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Authors: Andrea Goldsmith

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BOOK: Gracious Living
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The next morning, within two hours of waking, one of her headaches began. As soon as the shadow crept into the right edge of her vision, she telephoned Daniel and left a message on his machine, made a pot of strong black coffee and went to her armchair to wait. The shadow lurked, not a total blackout rather a confined dimming, as if the contrast on a black-and-white television had been reduced in the lower right area of the screen. She sipped the coffee and waited. There was usually reason to her headaches, an emotional explosion of some sort, anger mostly, which was why the headaches were rare; it annoyed her to have
to suffer one for no reason at all. But there was none, the headache was saving her from nothing: she wasn’t angry, she wasn’t particularly tired and she was eager to settle down to work.

She thought as she always did that perhaps it wasn’t a migraine but a stroke. She remembered the first time, when, as the flashing burst and the numbness crept she had tried, from her elementary knowledge of the brain, to locate the blocked artery or aneurysm, convinced that with symptoms so diverse half her brain was affected and death imminent. But with experience she learned the usual sequence, and with its onset – the flashing and the numbness were now beginning – fears of a stroke were dispelled. The white-yellow regular flashes, jagged like a child’s drawing of lightning, cut her vision, starting high and shooting diagonally to disappear at the lower right visual field. And the numbness, firstly the upper lip, starting at the centre and extending out to the right corner of her mouth, and then creeping across the lower lip to the centre. The right side of the mouth now numb, and the numbness creeping inside her mouth, only on the right side, and then along the right side of the tongue. The tongue feels shrivelled, the saliva spills out in a sweet wet rush. Now the numbness drops to the fingers of her right hand, always creeping, it starts at her thumb and moves around all the fingers in a nice orderly fashion. By the time the little finger is lost, her thumb has returned to life. Her tongue still feels odd. She speaks and is struck by a mild aphasia. She takes her tablets before the pain hits, draws the curtains, unplugs the telephone and, the nausea now upon her, lies on the couch and waits for the pain.

Hours later, when she opens her eyes and looks through the dimness, her head feels as if swathed in a blanket, and stifled beneath the cloth is pain. You still feel it, but now it’s deep and beneath; sat upon.

At five o’clock, Daniel let himself in and walked over to the couch. He took her hand, spoke very gently. She assured him she was better, only tired, washed out. Such a waste of a day, she said. He heated the soup he had brought and served it to her on a tray, together with buttered toast cut into fingers.

‘When I was a child,’ she said, ‘the only time I was given toast
cut into fingers was when I was sick. Chicken soup and toast. And here it is again.’ She leaned across to Daniel and kissed him. ‘You are a precious love.’

He made sure she did not want anything, that she was comfortable, that there was more soup for later. ‘Are you positive you don’t want me to stay?’ he asked for the umpteenth time, but she insisted she was fine. And she was not exaggerating, she felt quite well.

‘It’s often like this,’ she said. ‘You are literally knocked out for the day, and when it’s all over you feel as bright as ninepence, ready to begin the next chapter.’

‘You’re not!’ Daniel was horrified.

‘Of course not. Relax Daniel, I am sensible about these things. If I don’t take it easy tonight then I’ll feel very wan tomorrow and I have far too much to do for that to happen.’

Daniel threw out his hands in a gesture of helplessness. She was to ring him, he said, if she needed anything. Both he and Lorenzo were home for the evening and neither of them had anything better to do than wait on her. He smiled, kissed her, and left.

The blanket around her head was looser now, the lurking pain almost gone. Or perhaps forgotten. Memory of pain so transient. Perhaps that was why it took you unawares and trampled you so easily. She got to her feet, quite steadily, and went to the bathroom. From there she went outside and sat in the gentle dusk; fortunately it had not been a hot day. As she sat there her head cleared, more than that, she was aware of a sort of cleansing, an impression of a vast ocean stretching to the horizon, calm abundance, luscious in its tranquillity, and she felt as if, along with the pain, the detritus that accumulates in the mind – the discarded thoughts, the early drafts, the false starts – had been swept away. She would work well the next day.

And she did. The next morning she awoke, her head still clear, and spent the day at her desk. She was well satisfied when, at six o’clock, with Daniel’s book in hand, she walked the couple of blocks to where he and Lorenzo lived. The three of them discussed the book, trying to anticipate the critics’ objections.

‘They’ll hate it,’ Daniel said, ‘particularly the ones who spend
their lives in search of sub-texts. You know the ones, the truly dedicated language bruisers.’

The three of them laughed, but it was clear Daniel was very nervous.

‘Come on Daniel, there are just as many critics that loathe postmodernism, and they’ll welcome your book.’ Vivienne reached out and took his hand. ‘And fiction writers will be very happy with it, after all, a reflection on the fictional process has crept into many recent novels.’

And while that was true, Daniel said, there was still much in fiction and the other arts, architecture most of all, that was a disgrace to critical reason. As for the wave of academics rushing through the humanities and social sciences touting the postmodern flag, ‘the textual magicians’ he called them, they would be scathing. ‘My only consolation is that no one will understand all the critical pieces that will undoubtedly be written about the book; that when the critics are through with their “polemicising” on the “contextuality” of my book, and my ignorance of the “detotalisation” and “fetishisation” of the “materiality of contemporary life” there will be few readers left.’

Lorenzo and Vivienne were laughing and so, finally, was Daniel. An hour later he seemed a little better: at least he would go down fighting, he said.

Vivienne went home early to do some reading before bed. While still at her desk, she heard the clatter of sticks on the cobbles beyond the fence. The gate opened and Ginnie entered. She looked up at Vivienne’s lighted window, lost her balance, steadied herself, and smiled a weak smile when Vivienne beckoned her to come in. Vivienne opened the door; poor Ginnie looked awful, pale and stained, eyes swollen and red.

‘I was hoping you’d still be up,’ Ginnie said in her slow slur. ‘I couldn’t go home – couldn’t bear Mum to see me like this.’ And she burst into tears.

Vivienne helped her to the couch and Ginnie cried into her shoulder, cried and cried with great sprawling sobs. Vivienne stroked her hair and let her cry, held her close and wiped away the tears. And of course it was Scott, the relationship finished, and
Ginnie feeling so awful, awful and cheap, small and useless. Stupid too, so very stupid, and only a few hours ago she had been convinced, finally, that he truly cared for her.

What else should she think when he turned up so unexpectedly? Six o’clock that evening, Elizabeth was out visiting and suddenly the doorbell rang. Ginnie looked out her window and saw him, Scott on the doorstep, his bleached curls gleaming in the late afternoon sun. The bell sounded again. Down the stairs she went and to the door, and there was Scott with a single red rose in his hand. A peace-offering he said, for the other day, he’d had no idea the tutorial paper would take so long. A phone call? Ginnie asked, what about a phone call. He looked sheepish, handed her the rose and kissed her. He truly was sorry. And although she knew it was not satisfactory, she stifled her protests: he was here now, no point in spoiling their time together. She took his rose and his apology and led him inside.

‘How did it go?’ she asked. He looked at her, not knowing what she meant. ‘The tutorial paper, how did it go?’

‘I didn’t have to do it, I managed to postpone it until next week.’

She knew she should have said something, called his bluff. After all, she said to Vivienne, being in love need not hijack your self- respect, but she had been worried that if she made a scene he would leave, making her again the loser. ‘I did offer him some of the pasta salad I made a couple of days ago – in fact, it was the last time he stood me up – and he ate an enormous serving. At the time I was afraid it might have spoiled, now I hope the cream was sour and the salmonella lively.’ Her lips puckered in a bitter smile.

After he had eaten they sat together on the couch in the living room and chatted about their classes, their lecturers, university life. He told her about his trip to Japan, how good it was to see his parents, how pleased they were he had passed his exams, (‘At which point I was given a kiss,’ Ginnie said to Vivienne, ‘in recognition of my contribution’), and how they hoped he would repeat his success at the university. His visit to Japan had helped clarify his goals and he had now decided on a career in the leisure and hospitality industries – ‘It’s the way to go, Ginnie, we’re at
the beginning of a tourism boom in this country and I’d be mad not to exploit it,’ – and while his father had hoped that Scott would follow him into the diplomatic service, Scott wanted a more modern life, one that would draw on his outgoing personality and entrepreneurial spirit.

It was then they started cuddling. Just like old times, Ginnie thought as he undid the clasp of her bra and ran his hand round to her breasts, the other hand moving from the nape of her neck to her buttocks in teasing circular steps, and she grasped his thigh between her legs and took up the rhythm of his wandering hands. With her lips she traced a line from ear lobe to collar bone in neat kisses just like the girl at the university café, and from collar bone through the blond hair over his chest in small bites, reaching his nipples, sucking on them, caressing his abdomen with the soft heaviness of her breasts. He fiddled with the waist band of his shorts, pushed them down over his erect penis, and when she took his penis in her hand, he sighed. He guided her head to her stroking hand, wanted to feel her mouth on his cock, like she usually did, but something happened, the fear slipped away, and rather than follow his direction she took the lead.

She put his hands to her body, made them remove her clothes, guided them along the soft sides of her breasts, her hips, put them to her buttocks; she used his penis to caress her abdomen, to draw out the wetness from her vagina, stroke her clitoris, she moved her body over his, and although he tried to enter her, she stopped him, rubbing faster now, his penis wet, his thighs wet, slippery, rubbing faster and faster, her body grazing his, her nipples catching the hair of his chest, on and on in a dreamlike haptic world of her creation. Just a minute or two more, she said to herself, but Scott couldn’t wait any longer he turned her on her back, entered her, and within seconds he had come. Her own orgasm retreated and by the time he had recovered it was well and truly gone. But she was not disappointed, not unhappy. Not at all.

They lay together, she in the crook of his shoulder, and as he stroked her back, she was ashamed of her former doubts. He loved her, she was sure of it. She asked him whether it had been all right, their lovemaking, and he nodded and kissed her ear. She breathed
deeply, breathed in his smell and shut her eyes. She was nearly asleep when he said he was hungry. They had a quick shower and while she dried herself – a clumsy tussle with a towel that she insisted on doing alone – he went to the kitchen for more pasta salad. Alone in the bathroom she thought about their lovemaking, wondered at her initiative, how to explain it. Sex, that double-edged sword, had always been at odds with her body, or rather, at odds with her perception of her body. It would have been easier to avoid it, regard it in much the same way as she had gymnastics or tennis, but she could not, almost as if sex – or was it love? – was the making of a person, and, in her case, the making of a normal person. And so she had tackled it, creating a web of rituals that allowed her to experience it while passing through unharmed: she undressed while sitting down, she lay on the right never the left, passionate kisses could only be done supine or else her saliva might go everywhere, she kept her eyes always open, and she followed Scott, trying to remain as insignificant as possible. As for sexual pleasure, until that evening, it had been foreign to her. Now, she decided, it was perfectly feasible. It was also quite manageable, indeed, for a few moments it was as if she had forgotten her body; for a moment there she nearly forgot herself.

She joined Scott in the kitchen. The pasta salad was finished and he was making coffee.

‘Now what?’ he said.

‘I don’t mind, what do you want to do?’

He appeared to be thinking, turning possibilities over in his mind. ‘Such a convincing act,’ Ginnie said to Vivienne. ‘And yet it’s obvious he knew exactly what he wanted. And in the state I was in, I would have agreed to anything.’

‘And did you?’

Ginnie nodded, unfortunately she had.

‘How about a drive?’ he had said. ‘You haven’t seen my new car.’

Minutes later they were hurtling through the streets in a sporty Japanese model, a gift from his parents for passing his exams. He held her hand as he drove and every now and then he would turn
to her and smile. At one set of lights he leaned towards her and kissed her cheek, at the next red light he nuzzled into her hair, and when he spoke the touch of his lips made her shiver.

‘I’ve got it!’ he said. ‘Why don’t we visit your father?’

‘What on earth for?’

‘I’d like to meet him.’ He saw her grimace. ‘Ginnie, you don’t realise how famous he is, my parents know about Adrian Dadswell and Eden Park in Japan.’

Yes, she thought, and if she only knew him from a distance she, too, might want to see him. He still hadn’t taken her out for the dinner he had promised, indeed, the only times she’d seen her father in the past few months were on television. This was not, she told Scott, a good idea.

BOOK: Gracious Living
7.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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