Authors: Colleen McCullough
I dropped the subject, though I’m sure I didn’t imagine it. He hadn’t stripped the clothes off me with his eyes or anything silly like that, but the look he gave me was definitely man-woman. And as far as I’m concerned, he’s the most attractive man I’ve ever seen. The senior H.M.O.! Young for that post, he couldn’t be more than forty.
Tonight’s wish: That I see more of Mr. Duncan Forsythe.
Well, I did it at the dinner table tonight, with David present. Steak-and-chips is everybody’s favourite meal,
though it’s hard on Mum, who has to keep frying T-bones in a huge pan and keep an eye on the deep fryer at the same time. Gavin and Peter get through three each, and even David eats two. The pudding was Spotted Dick and custard, very popular, so the whole table was in a contented mood when Mum and Granny put the teapot down. Time for me to strike.
“Guess what?” I asked.
No one bothered to answer.
“I’ve rented a flat at Kings Cross and I’m moving out.”
No one answered that either, but all the sounds stopped. The tinkling of spoons in cups, Granny’s slurps, Dad’s cigarette cough. Then Dad pulled out his packet of Ardaths, offered it to Gavin and Peter, then lit all three of their smokes o f f the same match-oooooo-aa, that was trouble!
“Kings Cross,” said Dad finally, staring at me very steely. “My girl, you’re a fool. At least I hope you’re a fool. Only fools, Bohemians and tarts live at Kings Cross.”
“I am not a fool, Dad,” I said valiantly, “and I am not a tart or a Bohemian either. Though these days they call Bohemians Beatniks. I’ve found myself a most respectable flat in a most respectable house which just happens to be at the Cross-the better end of the Cross, near Challis Avenue. Potts Point, really.”
“The Royal Australian Navy owns Potts Point,” Dad said.
Mum looked as if she was going to cry. “Why, Harriet?” “Because I’m twenty-one and I need space of my own, Mum. Now I’m through training, I’m earning good money, and flats at Kings Cross are cheap enough for me to live yet still save to go to England next year. If I moved out to some other place, I’d have to share with two or three other girls, and I can’t see that that’s any better than living at home.”
David didn’t say a thing, just sat on Dad’s right looking at me as if I’d grown another head.
“Well, come on, bright boy,” Gavin growled at him, “what have you got to say?”
“I disapprove,” David answered with ice in his voice, “but I would rather talk to Harriet on her own.”
“Well, I reckon it’s bonza,” said Peter, and leaned over to give me a cuff on the arm. “You need more space, Harry.”
That seemed to decide Dad, who sighed. “Well, there isn’t a lot I can do to stop you, is there? At least it’s closer than old Mother England. If you get into trouble, I can always yank you out of Kings Cross.”
Gavin burst into a bellow of laughter, leaned across the table with his tie in the butter and kissed my cheek. “Bully for you, Harry!” he said. “End of the first innings, and you’re still at the crease. Keep your bat ready to deal with the googlies!”
“When did you decide all this?” Mum asked, blinking hard.
“When Mrs. Delvecchio Schwartz offered me the flat.”
The name sounded very peculiar said in our house. Dad frowned.
“Missus who?” asked Granny, who had sat looking rather smug throughout.
“Delvecchio Schwartz. She’s the landlady.” I remembered a fact I hadn’t mentioned. “Pappy lives there, that’s how I got to meet Mrs. Delvecchio Schwartz.”
“I knew that Chinky girl was going to be a bad influence,” Mum said. “Since you’ve met her, you haven’t bothered with Merle.”
I put my chin up. “Merle hasn’t bothered with me, Mum. She’s got a new boyfriend, and she can’t see any farther. I’ll only come back into favour with her when he dumps her.”
“Is it a proper flat?” Dad asked.
“Two rooms. I share a bathroom with Pappy.”
“It isn’t hygienic to share a bathroom,” said David.
I lifted my lip at him. “I share a bathroom here, don’t I?” That shut him up.
Mum decided to bite the bullet. “Well,” she said, “I daresay you’ll need china and cutlery and cooking utensils. Linen. You can have your own bed sheets from here.”
I never thought, the answer just popped out. “No, I can’t, Mum. I’ve got a whole double bed to myself! Isn’t that terrific?”
They sat gaping at me as if they envisioned the double bed with a bus conductor’s bag on the end of it to collect the fees.
“A double bed?” asked David, paling.
“That’s right, a double bed.”
“Single girls sleep in single beds, Harriet.”
“Well, that is as may be, David,” I snapped, “but this single girl is going to sleep in a double bed!”
Mum leaped to her feet. “Boys, the dishes don’t wash themselves!” she chirped. “Granny, it’s time for 77 Sunset Strip.”
“Kooky, Kooky, lend me your comb!” carolled Granny, skipping up lightly.
“Well, well, did you ever? Harriet’s moving out and I’ve got a room to myself! I think I’ll have a double bed, hee-hee!”
Dad and the Bros cleared the table in double-quick time, and left me alone with David.
“What brought this on?” he asked, tight-lipped. “Lack of privacy.”
“You have something better than mere privacy, Harriet. You have a home and a family.”
I pounded my fist on the table. “Why are you such a myopic git, David? I share a room with Granny and Potty, and I have nowhere to spread my things without picking them up the minute I’ve finished with them! Whatever space I have here is also occupied by others. So now I’m going to luxuriate in my own space.”
“At Kings Cross.”
“Yes, at Kings bloody Cross! Where the rents are affordable.”
“In a lodging house run by a foreigner. A New Australian.”
That killed me, I laughed in his face. “Mrs. Delvecchio 34
Schwartz, a foreigner? She’s an Aussie, with an Aussie accent you could cut with a knife!”
“That is an even greater indictment,” he said. “An Australian with a name that’s half Italian and half Jewish? At the very least, she married beneath her.”
“You bloody snob!” I gasped. “You bigoted git! What’s so posh about Australians? We all came out as bloody convicts! At least our New Australians have come out as free settlers!”
“With SS numbers tattooed in their armpits or tuberculosis or stinking of garlic!” he snarled. “And `free settlers’ is right-they all came out here for a mere tenpound subsidised passage!”
That did it. I jumped up and started whacking him on both sides of his head right over his ears. Wham, wham, wham! “Piss off, David, just bloody piss off!” I yelled.
He pissed off, with a look in his eyes that said I was having one of Those Days, and he’d be back to try again. So there you have it. I do like my familythey’re good scouts. But David is exactly what Pappy called him-a constipated Catholic schoolboy. Thank heavens I’m Church of England.
Wednesday, January 20th, 1960 I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to sit and write this, but things are looking all right. I managed to talk Dad and the Bros out of inspecting my new premises (I went last Sunday to have a look, and they’re not fit yet for inspection), and I’m working like stink to get my things together for next Saturday’s move. Mum has been colossal. I’ve got heaps of china, cutlery, linen and cooking utensils, and Dad shoved a hundred pounds at me with a gruff explanation that he didn’t want me touching my savings for England to buy what by rights belonged in my Hope Chest anyway.
Gavin presented me with a tool kit and a multimeter and Peter donated his “old” hi-fi, explaining that he needed a better one. Granny gave me a bottle of 4711 eau de Cologne and a set of doilies she’d crocheted for my Hope Chest.
There’s a sort of an archway between my bedroom and my living room in my new flat-no door-so I’m going to use some of Dad’s hundred quid to buy glass beads and make my own bead curtain. The ones you can buy are plastic, look awful and sound worse. I want something that chimes. Pink. I’m going to have a pink flat because it’s the one colour no one at Bronte will permit anywhere. And I like pink. It’s warm and feminine, and it cheers me up.
Besides, I look good against it, which is more than I can say for yellow, blue, green and crimson. I’m too dark.
My flat is in the open air passage that goes down alongside Pappy’s room and leads to the laundry and the backyard. The rooms are big and have very high ceilings, but the fixings are pretty basic. There’s a kitchen area with a sink, an ancient gas stove and a fridge, and it’s
impossible to make it look nice, so I rang Ginge the head porter at Ryde and asked him if he could find me an old hospital screen-no trouble, he said, then started moaning about how dull the place is since I left. What rubbish! One Xray technician? The Ryde District Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital isn’t that small.
Ginge was always one to exaggerate.
Matron came to visit X-ray yesterday. What a tartar she is! If the H.M.O. is God, Matron has equal rank with the Virgin Mary, and I think virginity is a prerequisite for the job, so it isn’t an invalid comparison. No man would ever get up the courage, it would take a dove flying in the window to quicken any matron. They’re always battleships in full sail, but I must say that the Queens Matron is a very trim craft. Only about thirty-five, tall, good figure, red-gold hair, aquamarine eyes, beautiful face. You can’t see much of the hair for the Egyptian headdress veil, of course, but the colour’s definitely not out of a dye bottle. Her eyes would freeze a tropical lagoon, though. Glacial. Arctic.
I felt rather sorry for her, actually. She’s the Queen of Queens, so she can’t possibly be a woman too. If you want to slap a coat of paint on a wall or you stick up a poster to amuse the patients, Matron decides what colour the paint will be or if the poster can stay there. She wears a pair of white cotton gloves, and while she can’t do it in X-ray (strictly speaking, she’s the guest of Sister Agatha in X-ray), on all ground where nurses work or play she runs the tip of one finger along skirting
boards, window ledges, you name it, and God help a ward sister whose premises produce the faintest tinge of grey on that white glove! She heads the domestic as well as the nursing staff, she ranks equally with the General Medical Superintendent, and she’s a member of the Hospital Board, which I have found out is chaired by Sir William Edgerton-Smythe, who just happens to be my dishy Mr. Duncan Forsythe’s uncle. The reason why he’s senior H.M.O. of Orthopaedics at his age becomes clearer. Unk must have been a great help. What a pity. I rather thought, looking at Mr. Forsythe, that he was the sort of man who doesn’t stoop to string-pulling Upstairs. Why do idols always turn out to have feet of clay?
Anyway, I was introduced to Matron, who shook my hand for the precise number of milliseconds courtesy and rank demand. Whereas when I met Sister Agatha, she stared straight through me, Matron held my eyes a la Mrs.
Delvecchio Schwartz. It seems Matron came to discuss the purchase of one of those new rotating set-ups for X-ray theatres, but a tour of the whole place was obligatory.
Tonight’s wish: That I stop thinking of Forsythe the Crawler.
I’m here! I’m in! I hired a taxi truck this morning and hied myself and my cardboard cartons full of loot to 17c
Victoria Street. The driver was a great bloke, never passed any sort of remark, just helped me inside with my loot, took the tip graciously, and pissed off to his next job. One of the cartons was chocka with tins of pink paint-ta much for the hundred quid, Dad-and another held about ten million assorted pink glass beads. I started in without any further ado. Got out the drum of ether soap (handy to work in a hospital and know the value of ether soap), my rags and scrubbing brush and steel wool, and set about cleaning. Mrs. Delvecchio Schwartz had said she’d clean it up when she showed me the place, and she hasn’t done a bad job, really, but there are cockroach droppings everywhere. I’ll have to ring Ginge at Ryde again and ask him for some of his cockroach poison. I hate the things, they’re loaded with germs-well, they live in sewers, drains and muck.
I scrubbed and scoured until Nature called, then went out to look for the toilet, which I remembered was in the laundry shed. Pretty awful, the laundry shed. No wonder Mrs. Delvecchio Schwartz didn’t include it in the tour. It has a gas-fired copper on a meter that eats pennies and two walloping big concrete tubs with an ancient mangle bolted to the floor. The bathroom is behind it to one side. There’s an old tub with half its enamel missing, and when I put my hand on it, it tipped down with a thump-one of its ball-and-claw feet has been knocked off. A wooden block will help that, but nothing short of several coats of bicycle enamel will help the bath itself. A gas geyser on the wall provides hot water-another
meter, more pennies. The wooden latticed mat I put straight into a laundry tub for a soak in ether soap. The toilet was in its own wee (good pun!) room, and it’s a work of art-English china from the last century, its bowl adorned inside and out with cobalt blue birds and creepers. The cistern, very high on the wall and connected to the bowl by a squashed lead pipe, is also blue birds. I sat down pretty gingerly on the old wooden seat, though it is actually very cleanthe thing is so high off the floor that even I can’t pee without sitting down.
The chain is equipped with a matching china knob, and when I pulled on it, Niagara Falls cascaded into the bowl.
I’ve worked all day and never seen a soul. Not that I had expected to see anybody, but I’d thought that I’d hear Flo in the distance-little kids are always laughing and squealing when they’re not bawling. But the whole place was as silent as the grave. Where Pappy was, I had no idea. Mum had provided a hamper of edibles, so I had plenty of fuel for all the hard labour. But I wasn’t used to being so absolutely alone. Very strange. The living room and the bedroom each had only one power point, but as I’m very knacky at stringing my own power, I got out Gavin’s tool kit and multimeter and popped in a few extra outlets. Then I had to go to the front verandah to examine the fuse box.