Contemplating love with duster in hand:
Lisa looked after her grandpa when he was sick. He was terrified of being put in a home.
Why did she do it? She thinks it helped her make a ritual of becoming an adult. Drinking in pubs with girlfriends wasn’t doing it. Finishing school hadn’t done it. A few fumbled goes at sex hadn’t.
The dusty flat. Eating semi-thawed dim sims at the too-big table. His hideous, startling night cough. His drinking scotches then donning the kilt. The pub over the back fence and the arguments she heard in her single bed with a faded blue chenille spread. A small framed picture of a ballet scene from Swan Lake.
Her feeling that she was she was paving her way to love. That she was steeped in love, that in these small domestic acts of love she was making memories of the closure of a life. She had a presentiment of her own future nostalgia in contemplating her pa’s death.
And grandpa talked.
He talked about his sister -in- law Eunice, known to Lisa all her life as ‘Mad great aunty Eunice’.
Eunice had disappeared suddenly one night, rumoured to have gone up north by a female colleague who received a single postcard from Kempsey. She left her husband and was never heard from again- the stuff of childhood myth and fantasy, a symbol of adventure and freedom and travel. Lisa always secretly admired mad aunty Eunice, and had been told she looked like her, having the same ‘beer-coloured’ hair.
Lisa pictures her, as she always has, in her forties, though now she’d have to be in her seventies.
But there she is, a radiant and unlined forty three, sitting on a verandah overlooking the scrubby beauty of Hat Head Bay, wearing a Jenny Kee Waratah print dress and contemplating, over a gin and tonic, her delicious, sinful life. Her mad life.
Lisa is somnambulant around the house; listless and locked, she can’t be bothered doing all the little fix jobs she’s listed and considered over and again. She’s thinking about how much Pa talked about Eunice at the end.
People say that when you’re close to dying it’s the old memories, the ones that really count, that keep surfacing. Eunice the young and lovely, vibrant woman; the factory worker with a taste for gin-tonics. The funny, dancing life of the party Eunice who despite her red hair had a soft temperament, was known to be lovely with children and animals. How people gossiped about her going out with girlfriends when her husband pulled long hours at the furniture warehouse.
“What they didn’t know Lisa, was that it wasn’t work that kept him there. I knew he was drinking, he’d always drunk and was pretty good at hiding it in public. I didn’t know how bad it had gotten at home though until Eunice pulled up outside one night and stumbled out of the car to my door. She couldn’t drive, not really, had just bunny hopped her way round the few backstreets between us. She was in her nightie with an overcoat and boots on, and her right eye was red raw and starting to bruise. I knew the pain of Tom’s swift right hook; I’d suffered it myself as his brother. She pushed past me -she was angry more than scared, muttering “I can’t, I can’t. You have to – you’re his brother, get him off it even if you have to punch him out and lock him up. That bastard”.
She finally cried then.
“He hit me, that stupid bastard”
“She stayed that night and at about 3am my brother came to my door looking for a fight. Someone must have seen his car parked outside my place and let him know, bloody gossips. I’m ashamed to say he got his fight. I laid him out cold with a punch to the nose then put him on the couch. Eunice stayed in the back bedroom the whole time; I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d wedged the chair under the door-handle. The next few days my two older brothers banded together and told Tom’s boys at the warehouse we’d kill anyone who opened a bottle with him after work. We talked to him about his responsibilities as a man and as a husband. I think over time he slowed down, or maybe got even better at hiding it, but it didn’t matter to Eunice. He’d hit her and she was gone a week later.”
That Pa had loved Eunice was clear to Lisa. In that week, before she did the infamous ‘runner’ did something happen with that love? Where did she stay, who gave her money? Was it the factory girlfriends as everyone had thought?
Alone in each day in this old house she is caught in this story as if in a web, dazed by it and hopeless to it as she imagines their possible ‘middles’, for she knows the end. Pa married Dora and they had a son, her Dad Nicholas. Dora died of a stroke at only 49 and Pa, many years later, died alone in hospital. No one ever heard again from Eunice- did they? For all anyone knows Eunice’s ashes lay in a pot under a rosebush in some cemetery that borders a dirt-country road.