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Authors: Andrea Goldsmith

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BOOK: Gracious Living
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‘Vivienne’s very good at saving lives,’ Elizabeth said softly.

Ginnie raised her eyebrows.

‘Another time, darling,’ her mother said. ‘More toast?’

The two women ate in silence. Elizabeth gazed through the bay windows at the brilliant flurry of bougainvillaea, while Ginnie concentrated on eating with minimum spillage. There was little to mark them as mother and daughter, and yet to Kate, to Vivienne, to a few close friends there was a strong resemblance, caught in gestures and mannerisms, words and intonation, a marked similarity despite Ginnie’s erratic arm movements and facial spasms, despite her slow laboured speech. Physically they were very different: Elizabeth small and delicate, and Ginnie much bigger, not fat like Adrian, but with his large frame. Her shape had been further modified by her disability: broad-shouldered from years of using elbow crutches, tapering to narrow hips and wasted child-like legs. The legs were spastic but straight as a result of interminable physiotherapy and occasional surgery. When sitting down with her arms at rest she looked to be a strong, hardy young woman; when she stood it was as if the wrong bottom and top had been paired together in a game of ‘Tops and Tails’.

Ginnie dressed carefully, in slacks never skirts, choosing vivid colours to add bulk to the shrivelled limbs. She wore the colours well having inherited Adrian’s dark hair and skin. Her hair was short, framing a face reminiscent of a sleek, intelligent cat. And cat-like she was with people: intensely loyal to a few, aloof with the rest. For a long time Elizabeth had wondered whether her daughter was more shy than aloof, but Ginnie had said that wasn’t the case, rather she liked to try people out before they had an opportunity to reject her. She was very capable in that way, and rich in humour, a gentle mocking humour. Almost self-parodying, Vivienne had once said, like Jewish humour.

Elizabeth passed Ginnie another piece of toast and settled back
into the pillows and sipped her coffee. Over the rim of the cup she watched her daughter eat, saw her determination, challenging the food to escape, daring it to defy her. That was Ginnie: determined, dogged, courageous – and it had saved her. With less courage Ginnie might not have learned to walk and talk, with less determination she would not have won a place at the university.

Ginnie wiped her mouth, pushed the autotray away and leaned back against her mother’s legs. ‘Did you finish it?’ she asked. ‘Did you finish

Elizabeth smiled. ‘I think so.’

, the last piece for Elizabeth’s university exhibition, was solid sandstone with deep lazy markings, all curves and two figures barely decipherable, the smaller clasped into the body of the larger.

Ginnie bent forward, and in a ragged caress touched her mother’s arm. ‘When will I see it?’

‘Soon. Perhaps later today, depends on how long we’ll be at the university. My appointment with the curator will be no more than an hour, but enrolment could take you all day.’ Elizabeth sighed and stretched. ‘It’s good to be finished.’

‘Does this mean the household will return to normal?’

Elizabeth smiled and nodded. ‘You’ve been very patient.’

Ginnie indicated the mail. ‘Well let’s begin, I’m dying to see what’s in the tinfoil envelope.’

Elizabeth already knew, only Adrian was capable of such vulgarity. It was an invitation to the opening of Eden Park Resort, Adrian’s all-consuming passion these past few years, a gigantic venture that had cost him millions and would reap him millions more. Elizabeth opened the envelope and withdrew a folded card, also in silver foil and embossed in a purple print that was legible only if held at a certain angle. There was a border of Australian insignia – purple kangaroos and emus playing hide-and-seek among sprays of purple wattle – and a request that Elizabeth and ‘little Ginnie if she were well enough’ would join Adrian, as his special guests, in celebrating this great Australian event.

‘What a load of hype! And I do like the bit about how I too can attend his “great Australian event” if I’m well enough.’ Ginnie
grasped her throat and pretended to gag. ‘Comments like that make me sick.’

Elizabeth reached across and took Ginnie’s hand. She held it and said nothing because there was nothing to say; Adrian had been a terrible father. She stroked Ginnie’s hand and the two of them sat in silence watching the mosaic of light playing across the wall as the sun caught the diamond rosette of Elizabeth’s ring. And then Elizabeth stopped stroking and the splinters of colour disappeared and the moment was broken. Ginnie reached out and took the invitation; a smile appeared as she looked at it.

‘Was he always so sleazy?’

‘I wouldn’t have put it quite that way myself, but yes, always.’

Twenty years ago he had been described as out-going, a ‘people person’, a fine addition to any party. The girls loved his naughty ways, and the boys considered him a mate – a good drinker, easygoing, and always ready to recount his sexual exploits with names and places intact. He met Elizabeth Bainbridge when she was nearly eighteen; three years later they were married. She was his opposite, people said – quiet to his rowdy, reserved to his affable, petite to his bulky – but, they were quick to add, opposites attract. Unfortunately, no one had bothered to investigate if the attraction of opposites could be correlated with long-term happiness, and no one would until much later, far too late to benefit the Dadswells.

When they first met, Elizabeth Bainbridge was a likeable girl, artistic, and from a good family. At the time she was going out with Oliver Warby, the man both the Bainbridges and the Warbys hoped Elizabeth would marry; but Oliver was not an easy person to like despite Elizabeth’s best efforts. Later, when the supercilious air of the twenty-year-old became a mummified arrogance in the man of forty, Elizabeth felt exonerated. But in the mid-1960s it was different.

That Elizabeth and Oliver would marry had been their parents’ wish ever since the Warbys had joined the Bainbridges for Sunday morning tennis and the two little Bainbridge girls and the three
young Warbys were thrown together to entertain themselves for three sets of mixed doubles and midday drinks. With the passage of years, Sunday morning tennis became Sunday afternoon golf and still the children were left to entertain themselves, this time in a deficient little playground attached to the club house. When the parents had finished their game they would return to the children and remark how very well they all got along, particularly the pre-pubescent Oliver and Elizabeth, and they would mutter among themselves that only time would tell.

As it did. Oliver at twenty and Elizabeth at nearly eighteen had been going steady for over a year. Oliver was happy with the arrangement: Elizabeth, so sweet and pretty, suited him well. The two sets of parents were also happy, only Elizabeth was not. And so she grew fat, petite Elizabeth started eating and grew very fat indeed. She ate alone, pounds and pounds of chocolate, plain dairy-milk chocolate and chocolate-covered peanuts; she ate pineapple doughnuts and coffee scrolls and cheese by the pound. She grew fatter and fatter and Oliver grew ever more alarmed. Elizabeth was letting herself go, he said; when she gained a few more pounds he said she was letting him down, a few more and he was reluctant to be seen with her. It was during this period that Adrian Dadswell appeared, Adrian who was a bit overweight himself. Oliver had said that if Elizabeth gained any more weight he would leave: she did and he went. The two sets of parents were distraught; we will speak firmly with Elizabeth, the Bainbridges said to the Warbys, and arrange for some professional help; and we’ll speak firmly to Oliver, the Warbys replied, advise him to be patient. The Bainbridges put aside the list of wedding guests, golf continued, bridge began and the parents waited.

Adrian at this stage played only a minor role. He was not interested in Elizabeth as a girlfriend, she was far too fat for that, but he liked her parents’ swimming pool and swam there on three or four occasions. And he was very pleasant to Elizabeth, joking and gossiping and treating her like one of the boys. Then the university year commenced and swimming stopped.

Elizabeth was enrolled to study at the Melbourne School of Fine Arts, Adrian was in the final year of a law degree. Six months
passed before they met again – at the twenty-first birthday of a mutual friend – and by then everything had changed.

What had happened was this: Oliver left and with him the threat of a Bainbridge-Warby union, and Elizabeth commenced her art studies. Her new friends at the college seemed not to notice she was fat and if they did they did not bother about it. She was very happy and very productive. Early in the year she was invited to join the master sculpture classes, an honour rarely extended to a first-year student; it was an exciting time. As for the fat, it was there and then it was not, her body seemed to shrink exponentially with the growth in her work. At the end of first term she had returned to her old weight, at the end of second term Adrian had reappeared, and by the end of third term she had slept with him.

Then there was no going back, not in 1965, not even if you had a nascent nervousness about the man you now had to marry. More than a nervousness, Elizabeth had a curdling suspicion that Adrian was loud and lightweight and mightily self-centred. But it was too late, she had slept with him and she was scared: scared of pregnancy, scared he would not propose, scared he might leave. The first problem, the one of pregnancy, she solved with a strange doctor in a strange city who had no notion that asking for a prescription for the pill was the most nerve-racking experience of her young life. As for the other problems, they persisted until two years later when Adrian proposed.

They were in bed together, a single bed at the Bainbridge beach house, the place Elizabeth and Adrian went for Saturday-night sex after dinner or the cinema. For unmarried couples in the 1960s Saturday night was always the night for sex, but at the time Elizabeth did not know this and feared she was the only one. Adrian rolled over, propped himself on an elbow and proposed.

‘Well, what do you think?’ he said.

What did she think? The relief was enormous! Elizabeth threw herself on top of him, laughing and hugging and crying and squirming and kissing big, wet, grateful kisses, and Adrian interpreting her relief as passion, joined in her excitement, and there she was bouncing on top of him like a baby, aware of his
penis inside her but much more excited that she would not have to be a lonely old maid or a tarnished younger one. And suddenly the guilt of two years of sleeping with him evaporated. She sighed with pleasure. Adrian was delighted: ‘If I’d known it would have that effect, I would have proposed ages ago.’ He called her hot and sexy and congratulated her on the orgasm she had failed to notice. He suggested they marry in March of the following year. Again she felt that bliss of relief, that shiver of escaping stress, and Adrian now at the ready, finally understanding, he said, that insecurity about the future had dammed the full rush of her sexuality, and Elizabeth in a cloud of happiness moved with him in joyous rhythm, her large breasts bobbing above his face.

Relief and gratitude in 1967.

‘But you already knew what he was like!’ Ginnie, the voice of the 1980s would say, and Elizabeth would respond that to a girl with a Bainbridge background who was no longer a virgin, Ginnie’s comment was simply not relevant.

One of the problems, Elizabeth was to realise much later, was her limited experience of men. Of course she knew Adrian was a shallow and egocentric person who seemed happier with his male friends than with her, but then her own father was much the same, as were all the other men she knew. The boys at college had been different, but so different she hardly thought of them as men, and she was sure they did not regard her as a woman; they were peers, colleagues, friends with whom she talked for hours, days, years; as for girlfriends they went elsewhere. So, within her experience of men who became husbands, Adrian was not unusual: a little more raucous, a little more flirtatious than most, but the basic ingredients were the same.

The Bainbridges disagreed; Adrian’s background was very different to Elizabeth’s, indeed, in Bainbridge terms Adrian had no background. Adrian’s father had been born in the north of England – Manchester – which was almost as bad as being a southern European. He had worked for years as secretary to an obscure company, and there he would stay until he died or retired, whichever came first. Adrian’s mother had at least been born in London, but that was where the good fortune ended. As soon as
her children were at school she started work at Myer department store and was still there, in the homewares section, ‘So useful for when the children are married,’ she had said in what Mrs Bainbridge considered to be extremely poor taste. In truth, Mrs Dadswell was a buyer for the homewares section, a respected employee who had done extremely well, but as far as the Bainbridges were concerned, once a shop assistant always a shop assistant.

The Bainbridges changed their mind about the marriage only after Phillip Warby, Oliver’s younger brother, turned out so badly. And if it could happen to Phillip who had enjoyed every advantage, then it could happen to just about anyone. The Bainbridges had known Phillip from babyhood, had watched him grow into a fine young man, had celebrated with him when he was accepted into medical school, and a year later commiserated with his parents when he dropped out. That marked the turning point: one day he was normal and the next he was touting the North Vietnamese flag and supporting the NLF. He was a communist, he said, and a draft resister, and he had pledged to smash American imperialism. Coincidentally, both the Bainbridges and the Warbys harboured a deep concern over the usurping of good British values by crass Americanism and were, therefore, more than happy for American imperialism to be crushed, but they believed it should be done quietly, with decorum, not with the vulgar ravings of Phillip and his companions.

The Warbys were beside themselves. The Bainbridges did their best to reassure them that Phillip was only going through a phase; in time, they said, he would succumb to the lure of good breeding and return to the family that loved him. And return he did, but neither cured nor alone. Nor did he return for love, that, he said, he had found elsewhere, and introduced them to his friend, a big handsome man dressed almost entirely in a pale pink that clashed dreadfully with the red Phillip had taken to wearing in support of the people’s struggle. Phillip said he was a special friend, a homosexual who was out of the closet.

BOOK: Gracious Living
11.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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