Journey

Authors' blog including short stories

November 13, 2011
D.R. Stephens
0 comments

Losing Myself

By D.R. Stephens ©

I came to Johannesburg to lose myself, to disappear into her long, winding roads, her myriad of lights, under the sheer volume of her multi-layered skirts. To my naïve mind, she was a glitzy, sophisticated animal.

I was a long way from the open fields near Boesmansgat.

I remember the day I arrived in Johannesburg, watched as the sun rose over the white mounds on the city’s outskirts while the bus contemplated its buzzing streets. Mounds of what, I thought, gazing earnestly at them. Mines, mounds of left over dirt from the old mining days, I decided. Either that or the dusty remains of burnt out movie stars, rock stars and businessmen.

I stepped timidly off the bus, holding onto the rail at the bottom of the stairs for a few seconds longer than I needed to before tentatively putting my foot on Johannesburg ground.

That was a lifetime ago, I was another person, perhaps another version of me. I gaze at myself in the full length mirror before me. Neatly tweezed eyebrows frame fabulously long, thick eyelashes fringing lightly kohled Oriental doe eyes. My full lips are colored a delicious soft pink and highlighted juicily with lip gloss. My long, thick auburn tresses are coiled artfully in a classic twirl, swept back to highlight a smooth slender neck tinged ever so slightly with the sweet fragrance of Elizabeth Arden’s 5th Avenue. I smooth the silky expanse of my slim fitting black dress, slide my leg a little out to the side to check that the slit shows just the right expanse of leg. Not too much. I am not a loose woman. Just enough to peak his interest. I’m ready for him, I decide, smiling at the mirror.

Henry. Handsome, intelligent, charming, I still couldn’t believe that he’d even noticed I existed let alone wanted to take me out. Amaury, I think, grinning idiotically as I press the elevator button, he sang me Vissili Amauri. He searched for the song through half the CD and sang every word. Which man knows Amaury pat off.

“Why can’t I stop staring at your lips”, he’d asked the night before, leaning closer.
Of course I don’t know, I mean, they’re just lips like everybody else’s, I’d thought.
“Why can’t I stop looking at your lips”, he’d repeated, holding my gaze with his as he rose and moved the table from between us.
I don’t know, was all I could think, all I said before he kissed me.

My breath caught in my throat as his kiss deepened. When he finally ended the kiss I could do nothing but stare at him. I saw him in a different light from that moment on.

We spoke for hours. I told him about my hopes, my dreams, my passions, and he told me his.
“What is it about you”, he asked, dusting something off my cheek, “Why am I telling you all of this. I don’t normally open up to people at all but, I feel so comfortable with you that it’s actually strange.”

The elevator doors open. I step out into the well-lit foyer and glanced nervously around.
What am I doing, I think.
Henry smiles at me as he comes forward to greet me.
I love your smile, I think, smiling shyly.
The evening passes in a haze of candlelight and the soft tones of classical music.
“I want you, come back to my place with me”, he says, leaning closer, so close that I can feel his breath on my cheek, cupping my face.

“I… I don’t do things like that Henry”, I say quietly, lost in his eyes.
“Things like what”, he whispers into my mouth.
“I don’t sleep around”, I reply.
“Neither do I.”
“You’re on the rebound you know, you’re not over Kathy yet.”
“I am definitely over that woman”, he says, encircling my waist with his arm.
He kisses me again. I fight to keep my head.
“How will I get home?”
“Why do you need to go home?”
“I don’t have anything to wear to work tomorrow. I wasn’t expecting anything like this to happen.”
“I’ll buy you something to wear on the way to work”, he says, nuzzling my neck.

I’m dreaming, this is happening to someone else, if I pinch myself I’ll wake up and have my boring life back again. I pinch myself.
“Ouch”, I yelp, rubbing my arm frantically.
“Are you okay”, Henry asks.

The sun’s just beginning to peek over the skyline. I normally need a strong, sweet cup of coffee to wake me up in the morning. This morning I drink in the sight of the strong, sweet man beside me and smile. The thought of snuggling up next to him, tucking my head into the curve of his neck is tempting but I have to get to work.
“Where’re you going”, he mumbles.
I shimmy into my dress and turn my dazzling smile on him.
“Some of us plebs have to get into the office by eight you know, not all of us can crawl in late like you bosses.”
I kiss him on the cheek and leave.

Two hours later I’m seated in front of my desk grinning stupidly at the computer screen.
“Out with it”, Miranda says.
“Out with what.”
“Don’t play games with me woman, only a man can make a woman glow like that”, she says, perching on the edge of my desk, arms folded stubbornly.

I’d love to tell her all about my wonderful, romantic evening, all about Henry, I think, and how he makes me feel but I can’t, he’s sworn me to secrecy.
“Don’t worry, I’m a mature adult woman”, I’d promised.
I walk the corridors needlessly every two hours hoping to catch sight of Henry. I wait for his call the whole day. Four o’clock arrives and I have no choice but to leave the office.

A week later most of the office goes to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Daniel seems to have set Henry up with some girl who he’d met at the restaurant. My heart sinks but I shrug it off and keep up a brave façade.
A half an hour later Daniel saunters over to me and drapes himself over the back of my chair. He jabbers on about mundane things. I try not to look at Henry and the girl. I decide to focus on something else, anything else. Maybe I should chat with Daniel.

“How’re you going home”, he asks.
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll phone for a cab”, I reply.
“No need for that, I’ll take you home.”
I’m grateful because cabs are expensive and I’m saving up for a car.
“I live quite far from here,” I tell him, all the while staring into my cup of coffee.
“I don’t mind”, he says, “As long as you don’t mind waiting a while, I’m going to be one of the last to leave.”
And I’ll have to see those two falling in love while I wait, I think.
“You’re doing me a favour Daniel,” I say softly, “of course I’ll wait.”

“I can’t believe a beautiful girl like you doesn’t have a boyfriend”, Daniel says hours later.
We’re seated in his BMW, having left the restaurant five minutes before.
“I believe in quality not quantity”, I tell him.
“Don’t you worry, the right man will come along”, he says, reaching over to put his hand on my thigh.

I freeze for a second before taking his hand in mine, lifting it off my thigh.
“I do believe I have quality”, he says.
“I’m sure you do Daniel.”
“Don’t you think I’m quality”, he asks, as he places his hand back on my thigh, trying to slide it higher.
I hold his hand tighter.
“I’m sure your wife thinks you are or she wouldn’t have married you”, I reply.
“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her”, he says, trying to move his hand again.

I can’t deny it a second longer, Daniel’s coming on to me and I don’t know what to do about it. We’re on a strange road in a part of the city I’ve never seen before. I should never have accepted a lift home with him.

“You are not my type Daniel”, I say, jerking his hand forcefully off my thigh.
“What is your type”, he asks applying more pressure.
“Tall, dark, handsome, intelligent, charming … the usual.”
Daniel’s quiet for a while and I think I finally got through to him.

“Then how about a kiss.”
I’m flabbergasted.
“No Daniel”, I squeak, “I’m sorry if I’m offending you, but really, you aren’t my type and besides that … you’re married.”
“Why don’t we go somewhere before I take you home”, he suggests.
“We have work tomorrow.”
“What about the City Lodge”, he says.
I notice the lit City Lodge sign on the side of the road and it hits me. I don’t know where I am because I’m nowhere near home. Daniel never had any intention of taking me home. This is where he was heading from the moment we left the restaurant.
“Excuse me”, I manage to say, “But do you see slut written across my forehead.”

Daniel quickly makes a joke of it. I listen to him fumbling over his words. It gives me time to think. He’s a manager. I’m temping there. I can’t afford to get on his wrong side, I need the job. An uncomfortable silence permeates the air until Daniel gets me to my home and leaves.

I can’t sleep because, being female, I’m up analyzing everything. Henry and Daniel are very close. Henry seduced me and then pointedly ignored me. Daniel tried his luck a week later. I am embarrassed. Ashamed of myself for almost falling for someone like Henry, and with such speed. My mother would have been disgusted with me.

“Good morning Henry”, I say, smiling sweetly at him from across the room the next morning.
“Did you get home okay”, he asks, his gaze searching.
“Well, Daniel did get lost and end up on the wrong end of Johannesburg but he got me home eventually”, I reply.
Henry nods, contemplates something and says, “We’ve decided to extend your assignment, just for another month or two.”
“No thank you”, I reply.

“What?”
“Attractive, intelligent, sexy … that’s how you described me a week ago.”
Henry stares at me nonplussed.
“I am all those things Henry, and more. I lowered myself for you.”
Henry is still gaping at me.
“I told you that I was a mature, adult woman Henry, I never said I was loose. You can take your job and shove it up your … jersey. I do not want to work in a place like this.”

I came to Johannesburg to lose myself. Instead I found a woman I liked and respected, a woman I can be proud of. I found me.

March 10, 2011
D.R. Stephens
0 comments

To Blog or Not to Blog

That is the question, for me right now at any rate.

What does blogging do for me? What does blogging do for you? Well, blogging is actually writing, is it not?

For me, it is an outlet, at times to let go of something, as was the case with my short story about Gabrielle, at times to empathise or play a ‘what if’ game, as I did with Losing Myself, and at times a combination of the both, which was what I did with Stalked.

My writing also allows me to disappear for a while into another world, one in which I have ultimate control, where I can put myself in my heroine’s shoes, think for her, speak for her, and make her triumph above all odds. It allows me to mould my characters, make them grow, horizontally, vertically or in maturity.

My writing is a means of dreaming. It is the way I express myself, my thoughts, my hopes and aspirations. It is the way I see others, their little idiosyncrasies which make them so very special.

Last of all though not least of all, it is the tool I use to highlight what I perceive to be wrongs. My thoughts being, if you can understand what that person is going through, that is, empathise with them, surely you will help if you can.
//

March 6, 2011
D.R. Stephens
7 Comments

Gabrielle – My Sunshine

A story, sad and true. It needed to be told.

I had a perfect life, a wonderful, loving husband, two precocious, smart-mouthed attentive sons, a beautiful home, and I was expecting a third child, the daughter I had always wanted. At last I have someone to buy baby dolls, cute pink dresses and tea sets for, and we would sit outside on the grass under the shade of the tall jacarandas while she poured make believe tea and served non-existent scones which I would dutifully eat and drink. I thought about the qualities I wanted her to have and chose her name accordingly. Her first name, Gabrielle, means Woman of God, and her second name, Erin, means Peace.

Two weeks before Gabrielle was born I felt as though she had dropped lower in my abdomen. This normally signals that the baby’s birth is imminent. The doctor confirmed during my visit that week that she had positioned herself for birth.

 The Monday before Gabrielle was born I felt my amniotic fluid leak. It was a very slow leak, much the same as it had been with my eldest son. I asked my husband to phone the doctor and ask what I should do. The receptionist phoned us back a half an hour later and said that we were told to go to the hospital immediately. The doctor was at the hospital then but he would fetch my files from his offices and meet us at the hospital.

 At the hospital’s maternity ward I was taken to a room, asked for a urine sample and had a heart beat monitor attached to my belly. A nurse checked Gabrielle’s heart rate three times and told me that she has spoken to my doctor. Although he had at first wanted to perform an emergency caesarean, everything seemed fine and they could not find any trace of amniotic fluid. Although they could keep me if I wanted them to, she didn’t think it was necessary.

She’s the professional, I told myself, if she says everything’s okay, it must be. As I got off the bed I felt the amniotic fluid leak again.

I asked my husband to check. He felt the wetness too. When the nurse returned I told her about it. I was told that I should go home and only come back when my sanitary towel was soaked.

That Thursday at my scheduled doctor’s appointment the doctor performed the usual scan. I asked again about the amniotic fluid and was told that my amniotic fluid had always been lower than average though not below average. Everything was fine.

 On the Saturday morning I started getting pains. As they weren’t excruciating or regular I thought that they must be Braxton Hicks but asked my husband to stay close by anyway. By late afternoon I realised that I had not felt Gabrielle move since the night before and started getting really worried. My husband phoned the hospital’s maternity ward and was told that I should drink something cold and sweet and that she would then move. I did so. We waited. Nothing happened.

We went back to the hospital. I was hooked up to the same machine to monitor Gabrielle’s heart beat. This time the pattern on the paper that the machine spat out did not look like it had that Monday. There was no flurry of activity with very high highs and very low lows. This time it showed a level reading at 120 with constant short dips below. The nurse, a different nurse to the one we had seen on Monday, pushed and prodded at my belly. The reading remained the same. The nurse told me that she would phone my doctor but the baby was probably sleeping. She continued checking the reading and then told me that while it was slightly worrisome and they could keep me for observation, I should go home and come back tomorrow for another reading. She did not tell me that the doctor was worried or that I should stay in hospital so I decided to go home and come back the next day.

 The next morning I returned to the hospital and was hooked up to the same machine. The needle now remained steady at 90 with constant dips below. This particular nurse seemed worried. She took me to another room and told me that I was being admitted and that she was going to phone my doctor. I spent the afternoon trying to relax on the hospital bed. The nurse eventually told me that she had managed to get hold of my doctor and that I was going to have an emergency caesarean at 15h00.

Although it was just after 14h00, I was asked to complete forms, rushed to another room, told to undress and change into a hospital gown, I was put on a drip, shaven, had a catheter inserted, had a tube for oxygen attached to my nose and was outside the operating room on a trolley by 14h40. After a short time in the corridor I was rushed into the operating room. My husband was told to wait in the corridor. The tornado had arrived.

A sea of strange face surrounded me. I searched them. My gynaecologist was not there. Amidst a flurry of activity I saw a short, kindly looking man and another tall, dark kind eyed man. These were the anaesthetists. I was made to bend forward and an epidural was administered. My hospital gown was pushed up over a contraption. I could no longer see anything on my belly. My arms were moved outward and placed on something on each side of me. People issued one another instructions. A sense of urgency filled the room. This was not happening to me. I was terrified. I felt helpless.  I prayed, trying to relax. The voices around me filtered out, returned between prayers. The tears flowed down my face.

“Where’s her doctor?” the anaesthetist asked.

“One his way”, someone replied.

“We can’t wait for him, we must cut now”, the anaesthetist said urgently.

“He wants us to wait for him”, he was told.

“We can’t wait, we must cut, get the baby out. If you don’t want to I will,” the tall anaesthetist insisted.

I felt the cut but no pain.

My doctor raced in and took over. More cutting. My body was jerked from one side to the other, lifted off the table. I heard squishing. A man ran to the other side of the room with my baby. I later learned that he was the paediatrician. The anaesthetist ran with him. I couldn’t see my baby.

“She’s not breathing”, someone said.

Oh God, no, please Lord, help me, help her, help my baby, please, don’t take her, please Lord, I silently prayed.

“Where’s your husband?” the other anaesthetist asked.

I shrugged, unable to speak.

“Someone, get him in here”, he shouted.

Two men bent over my Gabrielle working furiously.

My gynaecologist was still working on me.

“Doctor, don’t forget to sterilise me”, I said from somewhere outside my head.

“You didn’t ask for sterilisation”, he said.

“I did”, I told him.

“No you didn’t”, he argued, “Did you fill in forms?”

“Yes”, I replied.

“Where”, he asked.

“Here and at your offices”, I said.

“I didn’t know”, he said irritably, “and it’s too late now.”

I didn’t hear anything else he said.

I heard someone sobbing. I turned my head. It was my husband. I reached out, he held my hand. We cried together.

“She’s breathing”, the paediatrician announced.

“How long has it been?” someone asked.

“Seven minutes”, he replied.

Thank you Lord, I prayed, still crying, thank you.

The incubator was pushed over.

I still can’t see her, I thought, I need to see her, I need to hold her, she needs me.

All I saw as the incubator was raced out the door was a little foot. She needed medical attention urgently. But she was alive, thank the good Lord she was alive.

My gynaecologist told me that I still had some of the placenta in me, he couldn’t get it out, it had grown into me. I wasn’t interested. I wanted to see my baby. I wasn’t allowed to, I was told to rest and that I could see her after eight that night. I was told that the next four hours were crucial for her. Gabrielle was brain dead.

 

My husband showed me photos of her on his cellphone. Then I held her, my tiny baby girl. The gynaecologist had cut her face when he had taken over cutting me open. Her head been shaven some time between when my husband had taken the photos and I saw her for the first time. The left side of her head and face were swollen and bruised red and purple. Her left eye was swollen. I was just glad she was alive. To me she was beautiful, even with all of that and with the tubes and cords attached to her nose, belly and numerous other places. I felt like I was losing my mind. Gabrielle had the sweetest little mouth, the tiniest, most perfect little fingers. I lifted her arm. It was minute, soft, smooth, delicate. I gently put it down. She’s brain dead, I told myself, she can’t be, they’re wrong, they must be. I lifted her arm again and let it go. I felt back down, lifeless.

 

We were told to get a priest, Gabrielle was not going to make it. All the tests showed that she was brain dead. Her body was giving in. It was just a matter of time. My heart shattered a little more.

“I haven’t even heard her voice or seen her eyes”, I sobbed.

A nurse reached over and gently pried Gabrielle’s right eye open. It was a soft brown.

 

Gabrielle Erin was baptised. Our family brought the priest and my thirteen year old son to the hospital. 

“Isn’t she beautiful?” I asked my son.

I turned to look at him. He was crying.

“It’s okay baby”, I said, pulling him to me, “She’s going to Heaven to be with your other grandfather, my grannies and uncles. They’ll look after her.”

Everybody left and we were thankfully alone with Gabrielle again. We were eventually told that I needed to rest.

 

The next morning was a blur. We spent as much time with Gabrielle as we could. A nurse told us that they would give us a little room to sit in with Gabrielle once her machines were switched off.

 

Gabrielle was naked. She needed clothes.

“Can I put clothes on her?” I asked.

“Yes, once the doctor has taken all of the monitors except the heart monitor off her”, the nurse replied.

I dressed her in a lemon vest and a fluffy lemon baby grower with a hood and a pink bunny embroidered on the front. It only struck me later that I had not put a nappy on her.

 

We went into the little room. The nurse placed my baby in my arms. I felt Gabrielle’s spirit, soft, gentle, sweet, breezy, it surrounded me.

I held my baby while she died. I talked to her and sang to her and let my husband hold her, and every time she heard my voice her heart rate increased for a while. Thirty three minutes after we entered that room, Gabrielle passed away. I held her little body close to me, rocking her, stroking her back, her face, her head, my heart crying out, tears streaming down my face, my husband and I singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine …”

 

I fought with God, angry with Him for taking my baby. Reality has since struck though. What is reality? To me reality is your choice of how you want to view your situation. My reality is that I have not lost my precious Gabrielle, she is waiting for me in Heaven. Until then, I know that she is loved, warm, happy and that she will never feel pain again.