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Authors: Andrea Goldsmith

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Gracious Living (27 page)

BOOK: Gracious Living
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Yet was it so strange that she should be prey to the same illusions as other people? Hadn’t she been raised in the same culture, had the same education, watched the same television shows? She’d learned through the same channels as everyone else, and while her disability was a powerful filter, her needs and desires remained like those of other people. And Scott had helped – he should not have, the reasoning was clear – but he had. And now he was gone.

She was exhausted by it all. She looked around and found a chair in dappled shade off the main path and sat down. Not far away was a lake of lilies, the new buds breaking the surface like small perfect shark fins. She heard magpies and crows, the carolling and the croaking; huge march flies flew past, there were children feeding the ducks, a motor mower in the distance. She leaned over and killed an ant at the far end of the bench, a fat ant, an outdoor ant. It had been doing her no harm, but ants, so tiny and fast, disturbed her, and there was a nightmare when they crawled all over her in a seething, swirling black blanket. Then she killed another. After the fourth dead ant she moved to an adjacent bench; it was damp and splashed with bird droppings. One magpie then another waddled over, stared and waddled off. Ginnie looked across at the now-vacant bench, there was a swarm of fat ants. The death smell of their fellows had drawn them from the cracks in the wood. Ants dashed aimlessly, or so it seemed, along the brown wooden slats, prodded this way and that by the fresh odour of dead ant. They’re supposed to be such productive creatures, Ginnie thought, as she watched them darting and turning, stopping and raising heads, front legs rubbing, smelling dead ant. Busy but not productive. And now at the end of her
own bench were two, no three ants jiving, heading her way. She only wanted to be left alone, but the ants were out to get her too. She moved again, then again, and by the fifth bench she gave up. There was still time to make her class if she hurried, still time for the comfort of mind and blessed anonymity.

That night Ginnie had a dream. She was surrounded by wild animals – lions, panthers, zebras. There was an interpreter who instructed her how to converse with them, and this she did by tracing letters in their fur, parting the thick pile. With one animal, a lion, she traced across its back and reached its rump with the message still unfinished. The animal was becoming agitated, so too, was Ginnie. It was not merely the danger of these wild beasts it was also the series of orifices ahead of her moving hand. So she turned a corner and finished the message down one of the hind legs. An easy solution. The interpreter told her the lion’s responses: ‘It’s a pleasant day’, ‘Good of you to visit’. Ginnie was surprised, disappointed, had expected so much more, but nonetheless, perceived a certain irony in these mundane utterances. And when she awoke she thought of fear and the unknown, and she remembered the sensuality of the soft thick parted fur and most particularly the dilemma and its easy resolution, and she was a little wiser.

SEVEN

The television and newspapers had been full of it. Million-dollar figures were tossed around like tennis balls, but then, as one commentator noted, Eden Park was all million-dollar figures.

‘Although not restricted to million-dollar people,’ Adrian joked during one of his many interviews. ‘We’ve created the ultimate in luxury,’ he said, ‘the ultimate in excitement, the ultimate experience if you like, but we haven’t created it for an exclusive elite, we haven’t ignored the great Australian spirit of egalitarianism.’ Eden Park, he said, was for everyone.

As long as they could afford it, interjected the reporter.

Of course, replied Adrian, but unless people pay, and pay well, the experience isn’t valued. Charity, said Adrian, never made anyone happy, charity is the enemy of desire. But the tariffs are enormous, the journalist persisted, three hundred dollars a night for one of the smaller hotel rooms; who can afford that? For one night? practically everyone, Adrian replied. And the long-term and permanent apartments, asked the interviewer, who would use those? They were quite a different concept, said Adrian, quite separate from the hotels.

‘I understand that potential owners of the apartments have to apply for membership to the Eden Park Country Club before their purchase is approved.’

Adrian nodded, but as he said before, the apartments were quite a different matter to the hotels.

Less egalitarian? suggested the interviewer.

But Adrian refused to be fazed. He explained that the needs of long-term residents were quite different from those of the people who came to Eden Park for holidays. For the former group, Eden Park was home and certain standards had to be maintained. An Eden Park holiday, on the other hand, was for anyone searching for the unique experience: the honeymoon never to be forgotten, an anniversary weekend, a luxurious birthday present, a glamorous start to an affair, or simply an opportunity to escape home, job and the kids for a couple of days of pampering. ‘And I can promise you,’ he said, his glossy face beaming into the camera, ‘the pampering at Eden Park is the best in the world.’

And the opening? asked the reporter, how would you describe that?

Spectacular, replied Adrian.

The sun shone for the big day, fairly blazed. By ten o’clock the temperature had reached twenty-five degrees, by eleven it had passed thirty. At one o’clock when Kate, Elizabeth, Ginnie and Vivienne arrived at the Eden Park carpark it was thirty-six degrees and still rising. Not that it seemed to bother anyone; already there was a crowd gathered in an area near the carpark, a laughing, waving, drinking crowd standing in full sun.

‘These people must be mad – or insentient,’ said Elizabeth, who hated the heat. She looked for some shade, but the only building in this part of the resort was a tower of steel scaffolding and it seemed to house birds not people. She rearranged her hat and studied the crowd. ‘Summer’s so uncivilised – such an unnecessary profusion of skin.’

‘It suits some people.’ Kate’s eyes were on Ginnie, whose usually camouflaged body was today adorned only in singlet and shorts. ‘Your legs are quite beautiful, Ginnie, you should show them more often.’

‘They’re different sizes.’

Kate stood back. “Why! So they are. How original!’

‘Drinks, ladies?’

A waitress, dressed in slouch hat and purple and silver swimsuit poured them glasses of champagne. She wished them a nice day and moved on to the next group.

‘Do you think she’s got any pubic hair?’ Kate asked, referring to the cut of the swimsuit.

‘Probably not,’ Ginnie said. ‘The latest fashion is to wax as much as possible without injuring yourself and then to finish off with scissors. Last year at school all the girls were doing it.’

Elizabeth looked horrified. ‘What on earth for?’

‘For the guys of course. They like it.’

‘But you’d look like a ten-year-old.’

‘Exactly,’ said Kate. ‘Sometimes, Elizabeth, you can be very naive.’

‘Or out of touch.’ Ginnie smiled.

‘Or thankfully removed enough not to notice these more tawdry aspects of our modern life.’

Half a dozen new arrivals squeezed past, nearly taking Elizabeth and her hat with them. Vivienne held out a hand so Elizabeth could steady herself. ‘If that’s the case, why are we here?’

Elizabeth knew exactly why she had come. ‘It’s an opportunity to view what I might have been, my future if I’d stayed with Adrian.’ She laughed. ‘I could have been queen of all this.’

‘You have doubts then?’ Vivienne asked.

‘Of course not, it’s curiosity that brings me here. There were doubts once, long ago, but only because I was so proficient at the life I’d relinquished and so inept at the one I’d chosen.’ She looked again at the crowd and spoke more slowly. ‘Curiosity brings me here and a chance to glimpse the other way, the path not taken.’ She turned to Kate. ‘And what about you Kate, why are you here?’

‘Fun and a good laugh. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.’

‘But how do you know you can have fun with these people?’ Ginnie asked.

‘Because it’s what they do best. These are the people who have transformed life’s little drudgeries to fun, who have raised pleasure to an art form.’

Ginnie said she had come to observe. ‘I’m sure the people here want to be looked at, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.’

Vivienne said she was there to observe too, like Ginnie, but Kate was not convinced.

‘You hate parties and crowds, and you’re certainly no follower of fun, so what brings you here?’

Vivienne gave a noncommittal shrug, but Kate persisted. Finally Vivienne spoke.

‘Elizabeth I suppose. She asked me to come.’

But so, Kate said, had she.

‘Yes, Kate, but you would have come irrespective of my decision, I don’t think the same could be said of Elizabeth.’ Vivienne turned to Elizabeth, the question on her face, and Elizabeth agreed. A smile passed between them.

Kate watched. ‘You’re like two old devoted spinsters.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ said Ginnie. ‘I see them more as a pair of comfortable old lovers.’

‘You’re not!’ Kate’s reaction surprised them all. Sharp, loud, attacking.

Elizabeth and Vivienne looked at each other; Kate glared and challenged. Finally Ginnie spoke: she hadn’t been referring to sex when she made her comment.

‘But you said “comfortable old lovers”.’ Kate was accusing, and very serious.

‘Yes I know – intimacy, warmth, respect – that sort of thing.’

Kate turned away, aware of a gust of unease she would have preferred not to feel. She had discarded jealousy long ago back in Stirling when her sisters won the love she so desired; then she had learned the futility of jealousy, how it only made the loss more poignant. And yet it was, undoubtedly, jealousy she was feeling now, a nasty serrated sensation that denied a lifetime’s friendship with Vivienne and nearly twenty years with Elizabeth. This was sinister, this was suffering, this was something she did not care for. These were her friends. She turned back to them, looked at each in turn, an ambiguous expression on her face that seemed to mix ‘Haven’t I been silly?’ with ‘Is there something I should know?’.

‘I used the phrase as a figure of speech, I meant nothing by it.’ Ginnie was pitched forward on her sticks, anxiously looking into Kate’s face. Kate reached out and patted Ginnie’s shoulder and the moment passed.

They all gathered around and soon they were chatting and laughing and being extremely disrespectful of the parade of television personalities and athletes, performers and politicians, physicians and socialites pouring in from the carpark, and even though the main cluster of Eden Park buildings was several hundred metres away and clearly visible, the new arrivals couldn’t resist joining the first crowd they saw. And when Kate started singing from
Carnival of the Animals
Elizabeth and Ginnie and Vivienne started laughing and their laughter grew louder and became infectious and others, total strangers, joined in. Soon Saint-Saëns was replaced by Lerner and Lowe and a couple of hundred people were singing ‘All I Want is a Room Somewhere’, people who between them probably owned several thousand rooms. And then someone called out ‘Who’s hogging the coke?’ and some of the singers disappeared with Kate in tow only to rejoin the throng a few minutes later more spirited than ever. The singing became rowdier and people began to dance: flamboyant waltzes, a wild cancan, the cha-cha, a tango. People continued to arrive, straight from the carpark to the carousing and what had started as a private joke soon became the first major attraction at the opening of Eden Park.

Elizabeth stood with Vivienne at the edge of the crowd, trying to follow Kate in the mêlée. ‘It looks as if Kate has found her fun,’ she said. ‘Will she be all right?’ And Vivienne nodded sadly as Kate went on another useless dance.

Ginnie, too, went her own way. She had seen Lydia Branch arrive with her husband, blonde and beautiful Lydia, perched high in the Rolls, looking as if she had not a care in the world. But she had, and Ginnie knew it. She felt sorry for the woman – most mistakes had shorter lives than Lydia’s twenty-year blunder. And yet she was worldly enough to realise that Lydia would not welcome her pity, that Lydia would judge her life as a good life, and as for the mistake, she would make it over again. So it was
misguided pity and Ginnie did not want to be confronted by its object. She turned her back on the revellers and wandered off in the direction of the lake.

Lydia had lived with Eden Park from its conception – a long glorious night, David interstate, she and Adrian in the penthouse suite at the King William, coffee and liqueurs on a side table and Lydia lying on the bed describing her ideal resort, a place where she and Adrian could indulge their every desire. And soon Adrian was scribbling notes and plans, ‘Keep talking,’ he said to her, scribbling on the hotel stationery and then the toilet paper, even the bed sheet. ‘Keep talking,’ he said, arranging shoes and underwear and chairs and tables to construct the first model of Eden Park. And hours later, standing together at the window, watching the dawn rise at the city’s edge, she thought of paradise and turned to Adrian with the name of Eden Park.

She had witnessed the completion of the plans, the first sod turned, the buildings rising. She had helped with the decorating, the landscaping, the choice of restaurant. And now the culmination of all the dreams and plans, the years of work, had arrived, a day amid days of spoiling memories and crumbling hopes, a day that Lydia would have preferred to spend at home. Although, she reminded herself as David drove the familiar road to Eden Park, this misery was temporary; Adrian had been neglectful before, but he always returned, Adrian always returned to Lydia. She just hoped he would hurry, waiting became more difficult with age. And although she was miserable she knew it was essential to behave normally: to be her usual coquettish self with Adrian, and charming to everyone else. Having a lover was a private affair, having problems with your lover a private burden.

David parked and got out of the car. The sounds of ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ filled the air, originating from a large crowd of people performing a group tango in front of a tower of scaffolding. Many of the new arrivals went to join the singing and dancing, while others entered the heavy stream moving towards the cluster of buildings that was the centre of Eden Park. David looked at his
watch, looked again at the crowds and suggested to Lydia that if they missed each other at the opening ceremony they should meet back at the car at six. ‘We can decide then whether to stay for the evening’s festivities.’ He went to kiss his wife but was pushed out of the way by a man hurrying to catch up with friends. David waved instead and moved off towards the throng. Lydia ran after him.

BOOK: Gracious Living
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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