I’m choosing a dress for my anniversary. We’re going out to the movies and I want to look nice. I’m shuffling through my half of the wardrobe and I come across this fitted, black on white print with a low scoop neck and no sleeves – and I think, wait a minute!
‘This,’ I tell my boyfriend, as he pulls on his least worst jeans, ‘is a dress I bought at the opportunity shop about, let’s see now, thirty five years ago! How about that now?’
He agrees that it’s a long time to keep a dress. He doesn’t know the half of it.
I’m fifty-two now, but back when I was twenty-five, I ran away from my husband of four years to live with my best friend. We slept in the day, we went clubbing at night, we woke up with strange men in the morning, and we visited op shops in the afternoon. In this dress, I lay in front of our fake fire, on the floor, and had champagne poured over me by some boy who’d obviously read that it was a turn-on. For the record, it stings!
I don’t tell my boyfriend this story: it wouldn’t be an auspicious start to our evening. But then, there are so many other stories – in the wardrobe, on the walls, littering the dressing table. We live in a house of ghosts.
The ring I wear, for instance. It’s a beautiful opal, set in gold, and by rights it should never have been on my finger. It was given to me by a man who thought it would make up for a litany of infidelities so tediously predictable that an episode of fidelity came to seem like an interesting surprise. I should have given it back, but I liked the stone. When I wear it, I always think viciously that it probably cost him a fair bit, and for what? A starring part in my diary as Baldy-Headed Pig Face.
There’s a painting of horses grazing on my wall. That’s Miguel, my Colombian. He was the best kisser I ever did meet, although he went overboard on the love talk. ‘I could drown,’ I remember him saying once, ‘in your eyes.’ Since the windows to my soul look like oysters with a nappy rash, I asked him why he felt the need to say things like that. ‘In Colombia,’ he replied, looking deep into my oysters, ‘girls get very upset if you don’t. They expect it.’
‘Well in Australia,’ I said tartly, ‘we think it’s mushy.’
Anyway, before he was deported, he gave me a picture he said he’d picked up at a sale. I always thought it was one of those brightly coloured paint by numbers efforts people sneak out to the garage sale while the faux-artist is at the beach, but no, it’s a genuine somebody or other. Perhaps the back of a truck was involved.
That pink feather boa? That was Geoffrey, who longed to tickle me with it as we lay sprawled in our candle-lit boudoir – but we never did. Those fishnet stay-ups? That was Alistair, who used to bring me things to get me in the mood – firewood, jumpers. Alistair once had an art teacher – here we are back to art again, how circular life is – who wore long white grandfather shirts and black tights. So ever since he’s been trying to get the objects of his desire into black tights. I was supposed to lounge about in these fishnets and say impossibly filthy things while Alistair did a Toulouse Latrec. In reality, the elastic tops make my thighs bulge like Arnie’s biceps, and if I lounged about in them for more than five minutes my legs would probably go numb and then gangrenous. The firewood came in handy though.
There’s a faded hanging on the wall, eucalyptus leaves of pink and purple and jungle yellow. It was a wedding present from my sister, and it’s seen every torrid affair I ever had. Thank god it’s not a video camera.
It’s not all about long-lost lovers, though. This morning, I had a sudden thought.
‘I wonder where Oobigoo Pikelet is?’
My boyfriend, who isn’t a morning talker, gave me an irritated look.
‘Who the fuck is that!’
Oobigoo Pikelet is a New Guinean carving, a household spirit or protector, who used to hang in the hallway of my childhood home in Sydney. My father brought him home from New Guinea when he was stationed there in the war, and now he’s mine. Morning Oobigoo, I still remember my father saying. Just as well to be polite, you never know.
Somewhere, in cardboard boxes, is everything I ever wrote, from the note to my mum when I was small ‘My Mum is Boring!’ to the novel I penned about a shy yet sensitive university student when (coincidentally) I was a shy yet sensitive university student. Every ticket to every show, every birthday card sent me by doting relative or hopeful suitor. Every tourist leaflet collected from every faraway place I’ve ever been and seen. The lot.
I’m not unique in that, I know. Every old lady I’ve ever visited in the course of a long charitable career has her special things, the things that remind her that she HAS had a life, even if it’s nearly over now. I was, I am – here’s the evidence.
So I know I, at least, must exist – but do you? What’s your proof?