SAWC 2010 Fifth Place

A Winter Sun Rising by Richard Burmeister

The wind assaulted the back yard, stirring up dust devils and swirling leaves around in a vortex. She sat cross legged on the lounge carpet looking out through the French doors, watched a paper bag being whipped away over the trees by a gust.

Three months to the day since she'd been in court and watched Alistair, her lawyer, declare her marriage ‘null and void'. The raven-haired one, the twenty year old, had been with him, glancing casually at her nervousness.

Home alone, afterwards, drinking the pain away with wine, counting the hopes dashed, the Namibian trip cancelled - she'd heard that he'd taken her with him to Windhoek, gone on safari with the one who had caused all the trouble - or had he caused it, she wondered.

A memory surfaced - David standing in the centre of the lounge. "For God's sake Clair. Give me some room. You make jealousy look tame. Go see a shrink. Your father screwed you up. You need help. You're obsessed with me. Get a life!"

She heard herself complaining endlessly.

He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not...

It was a habit. She played with her necklace when she was nervous. "It's easy to become obsessed with something one wants but can't have, Dave. You're never here. When you are here your focus is elsewhere. I may as well not exist. My father wasn't perfect. By no means. He was just a lot like you. He spent his entire life - devoted it - to running away from me and my mother."

"Always my fault, isn't it?"

"I'm not blaming you. I'm just saying we have a problem. The relationship isn't working for me. But whenever I confront you with it you run away."

"Oh, for God's sake!" He'd slammed the door on his way out, gone to assuage his feelings elsewhere.

The smell of Cape Town coming in through the partly opened window. She could hear the taxis hooting distantly, like an obsession which is gaining its hold.

She would be thirty years of age on the fifteenth of June - a few days away. Starting over again. A new face to look for, someone to bed her. Her body craved it, burnt with a desire she hadn't known before.

No easing of the pain. Feelings of abandonment reared multiple heads like Cerberus the dog from hell, the underbelly of fear bound in elementally to each cell in her body. Sadness leaked from an inner wound which screamed mother, mother, mother! Why did you allow him to do that to me.

At the window she looked out onto a torn garden, wind-shredded, blue winter skies above the gale. She looked up to a God she didn't know.

In darkness, sleep abandoned her. The knife of her emotions forced her into a foetal position and drew the child out, sobbing through the dark hours. She could hear trucks on the highway. Day woke her to a memory of David's face above her morphing into her father's face. Both had walked away. She had given up the chase, stopped where the pain was.

The rain came with the night, ticking on the metal roof of the house. She left the lights off and moved around in a womb of darkness. Grey morning brought more rain from the west and the memory of a child's voice crying in a dream. There had been a desert, sand, nothing grew. Desolation had its own rich texture of browns and reds and oranges and yellows. It gave her space to grow.

Genevieve Abraham, her therapist, always greeted her with the word ‘shalom'.

"What does it mean?" she'd had the courage to ask, one unusually sunny day. "It's Hebrew, isn't it?"

Nod of the head, auburn hair cut in a bob. "It means to be safe, to be complete, nothing missing, nothing broken. It means to be happy, secure, unharmed, unhurt. It means an absence of strife."

Taking her usual chair in the small room. "You want that for me?"

"Do you want that for you?"

"Yes. Yes, I do."

She sat on the floor in the lounge, cross-legged, watching the hissing storm, the rain coming in sheets, rattling over the roof, cracking on the windows like small explosions. Alone with the scent of the rain coming in through the partly opened window, loneliness like a thick mist, shadowing each corner of the house - the ticking of the clock in the study too loud, too slow. Watching the sheets of rain, the dark sky.

An egg on toast. The daily feast. For what we are about to receive...

She didn't want memories. Not one! You are dead, she thought, remembering his quick eyes, full mouth, fringe of hair - the way it always stood up in the morning - she would brush it down and laugh, call him Woody Woodpecker.

She felt the loss acutely - a blade drawn through an inner flesh, drawing blood. The air was full of static electricity. Her hair clung to her jersey, magnetised. One step at a time. Eat. Do more beach walks. Time is the healer, here. Get a grip. You deserve better. Time to let go of the pain. Time to grow, to heal.

Genevieve mirrored her body language, placing thumb and forefinger to her chin. "He used love as a weapon, used the withdrawal of his love as a means to manipulate you. The sex was power. He saw himself as a powerless man. His greatest fear was intimacy. This is all about power, Claire - power and powerlessness."

Claire shifted in her chair, nodded. "Yes. That makes sense." She pulled a tissue from the box on the table, dabbed her eyes. "I just don't know how much longer I can survive this pain," she said.

"Some of these feelings, these emotions, go back to before memory. Talk to the girl. Talk to the child. Reassure her, tell her it's okay."

Three days with nothing but an all-pervading sadness, a hollowness and emptiness. "Get out," her shrink had said, "even if you are alone. Do those walks, smell the roses. Be in the now."

Scarborough beach. The girl is there again, dragging a stick, patterning the sand behind her with squiggly lines. She walks towards Clair who resists the urge to turn away - something about the bruised smile, a body-language which they share in common, the open, honest face.

""Hey hi." The young woman looks up at her, petite, eighteen, maybe nineteen years old. "Seen you here before. I love the fresh air and the ozone. Apparently ozone's good for one. You come here often?

Claire nods, smiles.

"I come here everyday. My Gran's sending me money, I'm staying in her shack," she makes big eyes, "double-storey shack, mind you. I get to choose which bathroom to use. It's like serious five star stuff - after what I'm used to."

A feeling of being fractured, the desire to be alone, set up against a desperation for honesty, warmth, another human being. Oh, God, to touch again. To be touched. The sound of waves breaking on the shore, muffled crumps, the young woman waiting for a reply, kicking her toes in the sand.

"I probably don't come here often enough. I like the smell of the ozone, the sound of the waves. It's peaceful. It calms me down, I guess...but I'm up for a quick walk. Got to rush. Stuff to do, you know."

The girl looks out to sea, her face in profile, that silk-smooth skin of the youth. Seagulls mewl and dive. She looks back at Clair, disappointment etched briefly on her face. "I guess I'd better get back then," she says.

They nod, smile at each other and Clair walks on towards the breaking surf feeling awkward and rude.

"What's your name?" the voice comes from behind her, aimed at her parting back. "My name's Rikki."

"Rikki?" She turns without thinking.

"It's Rikkichelle, actually. People just call me Rikki." She looks briefly at the blue-green sea. "Anyway. Don't want to keep you." Hazelnut eyes, dark rings beneath them - or is it the light?

Is the entire world lonely?

The sea is a giant tranquillizer, filling her head with the neutral noise of its hushing silence.

The house is not a home. The house is a shell reeking of dysfunctional-ness. Reeking of drunk fathers beating their daughters with leather straps.

The house is nothing.

The house is a lonely parlour.

The house is sitting cross-legged on the lounge floor looking out onto the overgrown and untended garden in another daze.

Love yourself Claire. You have to figure out a way of loving yourself. One step at a time. Wash the dishes in the sink, they've been there three days.

Self-talk. God! There is no-one else!

June has passed. A winter sun rising in a painter's pallette of a sky. Less depression. A lighter mood in the mornings. Feeling more comfortable inside her own skin.

I and my beloved are one. It's good to be me. She can feel it coursing through every fibre of her being.

"Shalom, Claire." Genevieve is partly in sunlight, a band of it crossing her right shoulder.

Claire smiles. "It's a bit like a love story, I suppose. It feels like I'm in the process of really getting to know myself and...well...I like myself. I feel...worthy, I suppose..."


More walks, the susurration of the sea somehow soothing. A feeling of sanity returning, relatively better all round. More whole. Nice day, the air is winter-crisp. She looks out for the young woman. Maybe talk - but the girl is not there today.

Home - and she's thinking about going back to work. The pain is wearing off. Only half a sleeping tablet and an entire night's sleep.

Two days later, wintery, cold, sky as blue as a raven's egg. An early walk on the beach. The young woman is there, all brown hair and curls, dragging her stick through the sand. She notices Clair and her face lights up, breaks into a grin.

"Hey hi, again. I didn't get your name last time."

There, in the centre of her chest, a movement, a rising up, a strange emotion. "It's Claire. You're Rikki...something. Sorry, I forget."

"Rikkichelle. Rikki's fine - and hi, Claire."

"Hello, again." Claire feels the colour rising in her cheeks. "Um...sorry if I seemed a bit off last time - the last few times. I got divorced a few months ago. It's taken more than I thought to work through all the...stuff."

Rikki looks at the sea briefly, then back to Claire. "It's okay. You looked like you were in pain. I didn't want to intrude on it." A sigh followed quickly by that smile. "My boyfriend beat me up quite badly, broke a few ribs, my arm..." she reaches down, taps her shin with her fingers, " leg too. Three places."

Claire nods, considers how relative everything is.

"They fired me at work, you know." Eyes sunken in sockets. It was not the light. Dark rings. Sadness. "I was in hospital for a month and a bit, recovering. Anyway, he's gone off with someone else, thank God. I'm trying to figure out my next move. Life. Something. I feel really confused. My folks died when I was sixteen - in a car crash. My Gran helps me a lot - God! I dunno what I'd 've done without her."

There in the centre of her chest, that strange emotion, swelling, enlarging, growing. She knows then that it's love - love in its purest form - of the self, the world, the universe. "Want to walk with me?

"I'd really like that. Thanks."

"How about a mug of coffee afterwards? I'll stand you."

"Awesome! I've been so bloody lonely here..."

"Yes, me too."
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