The water is wide

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Lynette came from Queensland. The girlfriend of my older brother she had followed him back to Melbourne, and he, already interested in another woman, did not know what to do with her.

He spoke to our father, who for reasons I could not fathom then – our house already overflowing with people – told her she could stay a year. She could go to the local high school, Canterbury Girls, and finish her education.

I moved out of the bedroom I shared with my older sister and joined my younger sisters. Lynette took over my bed.

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Lynette had long straight hair, a remake of Judith Durham from the Seekers, and she too sang folk songs. She had a husky voice that did not suit the type of singing my older sister had brought into our household from her place as choir leader at the church. But the two of them tried to sing together, my sister, the soprano and Lynette’s voice from deep below.

Both preferred to sing solo and Lynette had to settle for solo in more than just singing once she realised that my brother was arranging to marry the woman he’d returned to Melbourne to meet.

Lynette spent her weekends cross-legged on top of her bed, guitar in hand, with sheets of music spread out before her. She learned the words of songs that spoke of heartbreak and war. Her dark eyes flashing and red gums visible above her white teeth.

The minstrel boy to the war is gone. In the ranks of death you will find him.

Lynette was thin, unlike my sister who had run to fat and the two looked odd together, forced, as they were to share a room.

‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ my sister asked my mother one day after she and Lynette had argued over whose turn it was to use the bathroom.

‘She hasn’t a home anymore,’ my mother said. ‘Her father had a breakdown and her mother is dead.’

The day of my brother’s wedding, Lynette stood at the kitchen sink before we piled into cars. I could see the slope of her shoulders as they heaved over the stove. She was frying an egg in a pan, the edges of which were frizzed like lace.

I wanted to say something to her that might make her feel better. But she had made it clear since her arrival that we were not to speak about my brother, nor about the decision he had made to marry someone else.

All she was interested in were her studies and her music.

The door slammed shut behind us and as we walked past the half open window I heard Lynette’s low voice in song:

The water is wide I cannot cross over, nor do I have the wings to fly

Give me a boat that shall carry two, and boats shall row my love and I.

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9 Comments on The water is wide

    • Elisabeth
      December 23, 2015 at 10:35 am (2 years ago)

      Thanks, Elizabeth. I’m glad another story resonates for you. Happy Christmas to you and yours.

      Reply
  1. Louise Allan
    December 19, 2015 at 2:38 pm (2 years ago)

    This story is so moving, and so beautiful and poignant. I ache for the stoic Lynette.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      December 23, 2015 at 10:34 am (2 years ago)

      It’s sad isn’t it, Louise, the way Lynette was treated? At the time though I thought little of it. That was the way of things then. By and large women did as they were told.

      Thanks, Louise and if I don’t get a chance to speak to you elsewhere, have a lovely Christmas. I know it can be a tough time for many of us, especially in terms of the past erupting through the pleasantries of the day.

      Reply
  2. Jim Murdoch
    December 19, 2015 at 10:11 pm (2 years ago)

    In order to stop me and my fiancée moving in together—we’d rented a bedsit in Glasgow which kind of forced his arm—my dad let her move in with us. She slept in the same room as my sister. My brother moved into the loft which, years later, I learned he hated and resented but at the time he just bit his lip and did what he thought he ought. After we were married and moved out he moved his girlfriend in and, in turn, my sister moved her boyfriend in; he slept on the couch in the front room. I’d set a precedent. After allowing me Dad felt he couldn’t really refuse the others and anything to keep them from fornicating. So he thought. My dad could be awfully innocent at times but then so can I.

    My parents come from large families—they both have about a dozen full or half-siblings—but apart from a very occasional visit I never knew any of them; my “uncles” and “aunts” were my spiritual brothers and sisters. So the concept of an extended family was something I was unfamiliar (and uncomfortable) with. It’s like when a commoner marries royalty and the next thing you know she’s a princess; I never really got that. And so when my brother and sister married—like me, both young and desperate to get out of our parent’s house—I suddenly found myself with a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law and their (well, her) family. That was strange. Like me they both ended up divorced and remarried and my brother divorced again.

    Whenever I think of Carrie’s family I always talk about them from her perspective—Carrie’s son or daughter or grandchild—they’re hers. She’s mine but they’re hers. I think I was the same with my last wife. I don’t think I ever talked about my stepson or stepdaughter and they never called me “Dad”. They had a dad and I didn’t feel comfortable with it so they called me “Jimmy” which is what family call me, usually “our Jimmy”.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      December 23, 2015 at 10:27 am (2 years ago)

      There was something of the prude in your Dad, Jim. Not surprising in that era I suppose. I remember once staying at a boyfriend’s house when I was in my early twenties and his mother put me in the guest room. She was anxious that her son not visit me in this room until after I had got out of bed and dressed. She too was anxious about any sexual activity. It’s so different today. Boyfriends stay all the time with my daughters as they grow up. Thanks, Jim.

      Reply
  3. Kass
    December 20, 2015 at 1:58 am (2 years ago)

    Your brother was a gentle manager of painful decisions and you have written a poetically thoughtful remembrance. So well done…with the last phrase of music lingering in my mind.

    Reply
  4. Kass
    December 20, 2015 at 2:05 am (2 years ago)

    I just viewed the large version of your black and white picture. I would so love to know what became of Lynette, especially now since I have a picture to go with your touching story.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      December 23, 2015 at 10:22 am (2 years ago)

      I don’t know anything of what happened to this young woman either, Kass. It’s a strange thing the way adults can enter into your childhood and then disappear without trace. And I’ve not thought to ask anyone of my siblings about her whereabouts either. She’d be almost seventy now. I hope she’s leading a good and fulfilled life.

      And may you have a lovely Christmas time, Kass.

      Reply

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