POLICE REPORT (alias the inner critic)
The police have been notified.
They are out to get me.
I’m a fraud, a wannabe writer on the run. Where can I hide? In a mouse hole? Down a drain? Am I crazy? Did I really think I could pull this off? Look at me. I can hardly string a sentence together, dot an i or cross a t, let alone write a Luc Bat. Sounds like the name of a vampire species, rock star or maybe a Pakistani cricketer. But here’s the thing, it’s actually a Vietnamese structure of poetry composing 6 and 8 metre lines. Great! I become dyslexic just counting the fingers on one hand. I’m all thumbs … 6,8,6,8,6,8,8 .. I mean 6 … Oh, for heavens sake!
The real reason I’m here though is not to freak out on Asian arithmetic but to write like Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf or Katherine Mansfield. Of course, I’d be happy if I could just pen words along the lines of Marian Keyes, Jodi Picoult or Anita Shreve … Maybe Erica Jong, ‘Fear of Fifty’ … A little late to be thinking of that now.
The police are not interested in these minor details. They have filed their report. The evidence is there, blogged out in block letters, starting with … well, how appropriate … Blocked, stuck, messy, empty, devoid of words, no ideas, the creativity of a cauliflower.
If I could be as prolific as Danielle Steele, or any one of those glamour chic lit authors, I’d be happy. There has to be a formula out there, some secret code belonging to these highly evolved scribes for mastering time, churning out 5000 words a day, spinning yarns and raking up relationships into best sellers which are then sold off to the highest bidder to be translated into twenty different languages.
Look at J K Rowling. How can she possibly be an ordinary earthbound mortal? One moment in a queue waiting for a dole handout … the next … well, it’s history now. But someone with that kind of luck has to be hatched out of a fairy’s egg.
It’s all so daunting but just when I think I’m getting the hang of this 6/8 metre Edward de Bono mindbender I go and lose the plot completely.
Total exposure … Dumb bat!
Sentence is passed.
The beefy police woman with her red lips pursed together like Velcro gives it to me in no uncertain terms, bouncing her baton up and down on the beeswax tabletop probably wishing it was my head and reads out my punishment as if she’s announcing the weather report.
One year of writing morning pages à la Julia Cameron and ‘The Artist’s Way’. Three hundred and sixty five days with a serious, intentional commitment to filling up lined notebooks with words which I shall only peruse once I have completed my twelve month sentence.
And practise, practise, practise …!!!
Just so I get the hang of things there’s nothing like a little literary warm up with an alphabetical jog around the block (excuse the pun!) …
All brilliant chefs do enviable feats, gastronomically halving, icing, juicing, kneading, layering, marinating nine omelette pancakes, quartering raisins, spooning them under very wholesome Xmas yeasty zabaglione.
The things some chefs get up to!
A copy of my glossy coffee table book depicting the people and places I’ve visited together with the irresistible dishes I’ve collected lies open on the counter in Kalk Bay Books. It’s the official launch and throngs of chatty women, husbands in tow, mill around. My right hand aches from signing, and I pause to drink some iced water.
“Just look at those red peppers!”
“I’ve always wanted to go to Naples – Italian men are so romantic!”
“How much does the book cost? What? It must have something at that price”
“It does. . . I used to go to his classes at the Villa years ago and am still trotting out the recipes. Just look at those peppers. . . you can almost smell them roasting!”
I look up at the woman first in line .
“Do you remember me?” she asks.
“Of course!” I lie. Good to see you again! What name would you like me to put?”
“I thought you remembered me!”
”I do, but it could be a gift for someone else”.
“No ways, I’ve waited long enough for this.”
She smiles at me and my mind zigzags. Her face is vaguely familiar but I cannot recall her name. I stall for time.
“What recipe do you use most?” I ask.
“The chicken dish with orzo noodles is our family favorite, but I think the marinated peppers are divine!”
I dab my forehead and loosen my tie. Suddenly it’s uncomfortably warm and an acrid smell burns my nostrils. My pen refuses to move. Swirls of smoke blur the faces in front of me. I jump up pushing my way through the crowd and stumble into the nearest doorway. I freeze and stagger back with burning eyes as flames billow from the gas hob and turn the last of my peppers to charcoal.
Memory and presence. They say that memories comfort you, eventually. But how do memories, which are thoughts conjured up and filtered through one’s perceptions, make up for the reality of a living, breathing person? They do not capture the nowness of a gesture, the waft of air as she raises her arm, the almost imperceptible clearing of her throat and the slight nervous inbreath before talking. They do not capture the smell of her after a warm bath, after feeding the dog, the smell that lingers on her scarf. And they do not compensate for not hearing her voice, picking up the phone to it, opening the door to it, feeling the presence of it.
Hospital bed, crisp and clean. Bedside table with glasses and long white cord with bell ring at the end. Your breathing. Oh, your breathing. And so cold. But I was reassured because you spoke to me when I spoke. Woke up and opened your eyes. But I was wrong. I got it wrong. I should have stayed. I should have stayed to hold your hand. I wanted to be there for you, but I was so scared. Scared to look you in the eye, knowing what was wrong, and not tell you.
It is impossible for us to understand death because it is the cessation of the mind. All we know from the moment we are born is the mind. How can we think of not having a being to think with? So we conjure afterlives. We hope for a way of understanding death, not as the end, but as a different state. This state cannot be annihilation, so it has to be a different state of life, we tell ourselves. A Heaven. A Hell. A parallel existence.
You are here with me in my dream, but I cannot touch you. I can see you, but with a different kind of sight. Stay with me in this fever dream. We walk through the flowers together. You are wearing your blue dress. I realize how much we both wear blue. And black. You say that you are more adventurous than me though. I would never wear orange and bright green, though I sometimes wear red. Oh, the times we have had! Remember Miami in the hot, drenching tropical rain and Bristol in the snow, and eating ice-cream beside fountains in France. Remember the tears in your eyes when you saw me in a wedding dress and the joy of simple Sunday lunches and opera and piano playing. We can have that again in this dream. You can hold me again.
‘How do you know it’s going to happen?’ she says.
John looks away, into the computer screen on his mahogany desk.
‘I know it’s going to happen because,’ and here he clicks on Save, ‘you keep talking about it. You think about it. You’ve bought the outfit, Janet. Don’t you think it childish, this whole I’ll go where I want to go thing?’
John scrolls to the top of the document. It reads:
We, The People For Purity, are understood to hold the body of all that is good, chaste, honourable, and uplifting.
We hereby declare that…
‘Childish? Now it’s childish to use your process to get what I want? You thought about this place, John, and look where we are, where we live? It’s your paradise.’
all thoughts are to be censored for unsavoury content.
The People For Purity therefore find it necessary to introduce a system of thought-editing to ensure life on this planet remains…
John looks at Janet and enunciates each word. ‘This is for both of us. I thought of something that would benefit both of us, Janet. It wasn’t just for me.’
‘Oh.’ Janet rolls her eyes. ‘Oh, now I see. You can think about living on an island in solitary artistry and it’s for both of us? My God, do you really believe I’d be thinking of a space holiday if I wanted to be here? That was for you, pal, not me.’
amicable, forward thinking, and upbuilding.
‘So you’re going, are you? Thought about it enough, have you?’ John crosses his arms and swivels his chair from side to side, as if, by moving, he gains a wider view of the situation.
We wish to inform all citizens who do not understand the principles of thought-editing to familiarize themselves with our policies and procedures immediately. We declare that any and all manner of uprising…
Janet crosses her arms and looks at John, lifting her prominent chin.
‘As you so rightly pointed out, I’ve bought the outfit. Why buy it if I’m not going to use it?’
‘Oh yeeees,’ Janet gives the words a sexy slant, ‘I’m going. Think you can stop me, darling?’
will be dealt with within The People For Purity’s disciplinary framework.
‘The question is: Do I want to, Janet? Do I want to stop you? Do I care to stop you?’ John turns back to the computer and clicks on Close.
He taps his chin with an immaculate forefinger, pondering his own questions.
‘Mmmm.’ Now he’s putting both hands behind his head, swivelling the chair again.
That would depend very much on what I think is required of me. You are my wife, after all.’
Janet dislikes the way he looks at the computer, not at her. It gives her the uneasy feeling he’s seeing something new unfold, something momentous.
‘Yes. You are my wife and, as such, have certain obligations. We must be careful, now, mustn’t we?’
John uses the armrests to push himself up off the chair. He walks past Janet and, turning before opening the door, says ‘We must set a precedent. Yes, that’s what we must do. Make this work for us.’
The door opens and John leaves the room, leaving Janet staring at the computer and forming a question of her own. Who is John’s ‘we’?
Janet walks round John’s desk, sits in his chair, moves his mouse, clicks on File, and then Open.
In documents she meets The People for Purity.
That night, Janet does not join her husband in their bed. She climbs into her white space suit in a dark kitchen and, closing the backdoor without a sound, leaves many light-years between them.
When he drank his first glass of whiskey, and the amber liquid swirled down his throat, he felt such a state of expansive well-being, for once free of anxiety, he had to prolong that glow. He drank another, then another and many more. In those reckless moments of spontaneous mutation, his future was cast in stone as surely as if his feet had been set in cement shoes by the Alcoholic Mafia and he was thrown into a swift-moving river. Some might call it a Mystic River but most thought of it as a Mystifying River, a wayward current that never failed to stupefy and obfuscate.
This mutation occurred at the end of an unpredictable autumn when flurries and squalls of an insurgent wind blasted dying leaves, like hopes, from trees. The fall from grace precipitated a winter so bleak, so extreme that his previous existence seemed to have been a perpetual summer. His winter of discontent resembled a synoptic weather chart of the North Atlantic, characterized by a never-ending series of cold fronts, swirls of depression and lots of cloud cover. His winter storms rivalled the gaseous red-eye eruptions on Jupiter in their sustained fury. If he had known the magical elixir would throw him into such a dense black hole, would he ever have started?
Conversation # 869
She said: Take your bed to the pub and sleep there. Then you won’t have to drive home drunk.
He said: You drive me to drink. You and your expectations.
She said: This is outrageous. Our expectations are no more than the average family.
He said: You think you can do better? Go and earn the money. See what it’s like out there.
She said: We agreed when the children were born that you would be the breadwinner, I would be a stay-at-home mom. Now you want to renege?
He said: I have to entertain clients. If you don’t like it, earn the money.
She said: I don’t have your earning power. I will never have your earning capacity.
He said: Then shut up and let me do my job.
Tuesday 5 September 1987
Shock, terror. Can’t think. Rats scurry in my brain. How’d he get so crazy? Mikey said Dad school fees are due tomorrow. Screaming frenzy. Stormed out. Revved car. Squealing tyres down road. What now? Sat in the dark waiting, shaking. He came home 2am. Evil face. Garbled garbage. Police laid charges of assault against him. Fought drunk monsters. He loves my fear. Stokes it. Gloats. I’m in deep trouble, he says. Later, phoned H.S. at William Slater in panic. He says I’m between devil and deep blue sea. Tell me something I don’t know. H.S. says could be onset of paranoia, could have him committed. God! Somebody? Can I go now? Can I be excused from this life?
As a righteous manifesto, her journal was an accurate rendition. Every drunken incident, every crisis and misdemeanour was recorded in meticulous detail. A predictable pattern emerged of his growing dependence on alcohol and her corresponding slide into despair and loneliness. As she often wrote in her black, ring-bound book – ‘I am a close friend of mental anguish’.
The hidden picture wasn’t recorded – the shadowy graph of two people growing apart then coming together again, of two characters being tempered in the fire, stronger because of an addiction that seemed so mind-blowingly meaningless. He discovered his true self, the man who didn’t need alcohol to numb fear; she learnt there was freedom in relinquishing control, then came the gift of compassion as she witnessed his physical and moral disintegration and subsequent recovery.
Who invited you in ?
Hooligan gatecrasher up
setting all my care
fully stacked sentences let
ting them flutter loose
like tumble-blown hair
As you brazenly finger all my papers up
ending my words with flippant dis
flicking dain flying them through
by your hurricane invasion! And stop that!
Blowing up my skirt and cold licking tongue my thighs
Hard to catch and smack your hit and run hands and mouth as they fly
whipping my hair into disarray. I’m thoroughly unraveled
by your disheveling presence as you knot and bramble my mind!
The sudden hush is softly breathing
Warm and enfolding, a motherly comforting
and sighing I shuffle up the litter of my papers
primly putting them into their proper order.
But it’s no good.
My eyes have fallen on a falsehood
The meaning’s now lost, my calm betrayed
Every word’s been twisted out of shape, rearranged.
Order forsaken, I’ve been kaleidescopically shaken
Into some other pattern new and strange.
Looks like you’ve quite undone me today.
Unhooked from my foundations
I’ve been shaken free and
Some things we never find out
We never did find out what happened to her. She often disappeared but always came back. And then one morning, she wasn’t there. Morning time was not her usual disappearing time. Morning time was her time for sitting on the porch waiting for someone to wake, come downstairs and let her in.
Morning time was when she crept out from underneath the planks, hobbled up the three front stairs and flopped softly against the front door. Years before she’d learned that scratching, bouncing at the handle and yelping were no good. Only flopping with a gentle thump against the peeling paint on the hardwood got the door to open. Sometimes, after quite a delay. What she thought about while she lay there quietly panting, we never did know. She was just our Jess, our porch sleeper.
We never did find out what happened to her. We hoped she had not become a casualty of the early morning taxis racing along the tar road. We never did find out.
A newspaper article
In this series we focus on the roles of individuals and what they have done in communities. However, it is not only the extensive work the individual has done that we look at. We pry into the personal and the public political roles of the individual- what makes them do community work and how this affects them personally.
I first met DG at a conference. I was amazed at her eloquence and her obvious passion for community work. Her commitment to the poor, marginalised and oppressed people is evident in all she does. Throughout our interview she tried to undermine or minimise her contributions. However, when you look at her CV, or when you speak to her comrades, colleagues or the communities where she is involved; she really has, throughout her life, tried to improve the lives of others. And with success too- if we look at Malibongwe and Vroue voorentoe! but two of the many projects she has initiated.
DG’s central focus is on social justice. The kernel of all her activities is her concern about the status and situation of poor women. She has been instrumental in initiating many organisations- all focused on improving the lives of women.
She definitely has a passion for alleviating the hardships of the poor. Yet the last line of her CV was for me the most revealing about DG. She dreams of writing a comic novel. When I asked her about this- when she had first expressed this desire- she could not tell me. ‘Maybe 5 or 7 years ago,’ she attempted. Then she added:’ I cannot remember’. I scanned the list of publications in her CV- more than 30 chapters –but all in books written and compiled by others. Not a single book of her own. We look forward to the day when this ‘community angel’ will accomplish her dream and complete her ‘comic novel’.
A psychology journal article
This patient, DG, suffers from marked insecurity. She constantly requires the approval of others. She does not love herself – in fact she deeply loathes herself. She is not clinically schizophrenic but is behaviourally so. There is no evidence of chemical imbalance and hence she requires no medication. What she does require is a series of deep reflections- getting to know herself and her personal needs. I need to emphasise this: the patient sees to the needs of all the people around her but fails to address her own. She is chronically disposed towards trying to help the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised, the forgotten; the materially and spiritually impoverished. However, she forgets that she too is all of the above. This behaviour could well be symptomatic of transference- helping others whereas she desperately requires help herself.
As therapy I propose that she keeps a daily journal. At the end of each day she must assess all her activities. She should list what she had done for others and what for herself. She should also calculate how many hours she has spent doing tasks for others and what she has done for herself. Hereafter she should write a reflective passage in which she analyses and explains her actions to herself.
The muscle of the wind
thrashes at her Ford Fiesta .
It nestles in beech trees,
in a nursery just off the lane.
She filled the tank and
I wonder did the person at the garage till gave her a smile ?
Her last smile. The receipt found in her satchel on the passenger seat
with her handwritten notes ‘ dog walkers gone by 830 ‘.
An art tutor gassed herself to death in a car at a part of the Derbyshire Dales she cherished, an inquest was told.
She sits waiting for the night. In the small wooden house
nearby for which she has the key
the yellow of the candle, the takeaway pizza.
In the glass of the window she sees her reflection,
a last prayer she leaves behind.
PC Andrew Weston told the Chesterfield inquest that a pipe had been connected from the exhaust to the interior of the car.
The wind crying and complaining
rocks not each tree separately but all together
in a boundless wave of fury. The grass beneath is still.
Cut branches of larch batter on the car roof
placed by her as camouflage.
The body was found laying across the back seat of the vehicle parked a short way into woodland. The engine was running.
This time there will be no leakage,
no escape of air. The windows are carefully sealed with tape.
The fumes contained. This time she will not be found.
The website instructions show her clearly how
to make it work this time.
Oh the calm of the airtight interior,
the lull of a sonata on the radio.
The steel band clenched around her skull is finally loosening
A closed mouth, of lips sealed. No sound just
of breath in through her nostrils.
Vision is the first to go.
She had a history of depression and left a note inside the vehicle.
The pain is like falling in quick sand,
a smothering confinement, of unbearable proportions.
‘I don’t want you to die ‘ I hold her hand
I stroke her skin with my thumb. A gesture I sense she cannot feel.
‘So you want me to suffer then’ she replies
a sharp blade pierces through my chest.
It wedges in my lungs.
Entry was forced into the vehicle but the 44 year old was already dead.
It is a wind of memory
of lilac lavender in June and the jade in a Cornish sea,
of the raspberry red geraniums on her grandmothers doorstep,
of yellow daffodils bobbing in her sisters backyard.
It is a wind of colours
that deepen into purple and blue black
with the fading of light.
I close my eyes, in the darkness
I see a dust, of gold, descending.
I hear the back gate banging on its hinges,
she is no more.
The bare trees bow their heads.
For a moment the wind is still.
The Coroner recorded a verdict of death from self administered carbon monoxide poisoning. Her parents, her sister and her husband were there to hear the verdict.
The wind walks through the hole of her departure.
It makes a howling sound.
It does not blow away the grass.
The spring comes, my muscles move.
And new air finally I breathe.