Lapping at sauces . . . (episode 8)

3A Hyde Park Terrace

April 6 1997

What happened next mum? You can tell me now. Don’t wait!

I did put on a brown-and-green clothing ensemble for my effort at tracking Austen across Hyde Park, and also a blue head scarf to blend me in with the waters of the Serpentine! And then, timing it carefully, I set off five minutes after him at 7.45am. The weather was cloudy thankfully; I think the sun and a clear blue sky might have made me feel floodlit under the heaven’s attentions! I entered the park at the Victoria Gate feeling quite beside myself with anxiety on the one hand, and quite ridiculous on the other. I could see Austen some 100m
ahead on a parallel path and about half of his right arm, which appeared cut off at the elbow. It suddenly occurred to me that he must be holding a mobile telephone and also that he was talking to someone on it. I remember a time (not so long ago) when these phones were around the size of a house brick, but Austen has obviously got hold of a more modern, smaller, one and not mentioned it. It was round about then that I bumped into Joyce, from Stephenson’s Antiques, who was coming the other way. Luckily, I don’t think she can have seen Austen or she would have said. Well I had to stop mum; I couldn’t just rush past going apparently nowhere, without even the dog as a suitable prop. So I stopped to chat and, all the while, Austen was getting smaller and smaller on a path ahead. He seemed to be heading for a rather remote clump of London Plane trees at the edge of the park, but it was impossible to tell really. And by the time I got away from Joyce, and up to the trees, there was no sign of him. The stress of it all quite wore me out anyway!

In fact, the whole twenty-two years I have spent married to Austen has quite worn me out. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but it has been like spending time with a hologram. You put your hand out – apparently towards physical substance of some kind – and it passes straight through him. I am not at all sure that Austen has a definite personality (with definite values) all of his own; it seems to warp and bend with his mood and the particular circumstances of the moment. One minute he is exhibiting a ‘hail fellow well met’ style of demeanour and the next his facial features seem to resemble that of a maggot wiggling at the end of a hook. It’s as if any apparent strength is just a fluid skin of some kind that can strip off at any moment. I don’t think that is the case for most of us is it mum? My own self and values feel pretty immutable and I am always ‘me’ wherever I am and whatever the pressures I feel under. Maybe I am a bit weaker if I am being opposed but I never quite feel that I am actually fragmenting and becoming a void. Whatever it is, I find it frightening because I never feel that a whole man is coming towards me and tackling all those issues that any marriage must face if it is to call itself healthy. Austen is someone who doesn’t want to face anything difficult; he is a man who wants to spend his life running away.

Of course, he is a delight in the kitchen as you know; he seems to have innate – and wonderful – skills in the arena of haute cuisine and hardly ever needs to consult a recipe in order to produce a gustatory masterpiece. He is a man of the senses and is never more appealing than when he is supping upon soups, lapping at sauces, and imbibing fine port. His whole body flows across the cooking space and exudes a quite unmatchable warmth. And, of course, that’s why I’ve stayed with him: joy after joy in the arena of the senses. Joys, I suspect, that very few other men – and only other sensualists – could match. But, as for Austen himself, there is no self or only a self that considers itself and none other.

I’m sorry to say all these awful things about your own son. Forgive me!

Your loving daughter (in law)



One thought on “Lapping at sauces . . . (episode 8)

  1. josna

    Love Harriet’s comparison of living with Austen with “spending time with a hologram. You put your hand out – apparently towards physical substance of some kind – and it passes straight through him.”
    Thinking of the Beatles’ song, “I’m Looking Through You”. . .


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