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By Ian Douglas Robertson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Ian Douglas Robertson
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Yes, I suppose in my twenties, it was all about my career, proving myself to myself, and to Dad, and fulfilling all those dreams Mum had forsaken for a flawed marriage. I saw having children as a chore I could put off ad infinitum, like changing the washer on a dripping tap. Then, as my thirties flew away, it began to bother me like a fly that won't go away. Only when I entered my fortieth year, did I become aware that my breeding years were nearly over. Suddenly, having a baby became an obsession that consumed me, body and soul.
After that, everything, including my career, faded into insignificance.
God knows, I tried to fight it. Yes, with logic, and Dina's inexorable 'sensibleness'. There were times when I really thought our combined forces could vanquish my implacable longing, especially when Dina brought in her leftwing feminist reserves, who despise the notion that a woman's raison d'être should be defined by her ability to produce babies.
It's true I was infatuated by a selfish whim. And there was a strong possibility I was suffering from the frustrated-middleclass-housewife syndrome. With my career in the doldrums, I had fallen back on childbearing to appease the frustration of professional stagnation. However, giving my condition a title didn't make it any easier to bear.
Perhaps Dina was right, perhaps my obsession did stem from something much deeper, something psychological, existential, even. Was I seeking distraction from the unresolved issues of my past? God knows, there were plenty of them. But tracking them down would have required months of groping in the penumbra of my half-forgotten and rejected life. Who knows what demons might have been roused from their benign slumber.
I had no illusions about the hardships involved in single parenthood. Life below the poverty line would have been an inevitable consequence, not to mention having to rely on friends to help me out with the baby. Yet, logic was no match for my body. So safe and so uninspiring, logic is a device we make use of in order to avoid taking action we instinctively know is right. Maybe I did need to see a shrink, to delve into my past and come face to face with my demons, but there was something dispiritingly negative in Dina's rationality, and her insistence on blaming our parents for everything. So, I rejected her steady voice for the croaking one in my head that kept telling me what I wanted to hear. Call it instinct, hormones, conditioned response - yes, I too had my dolls — the fear perhaps, nay, the panic, of failing to seize my last chance to produce life. Dina was right about one thing. I did want to be God, just once, before it was too late.
I changed. I became selfish, introspective and irritable, quite horrible, in fact, but somehow I didn't care. I behaved like a spoilt child who believes her wish should be everyone else's command. It says a lot for Dina that she stuck by me, pampering my every whim, while trying to make me see reason. But with every passing day, my genetic expiry date was coming closer and my obsession growing stronger. I was an aging chicken without a cock to fertilise my eggs. That, as you know only too well, was the root of all my troubles.
I know you've never seen eye to eye, Brendan, about Fo's baby. No, don't use your Irish Blarney on me. I know you felt I should have been more supportive. But it was easy for you sitting on the sidelines. You weren't going to be an Othermother, a Non-Biological Mum, or whatever they like to call it. Society doesn't even have a name for what I would become if she managed to produce a child. Yes, I was afraid. Afraid of it coming between us. Afraid of not loving it in the way Fo would. Perhaps deep down I wanted it to be my baby and not hers. Who knows? I don't really want to go into all that now. Why not? Work it out for yourself. What does it matter anyway? Just write another novel. What? You plan to make this into a novel? A work of faction? And we are your faction, I suppose.
Why do you want to write a book about Fo's baby? Well, be careful it doesn't turn into a soppy romantic piece. Lesbian sacrifices everything to satisfy her maternal instinct. What a load of crap! Yes, we all have it, I suppose, but it can be overcome, repressed, sublimated or just plain lived with. No, there are thousands of women who have never had children. It's nothing to do with instinct, anyway. Social convention has placed women in a mould. And we're conditioned to feel guilty if we don't settle into it. No, I wasn't able to convince Fo, but she can be amazingly stubborn, as you know.
If you want my side of the story, you'll have to put up with the way I tell it. Okay? Yes, you can record it if you want. At least, then you won't distort my words, as no doubt you'd love to do.
Where should I begin? In the Stone Age? All right. Well, here goes. My parents christened me Constantina, after my father's mother. It's a Greek tradition. Yes, well, you know that. But my grandmother was a witch. Every time she saw a child she would shake her hard knotty old stick in the air and scream abuse at them. Mother said she went mad after my grandfather died. But it upset me that we shared the same name, so I decided I'd change it as soon as something better turned up. I didn't have to wait long. When I went to school, everybody started calling me Dina and it stuck.
* * *
I got out of Greece as soon as I was allowed to have my own passport. I headed straight for London, the Capital of Freedom, where I could be myself at last.
I returned intermittently to reassure them I was still alive. Then, after 12 wonderful years discovering myself I came back to Greece for good. Why? As much as I wanted to disown my family, I couldn't. I felt I owed them. What? I don't know. The pressure was phenomenal, from my brother and sister in particular, who I found out afterwards were only carrying out Mother's orders. They were good children! And, of course, those heart-rending letters. Yes, you're no doubt surprised to hear I have a heart. 'We're worried about you. Why don't you visit us more often?' I hated the claustrophobia of the village, with its narrow streets and narrow minds. Sometimes I had the feeling that some disease had atrophied their minds. How I escaped the epidemic, I don't know? But there was always the danger that the virus was just dormant, waiting to infect me.
'You'll be the death of us. When are you going to get married and have a child? Your father and I are not going to live forever you know,' and all that crap. As the unmarried daughter in the family, I knew where my duty lay.
And that was the crux of it. All they wanted to do was get me wrapped up in a pretty parcel, tied in pink ribbon, with a thank-you note for the unfortunate male who saved me from a fate worse than death, spinsterhood. Once that was done, they could die 'with a clean face', as the Greeks say.
So, they got me back to Greece, and then brainwashed me. First, they made me feel guilty for spending twelve prodigal years abroad. Then, they filled my head with bourgeois crap about a woman only being completely fulfilled if she has a husband and children. By the end of it all, I was almost convinced I'd end my days a bitter old woman like my grandmother if I didn't go along with the myth; marry, have children and live happily ever after. So, I told them if they could find me a husband, I'd go along with it. Of course, even then I had rejected the myth and was thinking of doing the only thing that made sense to me: marry, divorce and live happily ever after.
By then, of course, I had already met Fo.
I suppose I deserve to have a place in this story, though my role, as Dina said, was somewhat peripheral. However, I must take the credit, or blame, for some of the events described herein.
At the time it seemed I'd known Fo all my life, even though I had only known her for about a year. I met her at the laiki, the street market, where they sell fresh fruit and vegetables. I go five minutes before the stalls are taken down, when they sell everything off half price. Fo and I bumped into each other as we were walking along the street. I'm not sure how, considering that the place was practically deserted. Fate, I suppose. We were both laden down with bags of fruit and veg, and no doubt had things of great moment on our minds.
I, for example, was endeavouring to work out if the one-legged beggar on the pavement under the mulberry tree was doing the Long John Silver act or whether he was a bona fide amputee. By the time I'd come to the conclusion that he was probably a genuine peg leg, I'd already collided with Fo.
I said, "Jesus, I'm a real eejit," or words to that effect in Greek.
"Don't worry. My fault too," she replied in similar vein.
Then I saw that a bunch of tomatoes and a peach had jumped for freedom and were hotfooting it down the hill towards Dionysou Street. I abandoned my load and went tearing off after them. On the brow of the hill I bagged a tomato. A couple of strides later I nabbed the peach. Then, after a short sprint I stopped another dead in its tracks. I looked around for the rest of the fleeing tomatoes, but I reckoned they weren't going to get far. A fate worse than death was waiting for them in Ermou Street. Fat-bellied souvlaki makers were sharpening their long knives waiting to scalp the next tomato that came along.
Anyway, I made my way back up the hill, cradling the captured peach and tomatoes in the baggy part of my T-shirt, hoping the fine lady wouldn't see the words Fuck off! written on the front. Not very subtle, but one of my students gave it to me. He said he thought it'd suit me. Anyway, Fo was too busy laughing her head off at Yours Truly's display of Monty Python burlesque to read the literature on the front of my T-shirt.
"You shouldn't have bothered. It was only a bit of old fruit and veg," she said in English. I suppose it wasn't all that hard to guess I wasn't Greek.
"Look, I'm really sorry. This peach is a bit bruised. And a couple of tomatoes got away."
I gave her back what fruit I'd recovered and offered her mine by way of compensation, but she wouldn't take it.
"In that case, give me that big bag of yours and let me carry it a bit of the way. If you trust me not to hurl the contents down the hill, that is."
* * *
Well, I was attracted to her from the word go. She looked mature but young at heart. I liked that. She looked Greek but there was something Irish about her, which I liked too. As it happens, I was right on both counts. Then I found out she lived almost next door and so we trudged home together lugging our bags of overripe fruit and veg. After that, it was, 'Come for a drink' and the rest is history.
Do you really think this is a good idea, Brendan? What if it gets published? I know, but some people might still be able to guess who we are. I'd prefer to keep my personal life private. Well, as long as you let me read it before it's published. All right, I'll just talk and you stop if I waffle on too much.
Life is a funny thing. You never know how it's going to turn out. Perhaps our divorce did have something to do with it. A lot of people from broken homes lose their faith in marriage, but I don't think it was that. It had more to do with her relationship with that horrible carpenter Arty. I don't know what she saw in him. He was so ... unrefined. Every second word that came out of his mouth was f.... I shudder just to think of him. And then the abortion. Oh, you didn't know about that. I think she felt awfully guilty about it. You know how pro-life she is. But I think she did the right thing. He would have made her life hell.
Ultimately we ourselves are responsible for what we make of our life. We can blame a thousand things for what we are, our genes, our parents, circumstances, but we have to make the most of what we're given. I'm sure that if three people were given the same life, one would make a mess of it, the second a success of it and the third turn it into a masterpiece. Although we don't realize it, we create the circumstances of our lives by the choices we make. There are no chance victims.
Fo and I used to bump into each other on and off the stage of a little theatre tucked away on the edge of the West End, where Fo had a part in a new play. I liked her from the first. She wasn't like most actors, who look through the stagehands as if they were sheets of glass.
One day she said to me, "You're Greek, aren't you? No sixth sense. I thought you were Czech. Then I heard you talking and I recognised the accent."
"Is it so obvious?"
"No, you speak English beautifully. You should hear my Greek."
"What? You know Greek?"
"My mother's Greek."
She reminded me of the goddess Athina. Maybe it was her mass of curly black hair and her alabaster face and the strong features. Maybe I was nostalgic for home, or maybe we were just meant for each other.
* * *
She was involved with this guy Arty at the time, a stage carpenter I knew. He fancied himself as a set designer, but he lacked any real artistic talent. He liked to paint backdrops and stuff like that, but they were too precious and gaudy for my liking. He was strictly a hammer and nail bloke.
One day Fo said to me, "I'm pregnant."
She didn't seem too upset, but I said, "Oh Christ. What a pain!"
She looked shocked, as if I'd assumed she was going to have an abortion.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's kind of going to screw up your acting career if you keep it, isn't it?"
She said, "We're going to get married," as if that made all the difference.
I suppose this naivety of hers was something that endeared me to her. She was like a mountain flower, a purple cyclamen, which had pushed its way up through the pavement of a busy city. I was so afraid she was going to get trodden on.
* * *
I was in charge of props and scenery. So, I could watch her for hours as she rehearsed. The director was madly in love with her and all the other actors adored her, but they knew she was having an affair with Arty so it was strictly 'hands off'. Arty wasn't one to take too kindly to competitors.
When she wasn't on stage we shared cups of coffee and I studied her face until I had memorised every freckle and line. I fell in love with every part of her; her crystal clear voice, her gliding straight-backed movements, her glowing expressive face, and her curving sensuous body. Fo used to go in for browns and greys and heavy materials, the kind of stuff that'd make me look like a Russian peasant, but gave her style and elegance.
* * *
At first, I thought maybe she fancied me but then I realised she only wanted to talk about Arty. He and I had worked a lot together, so she probably thought I knew him better than anyone did.
As we were sipping our coffee backstage during a rehearsal break, she said, "I'm desperately in love with Arty." She made it sound more like a burden than a blessing.
I said, "That's great" without much enthusiasm.
"You don't like him."
"To be quite frank, no."
"He may seem a bit rough around the edges but once you get to know him, I think ..."
"I do know him." I said no more for fear of hurting Fo, but he had a reputation for being a typical m.c.p.
He wasn't even good-looking but he was so cocksure and flirted with anything in knickers. He wasn't against feeling you up either, if he got the chance. He'd cup his hands over your boobs and go "Honk! Honk!" He tried it on with me once, but he soon found out I was a Russian peasant in more than just looks. He was limping for two weeks after that.
As she sipped her coffee she said, "I don't think he loves me as much as I love him."
"Well, if you want my opinion. I think you're too good for him."
She looked at me appalled.
"No. He's very talented. He could have a brilliant career in theatre design, if he really tried."
Excerpted from Fo's Baby by Ian Douglas Robertson Copyright © 2011 by Ian Douglas Robertson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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