Authors: Rhode Island Blues (v1.1)
what will poor robin do then?
looked kind of permanent, at the Golden Bowl,’ I corrected myself. ‘And they
seemed very responsible. They won’t just dump her.’
what they want you to feel,’ said Joy. ‘But the marble is only veneer and that
terrible white stone is so cheap they can hardly give it away. Why can’t she go
somewhere more ordinary? Why does she have to be so special?’
was very positive about the
Golden Bowl,’ said Felicity, when I came down with my bag, closing the book and
rewrapping it in the piece of dark-red silk kept for the purpose. I felt such
affectation to be annoying.
‘Though it seemed to see some
kind of lawsuit in the future.
the kings of former times made firm the laws through the clearly defined
What do you think that means?’
have no idea,’ I said, briskly. ‘I do not see how throwing three coins in the
air six times can affect anything.’
said Felicity, ‘it isn’t a question of affecting, but reflecting. It’s Jung’s
theory of Synchronicity. But I know how you hate all this imaginative stuff.’
said I’d rather not talk about it. My mother Angel had kept a copy of the
on her kitchen shelf. She had no
truck with silk wrappings or respect. The black-and-red book, with its white
Chinese ideograms, was battered and marked by put-down coffee cups. ‘What’s the
big deal,’ she would say, ‘it is only like consulting a favourite uncle, some
wise old man who knows how the world works. You don’t have to take any notice
of what he says.’ She would quote from Jung’s Foreword. ‘As
to the thousands of questions, doubts, and
criticisms that this singular book stirs up - I cannot answer these. The
does not offer itself with proofs
and results, it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach. Like a part
of nature, it waits to be discovered
day when Angel had brought home bacon and sardines from the shop, rather than
the milk we needed, because she’d thrown the coins before leaving the house and
come up with something disparaging about pigs and fishes, I’d lost my cool and
protested. ‘Why do you have to throw those stupid coins, why can’t you make up
your own mind, then at least I could have some cereal! You are a terrible
mother!’ She’d slapped my face. I kicked her ankles. She seldom resorted to
violence. When she did I forgave her: she’d get us confused: it was hard for
her to tell the difference between her and me. To rebuke me was to rebuke
. The sudden violence meant, all the same, that the
downward slide into unreason was beginning again, and I knew it, and dreaded
the weeks to come. My violence, in retaliation, was childish, but that was okay
inasmuch as I was a child; I must have been about ten. Her white skin bruised
easily. The blue marks were apparent for days. I felt terrible. I think that
was at a time before my father left me alone with her: he simply didn’t
understand mental illness. He felt she was wilful and difficult and was doing
everything she could to upset and destroy him, while doting on me. I tried to
tell him she was crazy but he didn’t believe me. I expect believing it meant he
would have to take responsibility for me, and he wasn’t the kind of man to do
that. He was an artist of the old school. Children were the mother’s business.
Anyway he left, sending money for a time. I was alone with her for six months
before Felicity turned up to look after us. I’d found her phone number in my
mother’s address book and called her. We’d run out of money and there was no
food in the cupboard and my mother wasn’t doing anything about it. My
grandmother stayed until my mother was hospitalized, and I was in a boarding
school, and then went back to her rich old husband in
, the one who left her the Utrillo. She
couldn’t stand any of it. Well, it was hard to stand. Visit my mother in her
hospital ward, in a spirit of love, and find her white-faced with wild glazed
eyes, tied down, shrieking hate at you. They didn’t have the drugs then they do
now, and made no effort to keep the children away. I told them at school I was
visiting my mother in hospital, but I didn’t tell them what kind of hospital.
In those days to have an insane relative was a shame and a disgrace and a
terrible secret thing in a family. No sooner had Felicity flown out than my
mother simply died. I like to think she knew what she was doing, that it was
the only way out for all of us. She managed to suffocate herself in a
straitjacket. ‘Throw the coins and throw the pattern of the times,’ Angel would
say cheerfully, in the good times, and she’d quote Jung’s Foreword, which she
knew by heart, relieving me of the duty of believing what she believed.
‘To one person the spirit of the I Ching
appears as clear as day, to another, shadowy as twilight, to a third, dark as
night. He who is not pleased by it does not have to use it, and he who is
against it does not have to find it true.'
As if that settled
I try to keep my mind on the good times, but you can see why
I like to live in films rather than in reality, if it can possibly be done. I
wondered what Krassner’s hang-up was. I thought I probably didn’t want to know,
it was an impertinence to inquire. Art is art, forget what motivates it. What
business of anyone else’s is
walked with me to the limo, her step still light, her head held high: age sat
on her uncomfortably: it didn’t belong to her: I wanted to cry.
you for coming all this way,’ she said. ‘I do appreciate it. It’s made things
easier. That place is okay, isn’t it? Of course I’d rather live with family,
but one doesn’t want to be a burden.’
‘That place is a hoot,’ I said.
‘I’d give it a go. If you don’t like it I’ll come over and we’ll try again.’
I sank into the squashy real-leather
course you’re not my only family,’ said Felicity. ‘There was Alison. Though I
daresay they changed her name.’
was looking at his watch. But I was truly startled. I kept the limo door open.
We couldn’t leave until I shut it.
had Alison before I had your mother,’ said my grandmother.
my fifteenth birthday.
That was in
, back in the thirties. I wasn’t married.
That made me a bad girl. They made me keep the baby for six weeks, and
breastfeed, then they took her away, put her out for adoption.’
could they be so cruel?’ I stood there with the car door open, in the middle of
, and the past came up and slammed me. And
it wasn’t even mine, it was hers.
the name of goodness,’ she said. ‘Most cruelties are. It was in case we changed
our mind, but how could we, we unmarried mothers? We had nowhere to live,
nowhere to go.’
took the baby?’
don’t know. They didn’t tell you. It wasn’t allowed. They said so you could put
the past behind you and the baby could live without the stigma of its birth.
They said it was for everyone’s good but really it was for our punishment. It
was a long time ago. Don’t worry about it. She’d be in her late sixties now, if
she made it to that.’
aunt,’ I said, jubilant.
,’ said Felicity, wryly, and
there was nothing for it. I had to go. Other people took more than three hours
to drive to
, but Charlie the mountain man got to Kennedy in two and a half.
A long lost aunt! So long as she could be traced: so long as she had survived.
But sixty something years was not so long a time in a Western society; the
probability was that she would be still in this world. Chances were that she
would have married, had children, grandchildren; that she could provide me with
a host of cousins and little relatives, all only a half step away. As ready a family
as one of the cake mixes in my grandmother’s refrigerator: just add water and
stir: pop in the oven and there you
the continuity of family affection. Go for the pleasure, the ready-made, not
the pain and boredom of finding the bowl, the wooden spoon, beating the sugar
into the butter until the wrist tired. Just hang around, and lo, a family turns
against Concorde’s flimsy hull on the way back to
(I had a window seat but there was nothing
to see outside but navy-blue), sipping orange juice, I wondered from whence
these domestic images came. When I was small, in the patches when she was sane,
which grew fewer and fewer as the years went by, my mother Angel would bake
cakes and I would help. Then I was truly happy: we both were. I would scrape
the bowl of the creamy mixture: lick the wooden spoon. The taste of damp wood
would come through with the vanilla essence.
much of the time, at least when I was working, I rejoiced in my lack of family.
I was not burdened as others were, by the guilt and obligations that seemed to
go along with having parents, of whom one should be seeing more, or doing more
for, desire and duty forever conflicting: the problems of children, ditto.
a grandmother in
’ seemed more than enough to me: far enough away, and of her own
volition, to be out of the dreaded Christmas equation which afflicts so many
these days: who goes where: which step-child to which step-house, which natural
child to which parent, who is to take in the reproachful aged. ‘Oh, now she’s
sounded as if she were not an invention, and static, but a living, moving
And only a fraction nearer.
had noticed, mind you, that if I were out of the editing suite for more than a
couple of days I would begin to feel a little uneasy, a little unbolstered up,
as it were, by my comparative aloneness in the world. Others had parents and
aunts and children: their Easters and Passovers were well peopled: their
Christmas lists were full of duty items, and duty, I had come to observe, can
feel less onerous than freedom: the need to enjoy oneself can become
oppressive. As my due to Christmas festivities I would visit my mother’s
headstone at Golders Green crematorium, and consider the meaning of life and
death for half an hour or so, until cold seeped through the soles of my boots.
Not, I came to the conclusion fairly early on, that there were any conclusions
to come to. There was the pleasure one got in getting things right, and a disappointment
that one day one could no longer do so, it would be too late. I hoped nobody
noticed this lack of affect in me. I put on a brave face. And if someone were
needed to work on Christmas Day, I would always volunteer.
jobs, the cracks showed. They were beginning to yawn wide enough to fall into.
Colleagues were all very well: they adored you until the show ended, and then
failed to recognize you in the street the following week; there were drinks and
jokes in the pub with proper friends, and dancing and sexual overtures in the
club, and films to go to, and plays, and theatre, and books. Girlfriends were
fine until they got married or solidly partnered and drifted off into their
folies a deux
, when you, little by little, turned into the baby-sitter,
and a haze of domestic triviality drooped like a dull cloud over the old association,
and the friendship faded away to Christmas card level: and others you thought
were permanent in your life you quarrelled with or they quarrelled with you,
over ridiculous things, over borrowed clothes or hurt pride or imagined
insults, and that was always upsetting, and there was no sex by which to
re-register and consolidate former affections. As if female friendship wasn’t made
to endure, was a false conceit: as if sexual relationships plus children was
really kept people together, and God knew even that
didn’t seem to be enough. Some tried lesbian togetherness but I never really
fancied it: it was either too possessive or too bent on variance for comfort,
and you’d still find yourself jumping when the phone rang. Is it him, is it
her, what’s the difference? Oddly, the young gay men now around town in such
numbers seemed to make more reliable and lasting friends than anyone else:
true, their partners changed more frequently and the splits were accompanied by
the most dreadful tantrums, but their laughs and their lamentations mixed
agreeably: they created more of a noisy family feel than the females managed.
usual answer to the unease about whither and whence, alone, was simply to begin
another job. Directors waited for my services. I was as busy as I needed to be.
Get back to the cutting room and the dissection of fantasy, and the possibility
of an award, an Oscar even, if not this year, then next, and the comfort of
one’s prestige in the film business, the working end of it at any rate, if not
the Oscar Versace summit, and I’d be just fine again. But I could see I could
do with an aunt. One sprung ready-made into my life, without the complications
of a shared past. Alison!
there was an aunt maybe there would be an uncle to go with her?
But maybe not.
The men in my family tended to fade out of
sight in the bright glare of the female personalities with which they were
confronted. Mind you, there was fresh blood in there somewhere: this Alison
would have had a father. Who fathered an illegitimate baby back in the
nineteen-thirties and then scarpered? Not anyone nice. But I assumed Felicity
wanted me to go in search of her long-lost daughter, otherwise she wouldn’t
have mentioned her. Would she?
* * *
The elderly woman in the Hermes
scarf and sensible shoes in the seat next to me called the steward. He arrived,
obsequious, resentful and rubbing damp palms together. It is
as difficult for Concorde to provide a more luxurious service than
First Class on a regular flight as it is for First Class Regular to do much
better than Club Class subsonic. There must be an end to the distinction
between one grade of smoked salmon and the rest, the taste and texture of one
rare globule of caviar and the next. The battle to justify the extra thousands
spent by customers cannot be left to speed and convenience alone. There must be
luxury enough to shame the opposition. Catering feels it too must do its best,
but imagination fails. The staff just has to learn to bow yet lower, and it
hurts, and it shows.
time I was on this blasted machine,’ said my neighbour, ‘there were shreds of
real orange in the juice. I’ll swear this is condensed.’
steward went forward and came back with the cardboard container to reassure
her. ‘Nothing but the best of freshly squeezed real oranges,’ claimed the box.
She refused to be reassured.
have no proof the juice came out of that particular box,’ she said. The steward
offered to provide witnesses. She declined the offer. The cast, as she called
them, would only stick together and lie. ‘Why didn’t you just squeeze fresh
oranges?’ she demanded. He said there was a space problem on Concorde. She said
oranges, properly packed, wouldn’t necessarily take up more room than boxes. He
said they would: oranges were round and boxes were square. So they wrangled on.
The human race, even on Concorde, is in search of an occupation. The Mach meter
More than twice the speed of sound.
metal against which my arm rested became uncomfortably hot. I thought maybe the
whole machine would melt. I expressed my worry to the steward. He felt the wall
of the plane, and studying his once handsome face, grown soft from the habit of
an unfelt politeness, and petulant from the obligation to justify, justify,
justify, I thought I saw alarm writ there.
As one does.
it does that sometimes,’ he said. ‘If we overheat the pilot will cut back.’
Even as we spoke the Mach meter fell rapidly to 1.5 and the metal cooled almost
There you see,’ he said,
triumphantly. The woman beside me snorted and fell asleep. I slept too and
dreamed of Aunt Alison, who looked like one of the motherly types you see on
packets of cake mixes. She folded me in her arms and said, ‘There, there.’ That
was all but when I woke up there were tears on my cheeks.