviewed on the radio. It is time for female writers to begin to listen to each other, she says, and to begin to see each other as feminists in their own right. At home, I pack out all groceries. I make myself a packet of pasta. Dinner can wait. I have a book by Jean Rhys waiting for me. After leaving her Mr Mackenzie, I wonder what happened to her. I wonder did the woman inside of her just go to sleep. I know what loneliness is. I know what a primitive kind of thirst this is.
It is enough for me to surround myself with novels and classical music. I am a latecomer. I am a late bloomer. I will never have those children. I am a child myself. I am a grown up child living in my mother and father's house. Sometimes the books I read fill me up with a kind of Norwegian magic. I say Norwegian because that word has always had an almost magical quality for me. Anything from the countries that make up Scandinavia. Psychoanalysis had a frail beauty. Both relentless and reckless. It was always like a discovery of treasure after treasure in a rural countryside. Plunging symbolically into childbirth. I am a novelist and to me writing a book is like childbirth. I feel the pangs. The Darwinian experience. Childbirth is an experience like no other.
Raising the book up, up, up is like an experiment of sorts. You engage with your characters as if they are real people made with a kind of substance. There are echoes in the books that you write of the unknown destinations that you have traveled yourself in life, until finally one day when you realise that you are finished; you call the problems that you have with the symbolism in the book heritage. For some people pain is a solitary experience. They do not want to share it with the rest of the world. For others all they
want to do is to talk about their pains, their woundedness and the pathetic frustration that they feel. They want to put it all on you. They want to blame someone so they blame you because you are the only one nearest to them in their proximity.
Sometimes daydreaming returns like the memory of your first love. When it does, it can either do one of two things. Shatter you completely or remind you that you did the impossible. You experienced love. You might not again or you might and this will give you an achievable hope. I do not know much when the darkness embraces me. Only this. That I am slowly losing my mind. It is not an inconvenience for a writer to be depressed. Your allies will call you. They will ask you how you are sincerely. They will be the ones who will visit. On the other hand, your depression will thrill your enemies. They will be the first ones to call you an insane failure. It is degrading. It might take away your dignity but at least you will know the difference between whom you can trust.
You know who is the most loyal towards you. You will also realise people will always disappoint you and that to begin with you did not really need friends all that much. You were enough. You were good enough. There is a sensual anticipation when I open the book, before I begin to read. I lick my lips as if I am eating a chocolate-filled croissant, drinking coffee at a café and this is how my day begins somehow, somewhere in a post-apartheid South Africa that either screams revolution one day and a love for all the next. Struggle one day and a psychoanalytic era the next. I miss the smell of his skin. I miss the fabric of the tapestry of his flesh. Most of all I miss his mouth. I miss the whiteness of my skin against his. Yes, I miss love that much.
All I want to do sometimes is to hold onto it and not let it go. All I wanted to have was a religious experience and when I fulfilled all the requirements of having that experience, I let it go. All I wanted was love. All I wanted was to be in love and give it a name. All I wanted was to call out his name, hear his voice, look at him and when I lived through that experience, I let it go. I always knew I wanted children. Not having them broke my heart a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold. I would watch other mothers with their progeny. Yes, I would wish it were me but there was another part of me that was also glad that events turned out the way it did. I have always felt a hunger for you. After all these years, still this hunger for you has not gone away. I knew why men hated me so.
I knew why women hated me so. All I wanted was for him to make love to me. All I ever wanted was for his eyes to meet mine. I never wanted to let go of him. There was always this longing. Now I call this longing distance. There was always this sense of happiness whenever he was near or faraway in another city traveling for business. There was his touch and that became my reason for living. There was his tenderness, his kindness, his apology that I wished I could capture in a photograph with the glare in his eyes all lit up, his sweetness and the image that I had of him that he was a good man. I knew what it would have been like to be touched by him for an entire lifetime. There was always this illusion that now I was part of a tribe, always this code of trees in his fingertips, but there was a future that I was innocent of in all regards.
A future that included him but that I was never going to be a part of no matter what. He was my survival kit in the history wilderness. He was my therapist, psychoanalyst, psychiatric nurse and psychiatrist. For a long time, when I could not sleep there was simply the unawareness that already I had been loved. I would walk up streets and down streets in Johannesburg. In the hospital, there was always this antiseptic smell. The nurses would walk pass you without smiling at you. I am back. I have come back the whole way. Instead, people have moved on. The people that I have loved have moved on with their lives. Forward. Forward. Onward. I have lost much. I have lost every one of them but I know my survival to outwit them all I must brace myself.
I must be brave. Now to torture myself I tell myself that love does not exist. There is no family. No sedan with wheels to take you places to where you want to go. Normality is an experience. Reality is like a milkshake. I have figured out that there is a God, there is an exit route, there is an escape hatch and it is folly to be wise. All this time I have been waiting to be saved. For someone to come along and save me. Never knowing, never acknowledging that I had it within me all along. I have lived inside of a mirror for the whole of my life. What I have projected onto other people is this. A country of ice cream. My confidence melts away in the presence of beauty, in the presence of beautiful and intelligent men. Now they simply magnify my acute spells of depression.
Now they leave me alone with my strange notions. Once, I was thin and attractive and I could hardly wait for them to express themselves, open themselves up to time and to me. I urged them to go ahead and give me a glimpse into what made them vulnerable and what made them feel insecure. I was filled with prospects. Now those moments are rare. From my perspective, you can never fix a man who does not want your love. If he says it, if his body language expresses this to you, do not even go there. Why would you want that kind of angst and hurt anyway? There was always this country of waves inside my head. An arrangement of electricity. The doctors would call it chemistry. I would know better. I would know now it was the time of the river animal.
There was always this feeling of never wanting to be alone. I always wanted to be in his midst or near him. I always wanted to feel him even though there was a distance between us. He was important to me because it was a significant part of my life. I called it 'love.' He called it something else. For me it was like 'withdrawing into introspection.' There was another version of myself that I was now responsible for. He never gave me any instructions. If he could do this to me then I realised that I would be able to weather any storm. Instead of friendship he gave me grief, and I did not realise then what I realised now. That I would be forever writing about this elegant grief until eternity.
Sometimes I would close my eyes, feel contentment, open them and then when I realised he was no longer there I would begin to cry. There was always this fear that the relationships I had with men and women would begin to repeat themselves. I would confide in a man or a woman and then they would leave me. Even stories have knots. Extrapolated personalities. Cemented intellectual lives. Phenomenology. I am a female writer. I am a poet. My intimate world shifts as the ocean-sea shifts. I do not believe in mermaids. A child can and will believe in mermaids. They cannot separate nature from make believe. You can define me in my fragments.
You can define me in the meals that I prepare. I am like any case study that has been guided to light, a semi-finalist who is blinded by her tears, a daughter who weeps for a lack of mother love and a sister in a bay of decay. I am trying to occur. I am trying to live without sadness, despair, or even hardship. It seems though that those three things are the hardest to let go of or perhaps they do not want to let go of me. You crocodile, you cruel world with your shark teeth, you frost, you weeping woman, you man strutting about town confidence in his swagger, we are not so different. There is an integrity there in your embryo, in the yolk of your embryo. You haunt me with your intensity, with your identity. For every future artist there must be a death. Even if it means a death of the same artist's childhood.
The words come shaking up her nerves.
Reminding her that there is an asylum, a dalliance with the past, invasion and a lack of control. She has to live with all. That is the law of sickness, of madness, of her own madness. She covers herself up by what is real. She looks at the differences between men and women. Who is the most violent? Who is the most depressive? She tries not to think about the chronic illness that she lives with daily. There is a repetition of several things that she finds order, routine and control in and if she did not have these things,she knew she would be lost. At night, when she falls asleep a blindfold blooms over her eyes and she begins to remember that there was a matchbox for the incense. Lavender wine. He unhooked her brassiere. Lifted her dress over her head.
'It is okay. I am not going to hurt you. I promise. Gosh, you are beautiful.' It is hard to understand his heavy accent. She nods her head. She believes him as she believes that the origins of the Khoi came from the Eastern Cape. 'Do you believe me?' She acquiesces.
'The ballad of sex just never happened for me. Sex is the stuff of fairy tales. It cannot last forever.' She can hear her voice say in the group sessions at the hospital. That is how she speaks about it. She calls it a ballad. Everything beautiful that ever happened to her in her life was a ballad, a wonderland of traffic going up streets and going down streets. Her smile revealed nothing. She was still composed, calm. Nothing shattered her nerves.
'I wish this weekend would just get a bloody move on. I have strange dreams at night. A man unhooking my brassiere. Lifting my dress over my head.' Elise says to her analyst that she is secretly in love with.
'Your body is like a writing sample. The other woman's ephemera. Wintering in a sleeping forest. News that frightens me to death. A manifesto of a nervous breakdown. A scrapbook of haiku songs. A Buddha mantra on canvas. Fireworks. Neruda. You are my survival kit out in the wilderness history.' She says nothing. Knows that nothing that she says will impress him. Is this what intimacy feels like, a grandmother's closure closing in, breaking her down, and hovering around her spirit? There is one face that is a blank slate, and the other face a face wearing desire. Women are all parts of the same machine. Do they all have the same dreams at nights?
A man cupping her face in his hands. A butcher's hands. He smelled like a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker this foreigner.
Just do not stop. Put your hands everywhere. On the nape of my neck, my glorious shoulder blades, my small breasts, and my thighs. Touch me. I am all yours. She wants to say. She very coolly opens the faith of her legs, the icehouse of her pale thighs. Write, Elise, write. That is your voice. Variations of Keats, of romanticism, of global patters written on Nebuchadnezzar's wall. You are Elijah. This is the start of self-esteem, of believing in yourself. After that, she will take a bath while he sleeps. She will leave while she sleeps. She wishes she had flawless skin. She has flawless skin but she wants a man to tell her that she has flawless skin. She wants a man to buy her perfume, gifts, a flat. Even the lifeless page is not so lifeless after all.
'Your eyes are the colour of the surface of a blue sky that river dust pours itself into. She does not say that. He will not understand how much wounded she is and who is responsible for that. Of how the sea of her hometown sings a ballad to her and mocks her at the same time. She is the drowned visitor. She is the drowned girl, the drowned woman. She cannot forget that colour of blue in his eyes shining like a halo.
'Does it matter that I am Portuguese?'
'No.' she says very quietly. It matters to her as metaphysics matters to her.
'Does it matter that I am poor?' he asks her.
'No.' she says very quietly again.
'Does it matter that I cannot really speak English all that well?'
'No, no, of course it does not matter to me at all.' All she wants is for him to kiss her so she could feel dirty, saintly and pretty.
'Your mother will not like me. Your father will not approve. Good thing they are far away not to see us making love.' She thinks of the origins of the Khoi in her hometown. The dirt under his fingernails. She thinks of ikebana. She thinks of origami. She thinks of the pigeons on the roof of her childhood home turning into swans in the duck pond at the park while she watches on a park bench sitting next to a sleeping vagrant.
'Does it bother you that I am not educated? I have wife. I have children. No education. One day I will bring them to this country. What you not home for Christmas for? Why you stay alone in a flat? Not safe. Not safe for girl like you. Pretty girl like you. Pretty eyes. Sexy girl like you. You want me to feed you.'
'No I want you to put your hands here.' She stares into his blue eyes.
'Tell me why you came here. No, don't stop just tell me why you came here.'
'For a better life. For a better life for my children.'
It was the year of literature for me. It was the year of picking out books that would make me feel glorious and unique for being a female writing in an age of iron still dominated by males. It was the year of missing people from childhood, from high school, an aunt who was so far away from me who died from cancer, another family member who I regarded as my second mother who passed on after a short illness. It was the year I first spoke those words. She did not have to go, I said. Her death was untimely, I said. These days I am catching up on my reading. Reading all those books, I should have read in high school and university. I am reading The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Have yet to finish Mrs Dalloway. Have yet to start on The Voyage Out and her essays and lectures. Am feeling gloriously in tune with stream of consciousness writing. Am positively glowing with it.
I write best in that niche but was told to explore other avenues as well. The year is ending but a writer and a poet's work is never done. I am more tired in the evenings now. The more I think of the 'ballad of Sylvia and Ted', the more I think of the ballad of my own parents, of my own failing health problems. How they do not fit anymore into that otherworldly wheel of perfectly matched individuals who get married fit into. How my father is not a repair type of person or a repairperson. I think of waves. Woolf's waves. From childhood to growing, becoming more and more set in your ways, becoming elderly. I think of the waves breaking against Sylvia Plath's shore. My Hiroshima. The Hiroshima of my parents own making. When you write you have to get used to the solitude. It almost pains me to say this. You take all your wounds, all your walking woundedness, all your scar tissue, all your shouty emotions.
You spread it all out in front of you, and then you begin to put everything in mental boxes. Make arrangements out of them and label them all with 'Pandora,' Only if you feel like it. Remember, these are also treasures, so treasure them. Treasure your thoughts because they are precious. As precious as ephemera, the miracles of glaciers and Rwandan butterflies. Tonight the sky was as empty as a drum. Fresh pipes are wasted as something blurred. A foot, an eye, written on the body a scrape of September from my knee. Examine my teeth. They are beautiful. A lover stalks a lover. In the end, they become husband and wife. The moonlight is too intent for me. What happened before my birth? Do my parents remember burning away? That there were aloes from Bethelsdorp. There were embers that were flying. Hair a field stopping for nothing. Bones were anchors. A marriage.
They knew children would come eventually. He puts his hands on her hips and they dance. They do not have children yet. My father knows everything there is to know about the works of Milton. My mother's skin tastes of salt, a paralysed river poured into a machine. How he loves the canvas of her skin. How he wishes that their lovemaking could go on forever and ever. Before the children come. She is the butcher's wife. She dreams of scrolls. Are you there God Listening? Are you having conversations with a prophet? My mother has a garden state of mind. Flowers bloomed in her hair there that tasted like chrysanthemums, the air that you found after going up the mountain. My aunt is dying of cancer. She is dying of breast cancer. She will not make it to another birthday. Another Christmas. I write imaginary letters to a brother in rehab. I found Ouma's kitchen in the fellowship of the wild.
I was a teenage runaway. Does God answer prayer? When the children do come. Suddenly now there is a distance. A separation that was not there before. The children are strong. They have to be. Their parents' soon realise that vows -- well, they were not enough. Buying furniture, a house. My mother's hands feel like fire. She is braiding my hair. She wants me to look as beautiful and as elegant as she does. I will never look as beautiful and elegant as she does. I will never look as skinny-thin as she does. Boys will never like me or call me slut. They will rather call me Glasses. I am just a silhouette. I am just a shadow of her. Blue. I have fallen in love with aviaries. Gush and gush and a gush of glut. Memory is bleak, a pageant of sorts. I pull my nightgown over my head. I remember when boys stalked my flesh. Those days are long gone. My thighs have their own narrative.
My voice is golden as it falls to decay. Listen to the cat. The dog howls in the distance.I have the loneliness of scars. I was happy in the light. In the darkness flux too. I opened my eyes, remembered childhood. When my parents' gave each other the silent treatment. They are not lovers anymore. Have not been for years. They were happy once. Their unhappiness has filtered down to us. Children made of evenings and tennis. Children who are competitive at the swings. Children who have now become lovers too. Children whose lives have become so filled with dread. Children who are afraid they will end up like their parents. A boy is different. A boy fumbles. A boy brings a bottle of his father's single malt whiskey with him. The boy was popular, had his eye on her but she knows it will not be the same way as it is with the Portuguese man, the foreigner. The boy lights a cigarette. He stares too much. They are on top of the world.
They can see the city lights from where they are sitting on the hood of his car. She knows soon, soon he will make his move. She will have to submit like all girls her age if she wants to be popular. If she wants to be seen as, the neon lit 'it' girl. If she wants to be seen as the girl on his arm. When he asked her out, he made sure it was in front of her friends, so she grew in status. She was powerful. Suddenly she was a commodity. Property. He made certain his entourage saw the girl he picked. Quiet. A little forlorn around the edges perhaps. She was the kind of girl, the one who just got out of that hospital. Thin but the right kind of thin. Beautiful legs. She was the kind of girl who was beautiful but who did not know it. She would grow up and realise too late, what she had missed in life. She would never be a wife or a divorcee. They called her abnormal, easy on the eye, 'insane in the brain' but she had said yes anyway.
'If you drink it does not mean you are an alcoholic.' The boy says.
'I know.' She says.
She could see the lights of the psychiatric hospital from where they were sitting.
'Sometimes I wish I was not sick.'
'What do you mean? Do you have cancer or something?'
'Bipolar. Personal velocity. Melancholia. A sadness swept inside my brain driving me slowly, sweetly insane.'
'We are all just human bodies.' The boy says. 'My family is not a perfect family. We are all flawed. We have a house by a lake, pretty houses, and swimming pools.' The perfect boy says.
'Are you a woman yet?' the perfect boy says.
'What is that supposed to mean 'yet'?' The girl says.
'Are you a virgin?' the perfect boy says.
'I tried to kill myself last summer.'
'Sweet Jesus! Why?'
'I did not feel like living anymore, reading self-help books. I was unhappy.'
'I have never met a girl like you before you know.' The popular boy said. 'You just say what is on your mind. What is your favourite word?'
'Silence. If I had wings, a visa and a plane ticket, I would fly home. American boys do not understand South African girls.'
'I like the word archipelago. Do you have a psychoanalyst?'
'I had a boyfriend once. He had yellow hair. I loved the way he used to hold me as if he was not going to let me go. The way I held you back. Later all the letters I wrote to him, all my secret letters I wished were either returned or burned.'
'If we were boyfriend and girlfriend would you write me letters?'
She said nothing.
As he reached for me, I could taste his cigarette mouth.
'I also had a psychoanalyst for a while. After my parents' divorce.'
She will never see this boy again. He will make sure of that. If they pass each other in the school halls, they will ignore each other. Her friends would ask her, 'Tell us, what happened.'
She would answer, 'Nothing happened. I just was not in the mood to get drunk.' His friends would ask him, 'How was she? Was she easy? Was she a virgin? She did not even want to smoke a cigarette with you!' All his friends crestfallen would shake their heads. 'She was just a badly drawn girl. Did she tell you about her voices? Did she want to talk for hours?'
She is forty-two now. Older. Wiser. She writes now. Much more than she ever did when she was in her mid-thirties. She is no Joan Didion. More Anita Brookner. Cigarette in hand she asks the photographer from the newspaper can she smoke. She pretends she heard him and lights the tip of the cigarette. She is not fat. Her people would be flabbergasted. People, writers go all digital on her now but here she is doing her thing again. Being interviewed by a newspaper. Newsweek will not be coming out in print any longer. To even think of such a thing. After leaving Mr Muirhead, after leaving that dream world that lasted months she felt she owed it to herself to leave some kind of legacy. Here it is. A some kind of book. Okay, call it a novel. Her working title was Hiroshima. Then she changed it to Auschwitz but she thought she should not take a man breaking her heart all so seriously. Really, comparing it to the holocaust. Comparing it to a ghost story, stories and murder.
Living vicariously through Jean Rhys. That was her people. Jean Rhys. Ingrid Jonker. Virginia Woolf. Love, the details of love, yes there were catastrophic circumstances sometimes, heated discussions, enraged debates, scenes and scenarios, but who was looking so intensely young and at the same time inexperienced. This book was a tribute to him. A man who was to all intents and purposes 'dead' to her. Did not exist. He was the non-entity and not the girl. The girl was not the non-entity. She did not behave disgracefully. All the others said she did. The other women. But they did not know anything about anything really. She feasted on those rare private moments that she spent in the man's domain for hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette. A man like that would make it difficult for sanity to remain (she had her spells of depression, he returned to his wife, a small child, an empire), to return to a normal world (but she became harder to please) filled with intuition and sensibilities. Her appetite returned vociferously in her twenties.
She did not swim anymore. She never smiled. Never said please or thank you on her return to her childhood home. Family life was never the same again for her and she never returned to Johannesburg. She fell ill. She relapsed. She recovered. Repeatedly and again, because you see with a man like that you will always feel trapped. He will make you wild with jealousy. He will turn you into a savage; make you angry, enraged even. He will exploit you to the ends of the earth or at least at the end of the day that is what you will call it. He will make you read poetry. Lolita. Nabokov. Nabokov. Lolita. You will memorise sonnets. You will write haiku. You will do anything to be near him. Smell him. Touch him. Feel the tenderness in his eyes (of course you were in love so she thought to herself this is what tenderness is, when he takes me by the hand, when he takes me to his bed, when he takes me to the backseat of his car).
She remembers how the warmth of his shirt felt. How she brushed her hair that morning. The morning of the end of the relationship. That she remembers. Kohl-rimmed eyes. Mascara running down her tear-streaked face. You will still remember twenty years later and it will make you ill. You will walk around until two o' clock in the afternoon in your pyjamas smoking a cigarette, drinking lukewarm filter coffee remembering how he made you cry. How sometimes you still cried over the fact that he was the man in whose arms you became a woman. Trapped. Yes, you were trapped all this time like a bear in hibernation. The book. You tell the interviewer the name of the book is Johannesburg Memories. It is a book about a badly drawn girl at a college in Johannesburg and her love affairs. It is really a horror book, but Bram Stoker got there first, you say candidly, you say with a hint of a smile and then you laugh. It is a story about love, finding love, searching for love. No mother should ever read a book about their daughter's matters of the heart because every mother wants her daughter to be happy.
'Elise, do you love me? If you love me you will put that book down.' Stoker stood in front of Elise in his underwear.
'You are plotting grief for no reason at all. I am with you. I believe in your dreams.' Said Elise, turning the page.
'You did not say 'our dreams'. You are acting indifferent towards me. You are acting as if that book is more important to you than I am. That is different. I want you to say those three words because it is important to me.'
'I do love you. I love you in a paranoiac sort of way. I love you so much that it hurts. What do you have to say to that? You are a painting. I am the curator of the art gallery. You are a landscape. I am the photographer. You are a book. I am the librarian. You are a confessional poet. I am one of the other poets in the workshop. If you are thirsty then I am your drink of water.'
'That is kind of a swell thing to say to a guy. I feel like Bogart did in Casablanca.'
'What I am trying to say is that it does not matter whether or not I tell you or say those words, it takes tough guts to say those words. What matters is the here and now and the here and now is that we are together. When I am with you it feels though as if I am visiting the museum at night and everything comes to life except I cannot move. I am the self-portrait. I am the statuesque still life. You are different baby the Tyrannosaurus Rex says to me. That is what I have inside of my head all the time. You are different. I have grown up like that. With those words. I told you the stories about my mother. The love stories about my father. My sibling rivalry. How our competitive nature began at the swings. The Holiday Inn, eating hotdogs, swimming pool, the trampoline, the stage and how even a drama rehearsal set the course for our life. You have so much to give and you expect so much, you demand so much but it seems as if my love is not enough. It is not enough for me to say I need you.'
'We are in the desert now because I do not have any idea what you are talking about. Imagine if the two of us were married and I was not a homosexual.'
'When I was growing up people automatically assumed I was strange, that I was a funny girl with skinny legs and glasses. In some ways they were right to think that way.' Elise, flummoxed, finally put the book down next to her on the bed.
'Well I think you are a beautiful girl. Sometimes I think you are too unhappy for your own good but it turns out well for your novels since the protagonists are usually unhappy themselves. Now as an adult you share your bed with a homosexual.'
'I think you have a complex. I do hate it when you start to talk about yourself that way.'
'Of course I am insecure. Currently, I am still in the closet and I live with my best friend who people think is my attractive girlfriend. We go to weddings together. We go to shows. I help you dress. You listen to me while I talk to you about my love affairs or rather my non-existent love affairs.'
'You are so into Giovanni's Room right now. Vicariously living through the characters. You are who you are. You are different. I am different it does not mean because I am not paying you attention for a hundred percent of the time that I am indifferent to you. I love you, you fool. Come hell or high water, I love you, Stoker.'
'He kissed me.'
'What do you mean he kissed you?'
'At the party I mean he kissed me.'
'On the mouth?'
'You know he is with someone.'
'Yes, Elise, I know. You do not have to remind me of that fact.'
'He also could have been drunk out of his mind.'
'I noticed something else besides the wife that hovered. I think he was wearing makeup.'
'Stoker. Be serious.'
'Peacock blue eyeshadow and you were not the only person he was flirting with. Stoker you are good-looking and charismatic. People are naturally drawn to your personality.'
'I hate myself. I should be happy I know it but I hate myself. If only I could find a partner, settle down and be happy Elise.'
'If only that could happen to both of us.'
'A little suffering never did any harm to any artist. A little suffering is like a puddle in a meadowland. Men sleeping with men. Women sleeping with women. Men sleeping with women. This is the world we live in now.' Stoker sighed and climbed onto the bed next to Elise. 'Elise when are you going to write a novel and dedicate it to me?'
'Never, Stoker. Never, Stoker. A woman cannot reveal everything about herself.'
'So does this mean you are still in love with me then?'
For a long time Elise said nothing but put her head on Stoker's chest. He put his arm around her. 'Elise.'
'Yes?' she asked quietly without lifting her head.
'I am sorry. I am sorry that I cannot love you in the way you want me too but I would if could if you were my kind of girl. I would cook and you would clean. We would run the perfect household. Our children would be beautiful, kind and clever and good at trig.'
'My spaghetti would be famous.'
'Yes, Elise your spaghetti would be famous.' Stoker stroked her hair away from her face. 'Dreams are good. They are as close to perfection as we will ever come. Let me make you some tea. It is getting cold out. Autumn's birthday. I love you Elise.'
'I love you Stoker.'
'It is just that there is so much hate and not enough sun. Not enough energy. Just a wasteland. Not enough love to go around. There are plenty of couples. There are plenty of married couples but those are rich folks. It is a kind of crazy out there. I am thinking of your depression Elise. When you would not leave this apartment for days one end. All you would eat is soup and tuna fish out of a can.'
'Have you spoken to your mother this week?' Elise asked Stoker.
'As a matter of fact I have. She called during the week. We spoke about many things. Swapped recipes. She asked me what I was going to make for dinner. She asked me was I going to run a marathon at the weekend. Have I met anyone new yet? How was Elise doing, she asked. Still cannot believe her luck at landing her such a swell person like my son. My mother is fine. She still has that heart thing but she manages running my brother's house like clockwork. I love her. Elise, I love her so I cannot break her heart.'
'There should be a law against that. People breaking other people's hearts.'
'Are you blue Elise?'
'I am feeling blue. Must be the weather. You are lying on my arm. It's asleep.' Elise shook her limp arm in the air until it finally came to life again.
'Sometimes I tell myself. Stoker, there are millions of people out there loving each other with nothing to distract them except the afternoon. Poetry, husbands, wives.'