Women is...: Excerpt from Lovesong

Excerpt from Lovesong

Difference, clinging to me like a fuzz, to cover a thick felt. From young age all of squeals of children round me were the world of Sunlight and I, very sharply, was not

I'm not even sure I was ever a little girl: a young person, yes, but not a girl. I just didn't have all creamy in me those charming, dependable qualities like giving and serving and flirting and quiet for I was much too selfish for that. I was spiky, prickly, defensive, shut. An obsessive collector, not of best-friend lists and pony names, but of leaves and bike chains and cicada shells, of spiders in ice-cream cartons and rocks. And I was perfectly happy with my own company, willfully, dangerously so, and no one in Sunshine trusted that.

...A mother's comment from long ago was etched deeply into me and it coloured a lot of my teenage life. The woman had visited mum in a barely disguised gloat a week after the school fire and I'd hidden on a step and trapped scraps of their conversation in my journal.

"if she was pretty, like that Cathie Cliffer, she'd never be so willful."

The words were faithfully written down through the barb of the hurt, as was my mother's misspelled reply.

"Yeah, it's the gorgeous ones who are always the conservatives, isn't it? They've got no need to be rebels. I just wish she was sweet, and dependable, and quiet. Even her feet are ugly. And clumsy! She can't even open a bottle of milk without spilling it."

I'll never forget the sting of the words, I don't need them recorded in my journal for they're in my head too much. Eight years later a quote was centre-stage on my bedroom wall: My life is founded on the rock of change. It came from an elderly, milky-skinned actress known for her character and not her looks. I ached for that life of change and yet all around me another eagle slammed into the dirt and another lamb died and yet again my father cursed and I hated the very smell of home now, felt tombed in that wide, empty space.

...I'm Bolted awake by a scuffle of sounds on the stairs and the blood is booming in my ears and I'm straining with the listening. There's my father's "what the" - and a thud and a muffled melee of feet and it recedes and the front door slams and there's a settling quiet and I leap from the bed and run to the window and catch, just, three figures running from the land and then one slows, and stops, and lingers a looking back. I crane my head, can't make the figure out, slam up the window for a better look. Tallness is all I can get. My thrumming heart.

My arm lifts in salute, I don't know why and the figure raises a high hand in return , it hovers for a second or two and then the figure runs on, catching up with the others and then all three are claimed by the black, the night drinks their skin and they're gone. I lean on the window sill and cup my face in my palms and breathe in the still sky and no one comes to my room, no one explains. They aren't coming back and the familiar knot of sullenness seeps again into my chest but then the lightning begins flickering in the rainless night, far away behind a cloud like a mosquito trapped in a net and there's God in that sky and I feel flooded with hope. For someone's got so far, three people, who care enough.

But look at me now. Riding air like men, the travelers of old. Flying to so many places on my father's nest egg and ending up one day in that city called New York, a place so crammed that car bumpers chat to bumpers and all around them is an architecture of noise and I can't, anywhere, find a quiet. And the light, God, the glare of it, it stops the stars. But I love it, of course, I hold my head high to it and gulp it all in.

And in that canyoned place, on my last day in it, there's a sudden, drenching late summer downpour and I push into the Jackie-O cathedral to escape it and a lunchtime mass is in progress and the priest is saying something about that question at the end of our lives - how well we have loved - and Dan, of course, comes hurtling back.

There I am, sitting by myself in a pew at the back and willing him to me, trying to arrow his thoughts. For he drenches all my days, no matter how much I try to travel him out.