Company

She’d definitely be at the opera. Alone.

I should go too—there’s no way she’d bring the restraining order along.

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A writing tale

Anna rammed her index finger on Backspace, tap tapping at first before giving up and pressing down as the computer erased her work. Efforts of the last few hours.

No biggie. 

She was a writer, and this is what writers did. Writing every day, crouched on a supposedly comfortable desk, forgetting back support, ignoring foot rest, impervious even to the cold wheezing through the door crack, yet finicky—disconcerted by squiggly red lines on their canvas, the maniacs, telling themselves a measly coffee was all they’d needed to spew out a mash of creative fiction like an infant being sick from mother’s milk.

That’s what they did. Before re-reading and scratching it all out. 

Anna was no different. She wasn’t above any other writer who struggled to find their voice amongst the hoard of inspiration that sprung upon them through school and university.

My, how wonderfully the Bard describes a crow—Rosaline, he calls it.

Pfft, Anna scorned to herself wondering what a fool Romeo was. And Juliet. And the masses for considering them the best lovers ever to grace the unreal world.

Goodness, what a good writer the Bard had been. She’d never be as good as he—no, him?

She paused, fingers in mid air, stretched in odd angles over her keyboard, hovering, her mind racing as grammar police tailed her, sirens wailing. Did she dare go on or should she wait for the authorities to catch up?

Ah, she gasped. The horror of letting them get to her. To her, a proper writer, one who reviewed every line as she wrote it, scrutinising every syllable, reading aloud in her mind to verify rhythm, tone, and intonation. 

Definitely him.

She marched along. Better move on than get caught—and worse, taught. She was too old for that now. She had a job, for god’s sake—she was an adult. She should know the difference between he and him. Yes, she should, she nodded to herself in indignation. She did, her nod agreed back.

Pausing, she breathed deep before cruising along—a little slower now. In the long road to her destination, the police had often come along, riding too close at times, once even yelling through the window, demanding she stopped to reconsider her points of view. It hadn’t been easy to ignore them, to swerve around, overtaking their nagging voices, looking beyond their raised eyebrows and disapproving head shakes. But she’d come thus far—

Screeeeech—

Thus?

Anna rammed her index finger on Backspace.

birds

The writers

Sylvia watched in silence as they filled into her home. Strangers, coming in twos and threes, cooing hellos, waving arms, wandering in in boots, flip flops, and sneakers. Women of all ages, of all sizes, short and long-haired, short and short-haired, tall and bushy, heavy and muscly, injected her home with giggles, palm rubs, applause, and all the liveliness she’d long yearned for.

They sat around in a circle, clutching glasses of Scotch, sipping, cubed ice flipping within. Sharing tales of yonder, eyes wide in wonder, cosying by the fire as embers leapt into flames, the friends laughed through the night. Sylvia pined throughout.

With dawn rose the women, tired to the bones, yet souls refreshed. And they took their places, wielding metal boxes, tap tapping away before daylight, in peaceful concentration, as beads of condensation left windows for the sun. 

All the while, the women wrote. For they had money and finally a room of their own, just as Sylvia intended.


Image credit: Rowan Heuvel

Uncorked

a soldier, a wine

barrel-full of tales

one shovel at a time

one glass

The other side

I was never a great fan of Jane Eyre. 

Like most people, I also read it in middle school, when I hadn’t quite developed the patience to endure or contemplate why Jane, who was so praised for being plain and relatable, was such a big deal. 

And I still don’t understand why her love for Rochester was such praiseworthy. After all, she did abandon him when she heard he’d had an unhappy marriage, only to run back to him when he almost died in the fire.

I grew up watching countless movies where the lead female character’s sole responsibility was to prance across the screen, showing off, triggering the men’s emotions, and then falling in love with them because they’re willing to die for love. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Jane Eyre, the book, was just another case of female objectification.

However, Jane Eyre, the character was something else. There were many moments in the story where I supported her decisions. I agreed when she raged at being kept in the dark about Bertha. And I believed she would’ve loved Rochester even she had known. Throughout the book, I was with Jane, but by the end of it, I wasn’t happy for her. Instead, I felt as if the story merited no merit. 

Of course, Bronte’s writing was so intense and beautiful in many aspects and I, by no means, belittle the book she produced. Regardless, for some reason, Jane Eyre remained incomprehensible to me because it lacked something. 

Then I read Wide Sargasso Sea. Written by Jene Rhys, this is a prequel to Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  

The story unravels the life of Bertha, Rochester’s wife. Written in her perspective initially, later shifting to Rochester’s, the book walks the reader through Antoinette’s (Bertha’s first name) disturbing childhood, her mother’s fate, her family’s wealth and the implications of being a Creole heiress. 

This background into Bertha’s life, in many ways, threw light into real Jane Eyre, the book. 

The only references and perspectives we get from Bronte about Bertha, come from a Rochester who’s already fallen out of love with her. When he speaks of her and narrates his life with her, he’s so welded in self-pity and sadness. And as readers of Jane Eyre, we naturally cultivate a disliking to this unwanted character that was forcefully placed in our hero’s life. Our opinions are biased to begin with, and that leads us to justify Bertha’s death as a favourable outcome for the protagonist. 

That’s the idea Jene Rhys challenges.

The more we learn about Bertha as a person (as opposed to Bertha as the madwoman), the more we realise the realities of life. Her entire existence was a series of events for which no one could be blamed for. There were no evil witches or antagonists attempting to disrupt her life. As a child, she lived by the rules, as a woman, she married as she was told, and as a wife, she tried her best to love her husband and seek his affection in return. She was the real plain Bertha. And yet, we see her life toppling into misfortune, dragging along an innocent Rochester. 

In fact, reading Jene Rhys’s story increased my affection for Rochester. The second half of the book is entirely in his perspective and we see, despite his helplessness, a genuine desire to help the woman whose life was tangled with his. We get a fuller picture of Rochester as a character. 

For me, that was the best part of Wide Sargasso Sea. Aside from addressing plenty of social and economic matters in the Caribbean and women’s health issues, this story completes the picture that Bronte paints in Jane Eyre. 

Perhaps now, when I re-read Jane Eyre, I’ll appreciate it more than I did the first time.

Incredible how powerful perspective is.