Stories of Laughter and Lament

Book Cover: Stories of Laughter and Lament

Widows

Charles Rand fell off his yacht, somewhere in the middleof the bay, on one of the first pale blue evenings of autumn.Later, the Coroner would be unable to fix that time moreprecisely than between six and ten o’clock. Newspapers,reporting that he had sailed off without crew, used termswhich pictured Charles as a hardy loner. Anyone who knewhim smiled at this.

So begins Widows, with the loss of the wealthy husband whom Dorothy Laird had caught, by playing her cards faultlessly, for marriage to the beautiful Elizabeth, her one child. Elizabeth is Dorothy’s straight flush. This is the world of the Lairds.

Spring is a faithless season. Family neither to the winterwhich bore it, nor to the summer it will grow to resemble,spring is a discomfort to bookmakers at steeplechase meetings,to anxious mothers of brides unexpectedly entangled in tulle, andto the meticulous actuary of any underwriter insuring charityfetes against the possibility of rain.

Children Aren’t Supposed to be Here at All

Our apartment has the best view in Sydney.Father tells us often. A panorama wall to wall. Five hundredfeet above the harbour, and every foot ten thousand dollars.How much is that in metres? Troilus asked, and walked awaybefore his father could think of it. Troilus is six.

Troilus and Cassandra spend their days at a private school, are then alone until their parents come home from the office.

The best view in Sydney, panorama wall to wall, tenthousand dollars a foot.
All that view, Troilus said, locks us in.

This is the world of Troilus and Cassandra. Troilus begins to spend more time alone in his room. Troilus has secreted an illegal kitten.

The Routine

An airplane journey, in reverie the narrator reprises scenes from the recent breaking up with his lover . His defence is hard-bitten cynicism. His neighbour in the next seat is spectacularly disabled.

He had a strangely taut face, of indeterminate age. Eitherthirty-five or very old, pallid cleft chin and lumpy nose.Describe it with artistic integrity:Bent as a 1930 Labour politician’s/Shapeless as a football after a wet game/Hit by a Bondi taxi, the trams were on strike/He is the other guy.There.

But his shapeless neighbour displays a quiet brilliance with jokes, and likes to play the comedian, as a gift to his companion. Each is uniquely disabled, so a strong current of love begins between them. This is the world of the tragic human comedy.

Pedigrees

I found Elinore Carver where I should have lookedearlier in the night, in the poolside bungalow my wifeCatherine and I call our Bower. She was still drunk.The Bower was dark, but I could make out the opendoor of the cocktail cabinet against the wall. Elinorestopped shouting to herself only when I had stood inthe doorway long enough not to startle her, and I sawthe long cigarette butts which littered the floor at herfeet like discarded marks of exclamation she hadstamped angrily into the ground, having drawn fromeach of them the emphasis she needed.

This is a world of croquet on the lawn, the breeding of horses for dressage, of dogs for the shows, and very little sanity.

It does not seem to be fear of falling which has madeher unable, by herself, to move, although she is clingingto the bole of a white gum which overhangs the cliff.She is intent only on a bundle lying on the rocks fiftyfeet below her. It is the sodden and dislocated bodyof her daughter’s rag doll Cindy.It is to take psychiatrists three months ofgentle prying to release from Elinor’s mind the beliefover which it has closed. This belief is that she hasthrown her own child over a cliff.

Inventory

A son of English Old Money, whose talents so far have won him note as a failure, expects Christmas dinner in Kent to win him derision from his father in front of his entire family.

But Sir George did not wait for Henry Edward Charlesto recount, over the remains of the goose, the imminentfailure of his second marriage, six years old in January;or the collapse of his racing stable, a draining of thefinest blood ever exported from Ireland and New Zealand;or the sale of the few remaining blue-chip investmentsto pay his slandering creditors so he could remain in hisclub.

Sir George is appointing him head of the family’s vast mineral extraction empire in Australia.

Lady Anne felt her son bow his head. You are, shehaltingly breathed, to be given a continent.

Ticket for Charity

When Charity Lord fell pregnant she told each of thesix boys who were that month’s quick loving, in turn,as they stumbled from the hotel.

Slow Billy, the dry-country farmer, became the boy who would marry her. He would also become the boy whose life is transformed by her fierce gratitude. Together they worked his heartbreaking farmland until time for the birth.

It was dead. Billy folded the hem of her skirt over itand began to lift her from the car. He saw it had beena boy. As he stood up with her she gripped the backof his neck and pulled her slanted face into his with afierceness that frightened him.

Now that’s over, she said, we can have a child of our own.

Melodrama for a Plastic Heroine

A love story. He lives alone, penniless, in a city tenement. He scrapes together enough money to buy himself a wife. She is a life-size inflatable doll whom he pushes about in a wheelchair, shawled, as if she were merely lamed. On the busy sidewalk they do not draw a second’s interest.

And here is a vendor selling wind-up toys and balloonsand dizzy windmills. He pays for two balloons.They crowd about and make his choosing difficult. Hetakes time to choose a red and a blue. Their cheeks seemto him to be chubby and irrepressible, and they tug, now,at his hand with the campaigning impatience of smallchildren. He wheels them all away and they set off forthe far side of the hill.