September 2014 archive

Disappearing sunflowers

My mother has been dead for six
weeks now.  I think of her often.  How is she and has she found
out for sure what she once believed and I long doubted, that there is a place
out there somewhere where she can finally be at rest? 
It’s a curious confusion because
although I operate on the belief that my mother is now no more, she lives on in
my imagination and memory and in some strange way she grows bigger on
re-remembering. 
One of my daughters intends to
write a short biography of my mother as part of a university assignment.  She tells me she plans to write from the
perspective of contested truths about my mother.  The differences between the ways my mother
represented herself and the perspectives of others who knew her. 
My mother the saint, as distinct
from my mother the manipulative scheming – I went to say ‘bitch’ but that seems
too harsh by far.  Not my view, never my
view.  Manipulative yes, but always as a function
of my mother’s impotence.  Her inability to ask
directly out of a belief that she should somehow do without. 
I put up a picture of sunflowers on
my Facebook page three weeks ago. 
Glorious, upright, full faced sunflowers.  
They are now ready for the compost bin, sad and dishevelled, an
embarrassment in a vase.
  
They put me in
mind of my mother’s body before she died and the direction in which my own body now heads. 
I check my hands from time to time
for signs of ageing, the tell tale liver spots, big brown freckles alongside the
bulging veins on my otherwise pink fingers. 
The rings on my fingers remain the
same.  They scarcely age, though the
wedding ring I first wore nearly 37 years ago is beginning to thin out on one
side. 
A friend, now in company with my
mother out there somewhere, made this ring for me.  He cast it in gold and shaped the image of a
man on one side reaching out one hand to a woman on the other.  The man is bigger than the woman.  His shoulders stand upright, the highest
point of the ring’s texture, while the woman, who tends to sit on the inside of
my hand, is much flatter. 
I wear my ring this way, with the
man visible, the woman underneath, not consciously out of any symbolic view, but out of aesthetics and comfort.  If I try to
put both figures on top and in full view they look indistinguishable and the
bulky man rubs against the sides on my eternity ring on my middle finger, or if
I push it against my little finger with the man it feels lumpy. 

I completed one of those inane
tests you find on Facebook the other day, one which tells you after you have answered a
series of multiple choice questions around your preferences, the type of person you should avoid. 
Turns out the person I should most avoid
is a comedian.  The person who spends his
time cracking jokes.  The person with whom
I can never be serious. 
Like all these quizzes there’s a
grain of truth here perhaps, though in such an absolute way as to render it almost
meaningless.  
Still it set me
thinking. 

I had thought the person I might most
seek to avoid is a person like me, a person who talks a lot, who might tend
to dominate a conversation, a person who wants to be seen and heard, unlike the
woman on my wedding ring, who hides underneath and brushes up against the soft padding
of my hand.
Sometimes she rubs against hard objects out there in the world, this woman who wears away into a thin
semblance of herself.  This woman who
disappears.  

The Alamein train

I sprayed my glasses with
lens cleaner this morning to get a better perspective. I wiped them with the
soft cloth one of my daughters gave me some time ago after her travels in
Holland.  It imitates a Delft blau pattern of birds, flowers,
leaves and squiggles, in blues, black and white.  
I need a fresh
perspective. 
When I was ten I sat one
day at the front gate of our house in Wentworth Avenue for long enough that the
sun began to warm my skin. I sat still, hopeful no one might notice
me.  
My older sister had
issued house-cleaning instructions to me and my other sisters and brothers and
I did not want to join them. 
I could have been
clearing out lost objects from under my bed, or wiping over the dusty
mantelpiece, instead I sat in the sun.  
Why must I work? 
Why must I bother with the busy stuff of life when there was all this peace to
be had at a gatepost in the early spring sunshine?
The others must have been
busy enough not to notice my absence, or they, too, might have taken to hiding.
 Only my older sister would be hard at it, cleaning and sweeping, mopping
and dusting. 
Only my older sister
cared about these things.  She still does.  Her house is immaculate
while mine is a frenzy of clutter. 
In those days, our mother
took the train from Alamein.  It stopped at all stations to Camberwell and
only there joined the Lilydale line to the city.  
My mother was the only
one in my family to take this train. Every Saturday when she was rostered
to work she took the train to Alamein and from there she walked to Elgar Road
and the children’s home where she worked.  
And every Saturday at the
end of the day from five o’clock onwards my sister and I waited for our
mother’s train to make the return trip to the city, stopping at all stations,
including ours in East Camberwell, from which she would emerge. 
Train after train came
and went and each time I heard the thrumming on the line that signified a train
approaching, I peered ahead filled with expectation. 
 My sister and I
watched after each train had stopped as doors opened and passengers alighted,
hopeful that the silhouette of our mother might soon step onto the station and
then we would be safe. 
But there were as many
trains passed without my mother on board as the train that eventually carried
her to us.
My sister and I, one on
either side, then walked with our mother through the tunnel from the station
that led up to the electricity output station, across past the scout hall and
down through the park that eventually joined Canterbury Road and the final
stretch home.
We did not tell our
mother about our day at home with our father. We had learned to keep our minds
focussed on the happy things, the good things, the joy of walking side by side
with our mother at last, the smell of pink blossom from the trees outside the
scout hall, the first sprinkling of spring rain. 
We held our hands over
our heads and sped up our steps to keep from getting wet before we reached the
shelter of the shops. 
I did not want to go home
to my father, but I knew there was no other choice, no other way of living our
lives other than the way we lived. 
By now his mood had
dropped into one of darkness.  A tall angry man stuck in his chair,
cemented there, as if frozen in time.  His comfort, the bottle at his side
from which he took slurps, like a hobo in the movies. 
We did not greet him on
our return but went straight for the kitchen where my mother took off her coat
and filled the sink with water.  She dropped in a pile of potatoes and
held each one in turn to scrub off the dirt with her fingernails, until her
nails were black and each potato bare skin.  Then she left the potatoes on
the sink to rinse before taking them to the chopping board for skinning and
cutting. 
My father staggered into
the kitchen from time to time and each time he grew louder and angrier. 
He hectored my mother from the door but we said nothing.  
We were trained in the
art of pretence.  We were skilled at behaving as though we were not
there. 
Two small girls crouched
under the kitchen table holding onto our dolls as if they were safety harnesses
until our father left the room, only to wait again for his return. 
In time, my mother went
into the lounge room to talk to my father who had called out for her so often
she could no longer ignore him, however skilled she was in the art of
invisibility.
We two girls sat under
the table and addressed our dolls.  How bad they were.  How much they
needed scolding.    
The potatoes boiled in
their water till there was no water left to boil. 
‘Autobiographers lead
perilous lives’. We write our version of events and wait for others to attack
in much the way my mother waited for my father in the kitchen.  We wait
for someone to raise objections to what we have written.  To some, those
most critical, the content of the writing is all that matters.  The
content and the associations these readers make to their own lives. 
‘You have violated my
privacy,’  they say.  You have spoken about people who do not
want to be written about.
‘Tough,’ my daughter says
when I complain of recent events.  ‘That’s what writers do.  They
write about people.’ 
And those who read with
an agenda, who seek to find traces of themselves in the words, or to find fault
with the writer, do not read with open minds, but with a scorched earth policy
that says:  you have exposed the family to ridicule.  You must be
punished.
In totalitarian regimes,
writers develop ways of communicating underground, ways in which the
powers-that-be are unable to detect dissent. 

How
else can we offer a fresh perspective in this perilous world?

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