A woman alone

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  • Published 20210504
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-59-7
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

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!’

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