Authors: Thomas Keneally
The Place at Whitton
Bring Larks and Heroes
Three Cheers for the Paraclete
A Dutiful Daughter
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
Blood Red, Sister Rose
Gossip from the Forest
Season in Purgatory
A Victim of the Aurora
The Cut-Rate Kingdom
A Family Madness
Flying Hero Class
Woman of the Inner Sea
Now and in Time to Come
The Place Where Souls Are Born:
A Journey to the Southwest
Ned Kelly and the City of Bees
PUBLISHED BY NAN A. TALESE
an imprint of Doubleday,
a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103
and the portrayal of an anchor
with a dolphin are trademarks of
Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc.
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and
any resemblance to actual persons, living or
dead, is purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Woman of the inner sea/Thomas Keneally.
Copyright © 1992, 1993 by Serpentine Publishing Company Proprietary, Ltd.
All Rights Reserved
To Jane, my valiant and worldly daughter
WOMAN IN HER EARLY THIRTIES, our traveler, the handsome but slightly frowning Kate Gaffney-Kozinski, running across the rain-glossed pavement in Potts Point, saw from a poster in front of the closed newsagent’s that her defrocked uncle had given another interview to one of those smooth-paged magazines.
She stopped in front of this poster. As an artifact she found it hard and sad to believe in. Her hand sought—beneath the neck of her dress—the scar tissue behind her left shoulder. She had no time—the delicatessen was about to close and she had no coffee for Murray—but she stopped, shuddered, let her breath go in large gasps of steam and began to weep.
She knew it was the wrong block to start crying so openly. Two blocks further up the road, where the elegance gave way to backpackers’ hostels, to brown houses with opaque windows where men went to have their groins massaged by bored Maori girls from over the Tasman Sea …
people wept and laughed and made the sort of big, loud, mad-city speeches you heard only in big, loud, mad cities.
But art deco flats and nineteenth-century mansions reserved this end of the street for more orderly emotions than these that were rocking her.
Weeping Kate could not understand why her uncle should piss away his gifts like that, into the ear of some uncomprehending girl journalist, some popsy who came of Latvian or Greek or—worst of all—North Shore Protestant parents. Some little tart who knew sweet nothing about Uncle Frank’s godhead, or his astounding view of government and the universe.
Kate could imagine him even with the weight of accusation
around him twinkling away at some two-dimensional little hack. Some little hoyden who believed in nothing yet still wanted to ask him the big, vulgar question. Father O’Brien, why don’t you stand for the same prissy Christ all those cops and Legislative Assembly backbenchers make a gesture toward at Sunday Mass? Why aren’t you like His Eminence Fogarty?
This Celtic city—named Sydney by accidents of history and displaced to the Southwest Pacific—
worshiped scoundrel gods and tart goddesses and gave only token nods to the Other, the Dressed-up One. This city’s true deities were Cuchulain the cattle-duffer and divine horse-thief, or the Fianna his bagmen and party machine followers, and the great bullshitter and cocksman Finn MacCool, who once built a causeway from Antrim to Scotland to enable him to go and seduce a Scots goddess, and who ultimately sailed into this Pacific city in the company of arse-out-of-the-trousers Scots and Irish convicts or immigrants.
Anyone who knew the not-so-Reverend Uncle Frank knew he came from one of these other more dualist gods, from a god with warts. A Celtic-mist god who counted cunning more important than virtue. As Uncle not-so-Reverend Frank himself would say,
a fooking scoundrel
Uncle Frank had a very inexact knowledge of folklore, of course. But by this stage of Kate’s history he had said regularly that Kate was a queen of
. Sometimes he would use the name of what he saw as a prototype of Kate’s condition. He would advance the name Deirdre. Deirdre of the capital S Sorrows. The royal daughter of Ulster. When she was born, it was predicted she would bring nothing but grief to Ulster. Uncle Frank didn’t know the details of the story, so he used the term sloppily. A glib phrase. Deirdre of the Sorrows because—as Uncle Frank said during a prison visit—
some poor bitch has to be
Her Uncle Frank was the only person in the world who knew what he was talking about in matters to do with grief. At funerals and in the mortuary parlor of his friend O’Toole the mortician, he had given people essential clues to their loss and they had never forgotten it. And he had given his niece Kate Gaffney-Kozinski the clue that
had, breath by breath, to find the universe too massive to support; someone, transfixed by it, had thereby to hold it in place. It was she who was appointed to contribute so often the mute rain with her own unbidden tears. That was the rule.
, the old fraud, the family shaman, in jail for violations of the New South Wales Gaming Act, for fraud and bribery and tax evasion, still somehow a glamour puss to the press, was the one to do it to her this time.
had caused her unbidden tears.
The Queen of Sorrows as envisaged by Uncle Frank:
Never less than fatedly and palely beautiful, yet fatally touched by love.
Nice bone structure, high cheekbones.
Even when the sun shone, always a woman of rain.
The Queen of Sorrows’s shoulders still itched with the burn of suns other people have forgotten.
Through the front glass of the news agency, she could see Uncle Frank grin out of the poster inset. The silly old bugger had always insisted on wearing his Roman collar everywhere. He might even wear it under his overalls in the Central Industrial Prison. With criminal charges proven, his photographed jaw sat supported by that buttress of white celluloid. Hardly any
priests wore the damn thing anymore.
did it for the sake of the old days. When for instance men of the cloth were let into the Sydney Cricket Ground for free by sentimental gatemen called Hogan and Clancy. In the postindustrial, cybernetic, space and nuclear age, the not-so-Reverend Frank still loved all that antediluvian clerical stuff.
—And how are you today, Father?
—I’ll be all right so long as the fellers get their defense organized.
—Oh, I think they might miss Lyons at five-eighth, Father. I’ve got my money on the others.
—Well, it’s not in our hands. We’ll see, we’ll see.
He really believed he still lived in a world where that white celluloid meant something.
Cardinal Fogarty might and
say, even in the
Sydney Morning Herald
, that Uncle Frank no longer had faculties. But there were men who’d worked for the Cricket Ground Trust for years who knew Uncle Frank and believed him still a priest—in Uncle Frank’s pompous terms—
of the order of Aaron and Melchizedech
The last-mentioned two Hebrews were as shady yet powerful in his imagination as Deirdre.
Uncle Frank was therefore no scholar; went to a lesser diocesan
seminary in Cavan and never got the prize for canon law. But he doesn’t let any of that stop him from uttering such suggestive phrases as
Deirdre of the Sorrows
According to the order of Aaron and Melchizedech
Her tears stopped at last. She had torn her eyes from the magazine poster and was walking again. Soon she had bought the coffee for Murray and some ice cream to honor him for his careful way of life and his gentleness of method. She knew she wanted a third of a liter of scotch and some brutish sex, a universal rut to answer the universe of tears momentarily imposed on her by the poster of the silly old bugger, the not-so-Reverend Uncle Frank.
Happily, it did not take too much to turn Murray into that species of lover. Seemly in his public demeanor, he
become someone furious who carried off the memory of rain. Kate remembered how it had been managed before this, first by a lagoon in Fiji, after the tragedy this story will concern itself with. She had for a start dictated his moves, but in the end he’d gone screaming like a hurricane through all the doors and windows.
Good old Murray who did not and never would inhabit one of Uncle Frank’s myths. She meant to marry him for that reason. There was mileage in him, and nothing strange and nothing cursed. Even the wreck of his marriage had been an average wreck. Though he’d taken it as if it was a fearsome grief. To Kate, his innocence was of an erotic scale.
HIS KATE is daughter of James Gaffney, owner of a cinema chain and builder of the city’s first hypercinema, a complex of hotels and shops arranged around a series of cinemas: venue above all for film festivals all held under the one roof. And of Katherine O’Brien, a woman of deep yet primitive compassion, a virago, and sister to Uncle Frank.
Thus to head off any whingeing about mother and daughter having the same name:
James Gaffney m. Kate O’Brien—sister of Frank O’Brien