In this chapter Des goes down into the city and then to the church for his Mother's funeral. He thinks about his Mother and the past.
Ever the banker, he loved nothing more than a dark suit, highly polished black shoes and a crisp, white shirt. All he needed to complete his ensemble on this, the day of his Mother's funeral, was a black silk tie. 'Natty,' he heard his Mother say. He sat down on the bed, as he had so often in the last few days that it felt as predictable as breakfast , and let the grief roll over him and through him. He had learned to be well prepared for the inevitable so he had a box of tissues (and a spare one) was at the ready. He leant forward, legs apart and let the tissue soak in the tears and snot as his mind tried to compute what his heart already knew - or was it the other way around?, -that his Mummy was dead. Never again would he see her smiling face, nor feel he love flow towards him. Never again would he see that very knowing reflection he caught of himself when she looked at him. God how he missed the way she saw him. It was as though she knew him altogether better than he knew himself. Was that possible? Was it possible that the knowing exterior view could make more sense of the complexity of a personality than the view looking out from the inside? What did it mean to be somebody's mother; to be a woman, for that matter?
These thoughts provided a very satisfactory diversion from the larger shit storm he expected this day to be. All the shaking of umbrellas, avoiding of puddles, coats and scarves on and off. He knew it would be like a pantomime, and if it was costume acting they wanted then it was costume acting they would get.
The first scene was in Fi's kitchen with the morning paper. Not so young man sits wearing a perfectly tailored suit. He is reading 'The Age.' In front of him is a cup of coffee. The house is quiet and the room needs an electric bulb to provide light since the morning is unwilling to supply it.
He puts down the paper, stands and leaves the room.
In the next moment Des is on the tram rattling towards the city. It is early and the morning rush has not begun. He looks like any office worker, albeit a successful one, on his way to work. The only thing missing is his briefcase. All he has is his coat, scarf, paperback, wallet (of course) and umbrella.
He left a note to Fi and Tom telling them he would be back before ten, the designated time for meeting. He figured this would give them a chance to get ready without having him around.
And he could see the city on a wet, winter morning! His heart lifted!
The little church on Toorak Road where his parents had married almost forty years earlier was packed. The first two pews on either side of the church were reserved for family but were almost empty. No one seemed to have the organisational nous to open up the seats. As it was Des felt like he had been quarantined and wanted to be among the crowd at back. Outside the rain fell and Des felt out of sorts. He found it all annoying and behind his annoyance was a mounting anger. He felt impotent and stripped bare. The whole thing seemed so ad hoc and thrown together and he wished his mother had left a plan for this service. He sat next to K. who looked delicious in her black dress and coat. Coll looked despondent, Fi smiled across at him, Tom stared ahead and Jack comforted Dad.
Des turned and looked at the crowd. Who were all these people? In what way had his Mother touched these peoples' lives? His Mum. She had had many lives. As a young model in Melbourne in the 1950's and working at the magazine. The time in Europe. Then deciding on Dad after gamely playing the field. Of course he couldn't see this woman in any other way than as his young Mother. The earliest memories looking up from his pram at her beautiful open face, a young woman in her mid twenties. He thought of how she must have been learning as he was learning. That he was her teacher, that this was a two way street and she was an open and willing student.
His Father had his head in his hands. Here in the church where they were married all those years ago, he was now saying goodbye. Passed in a blink. Des was relieved when they all stood and sang. He found it energising and enlivening and his annoyance dissipated, flew up and away, replaced by joy. Mum would have wanted this. She never looked back. She pushed on and out and was always getting ready for the next party, organising the next dress, making plans, talking about now. he past can eat you up and leave you with nothing for now. The past was like a jilted lover who won't let go, demanding recompense for natural failings. The past was too big to wrestle with, could steamroll or overwhelm; could eat the present. Let the present eat the past and past eat the future. Let the present rise up like the Ellfin Queen and let all the faeries, and imps, and little people dance in the dell and glen and in the fading light let it be said, 'Now is all we have! Now! Now!'
Well, right now Fi was reading about love and Des could hear people blowing their noses and the rain kept falling and the past was really nowhere to be seen, or at least in this moment it had been seamlessly compressed into the present, so it was one. And his Mother was there, as real as the soles of his shoes, and she turns from the kitchen sink and smiles at him and he walks towards her and she hugs him and they share that moment, that fragrant love-filled moment as the golden afternoon come in through the window of the old farmhouse kitchen.
Far from eating the present, the past was there all the time and buttressed the present. This moment now was made bearable and unbearable by the rich completeness of his memories of his charming, beautiful, funny, lovely, glamorous, practical, down to earth, ever,ever always with him in his heart Mother.
Clinton De Vere