Monday, April 29, 2013
TRULY (inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion) chapter thirteen: "Domestic chaos"
A castle in Bel Air full of hopes, dreams and financial scandal… Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
By dinner time my Father was seated in his study, overlooking the infinity pool. From his floor length windows we had an entire view of the sweep of Los Angeles, hills in the distance, lights twinkling in the dark. It was an amazing sight, even welcome, I had to admit.
“A fighter pilot, did you say, Liz?”
“Not yet, Dad. He just graduated as an officer in the Air Force. He doesn’t have his wings yet, but he will. His sister’s family are renting the place.”
“His sister? How thoughtful. Of course, it all sounds good but being a pilot is one of the more dangerous occupations in the world.”
“Actually Dad,” Liz added as if I wasn’t in the room, “plane travel is safer than car.”
My father shrugged as if to say he didn’t think so.
“Apparently his sister’s husband is working in LA over the summer. Her show is on hiatus and with a small child and a baby on the way, he wanted to do something vacation wise with the family for the summer. Apparently money is no object as he didn’t hesitate over the deposit…”
I listened to them talk on until it finally dawned on me after further questioning, that they were barely aware of my presence as I sat on the couch reading a magazine.
My father prided himself on his former career as a litigator until he became so rich from inheritances and investments that he’d given up practising but was busily reading the newspaper on the internet to keep abreast of all his old associates and their various crimes and cases. I’d woken for breakfast and was hovering in the hallway as Melissa arrived, depositing a baby in my arms.
“I’ve decided to come over for breakfast. Fred is at home with the other one. We had an argument.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Missy?” Dad asked gruffly, looking up from above his glasses.
“Liz and I are so happy you’ve come to stay,” he said unsmilingly. “All my daughters are here for breakfast. What a treat,” he added.
It didn’t take him long before he criticized me.
“Jane? You’re looking pale and withdrawn. Haven’t you been getting enough sun?”
“I’ve been teaching and not at the beach dad,” I said with exasperation.
He could barely hide his distain.
“Ah, yes, teaching. When are you going to give me some more grandchildren? Elizabeth is simply devoted to her career, but you, Jane, I once had high hopes for you. Teaching is fine but Wentworths marry well or become lawyers, although the two are not mutually exclusive.”
“Yes, dad,” I said absently. I was barely listening as I poured my coffee but I knew agreeing was the easiest option.
Dad barely listened to me as usual but since we were both older now he paid me lip service. By “marrying well” my father meant marrying not just money but connections. I was fed up with his pathetic snobbery and wondered why I endured the weekly torture of family dinners. I had no choice now I was under his roof again as I had no savings of my own. I was beginning to consider my Godmother’s offer of a loan. How else would I make my escape?
“Are you seeing anyone, Jane?” Melissa asked as she looked up from her fashion magazine whilst the new nanny took care of her baby. Melissa was dressed in designer clothes. Fred was on his team building exercise that weekend but Liz had confided to me, that he and Melissa were having “trouble.”
So, here we were: this highly dysfunctional co-dependant family, attempting to “communicate.”
I know, everyone deserves better, but they were mine. And I was theirs. It always bothered me deep down that I knew it was not possible to love and love weakly. That kind of love was not love, just need. I fulfilled some need in my sisters as they did me. As for my father, well, he was just plain difficult. Yet I grew up in a cocoon and was assured my parents and sisters were devoted to the family unit. Perhaps that was true, and there was love and loyalty, of a sort.
I had no influence in my own family. Having neither a suitable career – meaning, highly paid and prestigious – nor a suitable husband (meaning the same), meant my views were meaningless. In my family, love without money didn’t rate. Some family, I know. Terrible value system, I know that also. Yet, they were mine. Even though we all sat in separate parts of the kitchen to eat breakfast (Dad was at the head of the table reading the newspaper), we shared a kind of love. If it’s possible to love and love weakly, or maybe it was just familiarity mixed with loyalty. Yes, that’s what my family were. They bickered and criticized in private, but publicly, we stood up for each other – mostly.
“Oh, Jane,” Melissa said as she ate some toast, “put something decent on, you can go and choose anything you like from Elizabeth’s closet; I’m sure she won’t mind.”
“In a moment, Melissa.” I changed the subject, “I’ve gone over the accounts Dad,” I said mildly.
“That wasn’t necessary, Jane. Melissa already did it,” he said as he turned to the legal section of his paper.
“Melissa’s accountancy skills are one of the reasons we are in this mess…”
“There’s no need to place blame, dear, we are all in this together….”
Melissa ignored our conversation and looked up from her toast again to ask, “Haven’t you changed your clothes yet, Jane? I wish you’d stop boring us all with constant talk of money.”
I cleared my throat and continued, “… as I was saying, if everyone tightens up a bit with their spending we mightn’t have to sell the Bel Air house.”
My father grunted as he spoke, “Jane, there is no way I’m selling this place. I haven’t even contemplated it. I’d sell your car before I’d do that.”
“Dad, you can’t do that.”
“It’s a rental.”
“Oh,” he replied unapologetically. “Well, never mind, you’ll be able to buy one soon.”
I shook my head as I finished my coffee and walked upstairs to do as I was told. I was searching through Liz’s closet when I heard the gate from next door swing open and noticed Eleanor walking along the path that connected our houses. I’d forgotten Eleanor had been invited for brunch.
My Godmother lived in the vast estate that bordered ours and had decided to bring over a homemade dessert as a welcome gift for me. Even though Eleanor had been alone since her husband left, she had already remarried (and divorced again) and had no romantic inclinations towards my father whatsoever. She had a huge business fortune and a clothing line to oversee and those interests kept her busy. The fact that she and my father had never dated (nor ever would, as they were cousins), made their alliance even stronger. Basically, Eleanor had so much money from her first husband that she didn’t ever envisage sharing it again with a new husband.
By the time Eleanor arrived at our door, I’d seen the news on my cell phone, an attachment about Ben that Keira had sent me. I’d run upstairs to read it, although Melissa was relieved I was seeking “a change of clothing.”
I kicked my shoes off and flung myself on Elizabeth’s bed to hide from my family and finish reading the article.
I couldn’t express how I felt as I read the words, returning home town hero. Apparently, Ben had invented some kind of computer programme that could change the world of aviation. Some huge software company had bought it. This meant Ben wouldn’t ever have to work again. I knew he’d never choose to take the easy path though. He’d always dreamed of being in the Air Force.
I flung my cell on the floor and myself on my sister’s bed. Minutes later I heard a voice.
“Jane, what is it?” Eleanor asked.