The stuff of nightmares

They delivered the flowers at the door, three large boxes, including three bridal bouquets, a corsage for the father of the bride and an extra-large bouquet for the bride herself. She took one look and started to hyperventilate.

‘What’s wrong?’ said bridesmaid number one, perched on a stool, her hair under the deft hands of a mobile hairdresser.

‘Look at that flower’

‘What flower’

‘The one in the middle, that green thing. It looks like an inverted shower hose, all those little holes. I can’t carry that.’ The bride covered her newly made up face in her hands. ‘It gives me nightmares.’

The discussion continued through the smell of baked croissants, a morning snack to sop up the glass of champagne that was meant to ease the tensions. In time, the bride’s sister nicked out to the florist, hopeful of buying a bouquet of less exotic flowers to replace the shower head.

She came back with yellow buttons and green leaves. But no matter how they tried they could not pluck out the offending bloom without destroying the look of the bouquet, which had been designed by one of Melbourne’s top florists to blend with the theme of the day. A decor to inspire people with the feel of Mount Fuji in Japan, a mountain that had inspired the bride during one of her visits. Its tall trees, white peaks and rocky outcrops.

The florist had promised a bouquet of flowers, green with a touch of gold and clumps of moss, with no idea that the offending flower would turn into the stuff of nightmares.

When she was a little girl the bride developed a phobia of the statue on top of the church near her home. This statue of the blessed Virgin Mary in gold on top of Our Lady of Victories Basilica. A gold woman who held aloft a sceptre and orb in one hand and her baby Jesus son in the other.

‘That lady on the top of the church,’ her father had told her one day as they walked together to the shops to buy bread and milk, ‘That lady up there,’ he said pointing. ‘She comes out at night and climbs down those steps there on the side.’ He pointed to a narrow line of steps that formed a ladder nearby the statue. ‘She comes down at night with her broom to sweep the church.’

The bride at six years of age could not sleep then, not that she said as much to anyone, not until later when she talked of her fear of things that might crawl out of the offending flower when she remembered the gold woman on the church.

Every night the six-year-old bride had stood at her window and craned to see the statue, visible above the trees and houses that separated her house from the church. Every night she wondered.

What if the gold woman took her broom and came to visit the bride?

What if the gold woman came with her broom into the bride’s house and swept up the corridor, up the stairs and through the bedroom door to the then six-year-old bride as she stood at her window?

What if the gold woman with her broom was not the helpful cleaning woman the bride’s father had suggested but was instead a witch with cracked and crooked teeth and black eyes?

What if the gold lady was a witch with a long nose and a hairy wart on the end. And what if the gold woman’s broom was in fact a witches’ broom and came with the most repulsive smell, the smell of putrid ponds that were filled with dead frogs and the witch woman wanted to take the bride, a girl of six years old and terrified on her broomstick out into the night to the place where witches take children who have not gone to sleep in their beds at night as they should.? Children who instead stood by the window and waited to catch out the witch woman and her broom stick and needed to be removed otherwise they would give the game away.

Then all the world would know about the bad smell that came from the compost bin in the kitchen, the bad feeling that came over the bride at the sight of the shower hose flower belonged to the secret place of witches and she would never be safe again.



Notice Box

My father turned one hundred and one in February this year.

For the past thirty-five of these last one hundred and one years he has been dead. Dead the way I wanted him for the best part of my childhood.

Eventually I gave up on wanting him dead because I stopped living in the same house and wasn’t daily exposed to his unquenchable need for recognition.

For my father, recognition took the form of sex.  Or put more succinctly, recognition involved the presence of another person’s body, preferably a woman’s, into whom he could release all his pent-up energies and frustrations.

Unleash his desire.

When I first encountered my own sexual desire as a child, it came to me in the rush of pleasure I found in my father’s art books, the naked bodies draped over couches.

Not until I heard the comedian, Hannah Gadsby, question the nature of art and the way in which the women in art books are displayed as helplessly half dressed and flayed over couches, did it occur to me that I have viewed sexuality through the male gaze.

I have been attracted to the desire for another through this lens where women are the recipients and men the givers.

More recently I’ve been pondering this phenomenon called the incel movement, a subculture of predominantly young men who find themselves unable to draw the attention or attraction of a woman and thereby feel increasingly rejected.

These men isolate themselves and spend their days resenting these woman, who fit the stereotype of blonde, blue eyed and beautiful, the ‘Stacys’ as the incels call them.  They believe these women are attracted only only to – again stereotyped – virile hunks, hyper masculine men, the ‘Chads’, as they call them.

These disaffected have men banded together through the online world to form a group of involuntary celibates – hence the name ‘incel’ – involuntary because, unlike priests in the Catholic Church or other people who practise celibacy by choice, these men believe that celibacy has been foisted upon them.

They feel rage towards those women whom have rejected them as well as towards the men whom they believe have taken the women from them.

This rage can reach murderous proportions and some of the incels have become crusaders, hell bent on eliminating these women who have caused them such pain.

No doubt it goes back to childhood deprivation of some sort. Parents who were unloving towards a child, or abusive. Or a child who for whatever reason was never able to come to terms with being denied love or not getting things his own way.

Such experience can breed a sense of entitlement, as if these men are entitled to the love of a woman.

I expect it doesn’t just apply to men, but given I’m reflecting on a binary here as dictated by these involuntarily celibates, I won’t try to expand on it more.

If sex is as primal as hunger and thirst as primal as the need for shelter and warmth, as primal as the need to make sense of our experience, then I suspect some of this entitlement is connected to our human need for recognition.

When I was a kid at school, the nuns took offence at those other kids in the class who demanded more attention. These kids were mostly boys, boys who could not sit still at their desks, boys who insisted on talking to one another even when they had been told to stay silent, boys who spilled their bottles of regulation milk at recess just for fun.

Mother Mary John called these boys ‘notice boxes’. In my mind’s eye I saw red postal boxes the type that still line our streets today. These red-letter boxes reminded me of guards on duty, their letter slit a mouth and all wore a crown on top painted in red with the letters HR below in honour of the queen.

Why Mother Mary John chose to call these boys notice boxes and their association to letterboxes puzzled me?

Mother Mary John saw it as a problem when any child sought attention, as if it signalled a defective personality this wish to be noticed.

And yet, isn’t that what we all want/need? Some sort of recognition, some sort of understanding?

And sex is one way of exchanging such recognition though it cannot come by order, any more than those boys who commanded so much attention from Mother Mary John need not have been punished because they did not yet understand the need for all of us to take it in turns to take centre stage.

Which brings me full circle, back to my father, a man who struggled to find his place on the human stage, wanting to take up all the space given the nature of his childhood, a mystery to me still, though I understand is as one dominated by paternal authority and abuse. My paternal grandfather was the chief archivist at the Dutch registry for births death and marriages in Haarlem and a man who put his own impulses and desires first at the expense of his wife and children. In later years he wound up in jail for his crimes but not before he had set in train a crescendo of destruction that found its way onto the next generation.