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Authors: Joan London

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The Good Parents

BOOK: The Good Parents
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The Good Parents

Joan London is the author of two prize-winning collections of stories. A bestseller in its native Australia, her first novel,
Gilgamesh, was published by Atlantic Books in 2003 and was longlisted for the Orange Prize and the Dublin Impac Prize, awarded
the Age Fiction Book of the Year and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.

‘Wonderfully realized… Joan London introduces a vivid range of characters and treats each one, no matter how minor, with detailed
respect, sympathy, and never with condescension. These are people one wants to go on knowing, in places one wants to revisit.
The narrative focus shifts from person to person and is studded with sharp and eccentric observation… Most marvellous, in
a book crammed with delights is London’s descriptive writing… Her prose is sumptuous, beautifully balanced with the controlled
spare elegance of her narrative voice… This splendid book deserves to be blazoned forth.’ Elspeth Barker,
Financial Times

‘Soaring in scope and unassuming in style. The writing can be so quietly lyrical you want to read very slowly, the suspense
enough to make you want to race to the finish. The quality of observation, close-focus and long-range, is so sharp you’ll
jab Post-it notes on every page. Every character, completely understood from the inside, is matchlessly right and irreplaceable…
A lifetime’s close scrutiny has been made sense of and placed in this book.’ Cath Kenneally,
Australian


The Good Parents
is full of characters who vanish but not without trace… Handling the many shades of loss, the eerie and sometimes petulant
presence of the absent…
The Good Parents
is underwritten by a wealth of human understanding… It has compassion for people who make choices they don’t have to; for
families that never set. London pushes characters towards each other against the forces of nature… [and] writes wonderfully
about intimacy between strangers. The results are as powerful as they are unsettling.’ Michael McGirr,
Sydney Morning Herald

‘Joan London comes at her characters from every angle, laying bare their compromises and delusions. Shifting between landscapes
worldly and remote, she pulls off the tricky feat of making the act of reflection suspenseful, turning the past into a living,
unfinished thing, still bristling with what could be.’
New Yorker

Copyright

First published in Australia in 2008 by Random House Australia Pty Ltd, Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney, NSW 2060.

First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Atlantic Books, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Ltd.

This paperback edition published in Great Britain in 2010 by Atlantic Books.

Copyright © Joan London, 2008

The moral right of Joan London to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form
or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright
owner and the above publisher of this book.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s
imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

First eBook Edition: January 2010

ISBN: 978-1-848-87437-4

Atlantic Books

An imprint of Grove Atlantic Ltd

Ormond House

26–27 Boswell Street

London

WC1N 3JZ

www.atlantic-books.co.uk

Contents

Cover

The Good Parents

Copyright

Chapter 1: The Office

Chapter 2: The House

Chapter 3: Leaving

Chapter 4: White Garden

Chapter 5: Country of the Young

Chapter 6: Boans

Chapter 7: The Lucky

Chapter 8: Massage

Chapter 9: Kitty

Chapter 10: Retrace

Chapter 11: Warton

Chapter 12: Music for Carlos

Chapter 13: Balcony

Chapter 14: Karma

Chapter 15: Tod and Clarice

Chapter 16: The Vision on the Highway

Chapter 17: The Mimosa

Chapter 18: Andrew

Chapter 19: Grand Final

Chapter 20: The Devil’s Country

Chapter 21: Departure

Chapter 22: Arrival

Chapter 23: The Call

Acknowledgements

For my family

1
The Office

T
he best time was always afterwards, alone, in the Ladies’ Restroom on the first floor. It had high frosted-glass windows that
at this hour, before the frail winter sun had found its way between the buildings of the city, shed a dim grainy light like
old footage in a documentary film.

How long since this room had been modernised? There was a quicklime incinerator for tampons and a yellowed notice about a
women’s refuge,
contact Terri
, which might have been there since the seventies. It was the sort of place she was always trying to describe in the on-going
letter in her head. But who was this letter to? Who wants to read about the toilets at your place of work? The rotating chrome
soap dispensers, the mint-green handbasins on their pedestals, the big wire basket for paper towels – the sense of living
in another generation’s film?
Her father of course would be hanging out for this sort of news, but she wasn’t going to pander to his romanticism. And Jason
Kay – if a letter ever reached him – would read anything from her with painstaking attention, but she didn’t want to think
about Jason. In fact she hadn’t sent a single letter home since she’d come to Melbourne, though she’d started several on the
office computer in the afternoons.

She had this room to herself. The other women in the building, the beauticians from Beauty by Mimi on the ground floor, didn’t
start work till nine. It was pristine, like a beach first thing in the morning. She didn’t switch on the fluoro, but stayed
in the gray light. All the contents of the little bag she kept in her desk were laid out on the broad sill of the handbasin.
She washed and dried herself with paper towels, fixed her hair, put on deodorant and mascara. The antique plumbing hummed
as she ran the taps. She felt safe here, performing these classic female rituals. Every morning at this mirror she thought
for a moment of her mother and the compulsive little pout she made when she looked at herself, like an old-fashioned model.

When do you stop being haunted by your parents? The face that looked back at her was not a face that they had ever seen, the
eyes darkened and reckless, the skin luminous. It made her shy, she turned away and then could not resist another peek. She
knew this transformation wouldn’t last for long.

It was time to go back upstairs. She liked the washed lightness of her body as she moved to the door. She liked the silver
flecks in the faded terrazzo floor. But then of course she liked everything, everything seemed to have significance, for a
short while, afterwards.

Global Imports occupied the whole top floor of the narrow old
building, above Jonathan Fung Barristers. Its corridor ended in a door out to the rusty metal landing of the fire escape,
where on a fine day, amongst the roar of air-con vents, you could sit and eat your lunch and look out over the roofs along
the back laneway. Someone had once slung a little washing line out there and tried to grow basil in a pot. It was like being
in Naples or New York.

The office consisted of one large bare-walled room, high-ceilinged like all the rooms in this building, with two tall front
windows facing the street. A head-high partition of varnished ply and frosted glass made a waiting space by the door. Here
there were two cane armchairs and a low glass table on which sat a Cinzano ashtray – some of the clients came from countries
where it was still OK to smoke at business deals – and a neat pile of magazines,
Time
,
Fortune
,
BRW
. It was part of her duties to keep these up to date and to water the rubber plant in its bamboo stand.

As soon as she opened the door she knew he wasn’t there. She could sense his absence even before she saw that his black coat
had gone from beside her sheepskin jacket on the hooks behind the door. Inside the office the answering machine’s red light
was flickering on his desk. He’d made the call from his car in traffic, she could hardly hear him. He said that he was going
home, there’d been a turn for the worse and could she please just carry on. He would be in touch, he said, and something else
that was lost in a blast of static.

She stood looking out a window for several minutes, holding her little quilted bag. The long window had a view of the black
spire of the church opposite and the bare swaying tips of the churchyard trees. Below her a phone was ringing in Jonathan
Fung’s office. Someone with a light tread was running up the stairs. The working day had started.

There was no other message. She had a sense of abandonment which was, she knew, unreasonable. He’d left the computer on and
the coffee-maker. She poured herself a cup and sat down at her desk. The air in the room was still thick with their closeness.
But her feeling of well-being, of doing good in the world, had faded.

Maynard Flynn started work before anybody else in the building because he had a sick wife. She slept during the morning while
their son stayed with her and Maynard left at noon to be with her when she was awake. He asked Maya at the interview if she
could work from seven till three. For the time being he was in and out of the office and needed someone to hold the fort.
Things had, he said, with a little grimace, got rather out of hand. That was six months ago, in summer, soon after she’d arrived.

Each morning of those first couple of weeks she took the cup of coffee he offered her and plunged straight into the messy
paperwork and files. She spread them out in piles all over the seagrass matting and for a couple of hours before the phone
started ringing, she crouched over them, silent and frowning. He seemed both impressed and entertained.

In this way she saved herself from the shyness that threatened to take her over whenever she was face to face with him. Shyness,
she knew, had a mind of its own, chose when to strike, caused red blotches to break out on her neck, made her voice catch,
her eyes fill with tears. She lived in dread of its attacks.

His wife’s name was Delores. Sometimes he spoke of her as Dory. Every few days now her friends phoned to ask him how she was.
He had a special tone with these women, Francine, Bernadette and Tina, women from her church. His voice
dropped a note, became suave and medical. She’d had a good night, thanks, the doctor was pleased. Yes, he and Andrew were
coping well. At the same time he kept tapping away at the computer. These conversations never lasted long. Maya began to understand
that they were all waiting, that things were coming to an end.

She’d never got up early before in her life. This was one of her new adult acts, making herself wake before her natural span
of sleep was done. She put the alarm clock out of reach, leapt from bed, pulled on her clothes, cleaned her teeth and rushed
up to Victoria Street while the last stars were fading. The 6.40 tram approached just as she reached the Vietnamese deli.
She liked to make the transition between sleep and work as swift and dreamlike as possible, while she was still all instinct
and warmth.

As winter came on, each morning was darker than the one before. Nobody on the tram looked at one another, their faces blank
and private. Some were shift-workers falling in and out of sleep on their way home. She was like a shift-worker herself, she
thought, her real life happened at the other end of the day from other people’s.

Leaves rolled down the pavement ahead of her as she stepped off the tram. This was when she liked the inner city most, empty
and echoing, a half-world, the light seeping into the dark. Car headlights and street lamps were still on. A newsagency was
open, also the espresso bar on the corner, serving the little community she was briefly part of, the dog owners and joggers
and council workers in rubbish trucks. Light broke out minute by minute as she walked, pale splashes over roofs and walls.
Birds were going like mad in the trees around the old church. Bells rang the hour somewhere, pink
clouds streaked the sky ahead. Sometimes the experience of striding up this street – the achievement of being there – could
give her a historical feeling, as if she were looking back at herself, as if these mornings were already in the past.

She thought of the sick woman lying in the dawn, listening to the birds. Her relief. Her pillow shaken, her sheets smoothed,
ready at last to sleep.

BOOK: The Good Parents
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