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OUR BOOKS > FOUR FACES, WOBBLY MIRROR

Four faces, wobbly mirror
Novel
Written by Chester Eagle
Cover designed by Vane Lindesay
First published 1976 by Wren Publishing, Melbourne
Circa 104,000 words
2,090 copies printed
Electronic publication 2006 by Trojan Press
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Here’s what it says on the cover:

Simple yet elusive, down to earth yet haunting, Four Faces, Wobbly Mirror concerns two apparently well-matched couples who, at the outset of the story, have little more than a dinner-party acquaintance with each other. Yet a crossover of affections takes place between the partners and two new relationships develop – one inhibited but passionate, the other more freely sexual though still bound by personal limitations.

As the book ends it seems that little has changed … but it is plain that all four characters have passed through an important stage of their development, and that all they did was inherent in their lives until the subdued and half-veiled crises which gave the novel one of its themes.

The novel is also concerned with the sheer difficulty of comprehending ourselves. Where do we look? Inward, to the confusion of our impulses? Or outward, to where the media men and all the other spielers who shape our mental and conceptual worlds are waiting with their glib word-spinning?

To look this latter way, the book suggests, is to look into a wobbly mirror. Yet a feature of this novel is that the four main characters are made clear despite the confusion of their emotions and their varied social settings. The reader gradually discerns a consistency in their personalities, and the wobbly mirror, too, is brought into some degree of focus.


To read some extracts from the book click here:
Essendon versus Collingwood
Bob and Anna
Labor won the elections
Everyone back to his own bed
Politics and people
All men lie in greatest need
The last of us to pull through

To read about the writing of this book click here.

Essendon versus Collingwood

Under the stand was concrete, brick, dark wood, it was something a railways architect might have built. The man checking passes at the door said to them, 'Going to be a great day!' There was no fear of defeat in his voice, perhaps because he was so close to the bars and dressing rooms crowded with cartoons, premiership photos, interstate representatives, champions, Dick Lee's famous mark, flags, banners, silver bowls, honour boards topped by Victorian pediments and a painting of long-trousered Edwardians in hats playing in the kick for kick style of the day. The static figures in the painting contrasted strongly with the rumble of expectation in the carpeted dressing room, the overwhelming male monotone of the bar rooms and the hurrying of supporters to see their men.

Who were an unforgettable swirl of black and white as the physical training instructor put them through their warm-up; flailing their black and white arms, running on the spot, jogging, bending, pressing their trunks about their abdomens, they looked appallingly, dangerously fit. It was hard to believe that somewhere, buried under another stand, were twenty men just as fit. The warm-up over, the players flicked a football around, contested knockouts and shot stab passes about the room with the muscular ease of young tigers playing. Bob watched them shrewdly, caught the eye of Carcase sprawled on a rubbing down bench, and smiled at him. Carcase let an attendant in white overalls and black cap tie up his boots under close supervision, then came to the supporters held behind a line on the carpet by another overcoated attendant. It was like a royal condescension as he eased himself through the first rows of supporters to shake hands with them. Vic found himself quite awed by the big man, so much at home in this scene of power, so obviously strong enough to release for the full game the energy these men were both dissipating and husbanding in these pre-game frolics. Then the coach called his players around him, Carcase left them through the parted Red Sea of spectators, and a hush fell on the room.

For a tirade of unutterable stupidity: Vic, almost overwhelmed into believing these men invincible, convinced that the red and black men under the stand where Frances and Anna were sitting had no hope at all, suddenly saw that verbally, mentally, these gods had feet of clay. Bob caught him rolling his eyes, giving himself away as a non-initiate, and said, in a way that sized him up as much as it answered his unspoken criticism, 'He gives 'em the tactics in the other room. This is just for our benefit.'

Vic was going to say, 'Well, he must have a low opinion of us', but, hemmed in by dark-hatted and overcoated men whose passions lay with the players around their coach, he dared nothing. He knew, though, that in some desperate way that he would have been ashamed to admit, he wanted those red and black men to beat these terrors in front of him. They were an enclave army, that was it, and his wish to see them beaten was a sort of revenge against Frances for her failure to come out to him when, he had felt, she promised him so much. It was, too, an expression of hatred for something in his new friend Bob Banner that he could sense but not articulate. Bob thought he had something over Vic; this ground, these footballers, were an expression of it; it would be impossible in this swamping crowd and in the excitement of the game to separate out the personal strands of enmity that lay between them but he knew they were there.

Where had they come from ? His dislike of the Irishness of many of the players, priests and supporters? Was it simply his reaction against men of the footballing type, and would he feel just as hostile to the red and black men if he were in their rooms? No, he decided; at the top of the league they might be, but they were the underdogs in this fierce milieu; they couldn't possibly have in themselves the bitter faith these Collingwood men were going to carry onto the field. From the stands above there were roars, waves of roaring; something was going on even before the game to stir the mob. There was a long pause, and then a concentrated hooting pushed through the concrete roof of the Magpies' rooms. Magpie supporters lifted their heads as if God's own gates had opened, and smiled jubilantly at the hostile bedlam pressing down from above them. Bob almost shouted, 'That'll be for Tuddy!' and then he called, 'Go on, Carcase!' The big man waved, and then his team disappeared through the door; their studded boots could be heard clattering away, There was another pause while they found the entry to the race, and finally another roar, this time of approval, such as Vic hoped he would never hear a second time in his life, for Collingwood's entry to the arena. Emerging from the rooms, and struggling back to the stand behind the goals, Vic felt himself to be in enemy territory, with only a treacherous guide to get him though. There was something about Bob Banner he wanted to get, and his anger could only be expressed through the red and black men who were circling the field in a tight group, occasionally sprinting and slowing back to a jog. Tuddy himself, number eight, joined the home captain and ran into the barrage to get the coin thrown out to them. Collingwood tossed, visitor called; Collingwood won, and Richardson, the Collingwood leader, waved to the outer goal. It was like an omen to a Roman army. The Collingwood stands roared at this sign of heaven's approval, the umpire blew his whistle and the players jogged into their places, shaking hands on the move and calling to their nearest team mates.

> back to TOP


Bob and Anna

Sandra rented the top floor of a Fitzroy terrace, a group of teachers (male) had the bottom floor and they too had a party going when Anna and Vic arrived, a minute ahead of the Banners. And it was Bob, reading the situation faster than anyone else, who observed that the terrace was just around the crescent from Nell's, and that one of the blokes downstairs was sure to have got onto her by now and invited her ... with, presumably, John Moore … and that since Patricia had been at the Rogers' that morning, they'd invited her, and now she was bidden for Sandra's: 'What you might call', said Bob to the other three, before they split and re-paired, 'a pregnant situation'.

They broke up while they were getting drinks. Vic and Frances moved to the fire, Anna went away with Bob. In a corner, in a flood of Shirley Bassey, they sat against each other; clothing heightened the contact. People Anna knew from work broke in, one took Bob for the husband. Anna said, 'I wish she was right,' as they got rid of her; Bob said, 'Well, can it be done? Let's decide if we want to do it.'

Are decisions already made by the time they're discussed? If the couple in the corner were in fact going to break nothing for a rearrangement; if the affair was to remain an affair and not a swap, divorce, or whatever, then did they realize the nature of their trial, the tendency of their pain? Anna murmured (their foreheads pressing) 'It's not worth it, I don't think it's worth it'. Bob said, 'Where do we stand then? Do you want to break it off completely? You can't mean that?'

She didn't think she meant that, she said, 'It's as if new leads keep appearing all the time, and I don't want to take any of them. I can handle the situation as it is—just—but I don't think I want it to go anywhere. If that seems to devalue you, I'm sorry, I don't mean it that way, it's just that I get scared.'

Cat Stevens was in town, Sandra had to have Tea for the Tillerman on the stereo, then Suzi Quatro, then ... The energetic little machine belted music through the party without pause or the nagging of live musicians. The room heated up as the briquettes caught alight, a group perched themselves on and about Sandra's table, and Anna and Bob were left behind this wall, hidden, like Gerda and the tape-recorder the night the masseur was set up, but disappointed. They had no wish to break out, it was their capsule: if nobody broke in, and dawn never broke, they would be happy. In facing their decision, and backing off, their spirits embraced each other more closely than before, their involvement was closer to a total one, even as they accepted that the surge in their love would have to be disowned. Nothing was to change, therefore their love must change; it was as if they sat near a crumbling cliff, and moved backwards, always close to the cliff-edge, but always moving backwards. If Anna had taught boys like Tiger and Donny Tyler, presumably she saw young Bob Banners every day; if those raucous northern suburbs threw up the most important lover of her life and there was no charity or despair, this time, in her involvement, then something important was happening to her, something true about herself was coming out clearly for the first time. She said, 'I think I live a falsehood, I think we all do. We spend so much of our time papering over the cracks that we don't properly enjoy what we have.'

But Bob was more practical: 'When's Vic going to be away next?'

‘ End of next week, I think, he's got to go up to the Barmah forest pretty soon.'

'Good. She ...' he called her "she" ...' she's going up home round about then, her mother's been a bit off with something, Frances'll want Vic to stay with them, probably put him out at Tom O'Connell’s, if Mum's still crook.'

'You can't stay the night. The kids.'

‘ All right, all right, I'll go when the milkman comes, how's that for romance?'

‘ If you really wanted to be romantic you'd come on a horse ...'

'And I'd tie him up in a copse ...'

'In Heidelberg?'

'And he'd twitch and snuffle and stamp his feet ...'

'While you were in your lady's chamber.'

> back to TOP


Labor won the elections

Labor won the elections, Bob went north for Frances. The new government, in a flurry of edicts, seemed, for a few weeks, to be changing everything; Frances, though she consented to return to Parkville, did it as a matter of form, there was no commitment in her return, Bob knew she would go north again to see her mother.

Who came through the operation well. The doctors told her the cancer was not as advanced as they'd feared, she still had years of life. The family rejoiced in this, but for Frances the cloud over her mother was part and parcel of the shadow over her pregnancy. She made no resistance to returning, but her very passivity made the trip to Parkville meaningless, empty; Bob could have the benefit of her going through the wife and husband motions, for a while, but at some point not yet specified he would have to measure up, or quit.

The new government quickly brought the old era to an end; and Frances broke the news to her husband, driving to Melbourne in the car.

They recognized China, put the pill on the National Health list. They abolished conscription and let the conscientious objectors out of jail.

It was no real surprise to Bob, he'd been apprehensive for many weeks; now the crisis was on him. Drinking tea with Frances and her news, at a Golden Fleece roadhouse, he was bitter; despite the ups and downs of the relationship, he felt he was on the verge of possessing Anna. Saturday had been a height of unrestrained intimacy they hadn't reached before.

The Prime Minister went to China, met Mao in private session, Chou En Lai in the Great Hall of the Revolution.

Before Bob saw any joy in the news at all, before he thought of it as something for Frances' sake, he wondered when and how he would tell Anna; Frances saw the hesitant reaction, and understood.

The last Australian soldiers came home from Vietnam, Australia recognized the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi. Recognized also North Korea, East Germany, and Cambodia. The manager of Bob's mill made snide remarks about 'palling up with all the people we used to be fighting' and 'betraying our friends'. Intemperate remarks by Cabinet Ministers on American bombing set him speechless; the newspapers left in the office foyer for people waiting for an appointment were constantly referred to, after handshakes, 'You see what they're up to now? They won't last long.'

The managerial slogan at the mill was 'Let's get back to sense', or, 'Everybody doesn't need to go overboard'.

It was a time of trial for Bob, strain showed itself in mistakes, oversights, things not done on time. He had to rush into the secretary's office one morning and alter a column of figures, just before a directors' meeting; the secretary studied him coldly and said, 'Give us time to retype it next time'; it meant, What's wrong with you these days, you'd better pull your finger out.

The nation turned over slowly. Labor voters were excited with their new government, rural areas polarized against it. A hastily prepared abortion bill was brought before parliament and lost by a huge majority - on a so-called conscience vote.

SAY NO TO ABORTION ON DEMAND
A WOMAN'S RIGHT TO CHOOSE
ABORTION A RIGHT, CONTRACEPTION A RESPONSIBILITY

Campaigns were fought on the bumpers and back windows of cars. The urban anonymity livened a little, the countryside slept, or stirred only to grumble. Anna felt herself wide open, exposed on all sides, as close to ashamed as she could come. Bob still rang, but no opportunity to see him presented itself; she wondered if this was an accident, or the expression of some hiatus.

She feared and suspected the latter.

She wanted to close it all off, to pass Bob back to Frances, avoid seeing the Banners for six months, and try to restore Vic's fallen morale. He seemed to be living by habit. He moved, thought, and commented—but as if represented by an actor while something in him was away.

> back to TOP


Everyone back to his own bed

Weeks passed, then came the time—Vic away, Frances up north. Bob agonized, backed away from going, he knew he'd have to tell her—if she hadn't guessed.

He arrived at Heidelberg about ten, Anna came to the door in a dressing gown.

'Surprise, surprise!'

'Pleasant, I hope'; but he sounded awful.

'Has there been a row?'

'No, she's in Kerang.'

'What's up?'

'It seems we're starting a family.'

'I thought you might be. Well, I'm glad you're honest.'

'I suppose it's the end of the road, but I don't feel it's finished yet.'

'It's finished all right.'

'I mean if we stop now I'll feel I've been robbed of something.'

'We've had a good run, pretty lucky really.'

It was that ability to rule off and cut her losses which annoyed him, it was surely a defence and he wanted to step behind it.

'Take off your coat, I'll put some coffee on.'

When he heard her clattering in the kitchen, he said, 'It really kills me. That fellow who riddled while Rome burned ... oh well, at least he had some music ...'

The broken voice brought Anna to the door of the dining room, and she saw her lover clearly, she was on the verge of getting her release from him.

She loved him more than ever.

For a moment the passion to give herself to Bob Banner reappeared; it lingered long enough to overlap the new feeling for him, a compassionate understanding of a man embattled at last. He sensed something of this, stood up, pointed to the kitchen.

'Turn it off, Anna. For a minute'

Concerned for him, she accepted his kisses, his hands behind her pulling her against him; she said, as many times before:

'Come on.'

Pride failing, he too accepted.

'You beat me getting undressed.'

'Didn't have much to take off.'

As they lay there, before they made love, she sighed, 'I shouldn't be doing this. Oh well.'

This matter-of-fact thing in Anna enraged him. He rolled his head off the pillow and groaned. It was an animal cry, it was squeezed from him like wind from a bellows; she reached for him, pulled him to her, she said, 'I'm not deserting you, it's just the facts we've got to face'. His head still rolling, he said, 'People don't believe in fate any more. If it's not fate, what hit me? What's hit me, Anna?'

A little touch of Anna's humour flickered around her answer. 'It could be you're turning into a man at last. You're going to stand on one square and be counted.' He said feebly:

'Check, mate.'

He lay limply, like a derelict, in her bed, Vic's bed, anguished by his fate, inexplicable emotions pouring one way, like a flood; the official current of his life, like a gutter, concrete and rectilinear, pointing in some other direction. A desperate longing possessed him, defiant and obtuse, yet she still rubbed healing fingers on his chest, on his bottom, on his back. The longing astounded the world with no other than some fluttered breathing, his fingers clawing at her sheets, Vic's sheets, it came out as a gasp, a mere gasp ...

Which to Anna was no more than posturing, yet posturing demonstrated something, was a signal of some sort; and besides, Bob was no self-pitying claimant; as he fell from her he asked for something to support him in the void ...

Moving her hand to caress his features, never cherished more than now, she caught with her hand a corner of Vic's pyjama coat, it flicked across his eyes; he asked, 'What are you doing?' She laughed ...

... and laughed:

'Oh, oh oh oh oh dear!'

He said, ‘Fuck you, what's so funny?'

She couldn't stop her laughing, though she answered him:

'Vic's a bastard. He always takes clean pyjamas when he goes away. And he never puts his old ones in the wash. I always tell him to take the old ones, or put them in the wash ... oh, ha ha ha ha!'

She shook, shook, quivered and shook, he said, 'Ha fucking ha'. She slapped him on the chest, she said, 'This is what I tell him. Take the dirty ones or put them in the wash!' Her laughter wavered near the line of tears ... 'That's what I tell him!' He said, trying to be sarcastic, but the bitterness refused to come:

'And he never does it!'

'Exactly!'

'Silly man!'

'Exactly!'

'Silly fucking Vic!'

'Right!'

'Stupid fucking Anna!'

'Exactly! And stupid fucking Bobby! Stupid fucking Bobby!'

He managed to keep up the refrain:

'Exactly.'

He heard the downbeat in his voice, he tried to maintain the humour:

'Egg-zack-lee.'

A man with two women, a woman with two men, they rested again each other, loose, dejected. Sex would have been a good drug, then, but it refused to come. He said sadly, 'It looks like it's going to be business as usual'.

'Fraid so. Everyone back to his own bed.'

> back to TOP



Politics and people

And so they left it. And the nation went on its imperturbable, phlegmatic way. The government cut out imperial titles and honours, but the conservative states still made honours lists for New Year and the Queen's Birthday. The Queen, disregarded for some years, became a symbol again. Socialites and returned servicemen wanted the old anthem, the government expected a new one to spring from the national brow. The states pleaded to retain access to Her Majesty's Privy Council, the federal men wanted to chop it out, it was feared they might declare Australia a republic.

A whole cluster of social and economic interests had grown around the notion of Proper Authority; British-derived, it was yet another example of the colony being more royalist than the king. The native tradition—slangy, anti-authority, broadly vernacular—was obviously unequal to dislodging the figures at the bottom of the flagpole; it needed a new class of educated, independent white collar wearers to decide that there was a middle way. Bob, Anna, Vic and Frances were all, in their way, members of this group, unmarked by war service or depression. And it was Frances who, once she began to think independently, thought more swiftly than the others; she began in the classic way of fearing what sort of world her child would enter. She hated the French for their nuclear tests in the Pacific, she approved the government taking the ease to the International Court at The Hague. Of a summer afternoon she lay in the back bedroom, upstairs; she thought of abortion, rejected it, but wondered if she'd welcome a miscarriage, or if that would make things worse. Vic rang one day to offer her a basket and a high chair, he apologized for not being able to offer a pram, they'd given theirs away. She said, 'You won't be needing them, then?' He said, 'No thanks!' so emphatically she knew it was more than children he was rejecting, yet she couldn't bring herself to question him, her own misery might come out, and she preferred to hide it. Yet when she asked him when he'd bring the things over, she hoped he'd hear her unspoken urging to bring them during the day. But Vic, tactful rather than perceptive, said merely that he'd bring them when he got a moment. Frances wanted to keep him talking, would have preferred to have his arms around her again, but he hung up, and she lay down in the back bedroom again. It became her unofficial bed, the double bed was her duty place, she was glad when she could go north to see her parents. Each time Bob drove up and picked her up, she came back dutifully, but it was always in the air that she was returning as a matter of form; he must make her want to come back, or their marriage was spoiled for ever.

Frances feared this, feared Anna; yet when Vic delivered the basket and high chair, the basket contained a bundle of baby clothes, nappies and a sleeping bag which Anna had dug out of a wardrobe, and Frances was pleased, it was the beginnings of a reconciliation, she felt. Yet Vic had been unhappy about taking them. He wanted to say to Anna—This is too ironical, it's saying bad luck girl, you're carrying the baby, I've got the man. Yet he didn't, such frankness was not in Vic's way either; he merely said, with aggressive terseness, 'You feel it's all right to give these, do you?' to which she answered, 'You like to know you're not on your own, when you're pregnant. And you like to get ready.' So she answered Vic on his level of superficiality, and he took the things as bidden.

Entering the terrace, he felt the house as an aura round Frances. She had been painting walls, moving furniture, making curtains and cushion covers. She had bought pictures, Vic noticed that they were serious, or formal: there was a battle scene and a sombre English landscape, the lightest was a Chagall-like Arthur Rackham of the cat and the fiddle. She led him down the passage, and up the staircase, gripping his hand tightly; at the top of the stairs she let go, but stayed close. Vic said, 'You're not letting Bob make much of a mark on the house?' She said, 'He doesn't seem to have much energy for the house. But he says he's going to get a new job, or he might start his own business, he's not making enough money at the mill.'

'What sort of business?'

'He doesn't know.'

The implication was that Bob was confused on most things, and Frances had no means of sorting him out, nor indeed did she wish to try unless he showed ...

It was by his negativism that Bob pervaded the house, the fact that his presence wasn't felt where it should be. She told Vic, 'I'm going up home next weekend. I'll take these things with me.'

Vic was horrified. 'Are you going to have the baby up there?'

'I'll get some support up there, won't I ?'

Wrung by this, Vic pleaded with her to abandon this idea, it was surely nothing but an expression of dejection, Bob would come into his own when the time came closer ...

'He might, he might not.'

'Look Frances ... I think ... I think Anna's packed him off. I can sort of feel it in the way she treats me. I feel she's making little overtures ... sending you these things, I'm sure she wants to say it's over.'

'I'm not sure.'

'I'm not sure either, but I think so.'

'I need more guarantee than that.'

He put his hands around her belly, the baby wasn't showing yet. 'I wish I was the father.'

'Yes. Hm. However.'

But it pleased her, and she stroked his hand, and took him downstairs for a drink. Standing by the stove, she fell silent, abstracted ...

'Frances?'

Frances said, 'Even if it's over, the trouble is, I'm changed by it. We're all changed by it. I've always lived my life in a certain way. I felt secure in that way. Now it's been broken into, I don't know how I'll ever feel secure again.'

> back to TOP


All men lie in greatest need

All men lie in greatest need, according to a Mahler song; it was hardly a slogan to win votes, but it was all Frances could subscribe to as truth, as she stared out the window awaiting the return of the spare figure who, in not pushing her over the brink, had made her aware of what love meant. Watching for him, she wished they were lovers, it was only a daydream, when he came in view again he was as remote as the man at the corner shop, carrying a crate of bottles to his truck. Was the corner shop Italian happy? Frances had no idea. Her incapacity cloaked her like a shame, she stood away from the curtains in case Vic looked up, but she followed his progress by the squeak of his car door, the slam, the engine starting, the car moving away. Then she went to the back bedroom, destined to be the nursery, to look on the basket and high chair, and she lay on the single bed which was still part of the furnishing. Considering the walls, which had no pictures yet, she supposed she would go through the ducks and Mickey Mouse routine, but felt she should do better by her child. The strength in Frances which could have coped with tragedy if need be, rose on behalf of her child; she wondered if baby talk and coddling, which she knew she would go on with, were more of the mother's need than the child's; whether the child was born more realistic than the parents wanted it to be; whether natural protectiveness of the child was natural protection of the parental half-truths; whether her working life thus far had anything worthwhile in it at all. It was so funny to think of a fat little milk-sucking baby containing the seeds of greatness, evil, pettiness or ignorant, well-meaning charity, yet Hitler, Mozart, Stalin and the rest of them had once been babies. Frances lay on her back bedroom single bed racked by the conceit that the birth pains she would have to endure would be like a squeezing, cramming up of human history so it could pass through her and represent itself in the body of a child.

'Oh my child!'

She sat up, bolt upright, shaking, it would have been easy to cry, but nothing came.

Then she heard Bob's key in the door, his feet on the stairs.

'In here, Bobby.'

He sat on the end of the single bed, took in the basket, clothes and high chair.

'We got a present?'

'Vic brought them.'

He nodded. She took courage, said it:

'Anna.'

He nodded, rubbed her ankle.

'Funny to think of him sitting up there, yelling out he won't eat his porridge.'

'You're sure it'll be a boy, aren't you.'

'Oh. No, I mean . . . you say "he", you mean he or she ...'

'No you don't, you think it'll be a boy, you haven't even got a name ready if it's a girl.'

Bob said, 'Why, what're we calling him if it's a boy?'

She said, 'What do you think?'

He said, 'Keep it plain, anyway. No Bretts or Craigs so the poor little bugger feels dated when he grows up.'

Something in Frances softened:

'Bobby?''

He said, 'No, a kid doesn't want to be called by his father's name. John. Plain honest John.'

She said, 'John Banner. A bit too plain, isn't it?'

'Give him a second name. John Victor Banner, how about that?'

It was unexpectedly generous, and somewhere in it was a plea for understanding, perhaps one day he would want forgiveness, a foolish rush of tears came in her eyes. He rubbed her ankles, then her legs:

'Legs are all right so far, anyway.'

'You don't get fluid retention till much later than this.'

Bob said, 'Causes a lot of trouble, doesn't he?'

She said, 'You really are sure it's a boy, aren't you?' But she smiled, and let Bob lead her into their bedroom. He said, 'I'll get you a vermouth, it'll be nice up here in the sun. Go out on the balcony.'

She said, 'No, I get scared on the balcony now, even the stairs sometimes. Sorry I'm so silly, Bobby.' He called out as he moved off for the drinks: 'Don't get too silly now, I need your business head. I've got a lot of thinking to do.'

She called down: 'What about?'

'Banner Enterprises, Proprietary Limited.'

'What do they do?'

He yelled up to her, 'Don't know yet!'

When he came back, she sat near him:

'You could make flags, with a name like that.'

'If bloody old Gough'd change the flag instead of mucking about with anthems, there might be a bit in it.'

She said, 'Banner Enterprises. How many directors will you have?'

'Got your eye on the chairman's job, have you?'

Humbly, head inclined, she said, 'No'. In it he might have heard the readiness to forgive, and some of that world-underlying need she had brooded on.

'Never mind. Drink up. We'll work it out.'

> back to TOP


The last of us to pull through

He burst out again:

'And as for you and Bob, I don't care about that. It's not a matter of forgiving, it never was a thing that had to be forgiven. It was your business, and you know why? Because it bloody well wasn't MINE!'

He walked out to the garage, and she thought she heard him going down the side of the house and onto the street, she realized there was a feeling of inferiority in the outburst. She noticed Vic's assumption, an inexperienced one, that all had gone smoothly between herself and Bob, and had come smoothly to an end, like an engine turned off when running at optimum temperature. She decided Vic was a burden till she could untangle with him the experience they'd been through in the last few months; if they were going to sit coolly at table not discussing these things, it was like travelling in separate compartments, not free, not properly linked; who wanted that?

And the children had made a house out of Lego, with a crane dangling its hook off the roof, and a ramp for the matchbox car, and:

'Look Mum, it's even got lights in the window! That work! Look, watch, and I'll turn it on. Now it's off, see?'

Yes, she thought, Isolde tried that trick once, it didn't work too well. She'd just got nicely settled in with her lover, if the music told you anything, when the hunt returned. And Tristan spread his mantle to hide her from their eyes. She loved opera, it was what she called her world of beautiful lies, she lacked the self-importance to be like these figures, and took care to puncture or deflate when those near her tried to aggrandize their emotions; she would say, even of her favorite operas, 'I have to let my sense of the ridiculous go if I want to enjoy them, and I can't do it for too long'. Now Vic was out walking the streets in a temper, or disturbed, and she knew she had no remedies for him; he'd been blissfully ignorant and now must find some wisdom for himself, she hoped he wouldn't withdraw too far.

When he came back, she had the children in bed, his footsteps made her heart thump with apprehension. She said, 'Look, honey, I think you're the last of us to pull through, but you will. Don't worry too much, you will.'

He said, 'That's all right for you. I don't know how to compromise. I think it's a disgrace.'

'What is it you can't swallow?'

'I'd like to be springing along, and I'm dragging myself.'

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The writing of this book:

In 1974 I had a second Literature Board grant. Inflation had struck and my $6000 grant was very tight as an allowance for a year, but we got through by putting bills aside until the next monthly instalment came. This novel is very different in style from its predecessor, mainly, I think, because I was accepting of the fact that the country had changed. The counter-culture had swept through everything, and many old verities had collapsed. People who felt that marriage had brought stability to their lives discovered that what had come to be known as ‘relationships’ were everywhere. Respectability had died a death. Control of our society’s mental world had moved from churches and traditions enshrined in custom and literature to the makers of banner headlines. Sexual desire was no longer treated with apology but had become natural, and was thought to need fulfilment.

In Four faces, wobbly mirror the inner voices of its predecessor give way to slogans, headlines, ideological grabs:

LESBIANS ARE LOVELY
HOMOSEXUAL SWIMMING – ENJOY THE THRILL YOU’VE MISSED
SEXIST
CHRIST CHUNDERS AT CONGRESS
STOP SNEDDEN GO GOUGH
SNEDDEN PM? YOU’VE GOT TO BE JOKING

Everyone seemed to be thinking that way and following the thought with action. It was a heady time and the éclat made its way into the political world, at least for a time, as the book tries to show.

Dennis Wren wanted the book but he said it was too slow. I took it to Hilary McPhee, who was still with Heinemann. She told me she agreed with Dennis, and that the first quarter of the book needed heavy cutting. I looked closely and decided she was right. I went through the first seventy pages or so, cutting words at every opportunity. I tried to make the pace of the book even throughout; intensity might rise and fall but the speed of movement should be fairly constant. I am grateful to Dennis and to Hilary for giving me this awareness and as far as I know the problem hasn’t recurred.

Some of my work colleagues read the book when it came out and I recall something that happened when we were gathered for a farewell to someone who was leaving. One person was talking excitedly to a group when I approached. They all looked at me then turned away, and something said to me later made me aware that they had been talking about an incident (page 100 in the 1986 book) which I had borrowed from a story told to us by a former colleague whose life had been very much in the current of the times. What none of them had realised, as far as I was aware, was that one of the four ‘faces’ of the book was based on another of their colleagues. I had borrowed this man’s personality for my character but had given him rather different social descriptors, and none of those who knew the man had ‘recognised’ him. Nor, perhaps, should they; it is common for people to think that writers are forever writing romans à clef, when most writers are not. My colleagues, I felt, thought they had caught me out but I felt I had found them wanting. It may be that I am under-estimating them, but nobody ever brought the matter of characters’ origins into discussion with me; writers rarely find readers who talk about books on writers’ terms. I am still undecided as to whether this is a shortcoming, or whether it is the right of readers to take their books in the ways they want to, or need to, in which case writers are mere providers. I link this matter to the way in which writers are treated with a mixture of reverence and dislike; there is an unresolved power struggle going on, I feel.

A word about Wren Publishing. Four faces, wobbly mirror was in production when I became aware that Dennis was in trouble. He’d put a lot of money into a book that he hoped would be a succés de scandale. His printer, however, was one of his financial backers, and someone at the printery was worried about possible libel actions. The printers refused to release the book but still charged Wren Publishing for the job. Dennis haggled, but the end was in sight. Would my book get out in time? Only just. I had the satisfaction of seeing it in a Katoomba bookshop while I was on holiday with my wife and children, then the Wren business folded, and the book disappeared without further trace. I bought up 200 copies and started my present practice of giving them to anyone who looked like a possible reader. Vale, Dennis!

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