Exorcism - PENNY  JORDAN

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      Penny Jordan


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      IT had been a perfect spring, the bright, rain-washed April days giving way to a totally unexpected lazy May heat that made the Dorset hedgerows bloom, and old Harry Carver, who came twice a month to do their garden, proclaim pessimistically that nothing good would come of it, but now May was sliding languorously into June with no sign of a break in the weather. Christy was lying on her back in the small orchard, squinting at the sky occasionally and wondering if she dare be lazy for another half an hour or whether she ought to return to the house and do some work. That was one of the pleasant aspects of working for one’s mother, and having endured the rigours of a nine-to-five routine in the early days when she had just left secretarial school, Christy appreciated her present freedom all the more.

      Not that her job was in any way a sinecure. Working for a compulsive writer brought its own share of crises. Her mother loathed using a dictaphone and had a habit of scribbling down her thoughts in the most unlikely places on the smallest scraps of paper she could find, and then there was always the inevitable panic when one of these ‘treasures’ couldn’t be found.

      Not many young women of twenty-four would want to work for their mothers, especially not such a successful mother as hers, Christy acknowledged, but then the images the words ‘successful’ in conjunction with the word ‘woman’ conjured up were so totally at variance with her petite, vague, sometimes infuriating, often enchanting mother.

      Christy had lost count of the number of people over the years who had been lulled into a false sense of security by her mother’s apparent vagueness. As a young widow with a small baby to rear and no visible means of support, other than a small pension from the Armed Services, she had somehow managed to withstand the strong pressure brought to bear by both her own and her husband’s parents that she make her home with them. At twenty she was young enough to marry again they had both told her, and it was foolish to burden herself with the responsibility of a small baby when both sets of parents were willing to take over for her. Somehow she had withstood that pressure … somehow she had carved a niche for herself in the jungle of the publishing world persevering with her children’s stories until she found a publisher willing to take them.

      Now, under her pen-name, she was famous, but Christy did not envy her that fame. Any artistic talents she had inherited from her mother found expression in the illustrations she did for her mother’s books. And not only her mother’s. Christy had a rare talent that other writers had seized on eagerly, and the royalty cheques she received for this work could have made her pleasantly independent of her mother had she had any desire to live alone.

      Perhaps she was unusual at twenty-four in still living at home. But when ‘home’ was a rambling Victorian vicarage with close on two acres of delightful garden, set in a small Dorset village complete with thatched cottages; a small village store and a local pub whose food drew visitors from miles around, it seemed hard to visualise any merit in moving. She and her mother got on well and were close without stifling one another. Georgina Lawrence had always had the knack of preserving her own privacy and it was a gift she had passed on to Christy. While it would have been a fallacy to say they were as close as sisters, they were, as well as mother and daughter, friends, with some interests they shared and some they did not. Her mother was wise, Christy acknowledged, in the way that people who had suffered great emotional pain often were. She was also capable of standing back from a situation and assessing it from the outside; although she had explained to Christy that both sets of parents had been bitterly opposed to her living alone when she was widowed, she had also gone on to say that their opposition was simply a sign of their caring. All in all her mother was a very remarkable woman, and yet Christy felt no envy of her. She herself was not professionally ambitious … perhaps that was what was wrong with her … her lack of ambition. Her mother had told her that she took after her father; the young army captain who had been killed in Northern Ireland by a bomb blast.

      Christy had once asked her mother why she had never married again. She knew it hadn’t been for lack of offers. Even now at forty-five her mother was an extremely attractive woman; small and slim with a thick head of naturally curly dark red hair and animated feminine features.

      ‘Perhaps because I’ve grown beyond it,’ she had responded openly. ‘I loved your father as one does at eighteen—blindly … passionately … our relationship was one of love formed between equals … both of us young and united against our parents. They thought we were too young to marry, and probably they were right. The danger of marrying young and then losing one’s partner is that one sees the deterioration of one’s peers’ marriages while one’s own remains perfect and inviolate. Who knows, had your father lived he might have become entrenched in the same male role I see so often in the husbands of my friends … he might not have wanted me to write … I’m a very selfish woman, Christy … women have to be selfish to do what they want because there are so many other pressures on them, both emotional and social. If I have not married again perhaps it is because I relish my right to make my own decisions, to do as I please. As a man’s lover I retain that right and he respects me for it, as his wife, a subtle re-arrangement of priorities takes place and most men, whether they are prepared to admit it or not, want their wives to conform to a certain image. Perhaps with your generation it will be different, I don’t know, but I should hate to commit myself to a relationship and then find it soured by habit and familiarity.’

      Christy had understood what her mother had meant. She had looked long and hard at the marriages of her mother’s friends, and realised why her mother might prefer a lover to a husband. And undoubtedly there must have been lovers, although her mother had always been discreet. There had been no procession of ‘uncles’ through Christy’s life, and although her mother had been a loving, caring parent, she had also instilled in Christy an independence which she herself shared; a subtle reminder that both of them had rights as individuals which they must respect in themselves as well as in one another.


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