International Women’s Day was celebrated today in The Rocks with some readings by women who write – poetry, story, memoir – and whatever takes their fancy. And we were lucky enough to hear their presentations at the Harry Jensen Centre. The writers were Barbara Colhoun, a poet who used to live in The Rocks, and wrote about the mystique of this special place, as well as the special character of her mother; Vicki McDonald who wrote about like-mindedness at bowls; Mary Healy-North who wrote about a truly noble woman; Anna Knott who wrote a memory of France. Among other short writing, Lisa Creffield’s piece on memory:
It was always the womenfolk who were there: under the spreading tree at the top of the lawn. The day was always summer, bright and clear, all her cousins were there playing on the soft thick mown grass. Her mother, her aunt, her grandmother sitting on a chair.
There probably never had been a day like this, with everyone there and the weather flawless, but it was the only thing she remembered. Even though people’s ages must have been wrong, and the dogs had been alive at different times.
Where were the men? They had gone out somewhere. They were indistinct: lost in the shadows of the house, gone off in the car, down to the village, elsewhere.
It was a moment that lasted forever. No matter what happened to that house, long ago sold, renovated beyond recognition, that single golden day remained. It was years since the yew hedge around the rose garden had been burned down, the greenhouses with the small sour grapes overgrown and neglected, their panes cracked. Waist high nettles outside the wall garden where the bantams had escaped from, many years since.
On that day everything was as it was, or as it should have been. Tended. Kempt. Everyone who mattered most to her childhood memories was present. The women in the foreground, and the men somewhere in the shadows, on the fringes of her memory.
Here are several more snippets: First from Julie Dawson, titled ‘Mantra’:
She looks at her shoes muttering.
‘Did you say something?’ asks her mum sharply. Her brother Ian grins from the other side of the room.
‘Well get to it then.’
She sloshes the dishes into the sink. She rubs and scrubs them, taking out on them her feelings of hurt and betrayal. She makes up a little mantra for herself.
‘Ian can read when he wants to. Oh Yes! … Meg can read her book when she wants to. Oh No!
Ian can ride his bike to the park. Oh Yes! … Meg can ride her bike to the park. Oh No!’
As the list of grievances grows and grows, strangely the pain and anger dissipate and she finds herself singing them out lightly.
‘Ian can get away with not washing up. Oh Yes! Meg can get away with not washing up. Oh No!
Ian can get away with not brushing his shoes. Oh Yes! Meg can get away with not brushing her shoes. Oh No!’
She’s enjoying herself now, but suddenly she stops and looks around. There is her eagle-eyed mum, standing arms folded, leaning against the doorway, staring at her.
She stops mid-song. Her mum looks sadly as she asks, ‘Is that how you feel, Petal?’
The anger resurges and her list of woes and complaints flood the room, once more. This time ‘It’s not fair!’ becomes the mantra.
Gently her mum takes her into her arms and explains.
‘Don’t be so cross, Poppet. It’s just the way of the world. Men get to eat and the women do the washing up!’
I remember the first time things began to change. I was about twelve and obviously started to look more like a girl, even though I rarely wore a dress and my hair was always short.
It was springtime and the shearing season had begun. I wanted desperately to watch the men as they carefully peeled away the thick creamy wool with their razor-sharp shears.
I was outraged but didn’t dare disobey my father. It was as if I couldn’t handle difficult things, as if I was a softie or something. How I hated the word girl!’
But to my dismay, and an for the first time ever my father said, ‘No, it’s not a place for a girl to be. It’s rough in there, and there’s swearing.
And an excerpt from a novel by Diane Harding to be published shortly, on the subject of a missing daughter:
She glanced at her children playing happily in the mud at the base of the dripping outdoor tap. They were having fun.
I wonder how long this will last, she thought to herself. How did I get here?
She thought back ….
She’d met John when she was at university doing Visual Arts.
He had been in the football club final game after attending a short course on I.T., while she had been sitting relaxing and enjoying the game between lectures. At the end of the game, a young man came running up the stairs to her stand and sat beside her.
‘I noticed you sitting here. What did you think of the game and my try?’
‘Oh dear, I didn’t see it,’ Jenny said.
‘Well that’s all right because I missed it. I just wanted to see if you were watching or gazing into space.’
‘I’m afraid I was just daydreaming.’
‘My name’s John. John Stanford.’ He held out his hand and Jenny shook it. His hand was warm, large and encompassed her small fingers, with short neat fingernails.
Jenny looked up from his hand into the bluest eyes she had ever seen. They were laughing down at her. ‘The game’s finished. Come for a coffee at the cafeteria?’
‘O.K.’ Jenny had said, deciding that the next class was a review and could be missed.
If only things had stayed like that day. It had been full of laughter and discussion on topics that either she was interested in or had a comment about. When they left the cafeteria at 8pm that evening John had already asked her for a date.
Was it my fault that things changed, she asked herself? She thought back through the 10 years of marriage.
A change in John had started when Chiara was born five years ago. It seemed that when my attention was with her, John became very jealous. That’s when he started checking up on me, reading the meter to see how many miles I had been that day, to match it to where I had said I had been. That’s when he started doling out the weeks’ money and asking for receipts for everything. If it didn’t tally, he was cross and I had to explain where the money had gone.
There was that one time when I couldn’t account for $10 and that’s when he hit me for the first time. He was so ashamed and so contrite, that I forgave him. Every time he hit me he was sorry and I forgave him. Even when I began to see the pattern of anger, then contrition, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Now I can see that I have just let my life slide by, doing nothing about it.
I haven’t loved John for a long time. I think I have forgotten about me for the sake of the children. John has taken my confidence away and made me feel like I was not capable of looking after myself without him there to direct me.
Jenny wiped the tears away. ‘Once I was a confident, happy girl with a wonderful life ahead of me. Now’….. She didn’t finish the thought.
The children rushed up to her.
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