BOOKS > MINI–MAGS > KEEP GOING!
what it says on the cover:
To write about
a mother, sister, father, brother, is one thing; to write about an
absence is harder. What would our lives have been like if the one
that died had managed to live on, affecting us in all the normal ways?
The question can’t be answered but this memoir is an attempt.
The narrator’s brother is felt most keenly in his absence. Our
only immortality is in memory, and its span is brief.
read some extracts from this memoir click here:
Simone and Richard,
Simone and Don
I was twenty minutes into my drive
Simone and the narrator keep going!
read about the writing of this memoir click
and Richard, Simone and Don
Simone was in love with two young men,
Richard and Don. Richard had been in her life for two years, and she’d
met Don only a few weeks before she had to take up her appointment.
She rented a room in a house that was only a block or two from me,
and I visited her occasionally, but I had to stand outside the door
because Mrs Whoever-it-was didn’t allow men to enter the rooms.
More often, Simone would visit me, because no such restrictions encumbered
us, and we would listen to music together, music being the positive
that joined us, while distance and loneliness, separation from everything
we loved and knew, were the other parts of our bond.
We listened to
Mozart, Nielsen, Beethoven’s quartets, Palestrina,
Victoria and Bach. European civilisation had produced some mighty
peaks, but we were far away, our minds wrestling with our situation:
I avoid the plural because our positions were the same. We were away
from love, embroiled in dislike of many of the people we had to work
with, in a situation not of our making, in a town that didn’t
care for things we thought important, we were employed to offer the
town’s young people certain qualities which we hadn’t
had time to absorb – not fully, anyway - before we’d been
sent out to teach.
To teach, to teach, to teach!
Simone had two
boyfriends, Richard and Don. I’d met both of
them in Melbourne the previous year, when we’d been at university.
Now Simone and I were four hours drive from the city and when I drove
to the pick-up point I never knew whether she would be waiting there
with Don, or Richard. Some weekends it was one, sometimes the other.
Richard, who lived near Simone’s mother, was perhaps a little
more likely. Sometimes Simone rang to tell me to pick her up at Don’s
parents’ garage, which stood on a busy corner of the highway
we had both to travel. If I picked her up at this garage, the journey
back to enslavement, or was it adaptation – words, words, words – had
already begun. Don’s father, if that was where I collected Simone,
would ask if I had a tank full of petrol. ‘It’s a long
trip,’ he would say, ‘and I don’t want you running
out.’ What was he doing, when he said that? He was being attentive
to me, he was wondering if I was as prepared as I should be to take
his son’s girlfriend into the darkness, the unknown destiny
that shadowed anyone who lived in the bush …
… the bush, the bush, the bush …
hemmed in our little town, and if we listened to people’s
stories we heard about the 1939 fires, and how you could hardly see
from one street to the next, there was so much smoke. People also
told us about trainee pilots crashing when they were being made ready
for war against Japan. Fumes were getting into their cabins without
anyone realising, they were blacking out and planes were smashing
into the ground. Sabotage, people suspected, seizing on their fear
of spies and subversion rather than finding the problem and fixing
it. It sounded like the place where Simone and I were working; nothing
much had changed.
One Sunday night, Richard brought Simone to
the pick-up point, and told me about a concert they’d been to. His happiness
shone out of him, and I found myself thinking that perhaps he was
better suited to Simone than Don, even though the latter was more
congenial to me, probably because he was easier to understand. I said
something like ‘Long road ahead of us, Simone’, she nodded
at Richard, and let her eyes rest on him for a moment before she climbed
in. We drove silently for twenty minutes, then, as we passed the garage
which Don’s parents operated, she called out ‘Stop! Sorry,’ she
said, using my name, ‘but I saw Don standing by the pumps. He
was looking for me. I won’t be long.’
I was twenty minutes into my drive
I was twenty minutes into my drive, it was a shining afternoon, the
weekend lay ahead, my new car, so much more reliable than the old,
was travelling well, my girlfriend was expecting me, as were my musical
friends, when I looked out the window to my right and felt the presence
of the mountains there.
The mountains, the mountains, blue in the afternoon light, deep in
their mysteries, only scrappily explored, even by those who knew them
best, the mountains seemed full of mystery waiting to be, first, discovered,
and second, expressed. I looked at the highway and I said aloud, ‘Why
am I doing this?’ I meant driving on a strip of road, a length
of string connecting my country setting with my city destination,
my job in the bush with my circle of friends, my isolating loneliness
with the young woman I thought I loved.
If we’re not ready for love, we’re not ready for life.
Or is it vice-versa? Both?
I didn’t say anything, even to myself, but I knew I’d
made a decision. I’d go through with everything I’d arranged
to do that weekend, without upsetting anybody at all (I thought this
was decent, and proper, of me), and then I’d disappear. I’d
answer the beckoning call of the mountains and leave the city to look
I was, though I didn’t know it then, changing … no,
finding … the direction of my life.
The young woman who thought I loved her, on realising that there
was something wrong with the silence, the absence of messages or indications,
began to go around my other friends to ask them what they’d
They’d none of them heard a thing. I’d not even spoken
to myself. I’d written nothing down. I’d set myself to
open up the mystery of the mountains. I was in love with the generality
of life, not a particular person any more. I’d been heading
along the path that leads to marriage, a family, home, convention,
when I’d been distracted by the appearance of a fate, a destiny,
a direction, that declared itself appropriate for me. If I’d
understood what was happening I’d have been able to explain
myself to those who needed to know, but I didn’t and I couldn’t.
I disappeared from view. I didn’t, of course, I did my work,
I sat at table in the guest house where I resided, I had my car serviced
and I went in and out of shops, as courteous as civility required,
but my heart was elsewhere. I was still listening to music but there
was another music that I was beginning to hear, and I wanted more.
I wanted to know it better. I wanted to be the vehicle, the instrument,
through which this music made itself. I wanted a life that was itself
a song …
My girlfriend – my ex-, my ex-, my ex- - wrote angrily to me.
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Simone and the narrator keep going!
You may think at this point that I’ve forgotten Simone, but
no, she is very much in my mind as I take this excursion to talk about
a decisive something that I did, all those years ago. She did much
the same as me. I picked her up at about four in the afternoon for
one of our Friday drives to ‘town’, as people said, she
put her small case in the boot, with mine, and we got onto the highway.
There was a spot a little way west of the town where Simone used to
feel free of its clutches, and it was there or thereabouts that she
would loosen her tightly bound black hair. She might or might not
go on to have a smoke – the taste of freedom! – but it
was the untethering of her lovely hair that meant she felt a breath
of freedom in her nostrils, and that there were two days of it before
we made the latest of those returns to restriction. On the day in
question she wasn’t smoking but her face was showing just a
little more of the happiness within than her normal grim smile of
self-acceptance, when …
… when, when, when …
… we saw, both of us, advancing from the other direction,
a car which we both recognised, heading our way at speed. It was a
large American car, low, shining chrome all over the place, and with
curvaceous bulges as if it wanted to be as feminine on the outside
as it was horny under the bonnet. It was a car owned by Don’s
father, and it was heading our way. Don must have left the garage
a little under four hours earlier, and he must have wanted to reach
our town when Simone got home from work. He was late, and he was hurrying.
The big car was riding the rises and falls of the highway as if it
was skimming surf. I half expected Don to recognise my car, or the
people in it, to swing around and come after us, but he didn’t.
He rushed past as if he hadn’t noticed. I must presume he didn’t …
… notice, notice, notice.
I knew; Simone knew; and each of us knew that the other knew. I slowed
the car and looked at her. We were only ten minutes from the town
where we worked. I could take her back, following Don, and catch him
at the house where Simone had her room. That was where he’d
be. Or I could go on. Did she want to turn around? To stop? To give
up whatever she’d planned for the weekend, and accommodate herself
to Don’s purposes in rushing to the town where she taught? Did
she want to go back?
Posing this question here, as I write, I find myself wondering whether,
if she had decided to go back, she’d have gathered the long
black hair and bound it tightly around her head as it had been, a
couple of minutes before. Or would she have gone back unbound, as
it were, and been that different woman she became on the highway in
the streets of our constricting town?
It’s a futile question, because she looked straight ahead,
at the highway that led to the city, our escape, and she said, tersely,
tensely, tightly, ‘Keep going!’
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writing of this memoir:
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