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Stories

by Terriann White

· I begin right here and I consider origins. This was in the year that I began to pull away from the family romance, but I wasn't the only one.

· A few questions are asked, a few are evaded, people get hitched up with different partners, the dynamic of dependency floats out the window.

· It seems to be harder, then, to come together on this regular basis. We stop assuming we can satisfy each other.

· Each Christmas for as long as we can remember, there is fierce competition in the family to play the role of Santa Claus. Full professional costume, a mountain of gifts gaudily wrapped for children and adults, video cameras recording the ritual for each of the separate families involved. A gathering of bears, big men and women, children growing big, people with huge appetites and mountainous stories of experience. After the display with the gift-giving we share a smorgasbord meal of dishes cooked for tonight and leftovers from lunch, from all of the other arrangements with families and friends. Most of the women are renowned for a specialty dish: a coleslaw, potato salad, chicken cooked in French onion soup mix and apricots, a rich cream cheesecake.

· This is my biography of longing. I am writing it for you, the people from my family, to remember you. How would these gatherings have been conducted in the nineteenth century? Another set of individuals as different as these ones, trying to get on with each other for the sake of the idea of family.

· The funny dilemma, all of it out of our hands. We are descendants of two Jews. Coming to a convict settlement as a convict, without power, was one thing. Staying in Europe would have been worse. In the ensuing eighty years there would have been oppression, but by the time the Nazi Party commenced its extermination, I suppose, the sacrifices of the convict experience start to look less harsh. But this is such foolish conjecturing.

· * * *

· Her son was gay. She thought about this: the life of my son is a curious one. In the newspaper the other day an old woman had sent a letter to the editor about the old times, and written In those days gay had an innocent meaning, it meant sprightly and happy, not like today when it is an unmentionable thing. Now, maybe, it would have to start being mentioned. If Steven wanted to tell, she would listen and try to understand.

· ***

· When I was a girl, a schoolgirl in uniform having an regular meal straight off the school bus with family friends without children of their own, I would watch out the kitchen window the activity in the back yard of a neighbouring house. This was Subiaco, now a gentrified inner-city suburb of Perth but back then still largely a mixed working class and lower middle class area. The people who occupied this house, its owners, were a widow and her adult son. They seemed to get along very well, ate all meals together, and kept a neat yard. I watched them for at least a couple of years, not with any suspicion at all but just with a vague curiosity. It's not often that you can look in on people's lives as easily as that. We lived in a hotel so we had no neighbourhood. At some stage, just at the end of summer, the son began to dig a big hole in the back yard; it didn't seem to be any secret because it was positioned right in the middle of all that well tended lawn. A neat hole; a deep one. It was still there at my next visit. We wondered what he was planning. And then my friends called and told my parents, before they read about it in the newspaper the next day. He had dug the hole for his mother. He had bashed her on the head with a shovel and tried to knock her into the hole but she fought back. She was too strong, didn't want her life to end yet. He had a life insurance policy on her, but would have found it difficult to make a claim. He was tired of her place in his life. The hole stayed in the ground for some months before it was filled in by another son prior to selling the old family home.

· * * *

· So, Steven. His mother had always been bothered by what she saw as his lack of spirit, or imagination. It may just have been that he kept it all to himself; he wasn't any duller than his brother or sister. She just didn't know what he liked or thought, and she was quietly resentful of that. After a year in a residential college at university he was back home, and happier there. Without prodding, Mina decided she wanted to know more about Steven. He was spending very late nights with friends at least three nights a week, at their place. She asked him to invite the friends around to dinner. They were two boys and one girl, all around the same age as Steven, young people in their early twenties. They came to dinner on a Tuesday night; it looked like a conspiracy: lots of stifled giggling and private looks and jokes. Steven was, out of deference to his family home perhaps, not centrally involved in this. They all seemed very close, and Mina wondered if Steven or one of the other boys had a romantic involvement with Sandra, the girl.

· She'd asked Steven what sort of meal his friends would enjoy: he said Chinese. Chinese was a bit difficult, but she still introduced the dishes to come as Chinese ones. She had improvised. There was an Australian curry, some fried rice with lashings of granulated garlic, easy peas and pineapple. But the friends couldn't hide their wonder and delight at the 'Chinese' vacuum-sealed spaghetti bolognaise. There had already been conspiratorial giggling at the Cheezels and Barbecue Shapes that had been saved for what tasted like years, for this special occasion.

Her son was gay, she had just found out. Worked it out herself through his silences and then he told her. He loved other men. He claimed that it was no more a problem for him than loving women. It was strange for Mina to understand because she had not had much contact inside a sexual economy. Why men and not women? She had only had sexual relations with two people in her life, two men, and wouldn't ever do it again. One of them had only been once, a big mistake; the other she'd been married to for thirty five years. That encounter, it happened in the middle of the day, one of the few times she'd had sex during the day, was peculiar. There was pleasure about flaunting the responsible role she held, of wife and mother, and this more than made up for the task that the physical act became.

· After being abandoned to grandparents at five years of age, she catches up with her mother in another city when she is forty. It has taken that long to get it together. She walks in the front door, says excitedly "Do you know who I am?" And mother says "Yes, of course." Pause. "Do you want a banana or something? Sit down." Later, she realises about the pain; at the time, she feels like the Avon lady or something.

· * * *

· My cousins ask me: did you write this story, did you make it all up? If you did then you must be very clever.

Terri Ann White is ANAT's 'virtual' artist in residence with trAce in the UK.

Her work is online at: http://www.ntu.ac.uk/deep/



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