Saturday, 28 November 2009

Day 28 9-noon

November 28, 2009
9 am - noon

Today I will write the conversation of the chain women ... and the lead-up to the funeral and the ending with Mark.  Maybe everyone involved will show up at this funeral ... Eva, Grandpa, my mother, my father, Wilhemina, Wilhemina's mother ... Velvet Touch ... my cousins Mary Jane and Sarah.

One of the problems with writing this quickly and not printing as you go along is that you forget events and names ... and leave all kinds of loose ends hanging ... especially if you are operating with an unoiled brain.  I really wish my daughter had not shared that particular piece of information.


Grandpa always liked being connected with women, but this particular connection did not make his life more pleasant.  In fact, it ended it.  It all began with Nana.

Nana had suckered Grandpa into marriage.  He'd been completely infatuated with her.  She was beautiful, smart and living in his parents' house.  It wasn't hard for Marie to ensnare a man who loved women, especially a man who was a few years her junior.  Grandpa thought he was a man of the world, but Nana revealed just how naiive and trusting he was ... two traits she did not share.  Once she'd had the baby (can't remember her name) and was certain that her future and that of the baby girl were assured, she wanted nothing more to do with Paul.

Paul, being who he was, was not devastated by the failure of the marriage.  Sex had ended almost as soon as conception occurred, and Marie's sweet temper disappeared at about the same time.  It did no good to complain to his mother or Eva.  They talked about hormonal swings and the difficulties of pregnancy.  So Paul, predictably, turned back to the piano girls.

His mother admonished him in dulcet tones, his step-father launched one strict, no-nonsense, pedantic tirade and then retired to his newspaper.  Marie seemed pleased by Paul's lack of attention, happy that he spent his nights elsewhere.

She had everything she wanted now ... an absentee husband ... a steady source of comfortable income ... a child who caused her no trouble at all after the delivery and the requisite (and very short) time spent nursing that her mother-in-law insisted on.  She lived in a beautiful home with her in-laws waited on by their servants.  But she was restless doing nothing and as soon as she could do so, she put her name back on the nursing registry.

She was soon staying for weeks at a time with elderly, infirm, rich patients who treated her far better than either she or they treated the household help.  She, after all, was the dispenser of pain killers, the provider of soothing baths and back rubs. And it was a lucrative trade.  The appreciative clients and their even more grateful families were very generous to this woman who took over the burden of an aging parent.

Everything would likely have continued to sail along in this manner, but 1929 happened.  These days rich men were jumping out of high rise windows, not buying furs for their wives and mistresses The business did not go under completely but its revenues decreased.  Two of the German house maids were sent back home, and the household budget was reined in.  Paul, however, continued to be as profligate in his spending habits as ever.  His mother wired home to Germany to the aristocrat who'd paid a great deal already to bury his sin in the New World, and was told this would be the last packet possible.  She put the money away in a separate bank account for the baby's future, and didn't tell anyone about it.

Marie watched in dismay as her golden goose grew thinner, and began to drop its feathers.  Her own calls were dropping off too as daughters and daughters-in-law were dragged in, not without complaint, to empty the bedpans of their family members. The rise in accidental deaths due to drug overdoses was explained by the fact that qualified nurses were no longer looking after these rich old people.

When Marie confronted her mother-in-law about Paul's spending she was hushed.

 "You've spoiled him all his life.  Can't you see that?" she accused the old woman. 

"He's all I have," she replied. 

"What about the baby?"  Marie countered.

"The baby will always be looked after.  I love her as much as I love Paul."

Marie realized there was no getting through to the old woman so she began to plan the only possible way to stop Paul from spending what was left.

She went back to the Anglican Home for Unwed Mothers.  Oh, no, not because she wanted a job there, and certainly not because she needed their services herself.  No, she went back to talk to Eva.

Why Eva, I am sure you are wondering.  Eva was Paul's friend, but even Eva would not have been able to curb his spending.  It was as ingrained as the shape of his hands with their long piano playing fingers, the same fingers that dispensed dollar bills so freely.

Marie was too clever to ask outright for the name of someone she could co-opt into helping her, but she managed to convince Eva that she wanted to take on a little sister.  She wanted to sponsor one of her unwed mothers.  "I'll take her out and give her nursing care and advice," Marie said.  "And I'll help her outfit the new baby."

"That would be wonderful of you, Marie.  But are you sure you can afford such generosity?"

"I've got a new job and I only work for pin money, anyway.  I have more than I can possibly spend on myself."

If Eva was at all surprised by this sudden burst of generosity or if she had any suspicions about ulterior motives, she must have subdued them.  Perhaps once again, her scruples were overridden by her concern for the women she was sheltering.  Or perhaps she really believed that Marie had turned over a new leaf.

She did ask, though, and accepted Marie's explanation that having her own baby had made her realize how difficult it would be for one of these poor street girls to manage alone.

"Times are tough," she said in conclusion.

Eva introduced Marie and Magda a few days later.  They formed a firm friendship almost immediately.  Magda had immigrated to Canada just a few months before and had not established any real network of support.  The boy had fled when he learned that she was pregnant.  A familiar story.  Especially to Marie who remembered her first pregnancy very well.

The story Marie told Magda about her marriage to Paul would have been unrecognizable to anyone who knew the truth, but Magda took it all in and kept it close to her heart for a very long time.  She loved Marie, not only because Marie gave her money every week and  produced boxes and boxes of beautiful clothing from her own daughter's layette, now long outgrown and lovingly packed away by her mother-in-law.  Hand embroidered night gowns of the finest lawn, tiny hand knit sweaters, bonnets and booties.  Soakers that had been knit and felted by her grandmother.  Lacy shawls and blankets of the softest possible lambs wool. And since the little girl was no longer a baby, the gift packages included clothing that would see the unborn baby through to school age.  All of the material things were wonderful, but magda grew to really love Marie.  She loved her because she understood what it was to be deceived, to be left alone.

She listened as Marie told of the heartless rich man who had tricked her, impregnated her, and then stolen her baby giving it to his mother who had always wanted a baby girl.  She was horrified by the callousness of Paul's behaviour toward her friend.  "He beat me," Marie sobbed.  "I had to get away."  Magda patted her hand and clucked sympathetically.  

"And he ran around almost from the moment I told him I was expecting his child."

"Oh, no," murmured Magda.  That seemed almost as bad as being struck by the man you loved.

"And they were women with diseases," Marie had gone on ... "women he met in bars."

Magda didn't question anything Marie told her.  After all, she too had been abandoned by the man she loved.  And Magda lived in a place where she'd heard this same tale repeated many times over.  Every girl in the home had been screwed by a man ... literally and figuratively.

Marie had been lucky she had a mother-in-law who wanted her new baby, thought Magda. as they exchanged their stories.

One day, Marie, said, "I'm not a vindictive woman really, but I wish there were some way to teach Paul and these other men a lesson they'd never forget.  That was the only time Marie ever mentioned anything to Magda about hurting Paul in any way.

Shortly after Magda's baby was born she and one of the other girls were nursing their babies in the sunroom.  "What a beautiful nightie," said the other woman.  "Where in hell did you get that?  Did you steal it?"

Magda laughed and told Janice about her benefactor.  Over time Janice learned more and more of Marie's story from Magda.  "What was this scoundrel's name?" she asked one day. 

"Paul," replied Magda.

"Jesus, Paul Donat.  I bet anything that was him.  Was he German?"

"I think so," said Magda.  "But please don't tell anyone about this.  Marie told me about it in confidence."

"I know Paul," said Janice.  "I dated him for a few months probably about the same time as Marie was having a tough time with him."

"What was he like to you?"

"A prick is always a prick," said Janice.  She went on to tell Magda the story about the piano.  "He didn't even say good bye, the louse.  I thought he was out of town for a few weeks, then one day these two guys showed up at my door and took the piano away.  I'd sure like to get him back for doing that to me."

"Marie said he did that to all the girls.  He liked to play the piano at their flats.  Marie was glad he didn't end up spending every cent of his mother's money on pianos."

"Yeah, well she didn't lose her piano, did she?  That was the most valuable thing I owned."

Magda thought for a moment and then said, "No ... but she had her baby taken away from her."

"Jeez," said Janice.  "That's worse."

"Way worse," said Magda and held her own daughter closer.

And, as happens with stories like this, Janice brooded about the injustices done to all the women Paul dropped by the wayside, forgot her promise to Magda,  and passed the story on when she was talking to another woman who'd also been hard done by, another woman dropped by Paul when it stopped being fun.

She was a rough woman whom time had battered pretty badly.  Paul was just one of a whole series of men who'd treated her badly.  Her name was Helen and she was down on her luck and living on the street when Janice saw her.  Janice was walking the baby when a woman's voice reached her.  "Janice.  Don't you remember me?  The Cleopatra?"

Janice stopped and peered into the shadows of the doorway.  An ancient hag was huddled under a grey blanket.  She struggled to her feet and extended a yellowed claw toward the baby.  Janice leapt back snatching the baby away from the woman's touch.

"Leave her alone.  I don't know you." she cried.

"It's Helen.  We danced together.  Don't you remember?"

Janice stared in disbelief.  The woman was toothless and filthy.  "What in hell happened to you.  You're the same age as I am and you used to be beautiful."

"Life happened," said Helen.  "Buy me a beer and I'll tell you all about it.

By the end of the afternoon, the two  had traded stories, all of them marked by the treachery of men, and both women were drunk and angry.  The baby slept peacefully on the wooden bench between Janice and the beer stained wall of the tavern.  The bartender came over and noticed the baby for the first time.  "Hey, get that kid outta here before I lose my licence."

"Yeah, yeah," said Janice.  "We're goin'.  Don't get your balls in an uproar."

"I can't take you home with me, Helen, "Janice apologized.  I'm still staying at Eva's and she only lets the residents sleep over.  You know, the women and their babies."

"I know," said Helen.  "It's okay.  And thanks for the beer.  Maybe I can do you a favour some time."

Janice never knew that Helen would be true to her word, that she knew a street person who was no longer quite sane.  A woman who like Helen had been beaten by a man.  That woman had suffered head injuries and a hatred so black and virulent that she wanted to commit murder.  The man who'd done it to her was not available to be her victim, but that didn't really matter to her.  She hated all men equally.

This was the woman who murdered Paul.

But Paul was really murdered by six women.  Perhaps seven if you count his mother. Perhaps many more if you count all the women who brought boys up to be uncaring bastards and all the women who had been victimized by them. 

And poor old Paul kept on trying to make things right ... he really didn't deserve to be the scapegoat for all those other guys.

"No, I didn't," said Grandpa.  "But I sure am glad I know the story.  Maybe now I can rest in peace."

"And maybe I can too," I said with a wry grin.  "Although I have to say I'll mis you."

As Grandpa disappeared, Eva reappeared.  "How did you know that story?" I asked. 

"Girls talk," said Eva.  "Unfortunately they didn't talk to me in time to save Paul's life."

"Maybe Grandpa was meant to die young," I said.  "I'm beginning to think longevity isn't all it's cracked up to be."

Eva smiled.  "You've got a few good years left," she said.  "Just give Mark a chance, and he'll prove it to you."

"You really do like that man, don't you?" I said.  "But then, you really liked Grandpa too and he wasn't such a good catch."

Eva smiled and then she was gone.

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