Bloodwork is familiar. Like the stream flowing into the river, blood flows through veins, arteries, platelets, and walls. Carol stepped outside. It was times like this that she remembered that there had been a time that she had wanted to be a nurse like her mother. The only thing was that she couldn’t stand the sight of blood.
Night-time. She felt as if she being lit from within. As if something deep down inside that had been asleep inside of her was flickering itself into an awakened state.
She knew Jerome smoked and she absolutely hated it when he did that in the house. They were supposed to have boundaries. Sometimes it felt as if she was the only one who actually followed the rules. The night air moves through her. She closed her eyes. She wanted a bowl of tin roof ice cream. Carol was particular about chocolate. She liked the dark bitter kind.
First the silence of the evening passed through her. The silence of the trees. Then the silence of the birds.
She felt almost as if she was one with the moonlight while insects folded and unfolded their Lilliputian angel wings. Their angel ways. And all she had to do was reflect. Yes, reflect! ‘Everything is becoming misty or is it the hot chocolate that I am drinking going straight to my head, the company I am keeping. Listen to me. Politics etched into bone tasting tin roof ice cream. Politics seemed to have even reached the borders of the church,’ Carol reflected momentarily on this.
Her church life was not something that she could share easily with Jerome. Discontent for so many is a temporary assignment of life. Carol would sometimes imagine her sister as a heatwave. Making waves in the la-la-land of faraway Johannesburg where she worked in media. It was a Sunday morning. Carol had washed her hair after church. Her brown skin was glowing. She remembered of how they had called her mother the paper tiger. Carol remembered her mother’s (Sunday best) rituals. Now it was just a walk-in history for her.
She remembered how her mother declared the chicken bird feast ready for celebration. How they all gathered around her. Glimpses of her.
What does the flicker of love feel like for her, Carol sometimes thought to herself? Carol wondered now to herself as she was nearing her mid-thirties what it would be like to have had those kids. Those children. To be called ‘mum’. Her skin porcelain. The tin roof was waiting for her. Carol held up a mirror to her soul before she went back into the kitchen and opened the freezer. She remembered how devoted to her father her mother was. Remembered the words, ‘My darling,’ on her mother’s lips.
‘You never looked so lovely mum’. But Carol could only bring herself to say those words in her imagination. Carol had turned to religion like so many young women of her generation. Thinking that her parents’ divorce was her fault. That she was the mistake. The wallflower in house plays.
‘It never leaves you. The lack of mother love.’ Carol confessed to Jerome once. She also told him of stories of her super-elegant divorcee mum in the audience revisited repeatedly. Made of stylish flesh.
‘The divorcee. That is a powerful image of a woman.’
‘I can imagine.’ Was all that Jerome could bring himself to say.
Years ago, Carol had watched Stanley Kubrick’s film version of Lolita. She would watch films until they began to feel like medicine to her. Women, down and out, they all began to taste medicinal to her anyway. The peanut butter and syrup characters filled her up like sparkling wine, the bubbles of champagne with lack. With hope, their stories. America and Paris were like outer space to Carol. It marked her from the beginning. There was, is still a part of her intrigued by Hemingway’s Paris. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Paris.
When Carol was a child she played in the dirt with dolls and had tea parties. Picked up shells, feathers, driftwood on the beach. She drew her name in the sand. Made garlands with seaweed. Lolita reminded Carol that children died of broken dreams every day in this world and that there are Lolita’s to be found everywhere in Africa. History says it all. In death’s darkness. The war that lingers in the traces of an argument and the mad dance of battle scars worn like tattoos.
It wasn’t that the intimacy of the relationship, between her and Jerome was unsatisfactory and did not meet her life goals. Carol knew she was unhappy but she didn’t know what it was. She couldn’t put her finger on it. She thought it was the marriage-commitment thing. She wanted a ring on her finger. Jerome knew this. He was planning on doing it, committing to the relationship sometime ‘in the near future’ but ‘didn’t want to be rushed into anything’. Marriage meant commitment, he argued with Carol.
He knew that she wanted him to take her seriously but in his own time, he argued repeatedly. It meant spending a lifetime together. Making life choices and decisions together. It was important to him that he do this the right way.
In hate, Carol told her college students there are four things. Four quintessential deal-breakers. The quality of the lie, how it serves you, how its reflection changes, the proximity of friendship, relationships. The spirit of giving and forgiving and how its reflection changes you imperceptibly, and grace and mercy. The transformation of human nature, change comes with territory. Climate. Wounding, hurt, pain, emptiness.
Carol wasn’t listening to the sermon. She was thinking of something else. What she was going to cook for Sunday lunch. The emails that she still had to answer. Papers that she had to mark.
‘You knew who I was and the principles that I stood for when you met me, Jerome.’ Carol hissed at him.
It wasn’t as if she was backing him into a corner. Now he wanted to use her religion and call her “a spirit sister”. As if she didn’t know any better. As if she didn’t know where it was all coming from. Jerome was judging her. How could he? She wasn’t a saint.
‘I am not calling you a sinner, Jerome. Yes, you smoke. Lots of people do.’ Carol tried to play it cool. She was at her wits end. She just didn’t know what she was up against now.
Didn’t her mother warn her. ‘Oh, the two of you are thinking of moving in with each other. Are you really sure about this, Carol? I mean, you know what I think. You can do anything you want to do. You’re an adult but the church will frown upon it.’
‘I know what you’re thinking Carol and you won’t be able to argue your way out of this one. I know that you’re thinking right now. That you probably should have listened to your mother.’ Jerome brushed his fingers through his dark hair.
Carol thought that he looked very handsome, bit her lip, and sighed. ‘Babe, why are we arguing about this. I mean we’ve had this conversation about twenty times already. We’ve talked about the ins and outs of me going to church and you not going to church with me. Haven’t we done this already to death?’ Carol was ready to make peace but then she saw Jerome’s eyes.
Had she hurt him? Was it something that she had said. Did she not let go at the proper time? Should her arguments have been more realistic. Did her faith sound extreme? She waited. Jerome didn’t say anything. He wasn’t looking at her. He didn’t look angry. He wasn’t giving her attitude. Most of her girlfriends’ boyfriends gave them attitude. Her girlfriends were always saying oh, how polite Jerome was. What a perfect gentleman he was. He was considerate, sweet, and funny. Carol was lucky. Of course she knew that. Whenever Carol brought up the church thing, they always brushed it aside. Not everybody likes church, they said. Some people have even been hurt by the church, they said. It happens.
That morning in church Carol was also thinking of the dream life that she had found with her life partner, Jerome. The only thing is he never wanted to come to church.
To Carol it was simple. Jerome didn’t have a reason why he didn’t want to come to church. He did say his father had been ‘a disciplinarian’ but he had never gone into the details.
‘I’m going to talk about soul food this morning. What feeds our soul? Love is soul food. Having empathy for your Christian sisters and brothers, that’s soul food too.’ The Irish missionary said with his blue eyes. Perspiration on his upper lip. His shoes were as sharp as steak knives.
The congregation was a zoo on Sunday mornings. Sunday afternoons saw a much more relaxed crowd. After all, “the animals” had eaten, supped on the body of Christ and grape juice. On a Saturday afternoon in their living rooms they had their televisions on cooking shows and on Sunday mornings those who could not or would not leave their homes would tune into church choirs.
‘We must all grow. Don’t you want to grow. Not even a little. If you come to church with me maybe you would even meet someone. Network isn’t that what you call it. You would expand your database. People that you have things in commmon with. Live a little.’
‘This is South Africa. Everybody who is anybody has things in common with each other. I don’t think I will grow if I go to church. I think I’ll die a little first. Stagnate even. I don’t want to stagnate. Now that would be the death of me if that should ever happen to me which it is most certainly is not.’
‘You’re already a dead nobody if you don’t believe, Jerome. There I said it. The brutal honesty of it all.’ By now Carol couldn’t keep the frustration out of her voice.
‘You’re just tracking the soul with sequins and diamond glitter every Sunday morning anyway. Feeding people is your way, babe, not mine. Go save the multitudes and I will give you a kiss for goodluck.’ Jerome kissed Carol’s cheek.
‘Maybe you feel this way because of some childhood trauma that you have to work through. I don’t know.’ Carol hugged Jerome while holding onto her hat.
‘Carol, you don’t have to save the world. Maybe you have to, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of some childhood trauma that you have to work through. Maybe not. A lot of people don’t go to church and they have their personal reasons so respect mine Carol. I’m a leader not a follower, can’t you see that Carol. I don’t mean to cause you distress, honey. I am just being honest. Can’t you understand that without always trying to read anything into my behaviour?’
‘Okay, okay. I will leave it alone. I will leave you alone.’ Jerome smiled at her and Carol forgetting to be cross with him responded by smiling back at him. ‘Fine, don’t come with me then.’
‘We’ll go for a long walk after you come back. Promise, Carol.’
Carol and Jerome did eventually get around to getting married. Every Sunday Carol would go to church. She would sing. She would pray. Sometimes during the week she would attend the prayer meeting and Bible study. Jerome did not go with her. Carol often thought to herself was she being punished for something. For being a Christian sister, a do-gooder in the community (she helped at a feeding scheme a few times a week). Every year there was a Christmas party for the children in a disadvantaged area not very far from where they lived.
Carol and Jerome even had children. A son and a daughter who were teenagers now.
‘I know you pray for me. I also know that after all of these years you still don’t understand.’ Carol and Jerome were standing on a near-deserted beach near their holiday house. It was the off-season. Families had gone back to the city days before. She pulled a jersery over her head and shivered. Jerome put his arm around her.
‘We’ve been happy though all these years, Carol, haven’t we?’ Jerome squeezed her arm, brushed her hair out of her face.
‘Yes, Jerome. We have. I have wondered though. The children have also wondered.’ Why lie Carol thought to herself.
‘Every time I went to church with my mother and saw my father in the pulpit, I knew it was not an easy life for her.’
‘But that’s past, Jerome. You’re not your father.’ Carol said nothing more. Stared off into the distance.
‘But he wanted me to follow in his footsteps and I felt like I failed him in some way. He asked me to, if I wanted to, in hospital before the end and I said no and every time I thought of going with you it would just break me.’
‘It’s getting late.’ Carol looked at Jerome, touched his face.