Fiction

A woman alone

Dedicated to Susan-Gaye Anderson

THERE’S NO POINT making it up. An eminent Australian historian, a woman, once said of an equally eminent Australian novelist, a man, ‘I admire him for making it up.’ History, that is, as if historians themselves don’t make it up. To observe with accuracy is the key, surely, in both history and fiction. If you have read and admired, as I have, Marguerite Yourcenar’s darkly obsessive masterpiece, Memoirs of Hadrian, then you will most likely know already where I stand on certain questions. Where I stand, not where I used to stand. Not where I stood during what Mavis Gallant, in her essay on Yourcenar, calls ‘the high plateau of existence, the relatively few years when our decisions are driven by belief in happiness or an overwhelming sense of purpose’, but where I now stand, in my old age. Those years, that brief point of vision and belief, Gallant says Marguerite Yourcenar viewed in old age as years of ‘useless chaos’. I was still in bed while having these thoughts. Lying in. The morning was grey and cold and I was reluctant to get up and face it. Life, I mean. My own. What’s left of it. It came to me that at seventy, if Mavis Gallant was right, then I shared Yourcenar’s view. Heart and soul! I don’t see Karen anymore. Which is the most poignant of my complaints. Once a year, if I’m lucky. She forgot to call me on my seventieth birthday. Forgot to? Or neglected to? There is a difference. It’s a difference that worries me. I’ve always insisted that I don’t mind if people forget my birthday. I’ve said it’s no big deal. Karen is not people, however, she is my only child. She is forty-one. Would I ever neglect to call her on her birthday? And isn’t seventy a deserving milestone? A date on which we are permitted a moment of self-congratulation? Even a brief backward glance at what we’ve achieved? Expressions of love and gratitude? Something, surely? That was another wintry Tuesday. I waited all day for her call. I expected her call to come at any minute. By that evening my expectation had become a deep ache in my bones. I was still clutching my mobile while watching Johnny Carson reruns on YouTube long after my usual bedtime. Still expectant. An expectant mother. Sleeping through Don Rickles hurling his sexist insults at somebody, the mobile sweaty in my grasp. I don’t dare put it down. I looked at it every few minutes. Nothing. Silence. I was hurt. And worried. Had something happened to her? Or Sanjeev? Had my mobile died? I scarcely know Sanjeev. He seems very nice but I don’t know him. How can I know him? I can’t picture him. His childhood. His life over there, I mean. Nothing. Why did she have to go to India to meet the right man? My phone rang at five to eleven. I was asleep on the couch, the TV still going. I jumped out of my skin and panted breathlessly into the stinking little gadget, ‘Hello darling!’ But it was Tom. Stupid, dull Tom. He cracked up. I hardly dare think of my grandchildren. People who don’t have grandchildren get annoyed when I speak about my two. So I’m usually careful. But I suppose I was raving on a bit to Tom the other day. I get enthusiastic when I think of them. I miss them terribly. Tom lives alone with his saluki and has never had a child. Was he even ever married? We were having coffee the other day in Luca’s and I was telling him about little Penny and her amazing wisdom for a child of eight, when he silenced me. ‘Oh for God’s sake Margot, not you too!’

 

I HATED HIM at that moment. I mean hated. It shocked me. That sweep of hatred, a sour wave of black rising into my throat. I choked on it and knew myself defenceless before it. Murderous hatred. A thing that was not me. Black hatred crouching in my basket like a medieval demon in an old painting, waiting to be roused. ‘What?’ I said to Tom (you wouldn’t have guessed from the calm tone of my voice that my blood was pounding in my head). ‘What about me too?’ I reached for my glass and drank the water and breathed. Fear. Of myself. Sweat breaking out on my neck. A bright red neck, I was sure of it. A demon of rage like that could turn against me. Could destroy me. As if my immune system turned against the flesh that has nurtured it. I would roll on the floor screaming and tearing at my clothes. I swallowed the rest of my coffee. It was tepid. Tom made an impatient noise and got up and walked over to the counter. My heart was still galloping unsteadily. I breathed and watched him. His back to me. He was trying his flirting technique with the new barista. I’ve often said with a touch of pride, to distinguish myself from the usual run, ‘I’ve never hated anyone. Hate is not in my basket. I don’t hate politicians. I don’t like them, but I don’t hate them.’ I think I’ve even made the claim, quietly, with lowered gaze, ‘I am incapable of hatred.’ And believed it. Well, not anymore. Not anymore, Margot old girl. That was a gust of hatred. Pure and simple. What else was it? The barista is beautiful. She’s just a girl. She has lovely skin. The young all have lovely skin. They are all beautiful, for Christ’s sake, aren’t they? Foul-mouthed, that is what my mother called men when she heard them swear on the tram, taking the Lord’s name in vain. She winced. Closed her eyes and recoiled, her gloved fingers tightening on mine. She could not bear to hear the Lord’s name on their lips. I worried that she would say something aloud. Whenever I heard a man say fuck in anger I felt a little stab of fear, and secret envy, envy of those who could instil fear in others. Now I use the word myself. Not often and not aloud in public, and not to instil fear. The beautiful barista was being polite to Tom. Poor old sod. I thought of getting up and slipping out the door and leaving him in the lurch. Gone when he turns around with his second coffee! My brain was still churning. What does the song say? His brain was churning like a toad. So it was literally true after all and not just a songwriter’s metaphor. I don’t have many friends. And Tom lives around the corner from me. We use the same shops. There is no way for me to avoid him. It would look silly if I tried. Trivial. And I’m not a trivial person. I’m not accomplished either. But I’m definitely not trivial. Tom’s the only one these days who rings me regularly. ‘Coffee Margot?’ I never disappoint him. But I know I’m there at the table with him in Luca’s just for appearances. So he won’t look like an old codger on his own. How totally stupid is he to flirt with the barista? I mean, she’s twenty-five, if that, and he’s older than I am. He was quite presentable once. Not any longer. He’s just a bloody nuisance. I never expected it to end this way. Not Tom. Everything. This whole thing. My life. My time here. I’m already into extra time. I’ll be seventy-one in July. When Karen forgot to call me and wish her mother a happy birthday. We were close. Perfect friends from when she was thirteen and right through her university years. I even worried she might be too dependent for friendship on her mother. Then she got that job in Sydney and two years later went to India and met Sanjeev. End of mother story. See you later Mum! But it was never that simple. Bearing children changes a woman. If I know Karen she still dreams of being free with her own time again, and young. I wonder if the demons are beginning to shift restlessly in their basket for her too. Forty-plus is an age when we start to wonder if we’ve left something behind for good and we begin looking back. Was there something I missed? Was it even the thing I was looking for? Hidden there in plain sight. There was that book or film or play, I don’t remember which, Look Back in Anger. What was that about? Do the mental hospitals have a name for them? They, the demons that is, have no fear of me. It is I who fear them. How much power do they have? I don’t know yet. A lot. I sense it. Since I turned the corner they have taken up residence in me. I was in the newsagents and saw in the paper that seventy is the new fifty. ‘Bullshit,’ I said aloud. I didn’t mean to say it aloud. It just came out. The Chinese man behind the counter gave me a little smile, his head on one side, exactly as Clark Gable used to do. I thought he was being condescending so I ignored him. I don’t know his name. I can’t just ask him his name out of the blue. I’d forget it before I went in next time and then I wouldn’t feel as free to go in there as I do now. It has been my newsagent’s for more than thirty years. We can be rude without meaning to be. He may not have been condescending. I can’t tell what he’s feeling. He’s Chinese. I’m not Chinese. In a village we would know these things. I knew Jim, our lovely Greek newsagent. Up to a point I could guess what Jim was feeling. He transformed that little business. Now it’s transforming again. Jim and his lovely generous wife, Pagona. And their two sons. They are gone. Not dead and gone, just gone. Back to their Greek island. His mother is or was ninetysomething. She went back long ago. When Jim’s father died. I don’t blame Jim for leaving our little piece of Melbourne. Locals call it the village. It’s not a village. It’s real estate. There are seven real estate agents here. The price of houses doubles every time I look. There are villages in Greece, where Jim and his family have gone back to. Not here. We just have the word village. I was a bit shocked when they went. I thought they were here for good. As I am. I was born in Doncaster, not in the village. I don’t have anywhere to go back to. I often feel I would like to go back. To the beginning. Back home. I have never felt at home. Not really at home. Even in Doncaster as a child. It was orchards of fruit trees then. Now it’s those new houses built to the edges of the block. What do they call them? I would like to have Jim’s choice. To be able to decide one day that I’m going home. Just like that. As he and Pagona did. No hesitation. To a place where I’m sure of being loved and respected, where people know me and know my history. Where my family is known. Where I wouldn’t need to explain or justify my presence. Where I would never need to ask myself the question: Why here? Where I would know in my heart, and in my soul if I really do have a soul – it would be a test of that – where I would know in my heart and soul that I am home. I am here because this is where I belong the way the frog belongs in the swamp. I could look around me and say with the deepest feeling of truth: This is my home. I can’t. There isn’t anywhere like that for me. I can’t go back. I don’t have that choice. Where would I go back to? It’s commonplace. An old question for us that will never go away. The great critic Nettie Palmer asked it in 1930. Is this continent really our home, she wrote somewhere. I’ve forgotten where. I can’t go home to Andre. Andre was not then and could not now be my home. But God almighty, I adored that man! His body glowed for me. Whenever he was away travelling, on business, funny business some of it no doubt, I closed my eyes and thought of him lying naked, spreadeagled on our bed, the sun blessing him, his limbs bronzed and glowing like the limbs of a god from Heaven. I close my eyes and I still see him lying there, spread out in his confidence. He left me, but he does not fade. He went home. Back to his beloved Provence, where his family had lived for, what? For how long? Generations. That was our happiness. Our fleeting few years of love and happiness, the high plateau. I thought then: This is my life. My reality. It was a passing delusion. Yourcenar’s useless chaos. With Andre I had everything that as a girl I had dreamed of having when I grew up. With Andre I became a grown-up. My friends envied me. Julie didn’t envy me, she was happy for me. Julie was the only true friend I have ever had. Lucky to have had one true friend. When Andre left me alone with little Karen and went home to France I didn’t know where to look, within myself I mean. Nothing has ever bewildered me the way Andre’s leaving bewildered me. Julie steadied me or I don’t know what I might have done. She showed me heights I never saw. It is a poem by Emily Dickinson, isn’t it? Julie is one of my most precious dead. I would like to believe in the hereafter just so I could look forward to meeting up with Julie again. It would be so lovely to see her. There you are! I knew we’d meet here! Darling, you release my soul from the iron band of grief and anger that has gripped it for so long. In other words, paradise. Il Paradiso terrestre. Earthly Paradise, isn’t it? There is something to be said for faith in the afterlife. It must be a great consolation to those who can believe. Julie and I wouldn’t need to say anything. We’d hold hands. It would be enough. My dear darling Julie! I saw her less than twenty-four hours before she died. Lying in her hospital bed bloated and half-blind, her organs turned to mush by the chemicals they’d been pumping into her. She had begged me not to come. ‘You mustn’t remember me like this, darling.’ But I misunderstood her and I went. I wish I hadn’t. It doesn’t need to be like that. Death doesn’t need to be so ugly. In the village where Jim and Pagona have gone and are at home, death is still a thing of beauty. I don’t know if their two boys went with them. I thought of Peter and Nick as Aussie boys. They both played Rules. They were born here. That used to be thought enough to make you an Australian. Now it is a question. Like our gender. There are no certainties. But only sliding scales. Spectrums of possibility to which we are flimsily attached, either here or there, and from which we become detached by a sudden onset of visionary uncertainty and are released like a red balloon to rise and float away alone on zephyrs into the eternal blue. Or something like that. Karen was in love with Nick for a while when they were kids. Nick was a gentleman and would have been perfect for her. He would have given her a home. Will she ever be at home with Sanjeev? Will Sanjeev ever be at home here? Why Australia? How can Sanjeev be at home here if I can’t be at home here? If Nick and Peter did leave with Jim and Pagona it just shows how thin and temporary it is to be an Aussie these days – unless you are an Aborigine. I don’t know any. I have never met an Aborigine. No one I know has ever met a real Aborigine. Tom says he has but where are they? If they are his friends, why haven’t I met them? Why haven’t they been his guests? Tom is unreliable. He says things for effect. We have our European illusion sustaining us in the pretension of our village and it is customary for us to lie. That’s what it is. We live below the horizon of our reality. It’s too much for us. Illusion is the best we can do. In our hearts we know we are not at home and can never be, so we get upset when someone suggests we might not really belong here. Patrick Egan cracks the shits, as Ron says, whenever someone claims this is not really our home. Which shows how insecure he is. Patrick, I mean, how thin the skin of belonging is on him, despite his frantic Irish-Australian protestations, sensitive to the slightest needle. A hyphenated Aussie. You only need to prick his true-blue facade and he howls. If we do lift our heads above the parapet for a peek at the real we see there is nothing to be done. So we duck down again. It is more comfortable. I don’t know what the answer is. We have made an ersatz world for ourselves and we have no home to return to. When I was a child in Doncaster with Mum and Dad and Elaine and my three brothers, people we knew would say they were going home when they were going for a trip to England. It’s a claim that has been eclipsed by the weight of our reality and has fallen out of use. So why haven’t the Greeks lost their home the way we have lost ours? They’ve been here long enough. We? I don’t even know anymore who we are. Who are we? We’re not the we we used to be. That I do know.

 

I WAS STILL simmering when Tom came back with his second coffee. He had Luca’s copy of The Australian tucked under his arm. Tom is mean. He can’t be generous. He makes a stab at being generous every once in a while but there’s nothing there for him to draw on and it never quite works. His dog is tied to the bike rack outside the café where it catches the black exhaust of the trucks pulling away from the lights. I can never remember its name. It’s a stupid pretentious name. Tom and his pretensions. The village idiot. He set his second coffee on the table and sat down and snatched the paper open and began to read. His lips move when he reads. And he sniffs. He’s not conscious of sniffing. Sniffs then clears his throat. As if he’s going to hawk and spit the way men used to. When the trams had a sign, No spitting. The beautiful barista would have flicked him off. Now he was hiding behind his borrowed newspaper. The café was full. Noisy. Why did I bother staying there? I had finished my coffee and had nibbled to death that little bit of pastry – what is it called? I can’t remember. Small and round with a tiny dob of pink icing. Something. I point and say, I’ll have one of those, please. I don’t forget to say please and I still have a nice smile when I can be bothered. If I ever unleash it on the Chinese man who is transforming Jim’s newsagency he and I will become friends. The cultural chasm bridged. A really good smile can do wonders. Men used to misinterpret mine. It’s a generous smile. But it’s not that fucking generous, mate! I don’t deploy it very often these days. It’s not worth it. They don’t misinterpret it any longer. Fuck them, anyway! There, that’s when I use the word, to myself, with a nice snap of vehemence. Not hatred, vehemence: Fuck them! It doesn’t satisfy me but it does something. I’m a smart educated middle-class old lady with expensive clothes and lovely jewellery, some of which is inherited, and a carefully mannered hairstyle and I never say a word. Not a word. Not one. Smile and move on. Do my bit of shopping. Read a book. Short, of course, my hair, not the book. I read long books too. I’m not stupid. Trailing locks at my age make a woman look like a hag. Haggard. Smart and short and lightly figured with a rinse you’d hardly know was there. That’s me. Edgar does it for me. He knows what I like. He knows what suits me. Tom was peeking around the edge of the paper waiting for me to notice him. I turned my head and looked straight at him and I favoured him with a frown.

‘They’re live-streaming Die Fledermaus from the Met.’

‘So?’

‘Don’t be a grouch!’

‘I’m wondering what you want me to do about it, that’s all. I’m being perfectly reasonable.’

‘Of course you are, Margot. I know what your perfectly reasonable is all about.’

‘The Met isn’t what it was when they opened it in the ’60s.’

‘It’s the same place for God’s sake. And don’t tell me your Met story again, please.’

‘You’ve never been to New York, Tom. The Met has become shabby. It looks used and old. It’s time it was bulldozed.’

‘They’ve done it up since you were there.’

I looked away. When he speaks I can see his tongue moving around inside his mouth. It’s inhuman. A gorgeous young woman with long, flowing, highly polished blonde hair, glossier than any ad, had begun breast-feeding her infant at a table by the window so that everyone walking past along the footpath would see the great pink blossom of her swollen breast. Well why not? She was proud of what she had done. The baby was magically beautiful. Soft and glowing in the light of its heaven. A cherub. A real live cherub with tiny wings clinging with its rosy lips to its mum’s great bountiful tit, hanging on to the source for all it was worth. At home! God! Really at home. Not a doubt in its cherubic outsize head that there would ever be a place called not-home. Wait till the bullies get hold of it and knock some sense into it. A future banker driving a Porsche.

‘I’ll bring round a nice bottle of something,’ Tom said.

He was still going on about the shabby Met live streaming itself.

‘We can sit on your couch and sip champagne. We haven’t done anything for ages. We have to do something, Margot, or we’ll both start rotting.’

He laughed.

He is one of those people who laugh at their own pathetic wit in case you’ve missed it. ‘What time?’ I said. ‘When are they live streaming?’ They say live streaming as if it means you can be there with them. Who wants to be? There is nothing live about it. The Met isn’t what it used to be. Like our civilisation, it’s a shabby remnant of the glorious optimism of the ’60s, a poor compromise on reality, like our illusionary village, the way we torment our language into lying for us. Live streaming, my arse!

Tom was checking the newspaper for details.

I looked back at the feeding pair. Was I the only one looking? It’s not always so blessed. My sexy, sensitive nipples became cracked and dry and ugly to behold. I was a month from my thirty-second birthday. Terrified of losing my youth. Karen was my tormentor and Andre was soon back in Nyons with his old family and his new girlfriend. He was disgusted by the smells and by my distended breasts with their charred nipples, as if I had been through a disfiguring blaze. I had! He didn’t want to know about it. He couldn’t face it. His finely wrought aesthetic was confounded. And my dreadful fatigue. He liked his women trim and firm and full of cheek. My saviour was Julie. Without her. Well. Who knows? I miss her so much. Karen’s price was high. Almost too high. But it would have come to that sooner or later, with or without a child. Andre couldn’t bear the transformation of his ideal world. He hadn’t foreseen it. I hadn’t either. I thought for a long time that he would realise his mistake. At two in the afternoon I was still in my dressing gown, my head resting on the kitchen table, letting Karen scream her head off in my bedroom. Maybe she’ll stop. Maybe she’ll scream herself into a fit and die. It won’t be my fault. I was too deeply, achingly tired, too far beyond fatigue, to stand up and go and feed her. The sink filled with shitty nappies. The stench of shit and sour milk and vomit. I too was confounded. Knocked from my perch and floundering. A vision of murder-suicide shrieking at me. Then Julie fell ill.

‘Three am,’ Tom said, squizzing at me around the edge of the paper. ‘And don’t say we can’t do it. Of course we can do it. We’ve done nothing together for ages.’

I still hated him. Now that it had been conceived, the hate had begun to live in me, like a plant that suddenly receives sunlight. There was no knowing where it would go. Not the fierce rush of purified black bile from the groaning depths. Not only that, but social hatred. Contained. I murmured – I had to, I couldn’t hold it in – ‘You’re in no danger, Tom.’

‘Hmm?’ he said. ‘You don’t like opera? Am I forgetting something?’

I was already missing the blind dangerous uprush of venom from the squirming devils in their basket. I wanted the purity of it. The terrifying rush. To feel that dizzying fear of myself, the fear of standing on the edge, the feeling of knowing that it really was too much for me, knowing I was not in control. Knowing I would jump. There was madness in this wanting, an edge of something deeply self-destructive, something so deep and alien and beautiful that I needed it as much as I had once needed him, the perfect Andre of my girlish dreams. But the devils refused to be coerced and stayed huddled in their basket, a bunch of sleeping plague rats. Had I laid a curse on myself? Or was I finally meeting the real Margot?

‘Don’t tell me you’re getting old, Margot?’

Margot! The way Tom manages that emphasis when he uses my name. ‘I am old,’ I said calmly. My calm irritates him. ‘So are you, Tom.’ I couldn’t quite get the tone into his name that he manages with his Margot. I was thinking of Karen not phoning me on my seventieth birthday. In most families, in Jim and Pagona’s family, the seventieth birthday of a parent is a great occasion that is to be celebrated. Why wasn’t it like that for us? I obsess about it. There it is, shouting at me inside my skull: ‘Your only child didn’t even call you on your seventieth fucking birthday, Margot!’ We finished up having a row. She rowed. I don’t row. I stay calm and quiet and say little and keep it all inside under the hood. I don’t fuel things with my own fury. I obsess afterwards. But I feel it. I get paranoid. It works in me. I gave her time while I boiled inside. I didn’t call her till the following afternoon. ‘Is everything all right, darling?’

‘Everything’s fine, Mum, why?’

She was impatient. Silence. I waited. Nothing.

Finally, ‘What? Did you want to say something, Mum? I’m flat out just now.’

Long pause.

I cleared my throat.

‘O shit! I know what this is about. It completely slipped my mind. Penny hasn’t been well. The doc says it’s nothing. And it probably is nothing. But Sanjeev and I are worried.’

And on she went. No apology. It was all little Penny and her tummy ache and how busy Karen was herself, the successful Sydney architect kowtowed to by her pathetic wealthy clients who haven’t got a thought in their heads except something grand to impress the others – something classical with seven Doric columns out the back overlooking the Harbour with a view of the bridge and the Opera House. Can we manage that, Karen darling? Karen gives them acres of glass and steel and they love it. They don’t have minds. Let alone of their own.

I said no more. Of course. Karen was rattled by her forgetting. Rattled by Penny having a sore throat or a tummy ache or whatever it was she had. Rattled by her life. Who wouldn’t be in her position? She accused me of trying to run her life for her. Where did she get that from? My throat went dry when she said it. I didn’t comment. I dread to lose her entirely. I felt sick with tension. Inside, the voice shrieked, ‘Where the fuck did you get that from, Karen?’

Tom said, ‘So, where are you, Margot?’

‘I was just thinking about something.’ My tone was mild. Civilised. A polite old lady. Me.

‘I’ll say you were. You had glass eyes.’ He laughed and looked around in case someone in the café had noticed what a wit he was.

‘We haven’t what you call done anything for a long time, Tom, because neither of us has wanted to do anything for a long time.’

‘Excuse me?’

Why do we keep seeing each other as if we are real friends? The smart, tall, beautiful blonde feeding her child had buttoned up and was leaving. Tom didn’t seem to have noticed her. I stood up. Karen hadn’t apologised. She hadn’t said, ‘Sorry Mum.’ That would have done. I’m not hard to please.

Tom looked frightened. ‘You’re abandoning me!’

I stood there looking down at him. Looking into his frightened eyes, watery, pink around the rims, too pink, unhealthy, his tongue in his mouth moving around as if it were looking for a way out. I don’t blame it. Fancy being trapped in there with Tom! I realised there was something wrong with him. A disease of old age. What? Cancer? One of the big ones? ‘None of us are who we are, Tom. Are we? Are you who you really are?’

‘Margot!’ He was pleading. He started easing himself out of his chair.

I put my hand on his shoulder and pressed him down. ‘It’s a lovely day and I want to sit in the park on my own for a bit and think.’

‘I haven’t finished my coffee.’

It was sad really, or would have been sad if I’d cared. Thinking of the beautiful cherub becoming a bullied teenager was sad. Tom wasn’t sad. Tom is not a tragic man. This pleading dependence on an old woman like me who doesn’t really like him. Was Tom ever a cherub buttoned onto his mother’s tit, his little stomach groaning with the warm flush of it? The very afternoon I gave birth to Karen I saw all of us, people I mean, nurses, doctors, cleaners, the fat ones who bring the disgusting meals round, suddenly I realised they were all children who had simply grown up. Nothing much. The old were infants in their mothers’ arms a minute ago, that’s what I saw. A banal insight. But there, I hadn’t seen it that way before. The man with long grey hair in a smart suit waiting for the lights to change in Collins Street a few days after I came out of hospital was sucking on the breast just the other day. A blink of time. Gone. But Tom the cherub? No. It was unimaginable. I couldn’t do it. There are limits even to the human imagination. Tom was barely human, let alone cherubic. The tall blonde mother with the glossy hair had gone. Perhaps she had been a mirage. A side-effect of one of the drugs I take to keep me going. Perhaps it is all, all this, a side-effect of something else. So what is the main thing, then, if this is all a side-effect? What is the central effect? The main game? Are we even in it? Our mother’s breast was home. I know that. Even for the Greeks and their islands it is their mothers’ milk that gave them the only belief in home they will ever have. Not classical culture. Milk. And not that almond milk Karen uses either. Something to rely on. Breast fed. If you were lucky. If not, too bad, you missed out. Even for the Greeks, being grown up means we can never go home. It’s done. It’s over. We are outcasts from our mothers’ breasts and must invent our own substitute of home. A place to camp until the game is over.

‘Why don’t you sit down, Margot? Why are you standing there? What’s up with you? Are you still taking your Karvezide?’ He sniggered. ‘There’s an old biddy over there staring at you. Sit down for Christ’s sake. I can’t stand this.’

‘I’ve just realised, the compromise is fatal.’

‘What compromise?’ He gazed up at me, troubled, his pink tongue lolloping all over the place in his open mouth, something in there that had panicked. Tom’s scalp is crusted and cracked. It is the surface of an undiscovered moon. ‘The compromise,’ I said. ‘There is only one. Surely. How many do you need?’

‘You’re not helping your case Margot.’

‘My case?’ I was interested.

‘Yes, Margot. Your case.’

‘Am I accused of something?’

‘You know you’re being stupid. Now behave and just sit down. I don’t know what you’re trying to prove but it’s bloody boring.’

I went home.

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