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U3A Writing: And All That

Zelda Margo tells a captivating story about the making of a writer.

Slender young woman. Her gait lazy on high-heeled mules. A hooded sweat-shirt, frayed denim miniskirt and creamy flesh above the waistband. That is who came walking towards Paul Mathews.

‘Mr Mathews, I’m Jackie, your cook,’ she giggled. ‘I know I don’t look the part, but wait until you taste the food.’

He took her dimpled hand. Wondered if he was making a mistake.

‘And Mr Mathews, I’m aware that I don’t look like a nascent writer, but I am.’

He roared with laughter.

‘Mrs Peters, the housekeeper, will see to your accommodation and uniform. Let’s see how we get on.’

‘Thanks, Mr Mathews. You’ll enjoy my cooking and I’ll start reading your books, expand my intelligence.’

He suppressed a smile, walked away with a spring in his step.

Sixty-year old Paul Mathews; tall, toned, eyes like golden syrup, greying hair and beard. Homosexual writer of novels that used humour to say serious things.

Jackie, energetic and bright, became for Paul the phantasy of a ‘proper’ family. She was a voracious reader, he recommended books and they had interesting discussions. A self unfolded that she had been unaware of. The over-bleached hair, the spiky heels and trashy clothes had expressed a different person. The creative Jackie was hopelessly in love with Paul Mathews.

‘Jackie, when you write - trust yourself. Trust your own experience. Address what is going on in you and around you.’

‘What do I do with the shadows of my ignorance?’

‘I learnt common sense from a wrinkled farmer. Not from the philosophy books. Why are you laughing?’

‘Because I’ve always rejected totally that in matters of general concern only specialists have the right to have an opinion.’

When he entertained, she poured tea, served her apple-tart and listened avidly to his phrase-making, the rhythm of his speech, her emotions bouncing around like a rubber ball.

‘Mr Mathews, what do you think of “Love?”’

‘Romantic love is a mental illness. It distorts reality. We don’t really see the person. We show more reality in choosing a best friend, because we are not influenced by cute dimples or a flashing smile.’

‘Mr Mathews, it’s hard to be in love and be wise at the same time. Now I’ll make a salad that has eye-appeal and nourishment.’

She cooked, observed, thought, wrote and questioned Paul Mathews.

‘Do you think I’ll ever be published?’

‘Drop your orientation of accomplishing a goal. The goal is the path, push ahead, always.’

‘Tell me, Mr Mathews, what do I do with my accumulated painful baggage?’

‘Great material for stories. Look at what Dorothy Parker did with it. Here, go read this book.’

She did. ‘Mr Mathews, you know my background, don’t you? That is why you gave me this Parker book.’

‘Did you think I would let every Tom, Dick and Jack walk into my home? Yes, I know that your Dad is Anthony Hartley, well-known artist. Catholic. Your mother was Jewish and died in your infancy. You don’t have a comfortable relationship with your father and stepmother. Very, very similar to Parker’s baggage. She turned it into sensitive short stories, film scripts, verse and was a great wit. Go Jacks, write.’

‘Mr Mathews, how often had she attempted suicide?’

‘The other thing you have in common is ridiculing what you consider cultural snobbery. When asked if she had attended a recent philharmonic performance or seen the latest museum exhibit her standard reply was, ‘I’ve been too fucking busy and vice versa.’

‘I can’t claim the vice versa. Time to cook your dinner.’

‘Jackie?’

‘What, Mr Mathews?’

‘Dip into some Marilyn Monroe quips. Know who she was?’

‘Yes, eye-candy; actress, nude photos. Committed suicide years ago.’

‘Jackie, when asked if she had anything on for the shoot she replied, ‘Yes, the radio.’

The waif became a star in Hollywood; a place, she said, where, ‘they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul.’

‘Mr Mathews?’ ‘Yes, Jackie.’ ‘You sound like an elderly uncle.’

‘Jackie, which authors benefit you the most? Think. I’ll help you. Ones who give you information or the ones who give expression to a truth that is in you?’

‘At my age, definitely a truth that I can’t find utterance for.’

He talked, she listened. He worked on his tenth novel. She cooked and at time thought foolish thoughts about him. She crystallised her frustrated love into memorable expression.

The came the day, the magic day.

FICTION ISSUE - GUARDIAN
TEN EXCLUSIVE SHORT NEW SHORT STORIES

And on page one, her photograph.
BAGGAGE AND ALL THAT by JACQUELINE MATHEWS


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