This story from the Meanjin archives was first published in 1974.
— I have taken a lover, said Miss Kerr. Six-foot-three and the biceps of a bull.
— Oh Aunt Mary, cried Eleanor, how could you!
— I am of an age.
— But how crude, how off-handed. Oh Aunt Mary.
— It is timely, said Miss Kerr. I have been an aunt too long.
— But he sounds so distasteful! Aunt Mary, you would not be suited.
— I find him exotic. I am but a crushed flower before him. Thursdays and Saturdays he calls. From tea-time on I shall not be at home.
— Oh Aunt Mary, it isn’t becoming. You have nothing to gain. But you know I shall not tell Mother, she said.
Miss Kerr did a charleston on the parquet floor. She slipped the pins from her bun and tossed out her auburn hair. I am wild, I carouse at my tea-time. I have taken a lover, she cried. Twice weekly he’s coming to see me.
Miss Kerr had a Sydney silky.
— Tod, she cried, not here!
No, not fastidious. You could not call her fastidious. There are places and places, she claimed. Tod, she would say, shall we walk downstairs? Miss Kerr faced these things. Once you took on the dog it was a responsibility. She was only being sensible. But it meant a girl in a unit must be moderate. Nothing large or unwieldy. Though, she said, I have a taste for size. And you suffered in the restriction. The silky is less than affectionate. Little you could expect from it. Miss Kerr bit her lip. I shall seek for my consolation elsewhere.
— It happened in Istanbul. Yes, he was a native of the place. I remember his hand on the door of the car, irresolute, as I halted, confused at a corner. Once, twice, he made to open it, but each time looked back at me. Looked full at me straightened himself, and came over. Oh, he was a gentleman, an aristocrat, some kin, I believe, to Ataturk. He had means… He made me an invitation. It was very flattering—and what they call honourable. He insisted that I take my time think it over. But I refused, I said no, I said it was not possible. He knew nothing of me but my appearance; blue eyes are rare in that part of the world. He was carried away. There was no future in it. I was only passing through. I told him so. I said, we must face the realities. Mere chance must not blind us. We prayed together in Hagia Sophia. I remember his knuckles against his fine grey temples, the rings raising weals on his cheek. We walked out into the sunshine, he kissed my hand and we parted. Next morning my plane flew out.
— It is very romantic, Aunt Mary.
— It is a tender memory. There has been no communication since. He was a wealthy man, and he offered to follow me, meet me wherever I chose. But I left him no address, told him none of my plans. Yet I have cherished the incident. I have no regrets. The decision was the right one. We were sensible, and now it is a perfect memory. I have lived at least once, you see, and I shall do so again.
— But it is not the same, Aunt Mary. Your new friend has nothing.
— He is young, said Miss Kerr. I am less so.
— I am unsure of his tastes. What impression should I give him do you think? Should I leave my Victoria Holts there? They may disconcert him. His expectations may be different. I shall remove them, initially. It is perfectly honest. In the beginning we are always selective. He shall know in time. He must. Such books are another part of me. I am not ashamed … I shall leave The Weekly. It is endemic. He would not give it a second glance.
Miss Kerr spun on her toe and opened and closed her out-stretched hand.
— Tod, she said, we must both put our right foot forward. You have it in you, you know. If you wish. Tod, you are comely and very distingue.
Miss Kerr bowed and laughed as she draped behind her ear a loose wisp of hair.
— But I shall not be content with just you, she warned.
— Knowledge will not come readily. It is not a thing of the flesh, nor does it come through the flesh. I have heard much nonsense on that score. Only dimly does the flesh reflect true knowledge. We shall bend together toward the reality, said Miss Kerr, nakedness and penetration. I have high hopes. Though I am not an easy person to know. Nor he, I believe. I watched him, standing by the lady he accompanied, his index finger dipping in the turn-up of her hair, pleasing her as she talked, but his eyes travelling out across her shoulder, not bored, not seeking elsewhere, but saying firmly: You have little hold of me, I am afar off.
— Not at all, said Miss Kerr. He has but lengthened my longing. I am a young girl again. You know I always sleep well, but now I awake in the nights, suddenly conscious of him, already excited, knowing that I shall see him. I tum over and my heart turns with me.
— He should have come, Aunt Mary.
— Everything was in order, he acted quite normally. He telephoned-in good time. Besides, the arrangement was loose.
— Do not get hurt, Aunt Mary.
— We had only exchanged a few words. I left quite early. He was elsewhere at the time but stepped over. Quite hurriedly.
— I should like to call on you, he said.
— Do, I said. Thursday, or Saturday.
— Thursday and Saturday. He laughed. He is very gay.
— Yes, said Miss Kerr, he has been. It was not a success.
— Aunt Mary, cried Eleanor, it should have been perfect. What have you done?
— I am unsure, my pet. We talked of the view, and the books on my shelves. I poured small drinks. He noticed and spoke of my gardenias. They are special to him. We played Scarlatti sonatas, and exchanged views at some length on our ambitions, our beliefs, our feelings about love. He told me what he desired most in a woman. That they should be stimulating yet warm, the mind and the womb cohabiting. I said I agreed, spoke of aiming to that myself. He smiled. I believe I returned it. He took my hand and I covered them both with mine. He bent to my neck, a strong man, solid and sinewy. He grew rough. I expostulated. There was a scene. Oh Eleanor, there was no alternative. How could I? He left.
— Is there no hope?
— It is over. I have failed him.
— Oh Aunt Mary, what shall you do?
— Little enough. Pin up my hair, and return to the duties of my state. I shall not suffer from it. Do you think I have?
— You are lovely, Aunt Mary.
— Then that is enough.
— The valiant woman, smiled Eleanor.
— Yes, she said, I shall laugh in the latter day.
Meanjin Volume 33 Issue 2 1974
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