Chapter 7 – The Bad Jewish Wife

October 25, 2011

There was a tree in the orchard, larger than the others; no blossoms adorned it. It bore no fruit. It towered above the surrounding arboreal splendor, whose froth of pink and white promise shivered in the breeze; frivolous springtime bridesmaids surrounded the aging groom in whose grey arms she sat. Sturdy branches spiraled around a scarred trunk, some so low they touched the ground; low enough for fairly small children and one pregnant woman to climb. She sat high enough in the branches to be safely hidden, for who in their right mind would look upwards for a pregnant woman? She perched, immobile. Only her hair stirred. The soft air, alive with singing insects, buzzing wasps and the perfume of a Cote de Azur afternoon dried the moisture on her face and between her legs.

She leaned her back against the trunk and rested one hand on her huge belly.

Hidden, hidden. She longed to stay invisible forever, never to be found by the two visiting mothers, the three older children, the au pair (missing for two days already), and the husband, who only stopped lusting after the au pair when he got up close enough to observe that she was not attractive. (“She’s not even pretty,” he complained, impervious as usual, to any lack of discretion or sensitivity.) She wanted to sit there until the hoped-for son slid out from between her legs, red, healthy, and above all, male. Continued…

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Miss Julie Says Goodbye (Chapter 6)

March 25, 2011

The woman had a new maid. Despite having been born at the opposite end of the social spectrum, being servant, not mistress, Miss Sarie Julie had some things in common with her namesake, Mr. August Strindberg’s tragic heroine. She did not have the vote; her social status was dictated by birth, she had little or no responsibility for her fate, and her boyfriend was crude, worthless and controlling. While he did not send her to her suicide, he did cause her to go (occasionally) to the VD clinic for painful injections. He also required her to extract her entire row of upper teeth, which marred her generous smile, but enhanced the fulfillment of his less than generous sexual demands. With the insertion of a few words, Mr. Strindberg’s preface to his play could well describe this Miss Julie. Viz;”She is the victim of false belief-namely that a (Colored)woman-this stunted form of human being compared to (White) man, the lord of creation, the creator of civilization-is equal to man or might become so.”

Also, in a letter to the poet Verner von Heidenstam; Mr. Strindberg elaborates; “PS. (Colored) Woman, being small and foolish and therefore evil, should be suppressed like barbarians and thieves. She is useful only as an ovary and a womb….” In this case while Miss (Sarie)Julie did, on occasion thieve a minor trinket here and there—she always returned it ruefully when her employer, the woman, asked for it back-she was historically deemed useful only as a cleaner of White Madams’ toilets and caretaker of their children.

Continued…

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More Bad Company; or Bring On the Clowns (Chapter Four)

May 4, 2010

The Las Vegas Girls were not Lilies of the Field. Daily, they toiled mightily. They sweated and stretched, pliéd and spun and kicked their legs as high as their bouffant do’s. They kept their mascarared eyes on the goal, restricted their intake of sugar and fat and loved their dance partners much more than their husbands or boyfriends. Center stage, they climbed onto rickety prop chairs in high heels and executed pencher arabesques, and no risk to life and limb, no horrible wobble of uneven chair legs could displace their effervescent smiles nor quench their steely determination. The woman had been part of the company for more than a year.

She had been recruited by Audrey Turner of The Pagets dance team (Audrey and John Paget had dissolved their dance partnership shortly after arriving in South Africa but had decided to form a Jazz Dance company together.) Audrey had seen the woman dancing at a house party in Sea Point and invited her to join their company. The woman was reticent at first, never having had any Jazz training, but the idea of dancing again since leaving the Ballet Company at nineteen and doing her miserable best to forget her dreams and conform to marriage and motherhood, proved irresistible. Now into her second marriage and second child, it had felt as if the last few years had stifled the very life out of her. She seemed to have been holding her breath, as if any deep inhalation would reignite the tamped down longing in her breast and implode into total destruction of the manufactured “normal” role expected of her. After the first few weeks of training she felt that she could breathe again and looked forward to each day with its morning classes and rehearsals. The challenge of learning a new style, the joy of being back in her body; feeling the ache in her muscles, the pounding of her heart, all this revived her. The rivulets of sweat that trickled over her skin seemed to penetrate all her cells and quench the inner thirst, hydrating the desiccated core of her. Continued…

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The Child Is Not Dead (Chapter Three)

February 5, 2010

The woman awakened inside her own corpse the night of July nineteen, nineteen sixty-five, five days before her twenty-sixth birthday; the night that Ingrid Jonker walked out of the mental institution at Volkenburg, (refusing to die in the same place as her mother before her), seamlessly progressed from rocky shoreline through rough sand that glinted and crunched with the brittle shells of dead mollusks, on into the sea at Green Point. And kept on walking. Just as she always said she would.

As the surf shushed back and forth, sucking Ingrid’s sodden body farther and farther out to sea, and then rushed back to crash on the shore without her, it created great reverberations of sorrow and regret that rippled up the beach under a shifting blanket of sand like some subterranean serpent. When these waves of loss, blown shoreward by Ingrid’s final exhalations reached the main road they slithered under the surface tar and followed the white line on the highway all the way to Bantry Bay where the woman, Ingrid’s friend, lay sleeping. Reaching the foundations of her apartment, they found an opening in the plumbing, squeezed through and rushed upwards into the woman’s bedroom.

The woman was lying on her back, alone on the big mattress on the floor; her new husband was in Paris. Her body felt dense and heavy as stone. She felt the flesh sliding off the bones of her face like melting wax, pooling on the pillow beneath her head. The exposed bones of her skull felt sharp and freezing cold. She wanted to raise her hands to her face and catch the sliding flesh, push it back in place, but although she strived with all her might, her arms would not obey. She could not move. She wondered why she was still there, if she was dead. Then the child in her womb fluttered like an anguished butterfly and she knew that it was alive. And so was she. Continued…

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Keeping Bad Company (Chapter Two)

November 3, 2009

Although she did her best to maintain a dialogue with Auntie Claire over the next ten years, the girl squeezed uneasily into the vestments of womanhood without the support of her old mentor.

The clamor of hormones deafened reason and the fading reflection of Auntie Claire wobbled uneasily before breaking up in the waters of Nepenthe. Surely she would have advised that marriage and motherhood at nineteen was no escape from a tyrannical father, nor a drug to dull the ache of abandoned dreams.

Then along came Nerina, brimming with life and sympathy; a mentor for all seasons.
Continued…

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Auntie Claire de Lune (Chapter One)

August 13, 2009

Pretty Sunset

“It’s just that you are dreamer,” said Auntie Claire-Next-Door. “There is nothing wrong with being a dreamer. I too, was so as a child. My mother used to tease me and call me  ‘Claire de Lune’, which means ‘Moonlight’ Claire and was her way of saying that I was a moony girl, mooning around when I should have been studying.

“‘Mooning’ is an English expression. My mother often spoke English to us as she wanted me to become an accomplished young lady. When I was a girl, it was not enough to be from a good family. It was also necessary to be accomplished.”

The girl became restless as she wanted to go home and look up the meaning of “accomplished” before she forgot it. She also did not understand the meaning of a ‘good family’ as she had supposed that all families were good. What made a family bad? Was it when the children were excessively naughty, or something worse, like the father was a thief (a gonif), or the mother a ‘Lazy South African’ (something her mother despised, which meant a lady who did not wash her own underwear, but gave it to the maid, or who sat all day drinking tea, or worst of all, let the maid do the cooking).

She did not want to ask Auntie Claire about good families as she often asked too many questions and the adults grew irritable. At school the teachers grew more than irritable. They acted as if asking questions about the ‘rules’ was the cheekiest, most unmannered, badly-brought-up thing a little girl could do. Children should be seen and not heard. Continued…

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