Cynthia Mac Pherson

Rosamund

Rosamund sits where the afternoon sun warms her shoulders and she rolls the sharp red wine on her tongue as she writes in her diary : Better not drink too much – bad for my arthritis. I do my hip stretches, my feet and shoulders but never get to these deformed thumbs and I hate taking anti-inflammatories – not good for my bladder.

The winter sun drops behind the Muizenberg mountain and in the gloomy kitchen, Rosamund sees a little girl in a wide bonnet. (some feeling of her emerging from or being seen in shadows?)
‘It was my fairy house,’ says the child. ‘Under a big, big tree in my garden. All my fairy friends played with me.
I made tea with purple flowers. And, and the yellow berries were our cake.’

‘Why did Ma stop you?’ Rosamund asks. ‘ Was it really so serious? You were four I think – sitting, furious, on the big stump of your favourite tree. The sawed logs were piled against the back fence. ‘

‘Mommy I did nothing wrong!’
‘Nothing wrong? I told you just yesterday to go inside and use the toilet. Now you sit out here for 30 minutes and don’t let me hear a word out of you.’
‘It’s not fair. Mommy!
‘Stop that screaming! Stop that crying this minute!’
Aunty Eileen’s black cat winds itself against your leg and you stroke it.
‘Kitsie! Kitsie! Mommy calls. ‘Here’s your food.’
You speak under your breath to Rory, the spaniel, but he doesn’t hear as he lies fast asleep in the sun.

Rosamund writes : I love you so. Maybe I’d have less hip problems now if I’d squatted more. Good for the bladder too. Ma was so worried about what people thought. Would the neighbours see me and think I was a bad girl? Would the gardener ‘interfere’ with me? That’s ‘ child abuse’ nowadays. Ma was hung up on sex. Why did she silence me? Was it not ok to speak, to cry, to scream when I was hurt or angry?

Now in the kitchen shadows an older child appears, barefoot and dressed in navy shorts and white top. She’s red-faced, panting slightly. The day is hot, and there’s the smell of new-mown grass. The stands are crowded with chanting children.
‘Wat’s jou naam meisie? Jy het gewen. Wat is you naam? What’s your name?’ The official shrugs his shoulders and moves off with the number 1 board in his hand.
‘Why couldn’t you speak child?’ I ask her but she’s gone. ‘ I’ve never known what happened about the results of that under seven girls’ hundred metres race at the Pretoria Inter-School Athletics meeting.’

The big room is quite dark now, but Rosamund’s eyes widen at the stage lights as a fourteen year old, blonde, blue eyed and pink-skinned directs her own entry in the school’s variety concert:
‘Bunty,’ she commands, ‘over here please and you two, up on the boxes.’

Tall and confident, she moves front of stage. She’s Annie! The star of Annie Get Your Gun.
‘Right. Everyone ready?’ she asks.’ One! Two! Three!
The small cast, dressed in denim and cowboy hats, sings with gusto and Annie’s clear voice reaches out across the hall:
‘Folks are dumb where I come from, They ain’t had any larnin’ but still they’re happy as can be doing a what comes naturally.’

Rosamund sits alone in the dark kitchen and sees the passage of the old Pretoria house where a young woman and her father face each other outside the kitchen door. They’re surrounded by the aroma of pot-roast topside with onions, bay leaves, carrots and potatoes. The girl’s blue eyes flash into her father’s brown eyes behind his tortoiseshell spectacles.
‘You should learn how to speak from your mother! You won’t get anywhere with your aggressive talk!’ her father tells her but she shrugs her shoulders and tosses her blonde head.
‘I am me! I will speak out!’

Rosamund writes : I know you very well and I love you and fear your strength and the power of your words. You weren’t always kind. Now it’s supper time. I’ll cook a veg curry. I never cook topside.

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