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No More Imagining Things of the Past No More Imagining Things of the Past
by Abigail George
2019-06-16 07:22:29
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“How do I look, Sal? Do you think I went a bit overboard with the peacock-blue eye shadow?”

“Eva, you look like you always do. You look absolutely stunning.” Sal smiled, but it was a forced and tight smile. She had a headache, and was still waiting for the pain tablets to take effect.

“We should go shopping for new lipsticks after this. I mean, we’re just picking up a few groceries.” Eva smiled at Sal, dipping her head, and pushing her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose.                                                             

omagin01_400“Do you remember fat Miriam, the girl we met in the dog park?” Eva locked the car door on her side of the car before slipping into a space next to Sal in the shopping mall’s parking lot.

“I distinctly remember her dog. Her dog was a slobbering poodle.” Sal brushed her hair out of her face, looked at her reflection in a passing shop window.

“I thought I saw her again just now before I parked the car. She was wearing a too-tight sweater and jeans with her curves all over the place. To me that’s just not fashionable.” Eva smoothed the invisible wrinkles in the front of her dress.

“Well, fashion is always just a passing phase. Every season something new is in.” Sal answered in return. “Just smile and wave. Just smile and wave. Be polite. Be kind.”

“How sad is that? She must binge-eat cold pizza and ice cream on Saturday nights. I thought people looked after themselves these days. Working out at the gym, and she’s so much younger than the both of us, I mean, it’s just sad, don’t you think. What a waste of life and human potential. To think she could be married to someone handsome and caring.” Eva reached for Sal’s hand. The conversation was depressing Sal, although she didn’t try to change the subject. Sal gave a little dry cough with her hand in front of her mouth.

“Eva, you don’t have to be so judgemental. We know nothing about her.” Sal said in reply.

“I’m not being judgemental, Sal, I’m just saying she has a right to be happy too like we are. Maybe she does like girls like me, or perhaps she secretly despises herself.” said Eva with half a laugh. I think you should try therapy. It won’t hurt, you know. It will help with your nerves, your anxiety and the sleepless nights.” Eva punched in numbers on the calculator.

“You really think so, Eva.” The lights were bright in the cool air conditioned shop.

“Well, I wouldn’t have said anything if I didn’t think so. What are you in the mood for tonight? I was thinking of making some kind of pasta.” Eva placed her hand in Sal’s hand and squeezed it. Sal squeezed Eva’s hand back grateful for the interlude that passed between them. She held the shopping list in her other hand.

“Spaghetti will be nice.” Sal said wistfully curling a strand of her hair that had come loose.

“Are you even listening to me Sal? You seem distracted.” Eva stopped pushing the trolley.

“Oh, I’m just tired, Eva. I didn’t sleep last night. I just wish I could be like a normal person, switch off from the day’s events, and fall sleep.” Sal stared at the laundry detergent in the trolley and the tomato sauce on the shelf.

“You are a normal person. You have to learn to stop putting yourself down like that, you know. We should go to the beach or barbecue or go to Tarantino’s at the Boardwalk for cocktails just for a change of space. You can go and see my therapist. He’s really good. I mean until I came out to my dad I was like always thinking that he would never accept me, never really love me. He’s an artist. I’m an artist. And then he totally, totally accepted me, and he loves you. For such a long time, it was just me and my father in the house, and of course his girlfriends who came and went. The girlfriends were always going to be competition for his attention.”

“Was your childhood easy, though, Eva? I mean, easier than mine.”

“It must have been stressful for you, Sal, growing up an only child with super-overachievers as parents’.”

“I don’t know.” And after a pause Eva continued. “Do you ever think we’ll get married?” Sal blushed.

“Eva, my Eve, maybe we’ll get married one day. I don’t know.” Sal sighed, tired of this conversation that had come up on previous occasions. She didn’t really know if she was happy anymore in this relationship.

“I do love you, you know. I do love you very, very much, Sal.”

“I know, Eva. I know.”

“We have a history now, Sal. You know what that means. Just think of future birthday celebrations, anniversaries, ringing in the New Year together, maybe even adopting.”

“That all sounds lovely.” Sal tried to smile again. The very first time they met was at a party at a mutual friend’s house.

Sal was outside sipping her red wine out on the deck. By then she had already had two glasses of delicious wine. She noticed a woman watching her, no, staring at her, but thought nothing of it at the time. The wine was a merlot (a Cape wine). Eva had stood watching Sal on the deck and at the table where they all ate their steak and vegetables obediently before mustering up the courage to speak to her and ask for Sal’s telephone number at the door where they were finally alone together. On the way home, sitting in the passenger seat of a friend’s car, Sal replayed the evening inside her head. She thought of how slender Eva was (like her), with her large dark brown eyes, and brown hair that fell onto her shoulders. But where Sal was attractive, and nice-looking in an unconventional way, Eva was a knockout, with magazine hair cut into a fashionable bob. Mouth and lips painted red. She was wearing a black dress and gold earrings, and a gold chain with her name on it around her neck.

But by September, after two years together, Eva was gone. Moved back home to Johannesburg to be with her senile father. Sal still had the contact details of the therapist. Eva had left all her toiletries behind in the bathroom. All her bottles of perfume, bath crystals, oatmeal facemask (that Eva had called ‘simply divine’), shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, and toothpaste for her sensitive teeth, and tubs of what was called “hair custard”. Sal returned to the books of her youth. She had fallen instantly in love with Anita Brookner, J.M. Coetzee, Salinger and Updike in the library. Sal discovered all of them in high school. She lost herself in the pages of domestic affairs and affairs of the heart. Now she stared at herself in the bathroom mirror, loosened her long and dark hair that she usually pulled back from her face with a hairclip or an elastic band, and pinched the flab around her belly. Yes, she was bone-thin like those girls who sashayed down the runways of Johannesburg, London, New York and Milan, and attractive. Isn’t this what she had wanted?

Hadn’t she wanted in her own way the relationship to come to an end? Hadn’t Eva began to bore her with trying out a vegan diet this week, eating kale the next, fasting, drinking green smoothies, imbibing steaming mugs of green tea, becoming an advocate for the latest health craze that went viral. And in the ensuing months the death of her ex-girlfriend’s memory came in the letting go. The letting go of her vitamin supplements, toiletries, clothing, and in slowly removing every trace of ‘Eva’ that she had left behind in the Central flat. Sal would listen to A-Ha and George Michael searching for a reason for Eva up and leaving her, looking for some education on Eva. Where in the world was Eva now? It was Eva who had introduced her to meditation, going to the Catholic Church on a Sunday morning, the worship of Buddha, chanting mantras, writing down affirmations and reincarnation. These days the silence in her bedroom became almost lyrical. One night she dreamed that she was Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar. Salt and light touched the countertop in the morning, her breakfast nook in the kitchenette of her Central flat and her French toast. The dream thankfully by the time her breakfast dishes were in the sink was forgotten.

The sky was cold and blue here even on a summer’s day. Eva and Sal used to drink coffee on their tiny balcony in the mornings before Eva left to audition for television advertisements or literally ‘anything that she could sink her teeth into’, and Sal to her cubicle at The Daily Despatch. The forecast on the news was that protest and mob justice in the location hotspots of Nelson Mandela Bay had its own pace. People were blockading the streets with burning tyres, men, women were pelting police officers with rocks, and even wild with fury, with their vicious energy (youth, male, female, children, men, and women) they were no match for the army or the armed police. Sal’s front tooth was chipped by an accident in childhood. She had falling off a swing, hit her chin with a thud on the ground, and screamed instantaneously at the amount of pain pulsating through her front molar. She rubbed her tongue up against it now as she ate a cheese roll with her coffee.

Sal couldn’t sleep. For ten whole minutes she sat up in bed wondering what the matter was. Sal remembered vaguely, as if she were standing in a fog, that Eva said tersely that she would come back to collect the rest of her stuff. She just dumped a few clothes and personal possessions, careful Sal noted, not to take anything with her that would remind Eva of Sal. Nothing of the happy moments of their life together, photographs. Eva, she knew had it in her to be cruel. Sal knew emails could be deleted, but didn’t know if Eva would commit such a heinous crime. Eva could be a beast, but did that make her a monster? There was the brief holiday in Sedgefield. They had even travelled to Swaziland together on a taxi. Months went by and Eva never materialised, and Sal had to accept the fact that Eva wasn’t coming back. The kitchen table was bathed in orange light. Sal too had a public image, a front and a private one. As did her father and mother, both professors at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

In childhood, Sal thought of her parents as ghosts tied to each other from ankle to ankle. Sworn to secrecy as to what had kept them together through the ancient centuries. After reincarnation, Eva had whispered in her ear, Sal’s parents’ karmic debts to each other were still not settled. That’s what happened to soul mates, Eva reckoned.  Every time souls returned to earth each one of them had to roam this unforgiving world, according to Eva. “Wretched as death, our travels began like any season did,” Eva tried to explain to Sal, “with a vital birth beginning like the razor-sharp harmony found in music ending up with paradise meeting friendships, alliances, dalliances on earth. “I found you. Out of a million people, I found you.” Eva would tell Sal repeatedly. She would pick up Sal’s hand at the kitchen table, or when they were watching a series or film or documentary on the Discovery channel on sperm whales washing up on the shore for example, or when waiting for the robot to turn green, Eva would stroke Sal’s hand with her own, and kiss it.

“I give you all of me, Sal. This is where the ring will come that will bind us together for an eternity here on earth and in heaven.” Eva would stroke Sal’s ring finger. Sal was happy. Eva could be controlling sometimes, but Sal was happy to forgive her, to love her unconditionally, to accept her with all her flaws and what seemed on the surface to be what Sal described as ‘perfect imperfections’. Eva was a diamond. Sal was a diamond in the rough. Eva believed the world to be filled with sinners who were bullies mostly, whereas Sal was an innocent, and most times a witness to bullying sinners. And then it came out of the blue.

“I’m leaving you, Sal. It’s me. It’s me. It has nothing to do with you. You’re perfect, Sal.”

“Eva, what are you saying to me? It doesn’t make sense. Haven’t we been happy living together, building our lives together, our careers and supporting each other? I can’t live without you. I need you. Do you understand that? You wanted to marry me. We were looking at promise rings the other day.” Sal was in control. Keep it together. Just keep it together, Sal told herself repeatedly. Eva is just testing me to see how much further she can push me. Eva’s just testing the waters. But Eva wasn’t testing the waters. Eva was leaving. Leaving for good and Sal thought that perhaps, a small perhaps that she would be the first one to leave the relationship. That she would be the controller of her own, as well as Eva’s destiny.

“I forbid you to leave me.”

“Sal, please sit down. You need to be rational. Don’t. Don’t make it harder on yourself and me. Don’t make this about you, or us, when we both know you would do the same for your dad.”

“You can afford to put him in a nursing home. What life did he give you anyway?” Sal snapped, shocked at the sound of her voice.

“Sal, you’ve never been cruel like this before, you know. Maybe it’s a good thing I’ve seen you like this. I mean, what if I had married you. I love my dad. He loved me. He still loves me.” Eva started to throw paperback novels into a shopping bag, scarves, bed-socks, brassieres. “I don’t know if you want to keep anything.” Sal had no reply to this. She believed in action. She stumbled forward in the room, blind with tears and grabbed the shopping bag and turned it over. The contents of the bag fell out in a heap on the carpet.

“In a few months your own father won’t remember your name.” Sal shrieked. She wanted to hurt Eva. Hurting people hurt people. “How am I going to make sense of this world, my world, if you’re not in it?”

“I realise you’re in pain Sal, and I know you’re not thinking straight, and I also know years down the line you’re going to regret this, all of these awful things about my father, who by the way had only nice and sweet and positive things to say about you. Remember how he welcomed you into his home, looked at you as a second daughter, but do you know what? You can’t even process what I’m going through. Just think for yourself how much I’m hurting. I have to decide between the two people that I love the most in the world who I want to be with. Do I take care of my father, give up the acting gig and become his caregiver, or marry the love of my life.”

“Eva, stay here with me. Don’t go back to Johannesburg.”

“No, Sal, I have to leave you. My dad needs me. Sheila, his latest protégé, an art student left him and he’s sick. I have to leave you to be a good daughter, and go and look after him. Everything is a disaster. My father is losing it. I mean that quite literally. My dad has the early onset of Alzheimer’s. It’s not that I don’t love you, that I don’t want to be here with you and have this relationship which has been so amazing. I love you, you’ve changed me in ways I never could have imagined that I would be changed by another human being, but my dad needs me and I just can’t turn my back on him.”

“Why are you standing there like that, Sal? Dearest, please understand that there’s no other way out of this for me. I can’t ask you to give up your life. Come here. Come to me. Let me just hold you. Try and understand.”

“You can’t say something like that to me. I can’t bear to have you touch me right now, Eva.”

Inside her head Sal told herself, “You’re a miracle. Go on, believe in yourself. You’ll find another Eva to replace the old Eva.” Sal pulled her loose hair back and struck a pose. Secretly Sal despised herself. She lived two lives. In one life she was chaste, spoke to her mother on the phone telling her all about the dates she was going on with suitable bachelors, mostly journalists that she met in her own line of work as a photographer. Her father was distant. She remembered waiting for her mother. At the shops, at the hairdresser, at evening classes, waiting, waiting for her to appear while her dad and Sal sat in the car. Sal’s father always put the heater in the car on to keep them warm in winter. And the cool breeze of the air conditioner in summer brushed against her bare arms and legs, and always on these excursions her father would produce tuna fish sandwiches and unwrap them with aplomb. “Here is half for me, and the other half for you.”

Sally’s father would smile at her and the corners of his eyes would crinkle up. “How much longer is mummy going to be father? She’s is taking forever. She always takes forever.” Sal would say munching on her sandwich getting bits of wilted lettuce on the front of her dungarees, or cable-knitted sweater in winter when they had to turn the heat up in the car. Sal remembered how she would try and eat the gluey sandwich with her mittens on. He would always answer her in return in a singsong voice, “Sally, one day girl, you’ll realise and understand why absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“That’s going to be impossible.” Her father would say absentmindedly from the front seat watching her in the rear-view mirror. He also imprinted his own sayings on her from the time she could put sentences together. “Beggars can’t be choosers.” “Please eat your vegetables, Sally. There are starving children in Ethiopia. You can help them by eating your vegetables and saying a silent prayer for them while you’re doing it.” When he was surprised by something on the television he said, “Shot!” at the top of his voice, or “holy smoke” with a sharp intake of breath.

“You sound lonely, Sally.” came Sal’s mother’s voice down the telephone line. “What happened to that nice and dependable young man that you were seeing?”

“It happens all the time. You meet in a restaurant or a park or a public area where there’s lots of people around, and if you want to escape a pervert or philanderer or playboy, and then you don’t fall in love as expected and you move on. Do I really sound lonely, mother, please tell me?”

“Oh, Sally. I don’t know what to tell you anymore. You never listen to me.”

“Mother, I do, I do. I’m trying to fix me, and that takes time.”

“Come visit me and your dad. We’ve missed you. We don’t see you often enough.”

“I’ll come around on Sunday afternoon after church.”

“After church, so you say, so you say. Yes, I remember now. You said you had started to go to church.”

“Yes, church has become something which means a lot to me. Please understand that this is not a phase.”

Sal was met at the door by both her parents.

“Hello sweetheart.” Her father looked frailer, his shoulders curved, the arch of his back stooped. Sal wondered if he had shrunk, or maybe it was the stress from the breakup with Eva that was making her see things that wasn’t really there.

“Hello, father, mother.” Sal looked around her at the house. They had changed her bedroom into a sewing room and study for her mother.

“Your dad is thinking of studying again. He is thinking of doing his Masters in Creative Writing. What do you think about that, Sal?”

“Your mother wanted to keep it a secret from you which is why she never said anything.” Sal’s father smiled, delight on his face as if he had eaten some delicacy like Turkish delight.

“What about his mathematics classes, mother?” Sal directed her question towards the chair her mother was sitting in opposite her.

“Sally, what about that, dear?” Sal’s mother asked taking bottled water out of the fridge.

“Have you talked about it? I mean, in detail.” Sal replied tersely. She didn’t know why she was feeling so blue and on edge and she didn’t want to blame it on Eva of all people, simply because she was still in love with the dazzling Eva.

“Your father doesn’t need my permission to do anything. Sally, one day you’ll understand the affairs of the heart, girl. Just give it time.” To this, Sal had no answer. No inclination to tell them about the love of her life, Eva. As Sal sat in the kitchen listening to her mother moving about she remembered her father listening to old jazz records from childhood, polishing his saxophone with a soft cloth, the almost circular movements he made with his hands. She also remembered how that same evening her mother cooked lentils (for the first time) and basmati rice. Natalie had got the recipe from a faculty member. She was going through a foodie phase and wanted her family to explore food from other cultures. She stood in the doorway of the sitting room watching her father with inquisitive eyes and a curious expression on her impish face. “You have to take care of things, and they will in their own way take care of you. Come and sit here with your dad. You can take over this for awhile.” Sal took the cloth from him.

“Dad, why do you like listening to this kind of music?”

“It reminds me of my father. He loved music.”

“You sound as if you miss him. Your father liked this kind of music that you’re playing now?”

“I do miss him. I think about him all the time whenever I listen to the blues. He loved jazz. One day you’ll inherit all my records. You’ll learn to love it.”

“I love it already. I’m bored. When are we eating, dad? I’m hungry. I hope it isn’t fish. I hate fish. I absolutely h-ate fish.” Sal made a face. Her father laughed. “I’m only kidding, dad.”

“You liked the fish pie your mother prepared the other night. In fact, you raved about it.” Neil looked at his daughter’s bright eyes, skinny legs, high forehead, and button nose. Daily she was beginning to look more like him. She had inherited his eyes.

“Sally, we’ll eat whenever your mother says, ‘food is on the table, come and get it gang.’”          

“Dad looks fragile.”

“He’s still teaching. He’s still fighting fit. He still swims laps, you know, at the university swimming pool. The two of you used to be so close. What happened?”

“People grow apart all the time. It happens all the time.”

“I kept this for you. Smell this, its vanilla. It’s heavenly, right? I thought you would like it.”

“Thank you.” Sal thought it unexpected that her mother had thought of her in this way. She couldn’t believe at first that vanilla scented soap could make her feel this teary-eyed despair. “I love you, mother. I know that we’re not that close, and that we telephone each other when we find the time in our busy schedules, but I do mean it when I say this, I love you.” Sal said this with her back towards her mother. Sal didn’t know if her mother had heard her.

“Oh, Sally. Has something happened, to you? The suitable boy didn’t try and force you into an uncomfortable situation, or get fresh with you?” Her mother sounded as if she was on the verge of tears.

“I’m okay. And no, mother, there was nothing like that. I just want us to be close.” Sal turned around to look at her mother straight in the eye.

“Well, of course we all love each other. That goes without saying. I love your father. Your father loves me, you love us, and we love you. We love you very, very much.”

“I just don’t want to go through the rest of my life not knowing where I stand with you. You’re my mother.”

“Yes, Sally. But the psychology professor in me is seeing all of these warning signals go off in front me. Your body language is definitely saying that something is wrong. You can always talk to me.”

“Can I really? You’ve never said that before to me.” Sal answered.

“But I’m your mother. And we talk; don’t we talk on the telephone?”

“It’s not enough for me anymore. I need to hear you say that you’re proud of me, that you love me.”

“That sounds like a job for your father. Maybe I should call him. I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t have the words. I don’t know what you want from me, Sally. I mean maybe if you meet someone who hasn’t made a career out of journalism.”

“Maybe if you have some fire in your belly, Sally is really what you’re saying, because it takes fire to capture a man’s heart and stomach. It takes fire to raise children.”

“All you seem to date are journalists.” Her mother seemed transformed by this dialogue. She looked worn out. Is that what being a mother looked like in their fifties? She looked tired.

“I’m tired Sally. Come and eat something. Your father made your favourite. Tuna fish sandwiches.”

“That’s his favourite. You don’t even know my favourite sandwich. Its grilled cheese, just by the way, that’s my favourite sandwich.”

“Now you’re just being petulant and standoffish Sally. Oh, well, he always said wherever the two of you waited for me you loved munching on a tuna fish sandwich.”

“I just did it to make him happy. I really prefer sushi.”

“Oh, Sally. You make it sound as if I abandoned you in some way.”

“Maybe you did.”

“I wish you were happy Sally. I wish you could be as happy as your father and I have been over the years. When you came along, we were young, just starting out. And maybe all we had was love and textbook knowledge, but it got us through those lean years of starting out as teachers or whatever you want to call it. You’re the one good thing I did with my life. ”

“Maybe we should all go for a drive to the sea? What do you think mother?”

“Yes, my darling, I figure that’s a good idea, instead of this needlessly arguing and raising our voices.”

Sally sighed. Eva would have never fit into this picture, Eva who was the artist, the creator, the lover. She was all that Sally really wanted now. Not her parents. Not this loneliness. She wanted to be doing what all lovers did on a Sunday. She wanted to be going for a long walk holding Eva’s hand in her own.  She felt like reaching out into the dark, feeling Eva lying next to her in the bed, all cool hips, warm mouth and generous lips and telling her that she had always been in love with her.

 *************************************

Statement by the author

We're living in times where the systems of class, gender, human rights and sexuality have come under fire. Crimes against the LGBTQ community are under-reported. The LGBTQ community have had to face violence, brutality, isolation; and rejection in their lives. HIV/Aids is not a “gay disease”. It is important to realize the attacks against the LGBTQ community affect all of us. No longer should persons of the LGBTQ community live in fear. Gay love is still frowned upon in conservative circles today, just as it was in the 18th century. We must come to understand, accept and realize that homosexuality is not a sin. We must all tackle these social issues of class, gender, sexuality, and the human rights of the LGBTQ community head-on.

*****************************************************************
Abigail George has two books in the Ovi Bookshelves,
"All about my mother" & "Brother Wolf and Sister Wren"
Download them, NOW for FREE HERE!

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