I received your letter today with its strange request. Perhaps I owe you an explanation, although I can’t think why. Some settling to account. When I was vice-president of the Young Liberal Association I had this naïve impulse to want to change the world. Funny ambition, I hear you say, for a stalwart conservative. Blame my upbringing. The unconventional architecture of my building blocks. I wanted to change the world by eliminating, or at least constraining the unchecked lust for change that I saw rampant in business and Government, the mad crusade for social reform. I wanted the world to slow down. Take a breath. Where better to start than at home?
I will lay mine hammer down, Teddy. Change for change’s sake has always been an anathema to me. Why can’t things stay the same? It’s gotten worse in recent years. We all have the attention span of fleas. Why does one have to grow up, for instance? Why this built-in obsolescence in everything? Well, Teddy, the answer to that is fairly clear. Money. What I mean is the obsolescence of the human spirit. Why couldn’t our mother, dear dead Brunhilda, have kept her nose out of my private affairs, crawling along at their snail’s pace as they were, content with the speed of their own self-discovery? At peace in my hollow carapace. Well, we can’t ask her now, can we Teddy. I am aware of the adage that nothing is more certain than change. Adapt or die, as the Foreign Legion used to say. Perhaps they still do. March or fall. However I put to you another old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same, which sounds to me like a paradoxical blueprint for entropy. Sweeping the dust from one hell to another. Why change at all? Cut out the middleman. Or the middlewoman as in this case. Am I a case Teddy? Is this what I have been reduced to? A tabloid oddity. Don’t say ‘nutcase.’ I know your views. I know you must be upset, although I can’t think why. Don’t you feel the world has become a lighter, airier place?
Politics is preoccupied, nay obsessed with change which is, to my way of thinking, nothing but a job creation scheme for bureaucrats. The light bulb followed by the annual budget on its spreadsheet; a waste of so many things, not least of which is the largesse of the public purse. I want to create an autarky independent of the working class, although I suppose that’s out of the question now that they, the proletariat, have such power over me, my corporeality I mean.This merciless race of men, steeled against any tender sensation, as Mr. Blackstone used to say in the text books. Teddy, you cannot change the past. What has been done is already history. No, you can only alter your private part in the world. And if stasis is your preference, as it is mine, then good for you as far as I’m concerned. Move on, enjoy your grief. Done is done is done. Forget all this business about the sepulchre and its florid decoration. It is not an urge which I am inclined to favour.
Do you remember mummy’s friend Rupert? Of course. Old Rupe, (OA), as I used to call him behind his back, my mentor and a fine upstanding doyen of the Party. Taught me everything I needed to know in my rise through the ranks. Very Machiavellian. Old Rupe’s wife, of course you remember Dame Emmeline, dear friend of our mother’s, God damn the sour old reprobate’s eyes. It was in honour of His Highness, (Rupe), that I would take her to the Liberal Club every other month for a spot of lobster and a few champagne cocktails. The dear little monogrammed napkins. Look what we have been reduced to. Oh, I rue the fact that I can no longer drink the wine I like, nor eat the sort of cheese I was accustomed to, but it’s really not so awful. Not what they would have you believe. No napkins, that’s for sure. Nothing changes. It is an entirely predictable stasis. A stagnant pond. Grey hair, I grant you, but really Teddy, one can live with grey hair. Even a fruitful life.
As I was saying, (not sure if I’ve told you this story), we were lunching at The Club one Wednesday not long after the state party conference of – oh I forget which year. The dining room filled with potential benefactors and lobbyists salivating at the chance to influence someone. The tongues awhir like blackbirds in spring. The conversation all promise and hope for the future, meaning a return to the glory days of the past.
‘Good morning Dame Emmeline,’ I greeted her in my customary fashion – a peck on both cheeks. ‘Or is it afternoon?’
She was wearing too much powder, but I did not comment. Our mother’s friend, quite the cadaver, in powder-blue twinset and pearls. I held her chair out for her lest she topple over and fall into the arms of a waiter which, good luck to her, she probably would not have minded. The waiters, up to this trick, seemed to be conspicuously absent, hence my chivalry. The tea cups and champagne flutes were rattling up a storm. She had to raise her voice to be heard.
‘My dear boy, how are you?’
‘In fine fettle,’ Dame Em,’ I said. ‘In fact I think you’d call me right as rain.’ It’s the way we used to speak in The Club in those heady Howard days.
‘And your mother?’ asked Dame Em.
‘Hideous, as usual,’ I said. Or perhaps I said ‘festering?’ Sorry Teddy, the whole truth and nothing but.
‘Give her my regards.’
‘I shall. Champagne cocktail?’
‘Please. I’m parched.’
I summoned a lurking waiter and ordered our bevvies.
I suppose you recall that, in her widowhood, Dame Emmeline, the sour old dowager, had thrown herself into many charitable works. Oh the subcommittees she used to sit on; the capital F Functions. Oh, the high Anglican drama of it. She used to raise much needed funds for the Party coffers, so it was my duty to schmooze and flatter her. When one pressed her doughy flesh one left fingerprints. You’ll recall she sat on many influential, nonprogressive Boards. Amongst her good works, one thing she did, which I found entertaining, was that she had somehow gotten herself onto the Film Review Censorship Board. She must have been the voice of reason among that rowdy lot. She used to see all the latest releases, and was a mine of information and cultural reference, especially when one was too busy to read the Fairfax press oneself. Finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, if you like.
I always took the opportunity to avail myself of her opinion, so after the aperitifs arrived I asked: ‘Dame Em, tell me, have you seen any good films lately? Anything you’d recommend?’
She sighed and leaned back in her leather chair. ‘I don’t know about recommend, but I recently had to sit through a film called, now what was it called again? Yes, I remember, Fist Fucking Two. The things they make us watch.’
This is true. Said in her rather strident dulcet tones. Silence spread throughout the dining room like an outbreak of typhoid. You could have heard a scone drop. The cutlery clinked at the far flank of the room like ice in a whisky tumbler, the crackling of a glacier.
‘Goodness,’ I said, shocked myself. ‘Did you enjoy that?’
‘Dear boy, I couldn’t follow the plot because I didn’t see Fist Fucking One.’
Jaws agape all around us. You could have cut the air with a ladle, until the waiters scurried out with their culinary distractions. You can imagine mother’s face when I relayed this story from her closest friend and rival. Mummy, that old dominatrix. Most amusing.
Our lobsters arrived and in good time our crème brulees. I always enjoyed Dame Emmeline’s naughty conversation, and let me tell you on that occasion she did not hold back. I wonder if mother enjoyed it quite so much? Since old Rupe’s passing, Dame Em didn’t care whom she offended. Least of all mother, once her infidelity had been discovered. (Rupe of the wandering hands). Neither Teddy, I must say, do I. Care, I mean. Your recent missive which I received today, (already opened), informs me that due to some oversight on mother’s part, (oh mummy), I am, surprisingly, the sole executor of her will. Now there’s an irony for you. I honestly had not known that. Me, whom she begged for mercy. She, who gave none. Well, little I can do about it in here. Indeed I freely admit, as I said, I laid mine hammer down.
One thing I can do, apparently, is to commission or at least allow the erection of a tombstone over the cesspit of her last picnic spot, her grave. Some sorry marker. Hmm, what would Dame Em suggest? Cat’s claws? A giant vulva? Er, in a word, no. Sorry Teddy. I am not disposed to do anything for that malignant old puss. And overseeing the design and carving of a headstone would, I believe, constitute doing something. So, sadly, request denied. She can rot in sewage as far as I am concerned. My only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier. All this wineless sacrifice is not so bad as far as repercussions go. I have books. Thrillers, mainly. There is, happily, no sense of the seasons, apart from perhaps intuition. A kind of cheeseless limbo. Of course the company I keep is not to my taste. It’s no fun-filled Liberal Party fundraiser, for instance, but it will suffice to pass the time. It is the only power I have left, small as it may be. The power of nothing changing. Please forgive the negative tenor of this letter, I know you must have been hoping for a different response. Some indication of remorse. A change of heart. It is probably the sort of evidence the authorities might pass on to some psychobabbler for their titillation. Dominatrix indeed. The sort who has it in their power to decide my fate. To play, as I know only too well, God. Well I am not sorry. I am pleased I did it. And Teddy, don’t even think of going behind my back. Any monument you place over her hole, even a flower, I’ll order torn down with jackhammers, or whatever these instruments of retribution are called. I’ll have it blasted into a thousand pieces and flung to the farthest corners of my fiefdom, expunged of all memory. Until time corrupts and the flesh drops off me, decay is the only change I welcome. The destiny of worms. From my cell, this I solemnly swear, dear brother…