A secretary, Dee kept a man’s paperwork and secrets, and she kept her own. When her mother started disintegrating, he gave her time off – whatever she needed, he said, with an insouciant wave of a hand more used to meeting the cheeks of her bottom than thin air.
Watching the woman who had brought her into being fading at an unhurried pace to nothing cracked Dee in two. She hated it, seeing that spirit drain away, and wished her mother was dying rather than hanging on. There was no-one other than Dee to fireman her where and when she needed to go; and if they weren’t quick enough, there was no-one other than Dee to mop up the mess. She sat with her mother night and day, thrown more and more upon the company of her thoughts. Dee saw that for the duration she too was reduced from what she had been before. She was carer now, rather than woman, and those many other human things she was, those many other human things she did, they had shrunk to seeming nothing. Nothing but now-and-again daydreams, imagining the hands and fingers of the man whose secrets and archives she kept, and the words he might speak in her ear as she bent over his mahogany desk with her skirt above her waist and her knickers around her thighs. – Her mother stirred, and Dee shook the ache and the sting away. She tried to think of what she was, without reference to another. With the hours by the bedside stretching, she began to write poems in her head, compact ones that she memorised at first, then set down in a notebook when they seemed done.
She was going through a season much as Rimbaud had. Some days she thought that she too had sat beauty on her knee, and found it bitter, just as the poète maudit had. But she was wiser than that urchin, her teeth had extended further than his ever did, and she knew that beauty was something to retain a grip on when it was offered to you. Much of the time she missed him, that secretive, insouciant boss of hers. She missed the freedoms he took with her. She rode it out, wrote it out too. The situation was one to test the fortitude of the strongest mind, which by her own admission, hers was not. Stubborn, yes, but strong, no.
Dee had never meant to become the person she was. Within a wide spectrum of society, of humanity, it is rare that a woman or a man does what are perceived as strange or bad things just because they can; or so she thought. She did not consider that she was a strange or bad person. Everything had an emotion behind it, and reasons which stretched way back into the past, determining the path of the future. She had had her boys so young, out of sync with her peers. She’d done too much – or not enough – much too young, and it was that contrast which shaped the subsequent twenty years. And now in turn that score of years was destined to shape the next.
As with most things needing Dee’s attention, she put her back into caring. But when there was time to gather her thoughts again without them being set against the creeping inertia of exhaustion, she found that there was no-one to care for her. Her sons were of course caught up in the dramas of their youth. There was a void where desire ought to be. She yearned to return to work; she knew that there she’d find her needs taken care of. But caring and working did not go hand in hand.
So she kept on keeping on. Words gave her a reason to; poems were concentrated drops of emotion, and in the mirror in the bathroom as she waited on her mother, she watched them pick paths from the ducts of her eyes down her cheeks.