The last eight and a half months have been the most blissful and difficult months since you left, Linds. At times, I am convinced that I did not know what I was thinking when I got myself into this.
I woke up this morning on your side of the bed with that silly flowery pillowcase of yours wet beneath my cheek; I cannot bring myself to throw it out. I can still see your lopsided grin as you walked into the study, clutching the flowery bed linen. It was the only thing we disagreed on when we decorated our little flat. Why you wanted to sleep in a garden-themed bed was beyond me. It still is. You told me that we would be waking up to spring every day, grinning once more. You knew I could never refuse you—even in death, I cannot refuse you, darling.
Mum keeps arriving at the flat unannounced. She swoops in, nattering about something she heard about someone, and fusses about me until I feel claustrophobic. All she does is fill the silence with more silence—so do I—and since you’ve been gone, our conversations are games of avoidance. At least mum is better than dad—he still hasn’t spoken to me since I told him about us. I arrived at your flat; you were standing at the stove with your back to me, stirring and singing, when I wrapped my arms around you and wept into the cotton of your t-shirt. You turned around to face me, bringing my face to your face—my lips to your lips.
I know this is ridiculous—writing a letter to you even though you will never receive it, returning to memories that only increase my longing for you. But your mum came to visit me yesterday, with yet another bowl of food, and she told me that she writes to you all the time. It aids the grieving process—her words. If you ask me, it’s already tricking my mind into thinking that you’re going to walk through our front door, holding your battered guitar case and humming an old jazz tune. But I had to tell you.
I’m pregnant, Linds. 36 weeks. Seeing that word in my handwriting makes it all the more real, not that the swollen feet and overactive bladder haven’t convinced me that I have a human being developing in my belly. It has been quite an active little one since it began kicking—especially during the night. I like to think it feels the hours that make me miss you the most.
On the whole, it has not been too difficult. I had an appointment last Monday, and the doctor told me that we are both healthy. Those appointments are always so clinical and cold—and slightly strange seeing as my doctor is an old man who grins over my protruding belly, telling me that I am bearing the gift of life. He talks a little too much for me. But somehow, he doesn’t bother me so much, because I know you would find his idiosyncrasies endearing. You loved that word—idiosyncrasies. You used it a couple of weeks after we met at that jazz club in Braamfontein. I think it was The Orbit; you would know. I was writing a piece on the music scene in Johannesburg and a friend of mine had recommended the place. And there you were, sitting on a tall, black stool on the stage, holding the body of the microphone in one hand and twirling its cord around the fingers of the other. You were in a world of your own, my love—eyes closed, body swaying, head tilted towards the overhead light which illuminated the blush of the full lips that clung to every note. I still cannot find the words to express how the sound of you, the vision of you, captivated me.
We were on our fifth date when you slid your index finger over my upper lip, wiping away the minty ice cream at its corners, and told me that my idiosyncrasies absorbed you. Any hope I had of suppressing the feelings that had made me feel so different for most of my life shattered at that moment.
Not that our relationship was without flaws. It would be easy to label it as such in hindsight—to blur the memories. But I never made anything easy for you. I could not accept that you were so comfortable with every aspect of yourself when I was not—when I blamed myself for the shame my father told me I had brought to the Venter name.
But what’s the point of dwelling on that when I can close my eyes and dwell on the taste of you, my darling? During our first night together, I relinquished control to you. You tentatively explored every inch of me until I felt fused to you, tangled up with you, in you. The memories of our mess of limbs make me ache.
But I miss our chaotic domesticity even more.
You were messy—you left your clothes, your shoes, your sheet music everywhere while I followed you, putting it all away. You cooked—you said I was a hazard in the kitchen. We ate your spaghetti bolognaise until we were too full to move. And then we ate blueberry cheesecake ice cream out of the tub while we watched our favourite crime shows. You slept on the right side of the bed, and I slept on the left. Our favourite days were Sundays.
Perhaps I am writing to you because I need to write to me too—in case I forget. The scariest thing is the fact that time passes—that life goes on. I went to Pretoria a couple of days ago for an art gallery opening, and I was greeted by the purple explosions of the Jacaranda trees. The last time it was spring time, we walked beneath those trees and you told me that you wanted to be a mother. And a month later, you were gone.
I have revisited the details of that night, that morning, wondering if anything would have made a difference in my losing of you. You came home late that night after you had sung at another wedding. I was a shape beneath our flowery sheets when you pressed your lips to my cheek and your body against mine. And as the light entered our room the following morning, I woke up to stillness. The doctor mentioned something along the lines of you being a ticking time bomb.
“That’s the way it is with aneurysms.”
The weekend after your funeral, your mum, dad and I drove to the Drakensberg to scatter your ashes. Perhaps your mum will have mentioned this in her letters to you. And here I assume that you have received them. Perhaps you have. I was always the existentialist—you, you believed in something.
You told me once that the Drakensberg was your favourite place in the world because it was a place where the angels came home. I didn’t think that you had not seen enough places to decide on one just yet. I assumed we would get to travel together—yet something tells me that you still would have preferred the Drakensberg, with your beautifully stubborn tendency to love what you loved more than any other option which appeared before you. I had never been to the Drakensberg, and when I saw it with your parents, I understood. A blurry whiteness covered every peak grasping at the sky. I don’t think I remember the first three months after that day. My senses were raw with the absence of you—your hiccupping laugh, low voice—they still are.
And then I did what we had been speaking about during our last month together—only it was your body that was supposed to carry our baby. The only way you would let me get away with ensuring that we had a mini version of you was to make me promise that I would carry the next one. We chose the perfect donor over a Wimpy breakfast on a Saturday morning, and spent the day dreaming up a future in Johannesburg’s Botanical Gardens. We made it sound romantic, didn’t we?
Ovulation schedules, doctor appointments—the actual process was not romantic at all. But I was lucky. The doctor told me that the first attempt at artificial insemination is rarely successful. If I were you, I would have said that someone was watching over me; you always found it so much easier to believe than I did.
The morning sickness was awful. You know how much I always hated nausea. And strong odours destroyed any hope of making it through the day without throwing up my breakfast-lunch-supper in a toilet somewhere—anywhere. It didn’t help that every bout of morning sickness or anything-sickness reminded me of my impending motherhood—and that I am going to be doing it all without you.
Linds, this morning I gave birth to a little girl. We have a daughter—and she is so exquisite that I can barely breathe. She may not have your genes—but I can see you in her. No amount of reading and self-preparation could have prepared me for the agony and beauty of it all. When she greeted me for the first time, I cried with her. The strength of the sound that emanated from her reminded me of you—your sound, your strength. And she is so small!—a little being covered in pink folds of skin. I touched her puckered lips, her fat cheeks, her feet, her toes, marvelling at her minutiae. Even her nails are perfect; they look like tiny square pieces of plastic attached to the tips of her fingers. I am utterly enamoured and utterly terrified.
When the nurses left me alone with her for the first time, I grasped the gravity of it all. And then I thought of you. And your lopsided grin.
On our second date, I asked you about the meaning of your name, and you told me that ‘Lindiwe’ is Xhosa for ‘awaited.’ Your parents had struggled to have children, so when you were finally conceived, they decided that they would name you Lindiwe. I stared at you for the longest time that evening.
I think we both know what name I have given to our little girl.
Kirsten Dey is fascinated by people and the narratives which shape them and which they have created for themselves. She feeds this fascination through the consumption and analysis of literature as a Master of Arts student of English literature at the University of Pretoria, as well as through the creation of stories as an avid musician and writer. This is the first of any of her narrative experiments to be published, and she hopes you engage with her characters as tenderly as she endeavoured to create them.