Authors: Andrea Goldsmith
Penny, as a rule, did not attend to the ramblings of dreams, believing the waking brain to be a far more reliable tool, but this dream pestered her, crystallising as the day progressed. By the time Andrew came home that evening Penny knew what to do. It was time for independent action, she said, there was no point in waiting for the promised services, the therapists and special play groups, they might be waiting forever.
‘I realised,’ she said at that first meeting of the group, ‘that we had betrayed something sacred – after all, there’s nothing more sacred than motherhood – and the only way we would survive was by combining forces.’
‘Women have been doing that for years,’ Kate said quietly, drawing deeply on her cigarette. ‘Supporting each other.’
Penny thought for a moment.
‘I suppose you’re right. But it’s often difficult to see what’s right in front of you.’
Kate nodded. ‘To our detriment.’
Lauren fidgeted, this was not why she was here, she needed answers and she needed them quickly. Elizabeth, however, responded quite differently. She sat very still, excitement simmering, hoping the conversation might continue. Ginnie stirred in the carry-cot and Elizabeth prayed for her co-operation; she wanted
to hear the women talk. Back in the days before Ginnie was born when all the girls would get together, there was ample conversation – intense and raucous exchanges, punctured by bursts of laughter over the juiciest bits of gossip – but never reports of dreams, never discussions of ideas. Elizabeth put aside her questions and willed the women to talk.
And they did. They talked of hopes and struggles, rage and bitterness. So much bitterness. They talked of their girlfriends, those who had stayed and those who had disappeared. And they talked about Walter and Sherrie and Ginnie and Sean. Of the gains and the difficulties. And the love too, Kate and Penny talked about the love and, in time, so too did Elizabeth. It was as if she peeled away Ginnie’s disability and was able to see her child for the first time. After that it was easier; Elizabeth played with her daughter and talked to her and Ginnie started to develop – even mealtimes improved – and the bond between mother and daughter grew.
Every Thursday the women met, throughout 1971 and 1972. They talked of their families; Penny was concerned for Brenda who had suffered the most for having a handicapped member of the family and she talked about Andrew who, unlike Adrian Dadswell and Stewart Warneke, seemed truly involved with his wife’s life, discussing problems, making decisions, helping and not just in matters concerning Sam and Brenda, but in all things.
‘He sounds more like a girlfriend than a husband,’ Kate said.
Penny smiled: it was probably true.
As for Elizabeth, she wondered about Kate’s girlfriends so clearly different to her own. Indeed, everything about Kate was foreign. And if it had been suggested all those years ago that of the four of them it would be Kate and Elizabeth who would become close friends, Elizabeth would have scoffed at the thought. And yet by the time Ginnie was eighteen and ready to begin university, Kate and Elizabeth had known each other for fifteen years and had seen each other almost daily for the past ten. Elizabeth had lost contact with Lauren Warneke when the group stopped meeting and had last seen her, miserable and drunk, on Melbourne Cup Day in 1977. As for the Roscoes, they had been
living in America since the group broke up. It was Kate and Elizabeth who had grown together with the years.
It was becoming dark and Elizabeth left the verandah and went inside. She poured herself another drink and sat on the couch. The group had been a turning point, it had brought new friends, Kate in particular, and through Kate, Vivienne, and it had marked the beginning of Elizabeth’s relationship with her daughter. Elizabeth sipped her drink and thought how very fortunate she had been.
A few minutes later Ginnie joined her.
‘Kate home?’ Elizabeth asked.
Ginnie shook her head. ‘Want to watch the news?’
Elizabeth nodded and Ginnie turned on the television and joined her mother on the couch. The screen filled with a huge, shining face. Elizabeth sat forward.
‘My god, it’s Adrian!’ Elizabeth sat forward.
And so it was, Adrian broad-faced and smiling and telling the viewers about Eden Park, Adrian extending an invitation to all of them to be his special guests at the grand opening.
‘How many special guests can he possibly have?’
‘Thousands,’ Elizabeth said. ‘Your father always preferred big numbers.’
Maybe that was the problem, Ginnie thought, ones and twos simply slipped through his fingers – god knows, he’d never paid any attention to his daughter. Odd how she didn’t hate him for it, only a weary resentment and a litany of blame. And even these were fading, because she knew that for a man like Adrian who courted thousands and who beckoned strangers to his heart, to love a daughter was almost a contradiction in terms.
Adrian and his project manager Fiona Whelan were now escorting the journalist on a guided tour of Eden Park. Every now and then, Adrian turned to the camera and addressed the viewers: ‘This is your place,’ he said, ‘your special home away from home.’
When it was over, Ginnie leaned forward and turned the television off. The two women sat in silence for some time. Finally Ginnie spoke.
‘Do you think of him much?’
‘No, not any more. What about you?’
‘No. Well, sometimes.’ And recently quite a lot. It was Scott she had decided, something about him that reminded her of Adrian, of how Adrian really was, the man, and not some sort of ideal father figure. She’d had her years of ideal fathers, years when she had tried to put Adrian into an appropriately paternal mould, but of course she had failed. Now she knew better, the person she had lost, or, as she forced herself to acknowledge, never really had, was Adrian, Adrian Dadswell – bon vivant, entrepreneur, everyone’s mate and no one’s father.
‘Did I tell you he promised to take me to dinner?’
Elizabeth shook her head.
‘Last December, at the Dadswell family Christmas party he asked me. Said he’d ring and confirm it.’
Yes, still waiting. But then, as a father, Adrian always left you waiting – and wanting; in other respects, though, he was very much more accomplished. And again Scott entered her mind; so outgoing, just like Adrian, and popular like Adrian, so much fun and although a little unreliable, so easy to forgive. Just like Adrian.
‘Did you ever have any regrets?’ Ginnie asked.
‘Not once I’d decided to leave him, but the years before that were very difficult, particularly after the group finished; there were plenty of regrets then.’
‘What? Did you think the marriage could be saved?’
‘Even knowing what he was like?’
‘Of course,’ Elizabeth said again. It was such a short time ago, only ten years since the separation, and yet so much had changed. ‘It was different then. When you were a baby I could use you as a reason for my problems with Adrian. Fortunately the group changed all that, and you and I settled down happily; but the problems with Adrian continued. I was sure there was something more I could do to make him contented with our life.’
‘But it wasn’t your responsibility! He was the unfaithful one, he was the one who never came home.’
‘Yes I know, but back then, if a husband didn’t come home his wife would search for the reason in herself. That’s what we did then. It’s different now.’
Ginnie turned away. It wasn’t so different. If Scott didn’t ring, Ginnie would wonder what she’d done, and if he didn’t see her in the library she’d think she wasn’t desirable enough. Whenever he neglected her she was convinced it was because of her faults and deficiencies, not his.
‘And now? Looking back, do you still think you could have made the marriage work? Do you still think there was something wrong with you?’
‘No, not at all. After we split up I realised that Adrian’s complaint wasn’t marriage with me, but rather marriage per se. He’s a man who thrives on change, while marriages thrive on familiarity. Being married was incompatible with being Adrian.’
‘And being a father?’
‘I’m afraid much the same.’
‘But he did want another child.’
‘Only because people told him it was best for me.’ Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders, an apology of sorts. ‘I think Adrian liked the idea of having children, loving and caring for them in the abstract, but when it came to their reality he simply couldn’t be bothered; they intruded on his life. Adrian was never one for a quiet night at home, either he would find a party or throw one himself, and he was always the rowdiest, the funniest and the last to drop. Such energy he had! – night after night until two, three o’clock in the morning; I used to joke that he could sniff out a good party from ten miles away. Anyway, needless to say, you can’t slot children into such a life. And then there was the mess, your father was always a fastidious man, and children are messy.’ Anticipating Ginnie’s next question because it had been asked so many times before: ‘All children are, and no, it wouldn’t have made any difference if you hadn’t been disabled, the marriage would never have lasted.’
‘But it wasn’t bad in the beginning, was it?’
‘No, of course it wasn’t, and neither was it all bad later on. Your father can be very charming, and he’s always been very generous;
we had many good times.’
‘So why didn’t you remarry?’
‘I didn’t want to. I’d remade my life; I had my work, my friends, and of course I had you; I found I didn’t need a husband.’
There was silence for a time and then Ginnie reached for the television guide. With the programme dangling in her fist, she turned to face her mother.
‘What you need is a man like Vivienne.’
Elizabeth burst out laughing. ‘Do you think so, my darling, do you really think so?’
‘What’s the joke?’
Kate stood in the doorway, an open bottle of claret in one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other. Ginnie started an exaggerated coughing.
‘All right Ginnie, I’ve got the message, I’ll make this my last for the night.’
‘I’ve heard that before,’ Ginnie said.
‘So what’s the joke?’
‘Nothing important,’ Elizabeth said, giving Ginnie a look that warned her to keep quiet. ‘Where have you been to bring you home so early – and with half a bottle of wine to boot?’
Kate had been to dinner with old Martin Rosten, Vivienne’s grandfather. As well as the wine, she’d bought borscht, gefilte fish, horseradish and chopped liver from Acland Street and prepared a feast for the two of them in his flat.
‘Does he ever use the communal dining room?’
‘Not often, he says the food’s shocking, and he’s so deaf now he can’t follow the conversation, although he insists that none of the other residents have anything worthwhile to say.’
Elizabeth laughed. ‘And what about his vision?’
‘Seems to manage perfectly well. Still reads, still explains the world, still has a marvellous critical bite. Still misses Lottie.’
‘Now that was a marriage,’ Elizabeth said turning to Ginnie. ‘Lottie and Martin were married for more than fifty years, and I’ve never seen two people more interested in each other, more loving or more devoted. And such generous, stimulating people! Some of the best conversations of my life occurred around their dinner
table.’ Elizabeth paused. ‘They also had a deep respect for each other.’
‘Not too much of that these days.’ Kate said.
‘Unfortunately.’ Although it was not difficult to see why, Elizabeth said. ‘To appreciate and express true feeling requires time and solitude – the time to think. Emotion and thought go hand in hand. All this rot about the heart
the head one hears bantered around! It’s impossible to
the heart without the head. It seems to me that romantic love has been reduced to nothing more than a sexual twitch: you feel something – a thump, a shot of adrenalin – and instead of savouring it or deciphering it, you go to bed with whomever caused the twitch. And I’m not referring to casual encounters, this happens between couples who have been together for years, so as soon as sex becomes difficult the relationship is threatened. Less sex and more thought is my prescription for a lasting relationship.’
‘Herewith the voice of the radical celibate,’ Kate announced, effectively stopping Elizabeth. ‘Can I help myself to a glass, don’t want to waste a good drop of red.’ She held out the bottle, ‘Want some?’ Elizabeth nodded and accompanied Kate to the kitchen.
Ginnie remained on the couch thinking about her mother’s words. So easy to criticise sex when there were no barriers to it, easy to pass it off when it can be yours any time. For Ginnie, sex meant both fear and security; fear, because being so physical it helped define her disability, security, because through sex she could feel normal, or, from another perspective, be protected from her difference. Being disabled was like homelessness, you long for shelter and become adept at finding it; but it’s never easy. During the years spent at the special school there’d been security, but she’d been expected to leave it, happily leave it, and step into the danger of a normal school. And so she had, with the correct facial expression and right amount of eagerness, but privately she had longed to remain within the protective arms of her old school.
It was Martin Rosten who had helped her. It was just after Lottie’s death but before Martin had moved into his flat at the old people’s home. He was visiting Kate on a day Ginnie had popped in and, sensing her unease, suggested a walk together in
the garden. Despite his arthritis and her sticks, he had guided her through doors and along paths, a hand on her elbow – always a gentleman even to a twelve-year-old – on to Ginnie’s favourite garden, a dark patch of moss and ferns in the centre of which, at the foot of a small fountain and almost hidden by foliage, was one of her mother’s old sculptures – a mother and child clinging to each other under a fine covering of moss. Ginnie and Martin had made their way to the old metal garden seat set deep within the bushes and the two of them with their shaky limbs fell on to it with Martin joking they might need the fire brigade to help them off again.