The Antarctic Blast 24th June 2013
What a week of freezing storms it has been. What is the world coming to? Fires, Tornadoes, floods and in New Zealand, storms. The only people happy at the moment are the ski field operators on both islandsand the kids who have the opportunity to make snowmen. But for the rest, forget it. At least as I sit in Auckland with a blanket over my knees in front of a heater, I am grateful I have such comfort. It breaks my heart to think of those poor people in Christchurch who are still waiting for the pathetic, idiotic powers that be as they camp in the bitter cold. Believe me, Chch quite often has temperatures several degrees lower than Auckland.
ON such mornings, I make sure I give the wee birds their crust, crumbled up of course. Though I figure that up here there would still be plenty of bugs and seeds to see them through till spring. Which reminds me, I must clean out the nest in my patio to make space for a new one in spring. I hope it will be a fantail this time. Though I love all birds, the fantails and wax eyes are my favourites.
Over the weekend, I have been rehearsing with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra for our concert on the night of the 29th at the Telstra Event Center in Manukau, Auckland, in case any of you readers are Aucklanders.
On the programme is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Peter Sledge as soloist, An American in Paris, Elgar's Cockayne Overture also known as The London Overture, Britten's Matinee Musical and finally the sweet Greensleeves, an eternal favourite.It is a very full house already, we've been told.
On the writing front, I have finished CHINESE ODYSSEY: THE MING ADMIRAL which will be edited soon, and Chapter 14 of the sequel to MEMORIES IN THE BONE. This will be called CHINESE DIASPORA, A LIFE DIVIDED. Have also recorded up to 17 chapter for an audio book of MEMORIES IN THE BONE. which will be for the blind and elderly as well as libraries. Also last Tuesday, I spoke to a Chinese Immigrant Book Club at Glenfield Library. This is a wonderful way to encourage reading amongst new immigrants. It is the first book club I have come across where men outnumber women. Next week I shall be talking to the Parnell Library Book Club which is more upmarket, on July 4th, US Independance Day.
MEMORIES IN THE BONE is set in the Taiping Rebellion in China, in the same timeline as the US Civil War, but on a much greater scale with much worse results. The protagonist is smuggled out of Shanghai into the goldfields of Australia and finally comes to New Zealand, seeking peace, redemption while being dogged by the mysterious Scarface. It's a historical thriller. Ask for it in a library near you or get it at Amazon. It has been favourably reviewed in the US and given Editor's Choice by IUniverse, the publishers.
Now to continue with The Wedge. This is a short story made out of the final chapter of a novella which I hope to publish on Amazon soon.
If he knew he was ill, he never showed it, either to Mother or me. She was too busy to notice his usual thinness turn into gauntness and I was too self- absorbed, to notice it either. I was in my second semester as a freshman when she summoned me home - to find him in a deep, drug induced sleep at Qilu Hospital. Tubes had been inserted into his nose, his breathing noisy, laboured and raspy. An IV tube had been inserted into his right wrist. He was an awful pallor and looked close to death. My shock turned to anger. “Why wasn’t I told earlier?”
“He didn’t want you to worry,” she said in soft sombre tones. “The doctors say he hasn’t much time left, so I called you. He doesn’t know you are here.” She tried to hold my hand. I shook hers away. “I’m sorry, Francesca. I didn’t know he was so ill, did you?”
“No,” I replied, sick at heart. “I guess neither of us paid him much attention all these years.”
The cancer was in the lungs. He had been a heavy smoker all his life, at least as far back as I could remember and now he was paying the price for that habit. He died three weeks later, barely regaining consciousness. I sat by his bed for long hours talking softly to him, the only intimation I got that he heard what I was saying was a flickering under his eyelids or the corner of his lips quivering slightly upwards. A surprising number of people came to his funeral, more Mother’s friends than his; that I could recognise.
I agreed to stay on with Mother after the funeral but could not bear to be close to her somehow; even in death his presence came between us. I blamed her in part for his condition but mostly I blamed myself for not caring enough for him. Remorse spun its web over me. I could not help but replay our lives of the last fourteen years over and over again. My guilt, ferret-like, sought to torture the prey that was the uncaring, unloving daughter that I had become in the last few years. It caught me, shook me mercilessly till I could do nothing but cry for him and for our wasted years of hurt, loneliness and bewilderment.
I hid my pain from Mother and spent my few days at home tidying up his study. I folded away his cot and not knowing what to do with his books merely dusted them and put them in order. I threw out the remaining bottles of Moutai Jiu and the drinking glasses along with them. His ghost haunted every corner of the room; his smell pervaded its tininess. “Leave his personal things,” Mother said as I began going through his meagre wardrobe, “I shall sort them out by and by.” I left them.
On my final day I returned in the late evening to a dark house. Mother had said she would take me to her favourite restaurant as it was my last night with her; so, perplexed, I let myself in and turned on the lights. Not a sound came from anywhere in the house. Then I peeped into her bedroom. From the street light that came through the window, I saw Mother. It was a woman I had never been allowed to see before. She lay there, sprawled on the bed, an empty bottle of brandy on her dresser and a spilled snifter on the floor beside her. Around her was strewn the contents of a box: letters, photographs, little bits of memorabilia. As I moved closer it took one glance for me to see that they were the souvenirs of her past. After the initial shock I realised that at last I would find out the secret that had driven the wedge between us all!
I took a torch from the kitchen and sat beside the bed going through the contents as fast as I could, for fear of waking her up. I picked up several old photographs, in most of them a foreign man held centre stage. He was tall and handsome, fair haired and blue eyed though with a distant air in his bearing. He looked cool, aloof, as if his thoughts were elsewhere. Their body language shouted at me - she was eager and playing up to him, smiling up at him, clinging to him but he was withdrawing from her, trying to stand apart. I saw in those old photographs an impossible and unlikely relationship. They were worlds apart in character and in culture. Then there was one letter, worn from too many readings, torn into shreds and then pasted back on another sheet of paper, folded in an envelope with Italian stamps, addressed to her in a neat precise hand,. It was from him, the Italian, and it was non-committal and impersonal. She must have torn it up in anger and later had had a change of heart. I looked at the back of the envelope; there was his name and address. Francisco Petriolli. Francisco, Francesca! She had named me after him! Would Father have known that? Not before she went to Italy, maybe after. Then how did he feel about me after that? But would he have known at all? Would she have even mentioned him by name?
There were other photographs: - of her and Father in their early days together. Again the body language revealed their relationship: - he was eager in his youthful rapture, gazing at her with happiness and pride through his horn rimmed glasses. She was cool and self-contained; her body slightly withdrawn from his arm around her shoulders, comely in her newly acquired Western dresses. Then letters! Letters from her to me sent from Italy! Opened and read by Father himself; they had to be, who else, but not to me! I read them and slowly my anger towards her dissipated as I felt in them her love and her emptiness. She had enclosed photographs of herself; alone and some with friends. She had sent postcards all addressed to me, telling me how she was missing me, how much she loved me. She had written of an old friend who had died in a big earthquake not too far from her in a place called Umbria. How sad she was, how she had mourned for him. Him! The Italian.
I now looked at her as she lay in her brandy induced sleep, snoring slightly with her mouth open. Her skin was still beautiful, unlined, and her figure under her black woollen dress still held its youthful litheness. My mother, who, through chasing a dream of an impossible love, lost the true love and respect of a good and honourable man. I realised then how much she must have suffered all these years when she knew that in failing to get what she thought was a scintillating prize, she had lost the comfort of an enduring marriage; that she had driven a wedge between us all.
I let her sleep on. We never had that dinner and the next morning I took the first train back to Shanghai.