I have always preferred even numbers to odd. This makes life difficult, this superstition, because half of our lives operate under the weight of odd numbers. Every second day is an odd day so it is not right to focus too much on this anomaly but I find whenever a number pops up for any reason whatsoever I first of all judge it by its odd or even nature.
My favourite number is two, preferably double two. Two hundred and twenty two is not so good because it is an uneven number of twos and two thousand two hundred and twenty two is too much altogether.
My analyst once suggested to me when I reported my love of the number two, that I chose this number because it is the number of coupledom, mother and baby, just the two of us. It’s an interesting observation. I had thought it might have more to do with the shape of the number, very much like the letter ‘s’ and also that the first house whose address I was able to learn as a child was that of 2 Wentworth Avenue where we then lived.
My address became a vital part of my internal world. I would explore its details regularly and roll the words over my tongue: Number 2 Wentworth Avenue Canterbury, East 7, Melbourne, Victoria Australia, the Pacific Ocean, the world, the universe.
Similarly I played with the multiple dimensions of time, the time of the day, the time of the day in relation to the time of my birth, the hours I had lived, the hours I might continue to live. But I was never good at sums. I failed mental arithmetic in grade six, much to my teacher, Mother Mary John’s expressed horror,
‘I knew you were bad, but not that bad.’ So I did not linger long over numbers except visually.
Numbers developed personalities in my mind and I had my favourites. I hated the numbers seven and nine and could only just tolerate the fives.
I loved the letter ‘s’, smooth, round and to my mind shiny. It was also the letter that distinguished my first name Elisabeth from all the other Elizabeth’s I encountered in my life, the ones at school who sported an ugly ‘z’ in the middle of their names. S was definitely the more beautiful and friendly letter, as well it was the first letter of my second name, ES.
I did not go in so much for the harsh letters of ‘H’ and ‘E’ especially in their capitalised forms, though in lower case ‘e’ could pass, ‘e’ for egg. Even now to me ‘e’ looks like an egg. But the letter ‘h’ could not redeem itself so readily, nor ‘f ‘even with the rounded dome of the top of their shape in lower case.
I am back to letters I see. It is easy to slip by numbers. My relationship to numbers was never so good. Numbers always frightened me. Multiplication, addition, subtraction and division.
My parents were always doing it. Adding babies and sometimes losing them. For the first ten years of my life, my mother was either pregnant or carrying a newborn.
‘What a woman,’ people said, ‘nine children.’ I soaked up the compliments as if they were directed at me.
There should have been eleven but two died, the first, my mother’s second daughter at five months, the second her last child, another daughter this time still born. There was a miscarriage as well, between the seventh and the eighth. In the end my mother was left with five sons and four daughters.
Some weeks after the death of her last leven los, my mother stood with me in the front garden of our house in Camberwell talking to a neighbour who was muttering condolences for her recent loss.
‘It must be very hard but you do have your other children to comfort you.’
My mother nodded and sniffled onto the back of her hand.
Mrs Bos had no children of her own. At ten years of age I was puzzled that any married couple could remain childless. My mother and I watched Mrs Bos, retreating up the street, click-clack on her stilettos, a string shopping bag bulging at her side.
‘Poor Mrs Bos’, my mother said, wiping her nose again on her hand, ‘she can never have children of her own.’
My mother offered no explanation and I was left bewildered about this sad Dutch woman who lived at the top of our street, barren and empty, unable to add, divide or even subtract.