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Photographs Photographs
by Abigail George
2023-02-26 09:36:21
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‘You’re all muscle now I must think,’ I told Mel.

‘No, I’m toned.’

‘Well, you’ve been working out hard, I imagine. You earned that hard little body. I mean, don’t you run every weekend now. I don’t know how you do it. Marathons and all that. I don’t know how you cope under all that pressure and stress every day, week in, week out at your job. I mean, you were always perfect. You didn’t have to lose all that weight literally.’

‘Yes, I know. I just like looking after myself. It doesn’t hurt when you look good.’ Was this meant for me, I thought to myself. Mel just laughed.

‘I know I look good. I mean, now I look great but it’s challenging doing it this way. It’s a whole lifestyle. You have to eat right and think write and exercise. If you don’t do it, nobody is going to do it for you. Nobody is going to believe in you.’ Yes, I nodded to myself, she is talking to me.

‘I try.’

‘Well.’ Mel said. ‘I don’t think you try hard enough. You don’t get out of the house. You only have one body and don’t you want your body to last you a lifetime?’ I could hear the whine and nag in Mel’s tone now. I didn’t want a fight on my hands. She cried. Made it seem as if she didn’t provoke anything. Didn’t start anything with her mean attitude and her sour grapes tone of voice.

ar01_400‘I’m only saying this to you Dawn, because I’m your sister and no one else will have the guts to say it to your face. I say it because I love you. You’re fat.’

‘The way you say it, Mel, makes me think that you think that I am living on a planet and I think I’m dead sexy and thin!’

‘Wait, a minute. You’re angry. You’re upset and now you want me to fix this conversation and your self-worth? Stop pitying yourself and get out of the house. Live a little. Believe in yourself. You had so much potential. So much potential. What happened to all that talent and creativity and imagination that you had in your little finger in high school? I remember that girl. Not you, now. Do you even recognise her? Well, do you? Oh, so now you have a chip on your shoulder because I’m feeding you honesty and not hamburgers.’ I was silent on the other end of the telephone. I hated her when she was like this. She thought she meant well. Fat people don’t like to be told that they’re fat or that they should hit the gym, go shopping for some new gym clothes or that they look fat in that or this article of clothing that they’re wearing.

‘Why can’t you be nice and ask me what the names are of the people in my new story that I’m writing about, Mel?’

‘I am nice. I telephone. I mean, you never phone. You never even make the effort. Do you know how that makes me feel? I feel lonely, here, in Johannesburg. Do you know what that feels like? What do you think my weekends are like?’

‘You go out. You have fun. Can you see me, Mel? Can you see exactly how visible I am from where you are standing.’

Of course, I know what loneliness feels like, is what I wanted to tell my self-centred sister. I want to know what real love is like too. I want to dance the night away to the rhythms of a different Johannesburg until the early hours of a Sunday morning in a club.

‘I love you, Mel,’ is what I wanted to say with all my heart. ‘Can you say you love me too, just a little bit?’

*  *  *

‘Why don’t you go for the sister?’ I could almost hear Dwayne’s mother thinking. ‘You know you could. She is everything her sister is not. Beautiful. Hauntingly beautiful.’ And yes, that much was true. I have made a prison out of my sister’s looks. Because of the way she looked she could go anywhere. I could not. I could not meet certain people’s standards. She never had to be frightened of people. People looking up at her or down on her. She didn’t have to want for a strange man’s approval or a woman’s for that matter. At the end of the day, did I love my sister? Did I wish her well in all of her endeavours? She learned too late that money would never make her happy.

Of course, I wanted her to be happy. I also wanted her to reach out to me. Consider me. She was talented and creative but the thing that repeated itself so often in my own mind was wasn’t I just as talented and creative as she was, but it was never enough. I wanted a beautiful, gorgeous man to kiss me too and tell me that I was beautiful. In her world, it would then be that I mattered. That I was visible. This would mean that I was enough. If only I could have been as epic as she was. Dwayne would always be out of reach for me. Dwayne was my brother, Sammy’s, best friend. I could not hold a guy like his’s interest. The gods let me live, only to work my fingers to the bone for everything in life.

Something seemed to be reaching out to me, growing arms and legs in my dream. And a face reaching out to me out of the bathroom mirror. It was my reflection. My reflection was tired and old. Yes, I wasn’t aging well. Wrinkles, smile lines, stretchmarks, cellulite. The words seemed to be all there. A soup of them. I could reach out and touch the finnicky things and one word would lead to the next and so and so on. There would be a conversation between a man and a woman and it would lead somewhere. To a bedroom in a downtown hotel, a Hillbrow motel or the backseat of a car. A hurried tryst. Somewhere, out there, people were living their lives in this way. The way my sister spoke I could see her living that way too.

When Mel wanted to be left alone, she never phoned. Dad would say that things were going well for her and it was good that she didn’t phone. She didn’t talk to dad. Hardly spoke to me. Told mum she was making supper. A lamb chop with sweet potato chips or homemade bolognaise. Over the years of living in Johannesburg, she had become health-conscious. She was aware of looking good. Of course, I knew it was all ego-based. That she wanted to appear to be attractive, cute and sexy to the men she worked with. I was not good enough to talk to because she was the prettier one. Boys, our brother’s friends, gravitated towards her.

‘Leave me alone.’ I hissed at my mother, who just didn’t care to understand the relationship between me and Melanie. Still, our mother, pressed the telephone into my hand.

‘Leave her alone,’ my father reiterated. ‘She doesn’t want to talk to Melanie. Leave the girl alone, mother.’

She was beautiful. She had been a beautiful child. Would the years be kind to her, I often thought to myself? I wrote love stories but love stories did not pay the bills.

*  *  *

Augustin’s hair was as golden-yellow as leaves in autumn. Augustin was golden and bright and sexy. A yellow sun floating in the backyard of history. Something about the morning traffic lends itself to untrustworthiness on the days that I walk to catch my bus to the company that I work for. Something happy and sad about the day. Angry and hostile about the people around me. Aggressive and brutal about the city skyline. Inside, I am silent and cold. My heart is filled with silent grace and cold mercy. I’m a winner. I’m a winner, I say over and over again inside my head as if there’s some truth to it. I am a feeling person. Unlike Mel, my golden sister, my hopeful twin, my domesticated-goddess muse. All her friends’ faces were plastered on social media. They were hard and pale and painful for me to look at. All I could see was wealth and capital. Perfection. Their exquisite features, pale and blonde.

*  *  *

My brother and my mother are the gardeners in the family. They garden as if they have a magical instinct for it. My sister is a tragedy waiting to be reckoned with. Tragedy occurring in her relationships with males. She works in a male dominated office environment in a bank. She’s hard and successful. She drinks too much when she goes out. She parties hard. Doesn’t ask me about myself much. I am neither hard or successful. This makes me an invisible person. An invisible person in her world. Today the swimming pool is cold and silent. I think to myself that we live in changing times as I pull my sweater over my head and shiver in the light of day.

I am slowly starting to realise. Winners will be transformed by these times. Losers will move in the circles they have always been moving in. In poverty. Marginalised. The swimming pool is cold and silent. Limbs dance with honour. As if they’re political and they hate it. Limbs are buried under the water, pure and innocent and freewheeling. They dance. They dance. The trance of sadness is hopeful for reconciliation. It whispers its ghost identity to an apartheid-era culture of sleeping tourists. The mountains high. I love these people, right? Now they care a damn about politics.

Even in clouds, I find fighting people suspended there, (something must be supporting them, sustaining them). In much the same way that strangers and even criminals are supported. Dark scenes of dysfunctional family life. Ripe and rotting fruit estranged from green branches. Chords reaching out to a stark reality made up of harsh lines and even harsher boundaries. I put my earphones on and listen to Amy Winehouse’s voice blasting away the rainclouds.

*  *  *

The air was so hot and dry that day that I could feel it in my bones. Damian Gregory, my brother’s young son nestled against me with all of his warmth and milk and honey sweetness. Sammy’s magical son.

Boredom was always a compass for me and so I navigated my way through the world until I came to Damian. I can see even now he is going to be just as handsome and arrogant as his father, Sammy.

Even the windows in Mel’s house, I imagine, are alive like poetry. She’s living. She’s living. The exact opposite of what I’m doing exactly. I started out with poems first before I began writing love stories.

Discovered there that even ugliness can have a simplicity to it. An art. A living art. A dying art. Something that is profound about it. A poetry to its wretchedness.

She’s never wanted anything to do with me. Now she can’t wait to phone and speak to me. Talking to me about drinking games, drinking shots of Tequila at the weekend. She talks to me in the language of sleeping around. The nagging Christian husband of a hot, fiery, extroverted Indian friend of hers. It means absolutely nothing to me. It has nothing to do with me but I listen. I listen as if I’m her best friend. I feign interest. I nod and agree with everything that she talks about. She has an important position in a bank but she pretends that she’s worried about the interest rate. How is she going to pay her house at the end of each month? She’s selfish, arrogant like Sammy. Self-absorbed and in love with her own voice. Her cupboards are full. She’s beautiful. I am not beautiful in the same way. I am not clever in the same way she is. Do I love her? Do I love her? I don’t know. I don’t know if I love her anymore. It doesn’t seem to me as if we come from the same mum. As if we share a birthday. She speaks about Christian values and norms as if she’s an authority figure on them. As if she lives like a Catholic nun.

So, when she does telephone and I take the phone from my mother, we speak in low, hushed tones, confessing all of our sins for that day. We confide our secrets to each other. Her friends didn’t look like nice, Christian people. The girls were blonde and looked wild. The guys were homosexuals. She didn’t phone today. I know the reason. I know she must be mad. That I ignored her tears. My loneliness falls through the cracks of the system. She must be placated. She must come first, but what about my own loneliness, the harbour of my illness and the ship of my disease. What happens to my own emotional security, the key turning in the keyhole. I am simply this. A cut-out waiting in anticipation of supper. Damian Gregory falls asleep in front of the television. His mother’s (when she comes and fetches him in the evening after work with her new husband) perfume is still in the air after they leave. I love Damian Gregory in much the same way I love Mel. I love them from a distance and can only take them in small careful doses. Too much of them and my whole state of mind goes haywire.  A tangle of birds in the air.

We get ready to go for a walk. It’s Friday afternoon. Rain is in the air. The sky is overcast. The sun was out in the morning. And so, my father, and I, Sammy and Damian Gregory make our way out of the house into the light.

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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