November 2012 archive

A dressmaker’s nightmare

When I was thirteen one of my older brothers asked me to be
a bridesmaid at his wedding.  His
wife to be had invited her neighbour’s sixteen year old daughter and I was to
be the younger bridesmaid in place of my older sister who was too old to fit
the bill, for reasons I still do not fully understand. 
My older sister was hurt to be overlooked in this way and I
felt … triumphant is the wrong word. 
I don’t remember wanting to get one over my older sister – four years
older and we were not in the same league – besides I felt hurt for her and a
little apprehensive for me. 
I come to this story this morning out of a sense of
apprehension.  For weeks before the
wedding I worried that I might cop a cold sore, and that my face would become
an unsightly mess just as I was meant to look my best. 
On top of this I was in that in-between stage of
development.  The dressmaker complained
to my sister in law to be that I was a dressmaker’s nightmare.  My cup size was in between.  If she took a fitting now two months
before the event she’d have to allow for the very real possibility that by the
day of the wedding I’d have grown a full cup size. 
I stood in my petticoat as my sister in law to be and the
dressmaker considered the possibilities.
‘Just buy her an oversized bra.’ 
Do you remember that time in your life when any mention of
your body in public was mortifying?  
I blushed. 
At thirteen years of age my breast development was such that
my mother did not consider a bra necessary yet.  I had longed for one, not out of any bodily need but more
because I had wanted to feel more grown up.  I did not want this matter discussed, however.  Mine was a secret longing.
The bridesmaid’s dresses were in a yellow satin with a rough
texture in the fabric that shone. 
My shoes were white.  My breasts were pointed under the hard shell of my oversized bra and as I walked up the aisle first in line of the
wedding party I could see my brothers’ eyes out on stalks.
I feared they might say something later at the reception, but they did not.
Apprehension is the order of the day.  I am about to take a trip to the Blue
Mountains to spend a week at Varuna with the aim of immersing myself in my
writing.  A small group of us will
come together under the mentorship of Robin Hemley to advance our
books, our projects, whatever we might have on the boil, and I am frightened,
excited, and fearful of what might transpire.  
Will I seize up? 
Will I write a load of crap? 
Will I use my time productively? 
For those who don’t know, Varuna is a writer’s retreat in
Katoomba, nestled in the beautiful Blue Mountains in New South Wales.  
I leave before six am on Monday and
should arrive around one, after taking a plane to Sydney and from there a train
to Katoomba. 
I tell myself not to think too much about it, just to go and
while I’m there to forget about everything and everyone outside of my
writing.  Can I do this?  Can I so immerse myself in what seems such
an indulgence, such a longed for indulgence. 
I will not need to worry about the needs of another, except
when I ring home in the evening and check that all’s well at home.  I will not need to cook
or to clean.  I will not need to
otherwise work in any other way than to write – a joy greater than being a
bridesmaid even if I cop another cold sore.   

A dangerous precedent

I cut the photograph in half to
delete the image of a man I once loved, or thought I loved all those years ago
when I was young and impressionable. But to cut out his hand, the one that flops
over the back of the chair behind the body of the young woman who once was me, would involve a total dissection of the photograph and so it rests today, torn
down the middle. 
 Someone
took the photo on New Years Eve and despite the smile on my face I was
angry.  To this day I imagine I was
angry with the man whose hand hangs over the back of my chair, his nails neatly
clipped.  
In the photo you can just
see the dark line of his jacket and the white edge of his shirt.  There was a time when I so longed to
see this man that I could think of nothing else but the hour when we two would
be together.  Such a man as to make
my heart melt.
         
 I
had met him on the ground floor of the book store when he called me over one
day and looked at me with eyes that suggested I was more to him than just
another university student working part time in the upstairs sheet music
department.  
In his eyes I was
special but it was a dangerous precedent   It gave him power after which as much as he could make
me feel special simply by acknowledging me he could also leave me deflated like
a discarded paper bag if he chose to ignore me.
The rain water pelted down from
lunchtime on and we watched from the shop windows as Elizabeth Street filled
with water.  Rubbish sped by as if
it were motorised on streams of water that poured around the drain pipes and
collected there.  With nowhere else
to go the water spilled into a river that rose to door step height, floor
height then up to the counters on the ground floor. 
 Six
o’clock and closing time saw the senior staff busy trying to mop up the excess,
once the rain had slowed and the rest of us were urged to get home as quickly
and safely as we could.  I made my
way back up the hill towards Spencer Street.  
I had determined I would not go straight home. I would go
instead to see off my beloved, the man whose presence could set my heart racing
even as I knew I did not so much matter to him as amuse him.  
He had booked a trip to Wollongong to
spend the next four days with friends.  The
Southern Aurora pulled into the station bound for Sydney.    
        ‘Come on board,’ he said to
me.  ‘We can have a drink before
the train leaves.’ 
We sat together in the long cabin decked out like a hotel
bar with drinks counter at one end and chairs clustered around a series of oval
tables on both sides for the length of the carriage. We sat closest to the door
that led to the sleeping compartments. 
Pimms and lemonade for me, beer for him.  The drink left me feeling mellow.  Undaunted by the thought that soon I would need to say
goodbye and go back to my dreary life at home in a shared house with  people I did not so much care about as
feel responsible for, my sister and her friend. 
            
The
first call came through, visitors must depart now.  The train will be leaving in ten minutes.  I stayed put even through the second
call.
            ‘I
wish I could come, too’ I said.
            ‘Why
don’t you?’
            ‘I
don’t have a ticket.’
              ‘No
matter,’ he said.  ‘I’ll hide you
in my cabin.’ 
 The inside cabin of the Southern
Aurora in this roomette designed for one was compact.  The sink folded in on itself to allow for the bunk that
folded out, the toilet seat you pulled out from another cavity.  The bed which folded out also converted
as a seat and my man and I shared this space the entire journey.  The rat-ta-tat of the train wheels over
the tracks was soothing in my sleep even as I lay squished up against the wall
of the carriage.  In the morning as
we watched through the window and saw the outskirts of Sydney come into view I
marvelled at my fortitude in being so bold as to steal onto a train un
ticketed.  Not so my
companion.  He seemed cool, as if
he had done it before and would do it all over again. 
And so it transpired that I
travelled in the Southern Aurora from Melbourne to Sydney in a first class
sleeper with the man I loved.  I
hid in the toilet when the ticket inspector knocked on the door and slipped out
the train at the end of the journey as if I were an ordinary passenger and of
no interest to anyone.
At Sydney’s central rail way
station with its vaulted ceilings and broad arches we took a train to Wollongong
where we met the friend, a man whose second name ‘Head’ matched his appearance,
all head, no brains and not much of a body, but for some reason my beloved
liked him and chose to spend time with him.  
This time I bought a ticket.  

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