Authors: Andrea Goldsmith
Then he began to talk, about changes and fear, of his own life with Lottie now gone. He talked about the attraction of retreat after Lottie’s death, the rapid curdling of his other passions, and how for the first time in his adult life his pen had been idle. It was not, he said, that there was no longer any challenge to his work, but without Lottie the challenge was so much harder to meet. ‘With major changes,’ he continued, ‘your life becomes remodelled and everything looks suddenly very strange. But the resources of a life time,
resources, not Lottie’s, not those held within the boundaries of the special school, are still there. A little bruised and shaken, a little crushed by doubt, but still there.’
And he had been right. Ginnie wouldn’t be at the university today if as a twelve-year-old she had opted for the security of the special school. Although she knew it was not as simple as that: some forms of shelter provided security for growth, others merely confined you. As for sex, or rather Scott, she seemed unable to determine whether he would help her or drive her further into the cold. She should visit Martin, he’d always understood her, and she should do it soon – he was so old he could die any time.
‘Is he well?’ she asked Kate.
‘Like a spring chicken, or rather, a deaf spring chicken with arthritis.’
‘I think I’d like to see him.’
‘Why don’t you speak to Vivienne? He has dinner at her place a couple of times a week, you could join them one night.’
Elizabeth and Ginnie made their way to Kate’s bungalow with a trolley laden with food. Ginnie’s classes had begun, Kate had been away at the beach with Vivienne and was due home that evening, and Elizabeth’s exhibition had just finished. It had been a huge success with most pieces sold within the first days.
‘Did you know Vivienne bought
Elizabeth shook her head, she hadn’t, but she was very pleased. Of all the pieces
was the one Elizabeth liked best and it was right Vivienne should have it – but not by paying for it, not when Elizabeth owed her so much. For without Vivienne Elizabeth doubted she would have found the strength to leave Adrian; without her she might never have returned to her sculpture.
must be a gift to Vivienne; Elizabeth would make the necessary arrangements with the gallery.
They entered Kate’s bungalow relieved to be out of the heat. A lillypilly on the eastern wall and a rambling walnut to the west had maintained a dark coolness inside. The living room was, as usual, immaculate with its farrago of furniture and artifacts arranged with careful elegance within the space. The room always surprised, no matter how familiar one was with it, for it should have been a mess with its paraphernalia of years and far-off places. But, as Kate often said, with her life so erratic it was essential her
home be orderly. Even the photos on the oak sideboard represented a structuring of her life, with three clusters of prints – overseas friends on the left, local friends in the centre including several of Kate and Vivienne together as children, and Walter on the right. An imprint of Kate’s body was pressed into her favourite armchair, even though the body itself had been absent for more than a week; to the left of her chair was a side table, with newspapers piled on the lower shelf, folded edges outwards, and evenly spaced across the table surface were a set of coasters, a telephone and notepad, a coffee mug full of pens, and a paper knife from Sea Lion Caves Oregon. On the wall above the armchair was a copy of Escher’s
Hand With Reflecting Globe
; pictures of Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf and someone too obscure to recognise hung above the sideboard; and directly in front of the armchair was a strip of music – a John Cage score if one looked closely – stretched like a frieze of insects across the wall. The music dominated the room, that and the books. Books were everywhere; tidy piles of them on tables, on the mantelpiece, on the windowsill, on the long shelves under the windows. Only Elizabeth and Vivienne, perhaps Ginnie as well, noticed that the books never changed; they were just dusted and replaced. At the end of the top shelf and separated from the books by a bust of Bartok was a bottle of Johnny Walker and Kate’s Waterford tumblers.
Everything was in its place.
Elizabeth had brought Kate’s mail, which she put on the sideboard near the photographs of Walter. She stood looking at the child, until Ginnie called to her from the kitchen.
‘I think you’ve over-catered.’ Ginnie was sorting through the food. ‘It’ll take Kate weeks to eat all this. And what on earth do you think she’ll do with these?’ Ginnie was dangling two lank pieces of flesh, one from each hand. She started to laugh at the pink translucent flaps and lost her balance. Delicately, deliberately, she swung her body towards the sink and saved herself. The chicken breasts slapped on the metal draining board, deadish and humanly pink. ‘What disgusting things,’ Ginnie said, still laughing. ‘Kate won’t touch them; you know she always goes on
one of her peculiar health diets when she returns from holiday.’
And of course Elizabeth knew, but it had always been a case of giving Kate more than she wanted. It was a common mistake made with people who never ask, never make their needs known: they sit and wait patiently while you guess what they want, sit and wait passively while you give and give some more.
Her name was Kathryn Marley but she called herself Kate; pale Kate with large pores, Kate from the country, the nondescript third girl of four children. A boy would have been better, and although Kate could not be blamed for the absent Y chromosome she suffered greatly. Having entered the world if not a mistake certainly a disappointment, she was relegated to the background. Hers was the name forgotten by neighbours: ‘the plain Marley girl’ she was, or ‘Jean’s third’. She shrank Kathryn to Kate in hope that the crisp common name would find her a place in the world, but Kate was no more noticeable than Kathryn and no more likely to fix in the minds of country folk.
The war was partly to blame. When the men returned everyone was in such a hurry and with the sudden influx of children into the Stirling community, it was understandable that one or two were overlooked. Faith, Kate’s oldest sister, had been born in 1942, just before Charles Marley joined up. Faith satisfied her mother in every respect, and Jean Marley, generally so sensitive to public opinion, would have tolerated the stigma of an only child if Charles had not been so insistent. He wanted more children, a son would be good, but anything would do. God knows they could afford it, could provide a fine home. And they loved each other, he said. Which of course they did.
In 1946 Robyn was born. She was a scraggy child from the beginning, jaundiced and small. And she could not eat, or, more accurately, would not keep the food down. She was a needy child with a fat intolerance. You mean a demanding child, Kate said many years later. But Jean Marley disagreed: ‘I never thought of her like that, she needed me.’
Needs? Demands? The reality was the same: Jean’s attention.
To Robyn’s fat intolerance was added colic – rending, shattering spasms – and then teeth that took inordinately long in coming. Nothing came easily to Robyn but, as Kate was to note years later, while Robyn waited for whatever it was to come everyone fussed over her, and after the waiting and the abundant attention Robyn always got what she wanted.
Although she did not want Kate and certainly not a mere fourteen months after her own arrival. Faith started school in 1947 the year of Kate’s unexpected coming, and so there should have been room for the new baby, but with Faith now largely out of the way, Robyn claimed the vacated space for herself – insisted on it. By this time she had grown into a pretty child, a surprise blonde for the dark-haired Marleys, and when she got what she wanted, particularly now the colic had subsided, she was very sweet. But the times were many when the sweet blonde features would contort and scream as if the poor little thing would burst. ‘Such a sensitive child,’ Jean would say as she took the little girl in her arms, such a sensitive child she would say before asking the child what Mummy could do, how Mummy could make her better. Such a sensitive child, and so delicate too. Constipation would be a problem, but that was later, requiring Mrs Marley to spend hours reading stories to her delicate daughter while the child sat on the toilet.
Through it all Kate waited. She learned very early to wait. And while she waited she was good and quiet and undemanding, so good and quiet and undemanding that it was easy to forget she was there, which was fortunate, Jean Marley said, because Faith needed her more than ever now she had started school and Robyn was such a handful. Then in 1949 Graham arrived. There was much celebration on his account and he took it in his stride. He was a chubby, placid, pink baby, more demanding than Kate but not nearly as demanding as Robyn. Faith adopted him; she touted him around the house, played with him in the garden, and gave him his bottle, releasing Jean to devote herself to Robyn’s bowel problems. As for Kate, she still waited, sucking her thumb and watching. She ate when food was put in front of her, giggled when a passing adult chucked her under the chin, played with whatever
toy was dropped in her lap, and although she was slow to walk and talk she seemed alert enough. Thank the Lord Kate is an easy child, Jean Marley would say, there’ll be time enough later for her to develop some spirit.
In 1951 Robyn started school. She was a demanding child, but indisputably precocious, and secretly Jean Marley was proud of her. Robyn already had spirit, she would insist on happiness, demand it. At age five she still needed to be dressed and fed, she needed Jean to listen to rambling monologues about dreams, people, anything that entered her mind. And twenty-five years later Robyn still needed her mother – to select her clothes, decorate her home, choose the menu for a dinner party, and still to listen to her long rambling monologues.
Jean did not mind, she wanted to be needed, particularly with Faith’s increasing independence. By nine years of age, Faith was a school leader, popular, reliable and very self-sufficient. Of course she loved her mother, but did not need her, Faith only needed to be admired, which was a task for friends not for parents. Robyn, however, was different. She needed so much you could mistake her need for love. Robyn gave purpose to Jean Marley’s life, which is not to suggest there was anything unusual about Jean, for there was not. Like many of her contemporaries, Jean Marley had, as a girl, expected a great deal from life but long ago had resigned herself to the only future available: the years would pass, the household appliances would become more sophisticated, there would be more wars, some days would be hot others cold, and she would grow old in unison with her neighbours. This was Jean’s future before Robyn arrived, but her second daughter’s needs changed the view and put a gloss to the years ahead; Robyn gave her something worthwhile to do.
Not so the third daughter, not so Kate. For a start, Kate and her mother looked alike and Jean, never having been satisfied with her own appearance, liked it no better in the daughter: the pasty skin which coarsened with age stretching large pores across cheeks and nose; the medium brown eyes that if a darker hue would have been so much more attractive, the pale mouth that looked as if it had been added as an afterthought, the high
forehead and the wiry hair growing in high arches at the temples, forming a thick widow’s peak at the centre of the brow. Jean would sit in her armchair brushing the long blonde hair of her second daughter, eyeing Kate with disappointment.
Or was it?
In retrospect Kate decided she was an unnecessary child; certainly, after the others had taken their allotted shares there was precious little left for her. Although there was something unnerving about Kate when Mrs Marley bothered to notice her at all. She was too eager to please, too pliant, seemingly satisfied with anything; it was as if she had no needs of her own. And yet she was bright, very bright, but even that was not without its difficulties. The mother seemed irritated by the child’s watchful gaze, by the mousy head buried in a book; but at the same time, it was on those occasions when Kate excelled at school that Mrs Marley appeared to be proud. Indeed, these were the only times when Kate won the attention she so desperately wanted, mistaking it for love – which she wanted most of all.
When you are older childhood becomes explicable, but at the time you will try anything. Kate would study Robyn, analyse how she made her demands, and then privately practise the same lines. And yet in reality, to ask, to demand, eluded her – except in illness with its routine requests. Jean was an attentive, gentle nurse and Kate would have liked to be sick more often; but she was a robust child and a hopeless liar.
It was a matter of self-protection, she decided later; asking revealed too much. Kate served herself up tightly: she constructed a pleasant manner, became known as a good listener, was kind and obliging if a little bland. It was only as a young woman, having realised how selectively love is given and how truly monastic had been her childhood, that she began to change, discovering her self as a far more interesting topic than the selves of others. But as a child she thought that listening and niceness were the avenues to love; that, and excelling at her school work. All of which were quite easy; only asking remained difficult.
When Kate was five she began to learn ballet and at nine she dreamed of becoming a famous ballerina. One Saturday afternoon
a few weeks before Christmas when the family were all together, Jean asked everyone what they wanted for Christmas. Graham wanted a meccano set, Faith wanted clothes, Robyn wanted her own bedroom even when Faith was home from boarding-school, and Kate wanted a ballerina’s dress.
Robyn, Faith and Graham made their requests and then it was Kate’s turn. She desperately wanted a tutu, she desperately wanted to be a ballerina, but she did not want anyone to know. The tears began, the inevitable, stubborn tears. To cry was as bad as making the request, to cry was to reveal that something important was happening. Kate excused herself, her sobs now audible, and ran to her room. Jean followed, demanding to know what was the matter. Eventually Kate told her she wanted a tutu. ‘Well then, why all the fuss? Why didn’t you say so?’