Monday, July 18, 2011
The Smell of Fire - Part Four
See Part One HERE
See Part Two HERE
See Part Three HERE
I phoned her. Of course I did. I said I had to see her again, talk to her, listen to her. Without Ian - that was implied in my pathetic slightly desperate phone-call. I'd never done anything like this in my life.
What in God's green earth, I questioned myself. This is bizarre. This is lunacy. I told no one.
I did run it around my mouth for a while, the story I would tell a friend about Martha Carbery and her son Ian. I practised, complete with careless little giggles. “Oh, when I was over at Martha's there, Martha Carbery? Having tea, looking at her latest works......” I confirmed to myself it all sounded far too weird, far too off the edge. I, normally so talky I would attract attention if I muted up, avoided my friends.
A week later, I was back in her studio, dressed in jeans and a new silk shirt, denim blue to bring out my eyes which I had been told were quite a lovely shade if offered some encouragement. Silver earrings in old Celtic symbols (Newgrange circle) dug out from the bottom of the wooden cigar box I kept such stuff in and my hair bound up in a silver barrette to one side of my face. One of my aunts, the fanciful dreamy one, told me once I put her in mind of Veronica Lake of the forties films, and when I was feeling especially in need of getting attention I would do this sideways thing with my hair as Veronica had done. It is hard sometimes to call out the line between the ridiculous and the attractive. But I took my chances.
I got a brisk nod from Martha when she evaluated me and quickly went off in search of her cameras. When she returned, only an ephemeral trace of the woman that I had seen the previous week remained. As if she had tossed aside the script of the deferential persona that hovered around her son. Here was a woman of certainty and electricity.
She put me sitting on her kitchen table. Leaning back on my hands which gripped the edges vice-like. I was terrified of slipping backwards, splaying clumsily across its insetted colourful Spanish tiles. You see, I wasn't blessed with the grace of a gazelle and often laughed at myself, singing “Poetry in Motion” when I tumbled to the floor whilst attempting a new dance manoeuvre.
She took a series of shots, me pensive, sitting looking out from the well of one of the high windows, me, leaning against a whitewashed brick wall, hands in pockets of jeans smiling at her, so easy to do, she was so lovely on the eye.
Afterwards, when she talked to me, I felt as open as I ever felt with anyone in my life before.
I like you very much so I'll tell you, she said, though I've never told Ian and never will and you mustn't. Do I have your word?
I was a little under-maid, the upstairs maid, in the palace, she said. Do you know the palace in Forest Dale?
Who doesn't, I said, it's where the princes of the churches live, right?
Yes, she said, I was fresh over on the boat from Ireland, my mother had died leaving eight of us. Daddy put most of them into care but I was old enough at seventeen to be put off his hands so he talked to the parish priest who arranged for the trip to Toronto and good training in the palace with the fare being paid off out of my wages.
My job was to lay out the archbishop's clothes every morning and every evening, wash them, iron them, keep them repaired, starch his shirts and his hankies, run his bath, make his bed, change, wash, iron and repair the bed linens and those of his clerical friends who would come and visit and stay for a while. Going from dawn to dusk I was, with never a stop and only the half-day of Wednesday to myself and very little money until the fare was paid off.
It started not too long after I arrived.
Here she paused and gathered herself, straightening her shoulders, clearing her throat.
I've only talked of it very few times, Brigid. Some things are better off lying dead and buried.