I feel like a volcano when I wear this dress. The innerness of the ghost dress is made out of metaphysics, evaporated moths, gauze, and yes even a numb wound, the memory and desire of Jinny, Rhoda, Susan, neuroses, rain returned to silence. Rwandan butterflies, measured with a rose garden where I scraped my knee, nostalgia, hem it in (and yes, my legs are matchstick skinny). I look beautiful in it. My anatomy says so. He waves at me. Of course, I remember you I say. We take to the floor at the church hall moving fast, then faster, and faster. I know at the end of the evening he will want to kiss me. Boys are like that. Rough. Flawed. Glaciers compared to girls who are lost at sea or river dust. He held my hand as if he never wanted to let it go. Wait for me. I want to cry out. His fingers arrows. His smile dark. His palms flat. The touch of his hand is bright. I know he will want to take a long walk afterwards.
All I can think of is the colour blue. You see, my second mother died. In the stillness, the boy has stopped dancing, he is smiling shyly at me and all I can think of is the family that is making the funeral arrangements while other families are celebrating the holidays. I do not want to think about the fact that this will be the first Christmas without her. I have to leave soon. Take my medication. I am not wearing my glasses. They said there would be fireworks tonight. It is cold out. I imagine a world in which I am nineteen, independent, living in my own flat with a black and white television, eating out of tuna fish cans for supper with a boyfriend I was too numb to feel angry about anything about. A boyfriend who put his arms around me every time I cried when I saw a cancer ward on a television documentary or the word ‘hospice’ mentioned. A boyfriend with fingers that steal me away from this world into the next.
It will be Christmas in a few hours. What is the measure of a frustrated man who forgets about his teenage girlfriend? They were trying for another child. He wanted a son. His wife wanted another baby. His wife wanted to move. He wanted to get more involved in youth ministry. I had seen his wife a few times. Why did she not want to support him? I observed the sympathy of her lovely head. The portrait of it a wasteland to my ears, eyes and female intuition. It was a still life of nothing to me against a mysterious blue sky. It is late, I must dial him. What if his wife picks up the telephone or their young daughter? I feel invincible in this dress. Like I said a volcano. I can even say, ‘Merry Christmas Pastor. You are missing the fireworks. Where are you?’ I knew the telephone call would spook him but next year I would not be around. I knew the telephone call would crush me.
The height of defeat would crush me silly, into the blazing, dazzling ground and I would remember the red creeping across my sweet face. The seat of my pain as he hung up the telephone, and recognised my voice. He called me a prodigy with potential. Read everything you can. Education can take you places. I am stuck here. Praise and worship. You could be anything. He was always telling me. You could be a politician in the making strutting my stuff from darkness to light in the blue. Mysterious. He taught me that it was not a waste to suffer in life. He learnt that the hard way. He came from the school of hard knocks. Abandonment. Neglected by a single mother. Rejected by an absent mother. He would cry. I would place my hand at the nape of his neck as he said repeatedly, ‘I should not be doing this. I should not be doing this. I should not be taking advantage of you like this.’
I just took my glasses off (they were a part of me now) and wiped them clean pretending I did not hear anything. Sometimes I thought we were like two children who had two journeys. I thought our friendship would be of the everlasting kind like flesh. Do not ever live in the past, or with regret or with bitterness in your heart. He would say that repeatedly like a crazy person or a mantra. I often wondered what I had in common with his wife. He always told me I was a good listener. Do you know how awesome you are, he would often say. People do not always say what is often on their minds. All I thought to myself was that I had dreamed me up a man and God had delivered. In the end, his victory was mocking. He started to call me ‘Glasses’. ‘Glasses’ this and ‘Glasses’ that. Nobody will believe you if you tell them anything. Soon I began to believe it too.
This Christmas he is in the kitchen with relatives, family, his wife and his young daughter surrounded by people who admire him and his chicken. Surrounded by people who admire his noodle dishes. Everybody is hungry at his table of olives, and hummus. Tempura. I have not been invited. My mechanic slate is in flux, a void, the black hole. Yet, still I am in love with him. Lying in my bed, I pretend his arms are still wrapped around me and this time he will not let go. He has picked me up from school in his car and we will go for long drives. He will mock his wife. Tell me that she whines and nags him all the time. I will ask him why he does not leave her if it really is as bad as he says it is. He will stare out of the window for a long time not saying anything at all. Finally saying, it really is not that bad. We go to the beach. He surfs. In my castle of glass, I love him and nothing else really matters.
I know he is just being kind to shower me with so much attention. It fills me with so much pride that he had singled me out.
‘You are a baby. Must I teach you everything? You probably have not even kissed a boy yet, have you? I mean properly on the mouth.’ As he fumbled with her shirt, fondled her he said ever so sweetly, ‘Is that a birthmark?’
Then he gives me his telephone number. If I need anything or if I just want to talk. It is his office number at home. We will be alone. His wife will not be able to hear anything. I write him. He tells me he loves my letters. He tells me he loves my poetry. He tells me how he wishes that he could write the way I do. He would give anything to write the way I do. Why did my aunt die? Cancer, I say. Tough, that must really been tough for you, he says. I did not really know her all that well. Tough going for you. In my castle of glass when I watch him from where I sit inside his car the sea shimmers and I cannot make out where he is exactly now. I think that it is cool that he loves dogs, that he surfs and that he goes fishing. I love him and nothing else really matters. Will your mother not find the letters you are writing to me he asks me one day. Surfing is a healthy swimmer’s territory. Clever girl trying to change the subject. Are you not scared that there is a shark out there? The pastor laughs. He looks as young as the teenagers with acne-scarred faces that he leads in the youth’s praise and worship.
‘I do not love you.’ He says. ‘Look, I understand that I am breaking your heart in a myriad of ways but I cannot undo that.’ He began to stroke her face and there it was again. A flicker of a flashback to a warm night. ‘What do you want me to say kid? I am moving on. New town. New baby. You must be happy for us. It is what my wife always wanted. We must have had a hundred conversations about her. Remember what I told you about bitterness. Bitterness nearly killed me. Landed me on the streets before I was saved. You are moving on too. New life. New job. All that is left is fragments. You are waving from one glacier and I am waving from the next. I told you we were soul mates. Are you looking forward to the fireworks Christmas Eve? Are you going to the dance in the church hall? You must go. You have so much more confidence now and friends. You have friends now.’ He said it as if she had never had a single friend before. ‘I will remember to look out for sharks next time I am in the water.’
She wanted him to call her Glasses or Songbird or My Pleasure. It did not matter, did not care to her that before every touch was golden silence now it was a blow, was scar tissue. You must not even think of leaving me. I am pregnant too and I will not get rid of it. I will not have an abortion but the pastor had been careful. Had made his exit beautifully. She could tell him she was depressed again, that she was going to the hospital again and then who would come to visit. I have been seeing the world in neon again. The world is a mass hallucination of colour, chronic illnesses of people who have renal impairment, the dark side of mental illness, social isolation and nobody even cares. She remembers the days when the pastor used to tease her about her love of politics.
‘Explain to me what social cohesion is then or climate change, missy. Isn’t what we are doing right now cohesion. Come a little closer as if you need any more motivation.’ She would blush and giggle a little. Her glasses would fog up. ‘You know, seriously. You are much cleverer than I am. I think you are brilliant. I mean you have all of these profound thoughts. You see when I am with you I can use a word like ‘profound’ without thinking that I am not using it in the proper context.’
He would tell her ghost stories. Say things, ‘I birthed a woman.’ She would wish infertility on his wife. She would think that he, the pastor who surfed and fished in a flowing river was her only reason for living, that he ruined her, the sky in her throat, was the cause of an alphabet of mistakes but whom was she kidding. She was fifteen years old. She was Glasses. The pastor swaggers in the sunlight. Everybody has come out to say goodbye and wish them well. Gifts exchange hands but Glasses stayed in the car her face wet. She composes a letter to her family in her head. For my ex-family, I am going to become a missionary in the Ukraine. You will never see me again. Post-apartheid South Africa is your country. You were built for melancholia Glasses. You were made for it. Her parents invited them over for supper. It was weird. She hid out in the kitchen most of the time.
‘Pass the spinach and I would like some of those sweet potatoes too. I love this. This is a real family life. I am going to miss country life. I am going to be a radio man now with my wife in the family way.’
Her parents whispered to each other.
‘Oh leave your daughter alone.’ Her mother said.
‘She is behaving badly.’ Her father said
‘No, she’s behaving like a tortured artist. She likes to read. She is reading somewhere.’
‘That’s fine.’ The pastor smiled. ‘I do not mind.’
She remembered finding a dead fish on the beach. Remembered prodding it with a stick of driftwood. Halfway down the stairs of her childhood home, away from the painted sun on the walls, her father, an extraordinarily gifted and very brilliant man, her extraordinarily gifted and very brilliant mother she thought to herself. ‘Poet falls to her death from the bridge of death.’ ‘I am rushing to get somewhere off this bridge of death. What does it feel like to be a wife with a baby on the way and with a husband in the ministry? I know how to do many, many wonderful things. Why is that not enough for me?’
Brightness faded away. Youth next to beauty. He needs me he just does not know it. Splash of dangles red in my lungs. I am grown and empty. I read futility in those words. The memory of war.