Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Good Housekeeping

They say everybody has at least one book inside them.

And mine is gestating. Continously. As we speak. Ongoing, but not outgoing. For it is my personal journal.

When I was Confirmed, a wizened aunt gave me a beautiful calfskin covered notebook. I was in the dark as to her predetermination; whether I was supposed to relive and relish my secular sins, or solemnly to contemplate and renounce them like an account-keeping Protestant (ie, we don’t service wash our dirty laundry like the taigs). Which was it to be, God and ink, or nod and a wink, for squirreling away girlish secrets ? She had given me no guidance, just this richly aromatic leather-bound book, between wax-paper protective covers. In a world of wood-chip, formica and crimplene, this indubitably was an object of pulchritude. Not one I could gaze upon and be enchanted in any ornamental way, but one I could appreciate for its exquisite elegance all the same. So I never dared remove it from its waxy sheath. Its fresh, otherworldly waft, never stopped calling me every time I opened the drawer in which it was cradled. But it was far too sublime to stain with any of my inky swell. Until I fell pregnant.

Not that I conceived of it as a personal record of joy, either for me or for my issue to come. There is precious little to savour in here. (Good gracious no, neither she nor I must ever be allowed to read back on it). For any such brooding sentimentalists, there are baby books which require far less exertion. Though after a while, even this was ultimately too much for my husband, for all the alacrity he evinced on being bequeathed one from his mother. A trip to the Town Hall to register Suzanne’s name, left him too emotionally played out to lovingly duplicate the details on Page One of our own private muster. All that marks her entry in the world of the book, into the World, is her pointillist attribution through Ultrasound. Like an unfinished jotting. A sketch. That would be about right then, where he is (un-) concerned

Who am I to talk ? For I’ve just owned that my journal is hardly intimately shipshape, nor fondly Bristol fashion either. Due, in the main, to it arising out of a poser of post-natal, deep-impression. The mound of flesh that was me, sinking submerged into every reclining chair fabric we were possessed of. Mushily up hard, against the low mental activity that was silting up my champing mind, during the vacant-stared chores of nursing. There were only so many nano-seconds available in the day. Pelvic floor exercises, or turning my hand to re-engage the cogs of the gray matter ? A no-brainer in the parlance. Yes, why not ? Let’s properly record this new ordering of the cosmos. Of my corner of it at least. And so I finally took up the hallowed journal. An inhalation of the leather deep into my lungs. She still smelled divine. (Banish the faint ichorous fume, still attending to each recall of inaugural contact with my firstborn). A fresh start for all of us, anointed in the blood of slaughtered infant innocent (er of the donor calf that is, not my daughter).

But what to write ? Write wrongs, gibberish, write anything. Any manipulation would serve as physiotherapy for a debilitated mind. Any verbiage can be sown in the hope of bringing forth life in a desert, should life-affirming waters chance percolate and yield them nourishment. But I needed more than chance. I needed to assert sureity. I may not presently have much sense of myself, nor an outline of my pneumatic form, but if it has palpable solidity, there in my journal, I must bear some tangible existence. I needed to begin with some brass rubbing over the crypt in which my gist had been consigned. I’d start with shadings. Sketches. Impressions. Steer clear of fully-formed words at this stage. Just something to get my fingers cupping a pen. To get some feeling back.

* * *

And right at this moment, it might actually come in rather handy. I do not hold it up in competition with all those published manuals I mentally shredded. But as I flick through its leaves, it might refresh my memory as to certain timings. Like a baby cook book.

Not that I am particularly concerned, as to whether Amy is early or late with regard to some key developmental stage. Not being one of those mothers who marked each of Suzanne’s achievements, by dashing to the phone to elicit intelligence, as to the present disposition of her nearest rivals. Due, in the main, to neither Suzanne, nor myself, having any peers with whom we rubbed up against socially. Suzanne, is in my eyes and will forever be, peerless. (Just so long as it is only I, who remains friendless).

No, this is with reference more, as to how long I have to endure the current, particularly doleful cycle. Teething (grit I, through unflossed and nightly ground gnashers). This one is for me. As I lie back in a warm bath. My first protracted soak since being wreathed in sweat with Amy’s birth. I’ve brokered a watching brief from the troubles (small ‘t’), primed to respond to any baby monitor incursions (murphy’s law they’ll both sleep through blissfully this evening). Actually, the negotiations were instigated by him, having remarked that I was beginning to reek. In an environmentally-redolent sort of way, rather than his nose being helplessly led by some favourably sour hormonal hook. How did things get to such a pass ? Now would be a good time to review. I don’t intend to leave this tub, until the immersion tank can no longer revive the water that bestows on me it’s sheen of mock sultriness. By the cold light of day, I want to have been rebaptised into life.

So here I am, casting back for jottings with which I might divine the immediate future. But my testimonial falls way short. What was I so busy doing when I had Suzanne ? What was I thinking ? I can hardly upbraid all the textbooks now, if I couldn’t even keep my own record up to scratch. I place the journal on the lip of the sink. So now I’m thrown back on trusting my own sense impressions, an altogether different reading proficiency. For Amy’s composition is unmediated and rudimentary.

Close my - well yes, why not begin with her eyes ? That’s pretty elementary. For the eyes have it. Well, we’ve already forded the blank milky blue mists therein. And now, as the recondite cones and rods gradually cohere, I can see the pixilated pixie of myself captured in her iris. (And presumably in return, my eyeballs are tattooed with her indelible image). For this is how we must both entreat the world for the foreseeable future. Through the eyes of one another. Myself, staring back at me. Shrunken and minute. Now I feel wholly contained. Like a matrioshka, the eye of the pinprick doll reflected before me, itself accomodates another pair of yet smaller likenesses. These in turn yield further refraction upon refraction. And so on until infinity and negation. I contain her until she releases me from within her inner core. When I am left glassy eyed. Spare the rod and spoil the child indeed.

And smell. So primary a sense, even that of the troubles (small ‘t’) persists in full working order. Apparently. Amy issued into the world almost totally inodorous. Yet the world’s scents have already begun to permeate her. Absorbing my maternal infusions, her internal still regurgitates them as ubiquitous baby smells, such as milk and sick. Neither her hair nor her pee have much of a discernable whiff. She, no doubt, would be able to sniff my milch cow out in a dark room, but I’m not sure I could reciprocate and locate her uniquely as my heifer. But soon she will be responsible for imprinting her own olefactory wake. She will go airborne and assail the world, parachuting in her spoors of being, existence and occupation. Later yet, a blended admixture personal to her. The scented carbolics with which she unblocks her pores and which, in turn, quarry their seal on her. Her brand musk of choice. Perhaps the insinuation of cigarettes, a tincture of hair lacquer, a sprinkling of fried food, or any of the plethora of human bouquets with which she will choose to shower herself. And the ones she’s not in control of, yet is inevitably responsible to; the spray of pheremones, Nature’s genetic spaying if you’re not careful. And I should know. Hmm, this soothe-saying’s going terribly well don’t you think ?

Touching. Whenever she’s cupped in my arm, Amy sports her feelings on my sleeve. Tears or vomit leave their frank impress. If teething she gnaws. If blissful, she wrinkles. The crook of my arm contains the whole of her heartfelt range of expression. Forever questing after moulding herself into me, as if seeking perfect fleshy union. Yet her emotions remain untrammelled. Sheathing her like an exoskeleton.

Nevertheless, from the canon of Suzanne, I know what lies ahead. The die is cast and stamped. Stuttering remouldings, a succession of anchored push-offs, before shucking me like a peach stone as she derives a new level of emotional assertiveness. But the autonomy has shaky legs and so the process of puckering up to Mum, necessarily starts all over again. I am drafted in to drape copiously around her bruisable self, while from within she confronts the world with its brickbats and burrs. She reclaims my pliant carapace of love, as maternal obligation prohibits me from armouring myself. Yet I can feel the pressure building up inwardly. Since I know full well, as each occasion arises, she will wrench away this intimacy. As she effortlessly moults me, my bones are left broken, bloody and dessicated. A push-me, pull-you continuum, until she can fully unfurl her wings and fly the nest. By then, her emotions would have calcified into the hermetic, impenetrable crannies and crevices of her inner skeleton, while mine will simply have been scooped out, leaving me a fleshless husk. A dusty fossil. For that’s what maternal love can do to you.

Suzanne is four years old. I’ve known her all my life.

I pull the plug out, but still recline. The lukewarm water gently slaps and slurps around my flesh archipelago as it forges on towards the gurgling vortex, without so much as an excuse me. Where it squeezes past, where it sucks me down into the enamel, I welcome the meagre embrace. But the contact soon drains away and I am left shored against an unforgiving coldness.

I have forbidden myself exactly this kind of speculation in my journal. I am just to let them grow and merely monitor the process. Why ? Do I strive to preserve their childhood, to pickle it in aspic, so enabling me to let them roam free in real life? Then why am I left beached here so high and dry ? What started as an exercise, now leaves me aerobically in debt. Who will sanction me to be free ? How the hell have I permitted all this to happen ?

I rose from the empty bath and wrapped myself in my towelling robe. It smelt slightly of mildew. I pulled the belt tight around my midriff, so that the flab spilled over it as the breath was pressed from my abdomen. I knew now why my husband collected minature ships in their airless bottles. Those were the dimensions of his window out to the world. Mine occupied the surface area of a closed book and the aperture of an open teat. Though I am not enchained to respond to my taskmaster on a daily basis, my overseer mocks me with the quotidian nature of my life therein. I cannot escape the consuetude, that which my journal returns me to constantly. The entire scope of my life tapering, as witnessed by my own testimony. Ostensibly, the journal is a riddle of my life, with no nuggets of self left behind, once the child-scourings have been sieved through. I should have drowned my journal at birth. Or at least let the ink run irreparably free, when there was still water in this bath. I used the sleeve of my robe to dab at the wet imprints of my fingers on the soft leather. (The wax protective sheets having long since been forsaken). But they appeared to be set permanent, now woven as part of the very grain. Like livid throttle marks. I escorted it out the bathroom with me. Could always resort to blubbering for smudging the ink. I’ve enough tears to blot each page.

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