A story about goodbye

Biggreen field looks up at bigblue sky.
Bigblue sky hangs upside down looking back.
They are face-to-face, bigblue pressed against biggreen in soft hill lines and shapes like lips.
And the point at which they meet is where we now walk and talk.
Blackhaired you and redlipped I.

Your hands are burroweddown into anorak pockets.
Mine are knitted in tightfingers behind my back.
“Do you really mean it?” I say.
“Yes. I think so,” you reply.
“But you said you wanted to try.”
“I know, but now I think I want this more.”
“More how?”
“More, like I want to eat ice cream more than I want to mow the lawn.”
“Oh. What kind of ice cream?”
“I don’t know, strawberry.”
“Okay. I always thought you hated it.”

The sun is higher now.
Bigblue is bluer, biggreen brighter, almost shining underneath.
Smallwhite clouds smudge between them in a veil.
And you and I walk, above field below sky, our dirtyfeet sinking a little into the mud.
We look down at a truck carrying deadfelled trees on the highway.
Tallyellow logbodies strapped down in a limbless pile.
“I hope you understand,” you say and touch my shoulder like pitying people do.
“I do understand,” I say.
“Good. We can email. I leave on Saturday you know.”
“Goodbye for Saturday then. I hope it’s like strawberry ice cream.”
“Me too… me too! Goodbye and, well, thanks.”

You’re smiling now.
Laughing a little, relieved that maybe we’re slidingstraight into being friends.
But we’re not. Of course we’re not.
Biggreen knows it, sprouting new shoots underfoot.
Bigblue knows it, hanging heavy overhead.
Your cheeks are flushedpink as they often are.
Mine are not. They are white and stretched over jaw muscles clenched.
There is a burningrope inside my throat.
With burningwords trying to climb it and get out.

“Can I kiss you one more time before I go?” you ask.
“Why?” I ask back.
“Because I really like kissing you.”
“More than mowing the lawn?”
“Much more. I know I’ll miss it when I’m gone.”
“I will too.”
“So does that mean I can kiss you?”
“I don’t know, yes.”
“Yes?”
“Yes.”
“Okay. I will.”

The hillside heaves.
Grass shoots whisper and smallwhite clouds turn their heads to look.
Lips are licked, hands are pulled from pockets.
You lean in, I can smell what the kiss will taste like before it arrives.
“No! Just nononononononooo!”
The burningwords burst from my mouth as I fall to the grass and roll and roll.
I roll down the hill, between bigblue and biggreen.
Fieldsky fieldsky.
Bluegreenbluegreenbluegreenbluegreen.
Fasterandfaster.
Redlips whitecheeks.
Redwhiteredwhiteredwhite.
I am a wheel.
I am a scoop of ice cream.
I am a tallyellow treebody rolling limbless and out of control.
I am further and further away from you.
I am happysadhappysadhappysad.
I am so much of everything and nothing in a blur.

I’m lying at the bottom of the hill looking up at you.
You are standing at the top of the hill looking back.

 

Electric People Talking

Once, when he was very small, he almost died of shock.
He sat on the floor in that child-squat way and stuck three fingers into the three holes of a wall socket.
He pushed them in deeper, his fat little hand like a fat little plug on a cord.
Then he clicked the power switch onto red.
Slowly, deliberately, as if trying to lighten a room that’s grown too dark.
Even as his marble eyes rolled and his ragdoll body shook, he didn’t pull his fingers from the holes.
He flowed with electricity like blood.
He didn’t die.
But he did lie lifeless for two days while something rewired inside.
When he woke up he was an electric person.
Yes, there really is such a thing.

Now he stops watches.
Their skinny arms go stiff and still on his wrist.
He disturbs street lamps, like leaves.
One by one they flutter off, and then on again as he walks by beneath.
He turns grey blizzards into pictures and words on TV screens with a touch.
He touches everything just to see what happens.
People too.
His fingers send needles of leaping electrons into their skin, which hurt.
Children cry.
His father won’t shake his hand any more.
Women wince when he tries to kiss them.
The ones that don’t spring reflexively up and into clothes when his cord arms start to curl slowly around their waists.

“It’s too much static electricity in the body,”
Says the doctor after examining him.
She wears rubbery washing-up gloves to do it.
“It’s rare, but documented,” she says.
“There are others like you around.”
He Googles it.
It is true.
He joins an online forum called “Electric People Talking”.
He gives himself a nickname.
TheFlashMan.
Then he starts to talk.

After a while he talks only to her.
She calls herself ELECTRALUX and types only in caps.
She almost died of shock too.
“STRUCK BY LIGHTNING ON MY BOARDING SCHOOL ROOF,” she says.
“TWICE ACTUALLY, THE SECOND TIME THERE WASN’T EVEN A STORM.”
Then she tells him about the titanium backing on her watch.
“AMAZING, IT REALLY WORKS!”
She also tells him about the romances that ended in needles and pain.
“IT WAS WORSE FOR ME THAN FOR HIM, I THINK.”
“THOUGH HE DID SHRIEK LIKE A GIRL WHEN WE TRIED TO GO TO BED.”

They decide to meet.
TheFlashMan and ELECTRALUX.
Electric People Talking.
“What about on a park bench somewhere, like normal people do?” he types.
“NO. ON THE BRIDGE OVER THE MOTORWAY,” she replies.
“Why?”
“BECAUSE I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND AND FEEL THINGS FLOWING FAST AND HARD BETWEEN US AND AROUND.”
“Me too.”
“I WANT TO FEEL YOU STAND STILL AND NOT SPRING AWAY.”
“Me too.”
“ME TOO.”
“See you tomorrow.”
“I’LL WEAR A BLUE DRESS.”

Next day, on the bridge over the motorway, they find each other.
Traffic courses below like blood.
A street lamp flickers on then off again overhead.
He is nervous.
She is not.
He is shaking.
She is breathing slow but hard above the neckline of her dress.
“So, here we are on the bridge,” he says.
“YES. HERE WE ARE,” she replies.
“I like your dress,” he says.
“THANKS. NOW CAN I HOLD YOUR HAND?”

He holds out his hand.
It is shaking too.
She lifts her hand in an arc, like smoke.
It is not shaking.
It is waiting to be touched.
One plume of electrons about to collide with another.
They both know what is coming.
Collision and pain.
Collision and pain and a kind of joy they deeply want.

They touch.
Hand onto hand.
His shaking meeting her arc of smoke.
There is a pause.
There is another pause.
They hold hands.
Nothing happens.
There is no spark.

 

A jar of sleep

When I was small, I read a book about a girl who lived in a forest.

The forest was magic, the girl was not,

But she did have a shop in the trunk of a tree where she sold magic things,

Things like glass jars full of sleep.

 

The girl would go out into the forest and find a sleeping rabbit or fox or deer,

Then, slowly, quiet as a tree, she’d hover a jar over its nostrils, waiting,

Waiting and catching the silvery wisps exhaled through its nose with the air.

 

After that, all I wanted was a jar full of sleep,

A silver wispy calming thing stirring behind glass just for me.

Once, I even emptied a pickle bottle and tried to catch the cigarette smoke leaving my uncle’s hairy chimney nose in a rush.

“Stop it. What’s wrong with you?” he said.

“Nothing,” I said.

But the truth was I actually hadn’t slept for almost half a year.

 

Every night, I’d lie on my back under the dark bedroom ceiling above.

There was a strange stain of shadow in the corner,

It looked like an oak leaf, sometimes a little more like a duck.

But every morning, the light slowly soaked the corner clean,

And then I got up, pretending to be rested,

Yawning too loudly down the corridor,

Rubbing imaginary sleep from my eyes while brushing my teeth.

 

Another year went by just the same.

I started reading about it,

Found out about a thing called “fatal familial insomnia”,

Which usually leads to dementia and death after six to eight months,

Which mine clearly hadn’t.

 

So I wasn’t demented, but I was starting to get tired.

Sometimes I was so tired I couldn’t even make word sounds with my mouth.

“What’s wrong with you now?” my uncle would say.

And I would say nothing, literally nothing.

I couldn’t even say the word “nothing”, because my mouth no longer knew how.

 

Then, one night, I got into bed under the ceiling and it happened.

I saw the oak-leaf duck stain above me as before,

And I just couldn’t bear to look at it.

No, please, no not again.

I closed my eyes, locked them shut with lashes, resolute.

I thought about real ducks, swimming,

Real oak leaves, moving in breezes through trees.

 

Darkness leaked in from all sides and bundled me into a ball.

It tumbled and tumbled me, pushed me, took me, soaked me all clean.

I fell and fell, into a forest of tree trunks and creatures curled deep in sleep.

And suddenly, madly, fatally, I was one of them.

It was so beautiful, I opened my eyes.

A glass jar was hovering there, just above my nose.

It was held by a hand, attached to arm, extended by a girl trying to be quiet as a tree.

The girl had my face.

 


Based in Cape Town, Justine Joseph is a scientist by training and a word person by profession. She has an Honours degree in Cell Biology and 12 years experience as a journalist. Joseph is the editor of innovation newspaper, Inside|Out and co-author of the book The Story of the Fly and How it Could Save the World – currently completing a second book in this series. In a parallel universe, she is working on a collection of strange poems and her her first novel. Her work has appeared in New Coin poetry journal, ITCH online, The Big Issue Collector’s Edition (December 2014), and the anthologies Heart of Africa! Poems of love, loss and longing (African Sun Press, December 2014), and The Sol Plaatjie European Union Poetry Anthology Volume IV, (Jacana, November 2014).

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