Authors: Joanne Horniman
I wanted to capture a part of him, and I know that was wrong of me. I didn't ask him if he wanted to father a baby.
But then, if he didn't, he should have taken more precautions.
I had always wanted Hetty. There was never one moment when I wished her away.
And I didn't want Marcus to go. In the week we'd been together, even though I knew he would soon be moving on, I hadn't really believed it. I hadn't wanted to think about it.
But in the end, he was gone suddenly.
They left before dawn, him and the rest of the band. If I haven't described the other band members, it's because they're not important in the story of Marcus and me. But on the last morning, there they were in the car park at the motel, loading stuff into the van: the hairy rhythm guitarist, the chunky bass player, the nondescript drummer and the blonde girl I'd noticed the first night, who seemed to be some kind of manager. I saw then that they were realer to him than I was, and their lives were more connected.
When they were packed, Marcus hugged me tightly, told me it had been fun, and got into the van. They roared away. He hadn't offered to keep in touch, or asked for an address and phone number (but he knew where I lived, didn't he? I clung to that thought for a long time).
His leaving had been so lacking in ceremony that I felt a creeping sense of humiliation. It was only just dawn, and there I was standing in a motel car park in a summer dress and my broken-down old licorice shoes. I felt exposed and alone. It wasn't cold, but I needed a coat to snuggle into. I wanted some kind of shell or carapace to armour myself with.
But I had only my mind, which has always been my saviour and great protector, and conjures up reserves of steely determination on most of the occasions that I need it.
The sun came up. I walked through the deserted streets in a light that showed nothing, including myself, to advantage. Everything was unutterably dreary, every crack and blemish in the world exposed. Instead of going straight home to Samarkand, I walked out onto the bridge at the end of the street (which later became
bridge, mine and Hetty's, on our regular morning walks). I removed the horrid licorice shoes that I'd worn the night I met Marcus and tossed them down into the water. I heard them fall in. Plop. Plop.
Then I walked home barefoot.
pregnant with Hetty, I never thought beyond that time. I didn't imagine that I would have another life afterwards that would mean sometimes leaving her behind.
âLive your life,' Lil had always urged us. So on the first day of university, I slung two bags over my shoulder (one each for Hetty and me), hefted her onto my hip, and went to go out the door. But beset by sudden fear and indecision, I turned back to Lil, who'd been standing there seeing us off.
Her face stoic, she reached out and plucked a piece of fluff from my cardigan (a symbolic gesture if ever there was one, as there were many bits of fluff and stray hairs forever about my person), and spat on the corner of a handkerchief to wipe a smear of Vegemite from Hetty's cheek.
This time she didn't need to say the words aloud. It was what she'd always told us as she prepared Kate and me for each small step out into the world. â
And we had always believed that we would.
As I'd feared, when I left Hetty at the university childcare centre she howled, with great roars of rage and sorrow. She was in the arms of a carer named Jill, tossing herself about like a ship in a storm. I hesitated, tugged back by guilt and pity. âJust go,' said Jill. âShe'll be fine. You'd be amazed how quickly she'll get used to it. These tears will be gone in a few minutes.'
I made my way across the campus, blocking out the memory of her screams by thinking of Kate at Sydney University. She had described ancient weathered sandstone, dim old corridors and azalea-filled courtyards. I thought how that would suit me far more than all this brick and concrete, linked by expanses of lawn with gum trees full of screeching parrots.
I was anxious about becoming a student again. Since leaving school, the only new thing I'd learnt had been how to write shorthand. I'd taught myself from an old textbook I'd found at Samarkand. I enjoyed the way shorthand was a kind of code, known only to the initiated. I felt I was part of a secret society, of sorts. Now, at least, it might come in handy for taking notes.
In the lecture theatre I took a seat close to the back; I'd been so anxious to be on time that I was early. As I watched the other students make their way in groups into the tiered theatre I realised that because it was mid-year most of them would already know each other.
People trickled in, and I noticed how informal everyone was, leaning across casually to cadge pens or paper from friends;
weren't looking at everyone, or wondering whether people were looking at them. (But of course, no one was observing me. I was invisible because I was of no interest to anyone; why should anyone bother to notice a new student, a part-timer at that?)
I opened my lecture pad, and with the flat of my hand caressed the beautiful blank page. So I used to smooth my workbooks at school when I was a child, writing with my face almost on the page, watching the words spool magically away from my pen.
The lecturer spoke of the revolution in thought that took place in the nineteenth century, and how that influenced the way we think today. She talked about Mary Wollstonecraft, and the rights of women, and the influence of that on the BrontÃ« sisters and George Eliot. She asked us to consider how might Wollstonecraft's thinking have influenced
, and why
Pride and Prejudice
still had such a wide readership.
Looking back at my notes from that day, I find things like:
Marxist-Feminist analysis of the text!! What does this mean?
The lecturer spoke of Freud, and the idea of the unconscious â¦the birth of modernist artâ¦and the madwoman in the atticâ¦
I took it all down, and afterwards went to the university library, and put in an application for a library card. Going up the stairs, I remembered the day Becky Sharp had scooped Hetty up into her arms and strolled away; the poetry of her stride. In truth, I longed to see her again, and hoped to run into her at any minute.
But I didn't. In the meantime, there was the luxury of being a legitimate library user. I drank in the peace, and looked through the shelves to see what I'd borrow when my card was processed. Then I sat in a carrel and read through the study guide.
I had no other lectures that day, and just before lunch I went to collect Hetty, who scowled at me the whole time I fed her. On the way home in the bus she fell asleep against my shoulder, and I had to wake her up again to put her into her pram.
The next day brought a letter from Kate. I had the day off, and though the weather was still wintry, I lay out on the verandah in the hammock to read it â such a lovely long letter, full of gossip and description.
Every day Kate fed the ducks on the lake next to the university; the park was either full of solitary people like herself, or couples kissing.
I have never been kissed!
Or not in that way.
But she'd met a boy, Myles, in one of her English tutorials. She described him in detail (
very pretty, with a face like a lost angel
she wrote). And it seemed that this Myles
liked all the right writers
, Sylvia Plath, and Virginia Woolf, and Jack Kerouac. And he listened to Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith, who were black women singers that Kate had never even heard of before, but he was going to invite her to his place to listen to them some time (O, Kate!).
If I hadn't lost that letter I could write it down word for word. I swung in the hammock as I read, holding the letter in one hand so it fluttered like a little flag in the breeze. And as I finished each page I dropped it carelessly onto the floor where Hetty seized it with squeals of delight, scrunching it up in her fists and sucking on it.
As I finished the last page (there was much, much more about this Myles, and about a job she'd just got cleaning in a motel), I dropped it onto the floor and lay back with my eyes closed, thinking about Kate. Hetty became intent on pressing one of the pages of the letter into my ear, and as I opened my eyes to fend her off I found myself face to face with Maggie Tulliver again.
âI seem always to catch you at an awkward moment,' she said. Her voice still had an edge of sly amusement to it that made me self-conscious, but at the same time I wanted to be in on the joke with her. I knew that after her one night at the time of the flood she was meant to be coming back again, so she must only have recently arrived.
Hetty dropped the piece of paper she'd been trying to cram into my ear and scooted away on her bottom. She went over to the barricade I'd put at the top of the stairs and pulled herself to her feet, gesturing towards the tops of the trees and the river as though to draw our attention to their magnificence. I thought that if she ever acquired the art of speech Hetty would make a grandiloquent orator. She had the knack of the grand, the amplified, the eloquent gesture.
âShe needs to learn how to crawl,' said Maggie Tulliver, in a detached voice. âThat bottom-scooting's an easy way to get about, but it won't do her any good in the long run.'
âWhat do you mean?' I felt cautious and hostile. Was she telling me that Hetty was
âCrawling is critical to a baby's development. It wires the brain to cross-pattern.'
I must have still been looking deeply suspicious.
âIt establishes a crossover flow of energy,' she explained. âAll sorts of movement, even walking, will be easier for her if she learns to crawl first.'
âShe's worked out that way of getting about by herself,' I said sullenly. âI know it looks sort of awkward and lopsided, but it seems to work for her.'
âFor now. But she'll get on better later on if she crawls properly first. You can teach her by showing her, you know.'
And she got down on her hands and knees and started to crawl. Hetty looked at her with interest â she had a way of regarding everything new she encountered as something she might need to know.
show her,' Maggie Tulliver urged.
Feeling foolish, I got out of the hammock and into a crawling position. I called out, âHetty! Watch this.'
She sat holding onto her toes, smiling at me indulgently. I crawled up to her and lifted her into the correct position. She sat right back down onto her bottom.
This time Hetty started imitating me. She crawled a few paces, arms and legs working in opposition.
âGood girl, Hetty!' I said. She sat up on her bottom again and grinned at me.
We spent ages crawling around with Hetty, and by the end she was starting to get the hang of it. She thought it was a marvellous game we were playing with her.
Lil came out to see what was going on. We explained to her and she said, âWell I never. In my day, crawling was just crawling and babies seemed to manage all right.'
Maggie Tulliver and I looked at each other and smiled.
âIs that a letter from Kate?' said Lil, noticing the pages floating about on the floor. She picked them up and started to smooth them out, tutting about the dreadful state they were in.
She went inside, taking the letter with her. âRead away,' I said with a flourish, as she disappeared. Anything from Kate was Lil's as far as Lil was concerned.
Maggie Tulliver left then as well, and it was only after she'd gone I realised I hadn't known why she'd come up to the top floor in the first place, as it was our private part of the house.
I saw her again on Sunday night.
When I can't sleep, I go to a sitting place on a short, secluded flight of steps that runs from the bottom floor at the back of the house to the garden. I sit on a step near the ground, next to a patch of fragrant mint. If Hetty's asleep, I take her with me bundled up in a straw carry-basket, where she lies charmingly like baby Moses in the bulrushes.
That night there was a woman sitting in my exact spot; she turned around as I stood at the top of the stairs with the basket, hesitating. It was Maggie Tulliver. âHave a seat,' she said carelessly, over her shoulder.
I made my way down the steps and sat, not beside her, but a couple of steps above, with Hetty's basket next to me.
Maggie Tulliver said, âAt times like this I miss smoking. Sitting still, looking at the dark, and doing nothing.' She reached down and picked a sprig of mint, pinching it between her fingers. âI gave it up ages ago because of the singing. I'm in the music school up at the uni â doing voice.'
I said, âI'm studying literature and writing. I'm only part-time at the moment, so I'm doing the literature first. “Introduction to written texts” it's called.'
Maggie Tulliver laughed. âDon't you love the crazy subjects they teach?' she said, with more than a hint of mockery in her voice.
I hesitated. Actually, I thought it sounded an interesting subject, but I didn't feel up to defending it.
I usually try to keep myself apart from the guests, but the experience with Dev and Pagan (who had ended up leaving together) had made me think that perhaps I should try to be more open to the people who stayed with us. It might be interesting, and companionable.
âWould you like a cup of tea?' I asked.
âYou offering to make it?'
I got to my feet. âIf you could just watch Hetty for meâ¦'
She threw the basket a glance that spoke of a high disregard for babies. Despite her knowing that thing about crawling, I got the feeling she didn't really like them.
That was disappointing, because I'd begun to have a curious feeling of intimacy with her. Perhaps it was simply the effect of the night, and our proximity to each other in the dark. She was so close I could smell her. Some women smell overwhelmingly of floral perfume, but Maggie Tulliver has a sour, almost citrus-like odour that intrigued me.