The Story Behind The Steel
It was new year’s eve. Brilliant sunshine was already radiating heat up from the earth as I stood by the floor to ceiling windows looking out at the small sloping garden rising in front of me. Despite my regular watering the lawn was burnt back to the bare earth in patches. Beyond that a magnificent gum tree stood just inside outer fence. Its patches of peeling bark had revealed a body smooth, firm, and as muscular as an athlete’s flesh.
I was waiting for my wife, Sylvia. We were going to be with her daughter and her daughter’s husband, into the New Year. I never seemed to learn that when a woman asks if I am ready to go, she really means she is just going to get dressed, and then attend to the list of things women see as necessary to do that men don’t appear to give a thought to.
So I had time to stare out of the window and wander through thoughts and memories. I hadn’t really connected with Australia, so the evening was in some ways going to be a farewell party. I was going home to the UK – alone.
Sylvie had grown up here, had quickly reconnected with family, and found rewarding work.
For me it had not been like that. The doors I tried to open for work or friendship either stayed locked, or open slightly then slammed closed. Sylvie tried to direct me into the stacking of shelves in a supermarket. She had, she pointed out to me, worked as a cleaner in a local leisure centre in the UK while we were waiting for our visa to arrive for our shift to Melbourne. From where I stood, stacking shelves didn’t appear to offer any opportunity for change in the years ahead now that I was in my late fifties. Sylvie knew she would only be a cleaner four weeks, not years.
And there had been the dream too. Things hadn’t been good in our relationship before we left. Somewhere along the way I had lost Sylvie as a close bonded wife. I had thought, though it wasn’t conscious at the time, that living in a wonderful climate and place, buying a house we could really enjoy, it would give us new life together. The dream was torn from me one day when it finally came home to me that even at the lower house prices, we didn’t have enough to pay outright, and without me having a reasonably paid job, we couldn’t afford the mortgage. The next day I felt completely empty and had no will to get out of bed. I eventually had made it at 4.00 PM, but the dream had gone never to return.
Then and there was the loneliness. Living with Silvia without the warm love we had shared in past years, was worse than sharing the house with a flatmate. I felt there was an immense dark distance between us. Six years ago Sylvia had suddenly cut off from me sexually, and more important for me, emotionally. It was painful.
This was all brooding in me like a thunderstorm on a dark winter’s day as I looked out of the window. So it was with surprise that unnoticed a wave of love flowing up me from somewhere deep inside. As the wave past, another one gathered, and my attention was drawn to the beauty of the colours of the baked earth, and the wonderful pastel patchwork art of the gum tree trunk.
As the waves gathered strength they formed words. I could feel them inside me. “I love Australia.” Not only words, but clear feelings. “It is so clean. So different to the dirty life of England.”
I asked Hyone to be with me while I explored these feelings. Gradually great gouts of pain and sobs poured out of me as I told ‘my’ story. I was a woman with husband and family living in Australia. But something had gone wrong and I had lost everything. As I recounted this, bit by bit, the painful sobbing was intense. I felt some natural disaster had claimed my man and my children, so I had lost everything and was alone in a place without any family at all. I said at one point early on that in those days, because of the way things were you had to love much more entirely than you do now. And in this way I had loved my man and children.
Slowly I went on to feel, say, that I had survived and used what I had at hand to survive. I could have died, because there was nothing to live for, but I didn’t want to commit suicide. So being a woman I accepted that I could either work as a prostitute, or get a man, and do what ever was necessary to be his mate and give him children and food. So that’s what I did. But because of my hurt I had most of myself hidden, so I was there in body only, doing what was necessary sexually and in actions, but that was all.
So I had left my seed, or children from my body here in Australia. They were now part of the people here, but I had no connection with them. Now I had come back again to reclaim this lost part of me – the woman and the pain she felt, and the experience she had lived through.
Lastly I felt the reason I/she had loved Australia as that woman was because I had come from a place that was so dirty – London. Not only dirty in a physical sense, but also in religion and socially. To me all that went on in the land of my birth, England, felt unclean. In Australia I had a sense of the country being untouched, and I found a cleanness I had never experienced before. Out of this my love had grown for the country.
I felt that I as Tony accepted this woman as my family, and this healed her spirit, which had felt so alone and bereaved of family. But intellectually and even inwardly, I find the experience difficult to comprehend.
January 2, 1995 – The experience I wrote about yesterday I explored a little bit more with Hyone last night. I also realised that even at the time I felt this was a story that needs to be told. Since then the idea of writing it as a novel has grown. I find myself today while relaxing, imagining scenes in the woman’s life. One such was her talking to a ‘lady’ at a time after her loss. She is saying to the lady, who is well meaning and wants to help, but also secretly wants to understand how or why the woman is so angry and independent, that she doesn’t even begin to understand. How can she help if she doesn’t understand. The lady asks why the woman is rejecting her. The reply is that she isn’t rejecting HER, it is all the stupidity the woman is living that she rejects, though sometimes she can’t find the words to say exactly what the stupidity is. But the relationship is about finding out.
As I understand it at the moment, the woman has been pushed into being aware in a rudimentary way of how the class system pushes women of lower birth into a terrible dilemma. In the time I explored with Hyone, I stood in the role of the woman and described how those in positions of authority, and that meant almost anyone born into greater wealth and education, all used it to manipulate the lower class. It was used like a pressure to push women into taking a man in one form or another. As the woman I felt that I had avoided prostitution by accepting that men wanted sex, so I could choose either to have it unwillingly with one man or with many. I chose the one man option, and did what was necessary to keep myself in that role, as the other options were worse.
Later I began to tell her story by writing The Steel – The Steel