Memory’s thump

After she died, my mother left each of her children $8154.94
as their inheritance.  She had wanted to
leave $10,000.00 each out of the proceeds of her rooms at the retirement
village where she had spent her last decade, but the way these things go, costs
and disbursements whittled some away. 
Throughout her life my mother was determined to give each of
her children something of significance, and each must have an equal share. 
Ironically, what she leaves can never be equal
For some of us, $8000.00 plus is a significant sum, for
others it’s a trifle.  For some it can go
into unpaid debts, for others it becomes part of their inheritance to their own
children, administered early.
They will give it away.
After my husband’s father died and left a small but more
significant inheritance size-wise, he wanted to buy something of substance as a
reminder of his father: a timeless piece of furniture that might stand up
against time. 
I have not been able to think of anything to honour the
memory of my mother other than through words on the page.
One of my brothers has been writing his ‘chronicles’ about
his life, which he had wanted to include in the family archive, but has since
withdrawn because some family members objected to certain of his
statements. 
The response to his writing, which he initially spread far
and wide among our extended family, was a bit like my mother’s
inheritance.  Some responded loudly – it
meant a great deal to them.  Others did
not react at all, or at least not in company.
Last night, I read the second section of my brother’s
chronicles in which he addresses some of the contentious areas where people
have challenged his view of what really happened in our family and I wonder yet
again about the nature of fact and of fiction. 
The ways in which one person’s story can seem so very
different from that of a sibling, when both occupied the same space in
childhood, when both shared the same parents. 
But in many ways, my brother’s parents were not my
parents.  All nine of us have different
parents, given that our parents – despite our mother’s best intentions to treat
us all equally – behaved differently with each one of us. 
My father prized the boys above the girls; at least as far as
academic achievement was concerned. 
Girls were good for housework and sexual favours. 
My mother, on the other hand, preferred her sons.  Especially, the first and last-born, though
the first might say that our mother preferred the second born son. 
These distinctions put differential pressures on each of us
as girls and as boys. 
Years ago, Helen Garner wrote a story about her sisters for
an anthology on sisters in which she gave her sisters names based on
chronology, second sister, third sister etc. 
I have a similar impulse in relation to writing about my brothers, given
there are five of them, and each is unique. 
Here, too, I try to protect their identities in order to make
a point about family experience, but this emphasis on family chronology can make
for dull storytelling, so the critic in my head pulls me up and says ‘fictionsalise’.
Does it matter that my brother writes in blunt words, that my
father penetrated my sister and raped her on a number of occasions, both for
its factual nature and that the statement seems to take it further than my
understanding of events. 
Did my father actually penetrate my sister? 
Does degree matter?  My
father penetrated my sister’s mind.  He penetrated
mine.  He penetrated all our minds but in
different ways. 
See these words on the page. 
See how they disturb, even as I put them down. 
See how much the reader wants to say,
‘No, don’t write that’. 
Don’t say that.  Don’t
speak of these events, they are too awful to consider.
Embellish them in a story. 
Give the reader some space in which to imagine.  Don’t leave it too open-ended. 
My brother writes about his own memory of seeing my father go
into my sister’s bedroom late at night.  Sometimes
my father was naked.
This one hits me with a thump.
My brother as witness and given that he himself did not go
into my sister’s bedroom, given he did not watch my father with my sister, but
could only imagine it, he may have taken his memories to this extreme.
When we witness events, we take in certain aspects of that
event and our memory and imagination then kicks in and rearranges the images
over time. 
When I read about my brother’s memory it puzzles me.  Only in so far as I do not remember my father
walking naked through the house until I was in my teens, by which time this
brother had left home. 
But when this brother still lived at home, it is possible
that he saw my father in ways I did not.
Does it matter, the truthfulness of all this, of who saw
what, of who did what to whom? 
I suspect it does.  But
when it comes to sexual abuse, the facts become murky, simply through the
overload of sensations that accompany our understanding.
When I read about the three year old boy who went missingfrom his home on the mid-north coast of NSW several months ago and of how
police later recruited the aid of Interpol to look out for a paedophile ring, I
cannot get it out of my mind: the sight of this little boy in the grip of a
group of paedophiles. 
In my imagination, they are a blurry group of dark clothed
men standing in a ring around this small boy, preying on his body as if they
are dogs fighting over a bone.
This is as much as my imagination can bear before I want to
snap it shut.  Stop the images.  They are too unimaginable.
My mother was a person who could not bear to see what was
going on around her, under her own roof. 
She could not contemplate what was happening to her
daughters, most particularly her oldest, even though she tells the story of
finding my father at my sister’s bedside and of telling him if she ever saw him
doing this again she would kill him. 
She thought that was enough to stop him.
It was not enough.
My father continued to visit my sister in the night and my
mother continued not to see, until it was too late. 
Even now in my family, and in the community at large, it is
hard to want to see these things. 
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I write about them.  I pick at them like an old sore, and there
are some who say, stop it, get over it. 
It’s done now.  Get on with your
life. 
There are some who might put our mother’s inheritance into
the bank – just a few extra dollars and nothing of any substance – and there
are others who might like to make the most of our mother’s inheritance, some
who might want to use some of the talent she passed onto her children, both for
observation and her ability to write, but also to fight against this tendency
of hers to turn a blind eye.  

My hips are still agile

Christmas Eve and I’m well
again.  At last.  Only a few days of ill health but
enough to have me imagine I would never feel okay again, never my normal self.  Last week I copped a virus of some
sort, presumably one I caught from my grandson after he had stayed with us.  I held myself together until the final
day of my work and then collapsed. 
It’s always the way.  I’ve come to expect it: go on holidays
and fall ill, mostly with a minor ailment but I tend to imagine it’ll be worse,
as if I’m waiting for the final diagnosis that signifies my pending death. 
I’ve said this before, I’m
sure.  When I was young I thought
sixty would be a terrific age at which to die.  When I was young, a child at primary school, old age seemed
such a foreign country.
Last night I visited my mother in
her retirement village, the centre of that foreign country.  I arrived at the end of dinner and
walked with her as she shuffled back from the dining room.  There was a bottleneck of people
hunched over their walkers as we entered the corridor that leads back to her room, three old people staggering on the slight incline that leads from one
part of the corridor to the next, my mother at the rear.  I looked down at my mother’s legs visible under
her skirt, at her angular though shapely ankles, on her unsteady feet.  And I shuddered.  
It was hot yesterday, and yet it
had stayed cool in the nursing home as my mother proceeded to tell me while she
manoeuvred her walking frame behind her fellow residents.  Her hips
swayed from side to side as if without the frame she might totter to the
ground. 
My hips are still agile.  I can walk without difficulty, though
yesterday while I was shrugging off the last of the virus, still feeling
queasy, I went with one of my daughters into the city for a dose of last minute
Christmas shopping, and thought otherwise.
            ‘Why
do you need to stand around like that?’ my daughter said to me after she came
out of the change room where she had tried on a new dress, a potential
Christmas present.  ‘Like you’re a
person with special needs?’
I was not aware I had been standing
around in such a way.  I imagine
she expected me to look purposeful but by this time of the year
after more than one such visit to David Jones’s women’s clothes’ department –
four daughters after all, two of whom have particular tastes in clothes – I
found myself looking for a seat while I waited for said daughter to try things
on. 
 I have noticed, in this department store at
least, there are no seats available for the likes of me on which to sit.  There was a sort of cabinet in the Ted
Baker section with a British flag painted on top – Ted Baker must be an English
label, not one my daughters choose – so I sat on the edge of it.  None of the sales staff seemed to
mind.  But my daughter found my sitting there troublesome.  
I did not find my mother’s gait
troubled me yesterday, not at my age now, other than as a reminder of what is
to come.  My daughter on the other
hand is in her mid twenties still in that place where old age is foreign territory and not worth considering in terms of self yet.  
After my mother had reached her arm
chair and flopped down into it, I sat on the flat seat of her walker
nearby.  Proximity makes it easier for her to hear me.  
For the first time I noticed a
bracelet on my mother’s wrist, one I had not seen before.  She told me she had bought it in Holland.  It was silver with delicate incisions
cut into the surface like lace.  I
knew at once I wanted it. 
There is not much that my mother
leaves behind that I desire other than her bracelets, this one and another, a gold
bracelet, an heirloom left to her by a long dead aunt, also from Holland – a
thick gold chained bracelet that is linked to a single guilder.  I would be happy to settle
for one bracelet only, if I could choose, but how could I tell this to my mother? 
So far it has been easy to tell her that I’m okay about most things she leaves behind.  She can choose.  
Though I once mentioned a particular preference for the crucifix on her mantlepiece, not for
religious but for sentimental reasons, as in it revives memories of the time it
sat on the mantelpiece throughout my childhood.  
The crucifix will no doubt go to one of my mother’s more
religious children.  Sentiment is not a good enough reason to inherit a crucifix. 
Bracelets are different. We
daughters might fight over them after our mother has gone.  Not that we would fight.  Not openly at least. 
We never fight, not these days, not as we fought when we were
young.  
To speak of wanting something was
forbidden from my earliest memories, only hinting would do.  But it is no longer in my style to
hint. 
Next time I see my mother I will
ask outright.  It’s not as hard as
asking her other questions about the past whose answers she holds so close to
her chest I fear she will never part with them. 

A bracelet is easy to give away
even if to speak of it again is to signify death.  And then I imagine myself wearing my mother’s bracelet.   I imagine my skin brush against the bracelet that my mother’s skin now brushes against and feel a mixture of pleasure and of revulsion.  Such these days is my attitude towards death.  
And here for good cheer is the
Lemon Myrtle my youngest daughter and I dragged in from our garden for this
year’s Christmas tree.  My daughter decorated
it with her nephew.  Together they
basked in that lovely place where old age and death are almost unthinkable.