Beloved and Spearman elope; Bittersea remembers her homeland.
Too Much Head
part 7 of Common People
Little Ideal Wife, that was her name. Can you imagine calling your daughter that? I suppose in those days, you named your children for what you wanted them to be. At least it made things easier, when it came to deciding what to do with your life.
Ideal was my de facto mum while my real mum used to go and work. See, my dad was here, building us a home, but he had no money to send back, so mum had to work. Ideal is my aunt, and she was unmarried, no children; she just got babysitting duty automatically.
Forty two years since I left: I went back to visit them all at fifty, that long stretch of sea I'd never wanted to see again. Maybe it took almost fifty years to build up the courage again, to realise that visits were just visits. My antipathy to travel I put right back to that first long stint across the ocean, when I was eight. No one told me my dad was Over Here, building us a new life. He was just gone, and mum was just working, then one day she put on my good dress and put the other dress in a bag, and we were on a big ship and that was it for three months, sickness and terror and wondering what I'd done wrong to be punished like this.
Forty two years, and nothing had changed. Age was nothing: all that family I hadn't seen, had barely spoken to, suddenly there again. For a moment it felt like I'd found my place again, I was home. For a moment.
Every second question they asked me was 'why aren't you married'. Gone forty two years and there's no 'how are you, what do you do, tell us about your life!' No, it's all, 'where's your husband? Where's your boyfriend? Why aren't you married?' I couldn't believe it, after what happened with my husband, after what he did, they were all asking me bluntly: 'so why aren't you re-married? Every man needs a woman. You're not too fat for that!' Never a thought as to my needs, mind you, but I suppose that's the way they are. Men need to be married, just like they need to be mothered: but everyone keeps very quiet that women are better off without men and children both. Men and children always break the heart.
Listen to me. 'They', I'm calling them. As though I'd never been one of them.
Anyway, I was curious as to why Ideal never married when surrounded by all this talk of marriage. I tried to find a good moment to ask her. She was very old, but still used her spiked cane and limped over the ice to her sister Flower's house, all the way from the old, crumbling three storey manse that had once held 15 people as a family unit - from blind old Beautiful to the washer woman who came to help out Grace-Conquering and would stay the weekend, because the walk was so long. Little Ideal Wife was the last bastion/caretaker and witness of all those moments in families that are remembered and become, like fables, reassembled bits and stories for our own reminiscing. Who knows what stories she carried with her? The only one who watched the lives of all these husbands and wives and children, instead of living a life herself.
I caught her one day, while plucking my eyebrows at Flower's bedroom window. Fifty years old, fat as I was, I could still lord it over them all, my refined eyebrows compared to their monobushes, as you would call them, Beloved. Ideal was doing as she always did, coming over to help Flower do the washing.
'Chevvai?' Ideal asked me. 'What are you doing?'
'I'm making myself beautiful.'
'Humphh. She who is beautiful doesn't need to make herself beautiful. Beautiful is always beautiful.'
So I asked, right out. 'Little Ideal,' I said, using the diminutive, 'why did you never marry?'
'Hah,' she punched my arm and squinted at me conspiratorially. 'I could have married. He was a policeman. Tall, in uniform he was so handsome. I really loved him. But, I was clever. I didn't just look at him. I looked at his mother. And when I realised that I would be her daughter-in-law in order to have him, I decided he wasn't for me. Because, you see, his mother used to drink. And, what would I do if I married him? I'd have to go and live with him and her. I didn't want to become some drunkard's caretaker just to have a bed with a man. So I stopped it and forgot about it. There was never anyone like him again.' She paused. 'I couldn't have got along with a man anyway. I've got too much of my own head in me.'
T'engtropp d'la coccia mia in me.
Little Ideal Wife shrugged and added, 'I'm happy like this, helping Flower and Manly with their family. I lack for nothing.'
Ne mi manc nient.
Then she said, quizzical, 'You know, Bittersea, no one's asked me that question in years. People do get over it.'
I couldn't work it out. A decision made because she was strong, not because she was afraid. She just chose otherwise, even when over the years all the widowers and such would ask her to marry them, she just said no. She had the chances, she said, but didn't want to be a servant to strangers, people who were not of her blood.
It was ok to be of service to those of your own blood, because that was what the family did. An Ideal Wife, to the whole family.
I thought of you, Beloved, when I spoke to her. And I thought, you love him, don't you? Your strange, blue-eyed boy. But you're no one's servant, no one's family, definitely not his — but then, he never had a family either, from the sounds of it, not the way I know families should be.
So maybe I don't understand why you did it, why you went off and married him when you didn't want the family, or his family, didn't even want anyone in this family to know. Why I keep feeling like you've robbed me of something by marrying him — not that there's anything wrong with him, but for a stranger, you couldn't have picked a stranger one. I'm afraid of his family, and I'm afraid of your future, and I'm just plain afraid of why you even had to pick a man, if you were going to be so strong and alone anyway, that you picked a man who hardly makes you want to change.
But I just thought you should know, I'll get over it, probably.
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