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Her eyes are open now, she looks at him. There is sadness there.

“What my love? What happened?” he asks.

“Nothing,” she lies, her heart not in the lie.

“Something, tell me,” he holds her, insisting.

“The bull,” she whispers, “I dreamt of her.”

He stares at her, mute. Rolls out of bed and walks to the window. Tears in his eyes, one escapes down his cheek. The others follow. His face contorts and he begins to cry like a boy, unable to understand his life, his holiday, the woman he wants.

She runs out of bed, moving to him in a flurry of guilty heart broken anguish.

“I love you, I love you,” she says, “I don’t love anybody else the way I love you!” she says.

And they both cry.

“I want to beat the shit out of her!” he cries, “but I can’t because you love her!”

“I love you,” she repeats to him, “and I did love her, but what she did was wrong! She was wrong! I love you!”

Calmer now, he looks at her, forgotten tears still tracking their way down his face, “How much do you love me? Really?”

“I’ll do anything for you,” she says, resolute.

“I never want to see her again,” he states.

“You never will,” she states.

Fiction and reality have been two spaces of experiencing sexuality for me, and the former gave me the freedom to be quite a bit of the real me.

Between the ages of eleven and fifteen, I’d raid my grandmother’s book cupboard, for Georgette Heyer, Alistair Maclean, Edgar Wallace, Wilbur Smith, James Hadley Chase and Mario Puzo. Amongst many others. We both read a lot, my grandmother and I, of everything. It was only many years later, long after she passed away, that I realised, my own collection of fiction had grown to include amongst others, Sandra Scoppetone, Sarah Waters, Abha Dawesar. We saw things differently. We had different notions of life and of ourselves. We had different fantasies. Different ideals. In her world, men had to conform to a certain prototype and women had to do the same. Her narratives of herself and of life as she perceived it kept to the structure, the characters, their roles and spirit of the romantic novel. How on earth she aligned reality as it was, of family, marriage, children, grandchildren, to the fiction she read and subscribed to, where men were men and they were strong and dashing, and had a sense of humour and swept women off their feet, where women were women and they were strong-willed, intelligent, rebellious, a challenge to woo, but oh the relief when they came around and got wooed and that of course was the end of book and story – I have no idea. Out of a sense of love and respect for her I will not assume to know or understand how she dealt with the glaring gaps.

How did I deal with the gaps? I hid myself in my own fiction. In the words I wrote, the fiction I read and often, the life I lived. That did not follow the characters and roles of the typical pot-boiler but the spirit of it all was the same. Characters enmeshed in relationship angst, seeking themselves, losing themselves, being gritty and turmoil ridden, stepping out of the boundaries set for them. Most importantly, I, was the real me in my fiction. For as long as I can remember I idolised and internalised attributes most often handed out to the cowboys, the soldiers, the shipwrecked men and boys marooned on islands who learnt to fish, fire up twigs without matches and craft their own shelters from sun, rain and force 10 gale. So that was the real me, Jack, Peterkin and Ralph rolled into one, marooned on the Coral Island, a lovely piece of fiction written by R.M. Ballantyne, and at other times I was James Green, aka Sudden, fastest gun in the West, who will one day marry a woman called Noreen, well if we must, we must.

Then one day, Jack, Peterkin, Ralph and James Green, they started chumming. Got a period. Menstruation happened. You’d think period accidents and the intricacies of the looped belt of a sanitary pad would shake these residents out of the spirit that housed them? I’d grow up and turn girl? Well that didn’t happen as simply as the thought that it would. What happened was that my fiction grew with my reality and the other way around. So there was this person who had this body and it behaved in the way it was meant to, sprung breasts, and had a pretty regular menstrual cycle. A good body, doing its job, being as it is meant to be. But completely a piece of somebody else’s story. Not mine. A friend perhaps. Like other friends whose bodies were doing the same things at about the same time, but they owned those bodies. They prepared those bodies for boyfriends and dates, for parties, for shorts, skirts and dresses, for fad diets and plunging backs, for kissing, for sex, for marriage, babies, nursing bras and anti-wrinkle creams and lotions. I didn’t. I was a friend to my body, but perhaps a reluctant, judgmental sort of friend because this body didn’t have Sylvester Stallone’s build, just the attitude. Many people through my life tried to change this reality with the aid of ear-rings, lipstick, eye-liner, skirt, kurta and dupatta. Now that was an attempt at creating pure fiction, and a poor, unwieldy story it was. I realise that now, but I think it’s one of those things life flings at you. You catch it, fumble a bit, then fling it back at life.

Because I write and have always written, I created stories. The place where my fiction and reality met and created me. Such as the extract I began this article with. I was married when I wrote it decades ago. Having unearthed it today for the purpose of this I Column, I see that I bridged many gaps with a creative combination of denial, stories, internal drama, external drama, friends, family, the narratives others wrote, marriage to a good friend, relationships, depression, therapy and realities that I didn’t particularly bother to hide. Falling in love and developing romantic attachments with people who were women became converted into fiction because living that reality was scary and complicated.

So I wrote:

“Okay, look the other way!” Wrapped in a towel you poke your head out of the bathroom.

“Won’t’” I say, and turn my head.

I hear you behind me and suddenly you flash your toes out under my nose and they wiggle. I snap at them but I don’t bite, as I get up to pour your coffee. The bath has stitched you together and you’re in a wicked mood. I’m not going to bathe, eat or read in peace now, I am pleased to register. Peace can get pretty lonesome.

“Don’t go,” you say, as I hand you your coffee and pick up my towel.

“I’m dirty, I need to get out of these clothes,”

“No,” you say, “first you dance with me. I want to dance,”

“What?! I can’t, don’t dance,”

“Of course you can do! Everyone can dance,” and you grab my hand and my waist and we skitter across the floor, when we suddenly change direction and I stumble back with you. I possess three left feet and my right foot has gone for a walk all by herself.

“All right, now I’ve got to bathe,” say I squirming away. I’m shy because I really can’t dance and you really can.

“The water’s hot so use the bucket I filled,” you call out behind me.

“Yup,” I mumble and facing the mirror alone I decide that I do not dance, but I do do Dignity. Do do D. Dee Dee dum.

And I wrote:

We’re going to party this weekend. Clear the room and dance. I’m not afraid to dance though I dance like a horse and she and you will do the rose and swirling skirt number that always makes me wonder…were you born this way? Swirl and rose kicking up dust like drag racers emerging from a tunnel?

What is fiction? Is it born of reality? Or does it birth reality, reflecting it back at me until I see the things I do not see? Until I find the person that is me? Until I dance my horse dance under moon, under stars, in a room full of people who like horse dancing just as much as they like the swirly skirt and the pot-bellied person doing the Bhangra.

Cover Image: Pixabay

This post was originally published under this month, it is being republished for the anniversary issue.

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