First, in my spare room, I swiveled the bed on to a
north-south axis. Isn't that supposed to align the sleeper with the planet's
positive energy flow, or something? She would think so. I made it up nicely with
a fresh fitted sheet, the pale pink one, since she had a famous feel for color,
and pink is flattering even to skin that has turned yellowish.
Would she like a flat pillow or a bulky one? Was she allergic
to feathers, or even, as a vegetarian, opposed to their use? I would offer
choice. I rounded up all the extra pillows in the house, slid each one into a
crisply ironed slip, and plumped them in a row across the head of the bed.
I pulled up the wooden venetian and threw open the window.
Air drifted in, smelling leafy, though you couldn't see a leaf unless you forced
open the wire screen and leaned right out. She had been staying for months with
her niece Iris, on the eighth floor of an art deco apartment block in Elizabeth
Bay whose windows, I imagined, pointed due north over a canopy of massive Sydney
figs, towards the blue field of the harbour.
The immediate view from my spare room, until I could get some
geraniums happening in a window box, was of the old grey paling fence that
separated my place from my daughter, Eva's. The sash window faced east, though,
and the light bouncing off the weatherboard side of Eva's house kept the room
bright till well into the afternoon. Also, it was late October, which in
Melbourne is supposed to be spring.
I was worrying about her feet. The floor of her room was bare
timber, except for a worn kilim full of rips. What if she snagged one of her
long, elegant toes in it? What if she fell? Slippers were among the things she
didn't bother with, along with suitcases, bras, deodorants, irons. I rolled up
the dangerous kilim and threw it into the back shed. Then I drove over to a shop
opposite Piedimonte's supermarket, where my friend Peggy, who knows about these
things, said they sold tribal rugs. Straight away I spotted a pretty one:
blossoms of watery green and salmon twining on a mushroom ground. The bloke told
me it was Iranian, vegetable dyed. I chose it because it was faded. She would
hate me to buy anything specially; to make a fuss.
Would she want to look at herself? It was months since I had
last laid eyes on her: all I knew was from our emails. Every time the news
sounded bad under her chirpy chatter, I would suggest flying up to Sydney. But
she put me off. She was going out to dinner and couldn't change the date, or
there wouldn't be a bed for me, or she didn't want me to waste my money. She
might take it the wrong way if her room lacked a mirror. Behind the bookshelf in
my workroom I found one I'd bought in an Asian import shop at Barkly Square and
never used: a tall, narrow, unframed rectangle of glass, its back still equipped
top and bottom with strips of double-sided adhesive tape. I selected a discreet
spot for it, just inside the door of her room, and pressed it firmly against the
On the bedside table I fanned out some chord charts to have a
crack at on our ukuleles'Pretty Baby', 'Don't Fence Me In', 'King of the Road'.
I arranged the reading lamp on a gracious angle, and placed beside it a mug full
of nameless greenery that I'd found near the back shed. Then I went along the
corridor to my room at the front of the house and lay on the bed with my boots
on. It was four o'clock in the afternoon.
What woke me, ten minutes later, was a horrible two-stage
smash, so sickening, so total, that I thought someone had thrown a brick through
the side window. I rushed out all trembly and ran along the hall. Nothing moved.
The house was quiet. I must have dreamt it. But the edge of the old hall runner,
halfway to the kitchen, was weirdly sparkling. I stepped over it and into the
spare room. The mirror no longer existed. The wall was bare, and the Iranian rug
was thick with the glitter of broken glass.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...