3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH
May 27 1997
I don’t know where to begin really. I feel dazed – dazed with nightmares about men holding mobile phones in parks – and they are nightmares which constantly repeat. If I see a man using a phone in Hyde Park (while out on my walks with Ferris) I feel driven to approach and make sure that it’s not really Austen. It has got to the point where I take the dog west, down the Bayswater Road, into Kensington Gardens. And there we do tours round the pond, the literal ‘Round Pond.’
I sent a brief note to both Karen and Ian who, as I may have said, both go to university just outside London. Karen is reading for a degree in Sociology and Ian – in a move towards becoming his own man – is reading Civil Engineering. This may actually be the right course for him, given the towns and cities he built, across carpet, from kits of Meccano and Lego given to him at birthdays and Christmas. The note, anyway, said that I’d like to come over for lunch last Saturday. Karen phoned up to say, yes, that was fine and to regale me with news about a recent cross-country-running (and drinking) event. And I received a rather laconic email from Ian to that, actually, he’d be away windsurfing that day. I decided to go anyway.
I sat at my dressing table on the morning of this trip, and gazed at myself in the mirror. The skin beneath both of my eyes was a shade of blue darker than that of my eyes. But my skin is still smooth and clear and I met my own eyes, with a straight look, in the mirror. There is something very comforting about washing on a layer of liquid foundation and dabbing on powder. And I chose a dark shade of gold to illumine my eyelids. Nowadays it is fashionable to use natural colours on one’s lips and so I chose a glistening pale brown, which was imbued – faintly – with pink. You know mum. I am so used to clothing myself in skirts and dresses which please Austen, that I sat there for quite a long while trying to think about what I myself would like to wear. I am not sure that I have a self any more or, indeed, that I ever had one. Most of my self has been dedicated to the art of satisfying my husband. In the end, I simply wore an ivory silk blouse (no curlicues) and a pair of straight-legged jeans which have been mouldering away in the cupboard. Black leather jackets are in vogue at the moment – and I like them – and so I wore that over the blouse, with a chiffon scarf loose-wound round my neck.
On my way out of the house, I encountered Mrs Macey, our cleaner. I have never liked this woman. She has radiated an air of superiority – not to mention territoriality – for nearly five years now. And I have been treated, many a time, to basilisk stares. By way of total and utter contrast, she has related to Austen with a little-girl style of speaking and coy feminine giggles, overheard on the stairs. For some time now, my nickname for her has been ‘Darth.’ (I’m sure you remember this character from the ‘Star Wars’ films mum? He is the very personification of evil and swishes about in a menacing black outfit, and a facial cover which resembles that of the black plastic front end of a car.) Passing her by on the stairs, I said, “Oh, Mrs Macey. I’m going to start cleaning the house myself from now on. I’ll leave you a cheque, for a month in lieu, down on the kitchen worktop.” And without waiting for a reply – she has barely deigned to acknowledge me, after all, for such a long time – I carried on down to the kitchen, where I picked up my handbag and the dog. I must say, mum, that I did momentarily wonder
if I was going to return to find the house torched, but one of the good things about Austen is that he has installed CCTV – everywhere. And the only room to which no-one has access is the one which he calls his ‘study’ and which contains our safe and the video recorder storing footage from all over (inside and out) the house.
I pressed the button which opens our double-fronted garage and, after the door rose overhead, I surveyed our two cars. Austen bought me a dark-grey Alfa Romeo ‘Spider’ a few years ago. It is a two-seated, open-topped, sports car with alloy wheels. And, apart from its rather distressing name, I do rather like it. I like the fact that its contours are convex and rounded. It is low-slung with a smooth tail. However, it is hard to fit both Ferris, and any shopping, into the passenger seat and, all-too-often, I have had to leave the dog behind. I know that most of our food is ordered on the computer, and delivered weekly, by Superior Fare. But I think, now, that I may go and get it myself. That left our dark-cherry-red Volvo estate, which has lain abandoned for several months now. Indeed, it was covered in dust. I gazed at it. I wondered if it would start. I wondered if, should it only emit a death rattle (or silence) it would ‘bump start’ on the very steep hilly exit to the garage. And I thought, ‘To hell with it.’ After all, if it didn’t, I would just have to leave it on the hill and pile into the Alfa. It was miraculous mum, when it just about coughed into life and we sailed forth down the slope.
All the way to the university, the sun shone down, and my hair flew back from my sunglasses in the wind coming on in through the windows. The dog’s ears also flew back and his long red tongue lolled out of his mouth on the passenger seat. He looked a bit funny with the seat belt wound round his chest, almost like he should be a person sitting by my side. But I think he was better than a person, in that he was not an awful person, and also he was not a person who wanted the radio on or to get out (at an inconvenient moment) to find a toilet. I thought also that, if I could think of a theme for myself on this day, it would be ‘Voyager’ – a voyager into a new kind of life, and hopefully one better and not so riven with excruciating pain.
The university of NewScape is a modern campus. The buildings looked box-like and, if any trees had been planted, they were nowhere in evidence now. There were certainly no mature trees of any kind on site. However, it was easy to find the vast car park in the university’s hinterland and, in the absence of any intervening high vegetation, it was also easy to find the bookshop where I’d said I’d meet Karen.
My daughter is a small woman with a body which looks perpetually wired for action. She has dark auburn hair, which is springy not flat, and a wide-set jaw. She has become, somehow, dynamic and spirited in a way which I have so far failed to be. There is a kind of purity to her, which maybe reflects the fact that nothing terrible has ever yet happened in her life. And she talks endlessly over coffee and cake, and then over lunch, but not in a way which is necessarily selfish – more in a way that recognizes that I do not have a life which is vivid with activity and concerns of its own.
I do, eventually, intervene. I tell her that Austen, her father, has left and how this has happened. And Karen’s freckles blench and her beautiful eyes – green and hazel-flecked – fill with injury and amazement. “Oh mum,” she says, for what, after all, is there to say.
With love from your daughter (in law)