This Triumphant Life

Have you participated in Writers Island yet? Why not give it a go, you’ll be surprised how inspiring the prompts are.

This week the prompt is – TRIUMPH.

Here’s my little tale……

Love is like a day at sea, sometimes turbulent, sometimes becalmed. Sometimes the catch is good, oftentimes it is paltry. Always there is the taste of salt on your lips and the grit of it in your hair for days afterwards and that feeling that fills your soul of vastness and majesty.

I am in my father’s boat now. The one that has sat in the shed for over five years. It doesn’t glide through the water, it bumps like a learner driver changing gears. It is more than likely it will leak. I hope that it leaks.

I have a paper bag full of pills – valium and the morphine my father didn’t take when he was dying. I don’t know why I kept them. I suppose they are a security blanket of sorts. For the times when things get as bad as this.

Adrian told me the truth today. I don’t know why I am so nonplussed. I prevailed upon him to be honest, yet I remain uneasy with the facts as they are. Adrian has a lover, a younger woman whom he wants to spend the rest of his life with. We have been married for 25 years and suddenly that means nothing – all that time, all that energy, all that thinking you know someone – gone, less visible than the steam which rises from a mug of tea.

I am 45 and my husband is in love with a woman who is twenty years younger than me. What can she know of the world? What can she know of him? Does she care that now I am afraid for the first time in my life? Does she know that this evening I looked in the mirror and saw the face of a woman too old to start again? Too worn out? Does she feel a sense of triumph? Of vindication?

I have a bottle of milk and a container of olive oil. Annie, who works in Emergency at St. Vincent’s Hospital tells me that’s how they do it – the suicides. Puts a lining on your stomach so you don’t vomit the pills back up. That’s why a lot of suicide attempts fail – the body rejects the drugs.

It’s not as lonely as I thought. Betrayal. The disbelief helps, the anger. The how could hes and the what did I do wrongs block out the stricken draw of loneliness. Besides, I haven’t given myself time to brood. I don’t want to dwell on this pain. I just want it to end.

I know when the pain ends everything will end and there will be no going back, but I am hardened to it. I shall miss this little estuary though. The way the water laps on shore like fingers kneading dough and how the fish bob, bright as coloured flags. And then the heron circle, following the fish below, priming themselves for descent.

I bump through the water that reveals nothing. I am floating on an unmoving void. Its depths are so indiscernible I cannot even begin to guess what lies beneath – maybe a tangle of reeds and mud and rocks. Maybe nothing at all.

My heart flutters as it always does when I catch sight of the church on the point. Sandstone and coloured glass, seeming to float above the water like a gift to the world. It has been abandoned for over 20 years as a result of church attendance in the area dramatically dropping. I remain surprised every day that no developer has taken advantage of its enviable location.

I am sure my grief has turned to delusion when I see a light on in one of the church windows. I look around for a boat which might have cast the light, or perhaps the moon, but there is no other vessel on the water.

And then I hear it. The song my mother used to sing to me as a child, the song I sang to her as she drew her last breath.

“Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
onward the sailors cry
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.”

My mind is playing tricks. I have heard sorrow can do that. I am hearing and seeing things that aren’t there. I am flinging my thoughts out across the dark water for something to cling to. Something which will prevent me from falling into the abyss.

There it is again. Clear as if the singer stands right next to me. I lean forward to try and catch a glimpse through the stained glass windows and stand on my bag of pills. I hear some of them pop like bubbles of algae in a pond.

‘Stop singing,’ I cry out. ‘I’m busy. I don’t appreciate being distracted.’

The song continues, louder than before. I am infuriated and steer my boat to shore, rushing up the embankment to the church. The singing stops. It is suddenly black, so black I feel my head has been covered with a veil. I stumble over tree roots and overgrown hedgerows, scratching my hands and face. I am reminded of the story of Sleeping Beauty where the prince struggles through the briars to reach his sleeping love, and scoff. Look how that one kiss from my true love turned out.

The door to the church stands open. It is empty inside except for a candle on the altar. Anything of value has long ago been plundered. Grass grows through the floor. Most of the pews have split or collapsed from neglect. Pigeons fidget in the eaves, rats scurry behind me.

The altar has remained intact – solid stone that would require a crane to remove it. A branch from a birch tree lies there like an offering – glittering gold autumn leaves and metallic wood like a golden wand. My mother’s favourite tree. A tree she imported from her beloved England when she came to Australia because it is not native to this land.

I am immediately suspicious. ‘Where are you Adrian?’ I shout. ‘You selfish bastard. Haven’t you done enough?’ But then I realise Adrian does not know how much I love this church, he has no idea of my secret inner joys, nor does he know that I am out in my father’s boat with the intention of taking a bagful of pills. He is probably screwing her, right now. There, I said it – my husband is screwing another woman. It sounds so tacky, so common, to say screwing, but I have been driven to it.

I sit on the front pew – which is still reasonably intact – and stare at the altar. I thought I was the one. I thought I was his one. How can I go on knowing I am not? How can I even do something as mundane as walk to the mailbox to check my mail with his betrayal smiling in the sky? I just want to hide, to cower, to cover myself in ashes, not to find that things will never be the same again.

Something shifts in the air like a wind has picked up. Something has moved in the shadows. Something is here. A woman emerges from the gloom the way people do in dreams – sliding into view. Her face is the face of those I know and have lost and the face of those I have never seen but somehow know. It is ever-changing and glorious. She holds out her hands like I am a child running to meet her mother after school and I am terrified and filled with peace at the same time. Is she going to save me or is she the instrument of my destruction?

She gestures to a blanket on the floor, an old cushion, moth-eaten but clean. I am seized by a desire to sleep here on the cold floor of a deserted church with a possible killer or worse standing over me. I don’t hesitate. I lie down, covering myself, looking into that face full of all the loss in the world, and all the beauty, and all the grace.

As I fall into slumber I feel her moving away from me. I want to scream, flail my arms about, scared that losing her will be worse than losing Adrian, but I cannot. Desperate, I force my eyes open, slitted like a cat, and see her move into the dark, hair like stars, the air disturbed by a hint, a murmur of wings.

In the morning I wake to a row of pigeons regarding me on the altar. I am an oddity to them. The candle has burned to a stump, the waxy mess sticks and spreads like honey. I take the branch of birch and walk into the morning. My boat has gone. My pills have gone. So has my desire to take them. I am not ready to leave this world yet. Not yet. I will feel despair, I will feel sorrow. I might even feel joy. But I will walk this path I must take with a sense of triumph that I have survived the night. And one day the path will lead me unexpectedly, to a better place.

26 thoughts on “This Triumphant Life

  1. sometimes just making it thru that one night is the hardest,, and a sense of awe and power will make you strong enough to go on… i am so happy that your heroine made it that far……


  2. That was heavy Selma. Your writing has a transcendent quality. I loved the bit about coating the stomach to ensure success (or is it?) Bravo Child of the Universe 🙂


  3. Brava! Brava!

    I LOVE this piece and will copt it, if I may, to read it over and over again. I love so many of your things but this one is MINE.

    Hugs hugs hugs hugs hugs!!!


  4. I like to leave your blog for last during my morning reading time. It’s like saving the best for last, but it is more than that. When I know you have a Writer’s Island post up there, I know you’re going to strike a nerve, or make me think. Or both.

    This one did both. I want to read it again because it was beautifully written and beautifully told, but I can’t. Maybe in a while. Maybe never. Not because I don’t want to read it again, I just can’t. But I’ll never forget it, either.


  5. I agree, you should be sharing your writing with a bigger audience than you may have on this blog. DAMN that was powerful. You captured so perfectly what it feels like to be in that place of hopelessness, whatever the reason for it might be. I have been there; I would wager that most of us have. I was rooting for her from the moment I realized she intended to kill herself. You had me in the palm of your hand. And that– that feeling– the one that she has– that anyone who makes it through the night and realizes the faulty thinking that was in charge maybe seven or eight hours before– that could have been life-damning, life-ending— man, I don’t even know if I have words for the place you touched in me. If you ever decide to write full-length novels, e-mail me and I’ll give you my agent’s contact info. No guarantees, but it doesn’t hurt to know someone.
    Thank you for a powerful reading experience.

    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
    Chapter One is online!


  6. Incredible…no, completely credible. My daughter had other “miseries”, but set out on that same journey in our kitchen. And, miraculously, God told her to put the pills away because He had a plan for her.

    Not the same person or the same method or the same motives, yet it is the same story.



  7. That was amazing. I have no words but am going to read that again. And maybe once moe after that.

    Side note – am going to change my gravatar because damn – that’s ugly!


  8. Selma–please submit this to a publisher…how ’bout these ideas:
    1)A collection of your/and/or others’ “Writers’ Island”(I’m sure the creators of that venue would love it!) entries,
    2) Your blog entries of “Selma in the City”.
    You definitely are extremely talented–you evoke emotion on the page much as actors do through method, onstage…
    what I am trying to say is that it feels like this is a very “organic” process, that it is a “communion” with you.Thank you for this brilliant piece.


  9. Holy Crap – you did it again, you gave me goosebumps as I was reading this piece, I could feel the pain and despair as I was reading and as I finished reading I let out such a deep breath because only then did I realize that I was basically holding my breath as I was reading – this was really powerful stuff… and i agree with your other readers you are so talented – you need to publish your stuff – and I will definitely be one of your loyal fans and readers – the imagery that comes out of reading your stuff is powerful – my brain explodes in technicolor when I read your stuff… amazing, the artist in me is sketching away in my head all the imagery that was provoked from reading this…


  10. Sorry for the delay in replying to your comments. I haven’t been around for a few days. I will post about it today.

    ANTHONY – what a kind thing to say. I really appreciate it!

    PAISLEY – I am pleased she made it through too. Parts of this story happened to a friend of mine when she split with her husband. She didn’t seek refuge in a church but did feel suicidal and almost didn’t make it through the night. The nights are long and hard when we are grappling with despair. This was actually quite a difficult piece to write but I think it turned out OK.

    NAT – I am really, really pleased you liked it. Cheers.

    RAMBLER – thank you so much!

    GERALDINE – I take that as a great compliment coming from you, also a great story teller. Thank you so much.

    JOHNNY – I know the subject matter was a little dark but these issues are important. I KNOW you know that. Thank you for your support, my friend!

    MELEAH – I am going to try and get some of my stuff published. I am so grateful for you and all your kindnesses. It really means a lot.


  11. NANNA – oh, I would love that. Please do. I would be honoured. Hugs to you too!

    DIAMONDS – if it means a publishing contract or a lifetime’s supply of chocolate, I’ll take it. 😉
    You are really kind to say so.

    KAREN – I know exactly what you mean. I don’t know if I can read it again either. It’s quite raw and stark. It’s like one of my fave movies – The Last Samurai – the ending is so traumatic and leaves me weeping so uncontrollably that I can’t watch it too often. It takes me days to recover.
    I have had the idea for this story for weeks but was apprehensive about writing it because it is quite a difficult subject to write about. maybe I’ll read it again in a year or so.

    ROB – I really appreciate you stopping by. Thank you so much for your kind feedback!


  12. BETH – WOW. What a critique. I am blown away. I agree with you – making it through that long night is crucial because what if you feel better in the morning? I may take you up on the agent part one of these days. I am really, really grateful for your visits and your support. Thank you!

    GROOVY – I had no idea. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for you. Thank God your daughter is still with us. Thank God. I am in tears thinking about the pain she must have been in. There is definitely a plan in place for your daughter. I have no doubt at all. Hugs to both of you.

    BEC – I like your gravatar. I would kill for your cheekbones, but I do like your peace tree as well.
    So glad you liked the story, but when are you joining me on Writers Island? Come on, you know you want to…..

    LISA – you don’t know how much I love the process. I have a few friends who are actors and artists and I am always quizzing them about their ‘process.’ I think I drive them mad. I am thrilled you think I am utilising an organic process. Woo Hoo. You have just made my day. That for me, is what writing is all about. Oh, I am bouncing up and down on the couch right now. YAY. And thank you for your suggestions re. publishing. Excellent ideas. I am definitely going to have to sort myself out re. the big ‘P’ word I try to avoid thinking about. It’s time.

    TBALL – I am overwhelmed by your comment. Really. I know we have never met but you have become such a dear friend to me. Thank you.


  13. Writers Island is all about next month, after the GBBMN08 finishes… Cheekbones – I don’t have cheekbones. I have cheeks and good lighting!


  14. Selma:

    Your story really evoked tremendous emotion in me. I divorced my second — and last — wife 23 years ago for sleeping with another man that was supposed to be my best friend — for the first time.

    It took me about six months to work through the pain of that, and I had a lot of support from several friends on a daily basis. In fact, I would go out with my friends after work every week night and not return home until I was tired enough to sleep.

    Adultery is something I just could never live with. Nothing is more agonizing than the mere thought of my woman being touched by someone other than me. It is for that reason that I have only been in monogamous relationships since I was in high school.


  15. Hi Selma…how EERIE! I just read your comments–just this second–and I, well, I just finished(about 3 minutes ago!) an entry at MY blog, that definitely “dovetails” with what you are commenting on, here…I speak about becoming an actor, etc. It’s just really odd, that you know, we seem to be on similar wave-lengths, so often!It’s pretty cool, I think!


  16. Selma thank you so much for that, and thanks for visiting my blog and all those lovely comments… Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to travel to Australia to visit the kangaroos, now I that I am older and can travel I will be able to say I am going to Australia to see the kangaroos and Selma LOL! (eventually – saving up the funds) It will be such an honor to meet you!


  17. BEC – you’re gonna do Writers Island with me? Yay. Now I’m excited!

    GLENN – I am so terribly sorry you had to go through that. I couldn’t bear adultery, either. A friend of mine puts up with her husband’s philandering for the sake of the kids and she is a shadow, a wraith. It’s hard to move on but just as hard to stay. I’m glad you had the courage to do the former. Good on you.

    LISA – when I read your blog I feel like I’m chatting to an old friend. I’m so fortunate to have met you because we really are on the same wavelength. Thank you, Internet! And it’s 11.30AM in Oz.

    TBALL- I would love to meet you too. Keep on saving.


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