The Books | The Poetry | The Stories / Dreaming of Living

 Logbook  /  by Liesl Jobson

26 October 2004
I was so tired of being scared that I wanted to shoot him - sometimes
the logbook is a text message: ma, can’t find my swimming cap -
I thought about my children with one parent under the ground, the
other jailed. I figured it would be kinder to shoot them too, then myself.

I found the gun too heavy - the criss-cross pattern imprinted by its handle
on my tired hand too pretty to pull the trigger - called the doctor instead
so now on the answering machine: Ma, I lost one school shoe, please
phone if you find it, the left one, I left the left one at your place.

I returned from hospital and still I wanted to kill my husband
so I abandoned the home. Now the weekly handover has a logbook
entry for each forgotten item - the itemised billing on my account
reflects that six-second come-and-fetch-it call each Sunday.

I did not murder him, so I am not in jail - and even though
last week it was a library book left in the bathroom, the week before
a bracelet fallen beneath the bed, I like to hold these lost found
treasures, to sit on Boykie’s bed, fold his teddy bear in my arms.

I’m not incarcerated, so I may see my children each weekend -
and after Boykie has kissed me and gone, I find his glasses
forgotten on the fridge. Before they reach the end of Sixth Street
I phone their father, wishing it were not such a long way home.

I don’t have custody, so I don’t see them daily, only weekends -
and heading out to the front door, I spot Bunny’s cello music
hiding behind a cushion on the couch, I hand it over with the glasses
and the blue satin hair ribbon matching her school dress.

I abandoned the home, so did not get custody - I would like
nevertheless to watch Boykie being wicket keeper at the cricket:
2zday match@ home, ma. I can’t be there. I must teach other boys
the piano. It is not enough to hear the scores later on the phone.

I can’t watch Bunny: ma, took 2nd in freestyle shiver at the gala,
can’t wrap her in the towel I gave her last Christmas - must plod
through lumpy scales of girls who go home to their mothers.
It’s not enough to wait to wrap her in my arms till Friday.

I have a psychiatric record, so I don’t fight a custody battle
although I know the lost shoe shuffle is the children’s attempt
to ensure a return to me, and I know he thinks I’m behind it,
hiding stuff to force his temporary u-turn, but it doesn’t matter.

I’m not in jail, so I buy Bunny a new bracelet to leave behind again
and if a court order reduces my access from April, I am still free:
I will still see Boykie and Bunny alternate weekends, I will still be
praying for them when I wake and when I sleep and when I breathe.

I pray today for forgiveness, because I did not remind them to wish
their father happy birthday and when they find out they will feel sad,
ashamed they forgot and when they realise that I remembered but
refused to remind them, I pray they will forgive this truth: I am mean
spirited.

 


 

Dreaming of Living /  by Ursula van Lelyveld

There’s a bottle of wine on the table
A woman is holding a glass
A man’s face is writhing with anger
It’s a tasteless picture – no class
She’s not a regular drinker
She knows that she’s breaking the rules
But this is no place for logic
And reason’s the realm of fools

He’s locked the door
There’s no way out
She’s dizzy and dazed trying to figure this out
The fruit of the vine is the only escape
She’s slowly slipping away
Diving into red river
Released from her feet of clay
Body becomes a vacant shell
Her mind now a shadow,
At play on the wall
Aiming at drowning
But dreaming of living
Wanting to sink
She finds herself swimming
The table cloth slips into 3D

Red flowers float above blue
The unreal – significantly silly
Making sense where no sense is due

Looking at his raging dead eyes
Seeing a stranger she can’t recognise
A sudden half smile
Half lights her face
Safe in the knowing
He can’t reach this place
Here he can’t touch her
Pain is not real
Here it’s a joy not to feel

The bottle runs dry
Time trickles away
In the morning she’ll wake
To another day…

 


 

The Private Eucharist  /  by Michelle McGrane

The old woman behind the pharmacy counter
passes forward a brown paper packet, her
shrivelled hands mottled, liver-spotted;
the accusatory, tight-lipped mien pronounces,
You young women destroy your health.

Listen Ouma, you’re tempted to explain,
you don’t know the half of it.
Instead, you smile, fade to nothing,
concentrate on crackling paper, your fingers
fidgety, thin-skinned animals.

Consecrated capsule on outstretched tongue,
squatting in a darkened room, you receive
the Holy Sacrament for Hungry Girls;
a private Eucharist to appease
your bare-boned God of Reduction.

Give me this day my daily resolve,
the grace not to let a single morsel
pass through these lips,
amen.

After mass, spiritual ebullience: dry mouth
dizziness jaw-clenching palpitations…
Clutching the rosary of your martyrdom,
speedy strong in occult absolution,
you shrug with the insouciance
of the pardoned penitent;
every true believer pays a price.

 


 

 

The Measure of Love  /  by Lerato Tsebe

“Why is the measure of love loss?”
- Jeanette Winterson

She was rudely awakened by the stench of blood that had seeped in
from under her door. The way curry fills the house with its distinct
scent, consuming every square inch of space with its aromatic smell
flavouring the air.
The smell of blood jolted her from her REM, threw her into her stark
new reality.

She knew.
She had always known.

Too afraid to say anything because words made it real, they
constructed her unavoidable reality. Like Tuesday after Monday. Two
before Three. It was her mother’s condemnation. Her destiny. Her
history.

“Death is demanding” she thought.

You could feel its eerie cold presence. It’s deafening silence, its
blinding light. It’s non-descriptiveness.

Fear settled in. It came from the bottom of her spine; it crept up to the
soft curly baby hairs behind her neck. Slowly, seductively moving like
cigarette smoke. It was the stuff goose bumps were made of!

She could see herself starting to cry. That lump in her throat dropped,
like shit in a toilet.

She hated her. She fucking hated her. Absolutely. Resolutely. She
wanted her hate to bring her to resuscitate her. The way love keeps
people alive. “Why not?” she thought, “why couldn’t hate bring her
alive.” It carried the same power the same passion, the same ability to
numb your senses.

This day was inscribed in her history before she was born.
Why didn’t she leave him? Why didn’t Mama just leave him? The way
she would leave me at night to sell herself, sell her body so that she
could feed him; intoxicate him, whilst starving herself, starving herself
of her dignity. Miriam wished she could have sold him instead, and
bought her mother some sense. Any sense, a sense of self being, a sense
of self worth, a sense of awareness, so as to enable her mother to see
the broad distinction between right and wrong. Black and White. Love
from Hate.

Although she hated her mother, that hate derived from a seed of Love,
the size of a mustard seed. The saying rendered to be true to her like
never before. Hate is Easy; Love takes Courage, ironic, isn’t it?
She couldn’t move from her bed. Fear held her hostage. It held a knife
to her throat. Threatened to kill her, to slit her open from navel to nose.
She fought with it. She manipulated it, turned it into courage. The
same way her father made her mother believe that anger really meant
love, it was just masked in bruises. Black bruises, Greens and Purple.
Passionate Purple. Dislocated jaws, broken noses with thin red tear
drops trickling down. Manifestations of his love.

Her father had never kept a promise in his life, never been a man of his
word. He had never been a man.

At the age of 16 this was the first promise he had ever fulfilled, the one
true thing he had ever done. He had loved her mother to death.

She defeated her fear, got up, opened her door and walked to the
living room. A trail of blood kindly escorted her. History’s one way
street.

There was no turning back. She knew what she would see, her father’s
boot, her mother’s white gown, glass on the floor. There would be no
surprises, no shock, no terror, no screaming.

Silence. Only silence would be present.

Her mother had never looked more beautiful in her life. She lay there
in a foetal position. Waiting to be reborn. To return to a time when
she wasn’t a mother, a wife. A battered and abused woman. A statistic
in society.

She had returned to the time of her birth. Where she was fed, nurtured
and cared for. She had come back to the place before her history was
inscribed. She’d come back to time. Death had given her that. It had
consented to her peace. This was the place where she could see herself in
the mirror without feeling unaquainted with the reflection that she saw.
She could dance here. Laugh. Smile. Scream. Her dignity had been
returned. She loved it, she saw how fragile it was and loved how it
needed her.

In her death, her mother had never looked more beautiful in her life.

 


 

 

In the Nine Minutes
Following his Departure
  /  by Colleen Balchin

It smells of sex here. Sex and him. The creamy, peppery fug of
Marlboro – only because he can’t afford Dunhill – has draped
itself over pillows, closets and walls like a black velvet ball gown
laid on a sheet of lavender silk. A man-shaped dent wrinkles my
violet bedclothes. I crawl into it and inhale – the nicotine is more
concentrated here, but fails to disguise the familiar scent of his woody
shower gel and that other, unidentifiable aroma that is his and his
alone. Extending my legs and arms, I form a human pentagram – the
same way he did in sleep – matching my limbs to the shadows of his,
seeking the last traces of the love that was never truly there.

In my head I speak to him, and he listens.

In my head, we sit at a wooden table in a trendy coffee shop on
a Thursday night. Its almost empty save for us, a foursome of
twenty-something pseudo-arty intellectuals discussing pseudo-arty
intellectual films and a crowd of seven teenage girls that look like
pickled women, their spiky lashes and butterfly lips opening and
closing in a series of well coordinated tumble-turns. In my head his
denim-coated knee gently presses my own bare one under the table,
and our respective Converse takkies face each other, rubbery white
nose to rubbery white nose. In my head, his black eyes hide behind a
haystack of tortoiseshell hair, not flat and wandering as they normally

are, but focussed in on my pale-green irises and glowing with life. In
my head, I open my mouth to speak, and for once he does not ignore
my flapping pink lips. In my head, my tongue does not stick to the
roof of my mouth, making an obscene smacking noise as I peel it off.
In my head, easy words spill from between my jagged teeth and I
watch the reactions in his eyes.

“When last did you want me? When last did you even like me? You call
me and I run, but when I arrive you look at me like the air I exhale
should go into a paper bag and be thrown out to sea because it just
isn’t good enough to be near you. How do you screw me and hate me
simultaneously? You make me want to die, to destroy myself for having
the audacity to live in the same world as you. While you fuck me I
want to shave off my hair, cut off my lips, cut out my eyes, cut off my
ears…I’ve never felt self-hate as I do when you touch me. But then you
leave. And all I want is to have you back.”

In my head I can tell him all this. Every time he leaves me lying here
like a plastic Christmas tree in February, I tell him. Just not aloud
– it’s not real until I say it aloud.

I turn my head to lay my cheek against the pillow, wondering why he
always sleeps on the right side. The gray-blue smoke of his recently
extinguished Lion match slithers up to the ceiling, its whorish poledance
cutting the heavy Marlboro ozone with the clean smoke of
bleached wood. The emaciated black corpse of the match totters on
the handle of the yellow ceramic mug he uses as a coffee cup-cumashtray
– with its swollen little bulge of a match head on one end, and
waif-thin charred wood on the other, the match looks like a North
African runway model beaten by her rock star lover. It slips from the
handle. Hitting the scratched glass top of the bedside table, it shatters,
spitting little black shards of disease onto the painted-purple base of
my lamp and the dense silver frame of the only photograph I keep. My
brother as a boy, his nose red from cold, stares sternly through glass
and burnt wood flecks.

Apart from his smell and the debris of a long-cultivated nicotine-love,
the room bares no sign of him. The blind remains dropped, its thick
lavender cotton hanging exactly as it did when I shut it three hours
and forty-one minutes ago. A little shaft of pinky orange dawn-sky
sneaks through the gap between blind and window, setting a fine strip
of the room aglow. A closet and chest of drawers squat and stare, their
badly painted purple skins matching the lamp in a misplaced attempt
at order. They sit side by side, taking up the small room’s biggest wall,
lording over their dirty kingdom like emperors on plywood thrones.
The only other piece of furniture in the room is my dead godmother’s
fat, over-stuffed armchair covered in heavy brown upholstery. The first
time he came into this room, he sat on this chair and asked me to sit
there with him. I wouldn’t, and pulled him over to the bed instead,
petrified the 34 seconds he’d spent on the chair had somehow rubbed
its solidity away. It’s tucked into a corner next to the window now, like
a melty Quality Street chocolate oozing decadence over a sparse pile of
grape jelly beans.

Still splayed like a sacrifice in an exquisite mimic of him, I shift my
gaze around the room. The door is panelled wood, painted white at
least five times over, and has a low, dirty brass doorknob that falls
periodically off. Left of it is the light switch whose cover I painted
violet once upon another time. I remember hitting the back of my
head on it last night. He had pushed me against the wall there last

night, heedless of the icy, slimy tongue of thinly painted cement that
licked my bare shoulder. He had forced my head back and I knocked
my crown on the rounded corner, biting my cheek to contain the
escaping whimper of pain. My bare pink toes curled into the floor,
almost as if trying to hug it closer, bring me back down to logical
thought. The unnatural, purple-flecked brown of my nylon carpeting
yielded no such sense. For a few moments, I was caught between the
wall’s lascivious embrace, the dying carpet’s bite and the solid, sticky
heat of his body, gnawing away the pain.

Earlier, while smoking and replacing clothing, he had pushed a CD
into my mini hi-fi. Air had curled around the room, breathy French
grammar and spacey shafts of bass and piano sidling over corners and
contours. It’s this music that let us meet – he saw me at a CD store,
plugged into headphones and smiling a secret smile. He came over and
took my hand, danced me in a circle. I never once opened my eyes. I
wonder if he loved me then, for those four minutes when we lived in
another world, spoke another language and danced another dance.
Maybe he didn’t like how light my eyes are, maybe he stopped loving
me when I opened my eyelids and he saw them.

Now, the last note of the last song fades out.

I lift the blind, open a window, and move to the bathroom to wash
my hair.

 


 

 

Quick Links