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Authors: Fiona Kidman

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Some days she would watch Emma with a special quiet anxiety. She was not so sure about her. Looking round at the brittle fragile lives of her friends and colleagues, she could see that some of their children were watching them all, and deciding that the price of survival was too high. Then they would quietly fold their lives away, leaving gaping wounds and unanswered questions. In those moments, she would wish with a fearsome intensity that might even have been prayer, that Emma too, would survive, that she would be not only of her, but like her.

There was also a note for her at work from Michael Young when she came back from the north. ‘I came back to town looking for you. I couldn’t leave things the way they were,’ he had written. ‘Will I see you again before I leave?’

She scrawled ‘No’ across it, initialled it and sent it back to him. Let his secretary deal with that.

Not that she wished Michael any harm. She even admired him in a distant detached kind of way. Now it was difficult to understand the unrelenting passion with which she had surrounded him in the past year. It was a manufactured magic, but there had been moments of reality too. She was glad about that. He was a golden eagle still, and he would soar back across the seas, maybe a little wiser, a little more compassionate, she hoped a little more careful about middle-ageing ladies. Even French mistresses should be approached with care, she suspected.

Cousin Alice died soon afterwards and left her a considerable amount of money. Don Everett turned up at the funeral in Weyville. He seemed pleased to see her and offered her a ride back to the house, as she had flown up and was without a car. He’d joined the National Party, he said. It had taken him a long time to see the light but that was what growing old did to you, you turned to the right when you saw how the Polynesians were taking over the country. She said there was no harm in being right-wing, that was his business, but did he have to be quite so reactionary? He asked her if she’d like to go down to the lake and have a bang for old time’s sake. She gathered he was asking her to have sex and remembered, as she refused, that she had rather liked Miriam once and might still do, but the effort of finding out seemed too great.
Interesting to think about Miriam after all these years. Another survivor.

Cousin Alice’s children materialised like vultures. They advised Harriet through legal channels that they considered her a pretender to the money she had inherited and knew she’d always been after their mother’s money. They were going to contest the will; Harriet negotiated a settlement through her lawyers that reduced her share to a few thousand dollars. Apparently it was acceptable in view of the amount of money that it would have cost them to take her to court, and they let her have it.

She could have spent it on a trip away. Only a few months before, she certainly would have done. But there was the mortgage and her car was on the point of breaking down for good. They would put some of the money aside and let it gather some interest and maybe, next year, someday, they would go to Fiji, or Australia, something like that.

You really did have to learn young if you were going to be a high flier. But then again, the meaning of her commitment was becoming clearer.

One other thing changed. She got too fat to front her programme. At least, that’s what they said. She promised to go on a diet. She’d done that before, Terry said. It never worked for long. She argued that she was good at her job; men got fat and didn’t get demoted. That was different, said Terry. Men understood other men getting fat and women forgave them. They didn’t forgive women. That was letting the side down. She could have made more of a fuss, but eventually she decided against it. She still had time on her side, and something would always turn up. In fact, her new season ticket had only just begun.

For fat, she read middle-aged. She had reached a watershed, the middle-aged New Zealand woman. But it was a timely break for her.

Time to start fighting free of labels. Time to be herself, rather than an image. Time, if you like, just to be a woman. And some time, too, to write down what it had all been like and how she had arrived at the present, as a preparation for the future. Come to think of it, she had always had time on her side. 

Fiona Kidman was born in Hawera in 1940. She began working with books as a librarian in Rotorua. Between 1970 and 1980 she wrote fiction and poetry while working as a media writer, producer and critic. In 1971 she won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Television Writing. Although she continued to write prize-winning television and video scripts, she also began to teach writing in the late seventies. From then up to 1988, Fiona taught part time as a lecturer in Creative Writing for the Centre for Continuing Education at Victoria University and at other tertiary institutions. During this time, she became National President of the writers’ organisation PEN (NZ Centre) from 1981 to 1983 and won the Mobil/New Zealand Outlook Short Story Award in 1987.

In 1988 Fiona was awarded a Writers’ Fellowship at Victoria University of Wellington, an OBE for services to literature, won the New Zealand Book Awards fiction category for
The
Book
of
Secrets,
and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Literary Fund Award for
Achievement
. She has held the New Zealand Scholarship in Letters on a number of occasions. To date, she has published fifteen books, including novels, poetry,
non-fiction
short stories and a play. Apart from
The
Book
of
Secrets,
five of her other works have been short-listed for the New Zealand Book Awards. She is currently the President of the New Zealand Book Council and continues to write from her home in Wellington, where she lives with her extended family.

Vintage New Zealand
Random House New Zealand Ltd
(An imprint of the Random House Group)

18 Poland Road
Glenfield
Auckland 10
New Zealand

Associated companies, branches and representatives throughout the world.

First published by Harper and Row 1979
Published by Penguin Books in 1988
This edition first published 1995
© Fiona Kidman 1979
ISBN 978 1 86979 874 1
Printed in Australia

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storage in any information retrieval system or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.

BOOK: a Breed of Women
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