Note: Helen is accused by family of living life as though trapped in a Victorian novel. Hence the theme.
The spring time shadows began their long march across the perfectly manicured lawns of Dandenong’s Kings Street Manor, only threatened in their approach by Henry’s prize geraniums. The year was 2012. Could it really be 50 years?
I had just taken my breakfast in the drawing room and was awaiting Henry’s return. He had taken the Hilux into town to collect guests for the ball that night celebrating the dawn breaking on my fiftieth year. While it was greatly agreed that the dawn’s light was extremely kind to me, my vanity – for now at least – would not prevent me a celebration of my years.
In these days I found I needed to keep a constant vigil against sentimental nostalgia, as if posting a sentry against the invading hordes of history. As easily as I travelled between the rooms of King Street Manor I could find myself wandering through the years.
Could it be 1973? I can picture Mother and Father. Were their siblings? I know mother and father had a special fondness for producing offspring, but no other siblings presently come to mind. In the 1973 of my mind I am an only child; deliriously happy. I am in Mildura, on the terrace at Walnut Avenue. From the terrace I can see the lawns unfold toward the Murray river, on whose banks I spent languid summer evenings dreaming of becoming a rowing champion. A dream I was later to achieve, but modesty dictates I reserve this story for another time.
Who is that girl I now see at the Mildura roller-skating rink? Her hair as golden as a Pharaoh’s tomb, her flares as wide as a Monaro’s doors. It is hard for me to say what is more hypnotic – her sculptured beauty or her dance moves that give form and shape to ABBA’s Dancing Queen. What would this 50 year old woman say to this teenage dancing queen if she had the chance? Of the lives I have lived, the lessons I have both learnt and taught, what would I say to this girl if my travels through memory were to dissolve to reality?
Would I warn her against that one thing the sole province of youth? – how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrevocably, lost! Yes, should I warn her against the perm. The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth – all save this – come and go with us through life. These things are a part of life itself; but the perm belongs to Youth alone and dies with it. But this she will learn in time.
Would I tell her about the fundamentalism of Youth – its pureness, its resolve, its ultimate corruptibility? Would I warn her against university eulogising, of standing in the university quad and preaching to the God Squad? Or would I warn her of preaching with far more fundamentalism about a power even greater than God, and slightly more expensive – I speak of course of Landmark? I would not warn her, for the lessons learnt in the hard pursuit of passion are the lessons that have paved my road to success.
Would I tell her that in her years dedicated to the advancement and teaching of the English language she would learn not only that there can be tangy chickens and zillions of trees, but most confronting of all; that her brother John can be right. Do I need to tell her this now? I think not.
The answer is I would tell her nothing. I would take her hand and wander with her through the many and splendid rooms of my mind, each room an aesthetic education in its detailed and studied design. The Baroque rumpus room of regret, the Gothic study of solitude, the asbestos hazard of the Granny-flat of grandiosity, the apricot hue of the lounge of love. I would travel with her through each room until we ended up here – in the dining room at the Wallace Hotel. I would show her why I would change nothing. Because in these four walls is the evidence of a life lived and loved. Family, friends, Henry and a Hilux.