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“Hi, it’s Penny Hanley here and I’m going to read from a novel I’ve just rewritten called, Forty Shades of Green, about art and love and a family secret.
This is from Ch 10, An Unfamiliar Sky. In her tiny terrace in the Rocks, Miss Burnside offered Keira some tap water in an old Vegemite jar. Cobwebs draped the room’s corners. They sat at a grubby pine table. Miss Burnside refused to speak with a tape recorder going. She refused to have her picture taken. A pity, thought Keira, because the portrait of a skinny, wrinkled hag glaring from behind round-rimmed, smeary spectacles would have been a good contrast to the previous people she’d interviewed about the Surrealist painter Deirdre Wild.
In the loud voice of one who is deaf, Miss Burnside said: ‘She was Caitlin O’Mara when I met her.’
‘Yes, she changed her name.’
‘What?’ she barked.
‘She changed her name.’
‘Evidently,’ shouted Miss Burnside. ‘She lodged at my sister-in-law’s house in Cumberland Street round the corner.’ She paused. ‘We are all pilgrims and life is a long weary walk from earth to Heaven.’
Keira sat under her accusing stare. She gulped her water and put her glass down.
‘She was a loose woman,’ shouted Miss Burnside.
A shock shivered up Keira’s spine. Her mother, so concerned with reputation, as well as chastity before marriage and all that Catholic rubbish, would blanch if she heard her own mother being talked about like this.
Miss Burnside continued: ‘An unwed mother. She didn’t provide for her child. How could she? Children require two parents.’
Unwed? What about Charles Wild? They must have got married after the birth then – her mother hadn’t told her this! Miss Burnside was glaring at her. Keira’s own life would look immoral to this woman, even though she had no child. Of course, the only reason she didn’t was because of the Pill. ‘You’ve ‘ad more boyfriends than you’ve ‘ad ‘ot dinners,’ Keira’s dad said once. Miss Burnside was still staring at her. Clearly she could see that Keira too was a loose woman.
At last Miss Burnside spoke again: ‘This is all a bit of a lark to you, isn’t it? Waltzing into people’s lives asking questions so you can make of the answers what you want. People are not walking encyclopaedias on your little project.’
The air was charged as if before an electrical storm.
‘And when you go snooping into other people’s lives, you don’t know what you’ll turn up. I can tell you this for free – let sleeping dogs lie. There are things a pretty thing like you does not want to know.’
ABOUT PENNY HANLEY:
Penny Hanley has a PhD in Communications from the University of Canberra and a BA (Hons) in English from ANU. She has published film criticism, book reviews and other non-fiction, a novel (Full House, Simon & Schuster, 1993) and 18 short stories, two of which were short-listed for prizes. Her latest book, Creative Lives was published by the National Library in 2009. She has been a freelance writer and editor and is currently the Media and Communications Manager at the National Rural Health Alliance. Penny lives in Canberra’s inner north with her family, two cats and three chooks.
“I won an ACT Government grant to cover a Fellowship to Varuna for three weeks in 1997 where I worked on my second novel. Then I won another one in 2002.” Penny Hanley
Full House, Simon & Schuster, 1993
Creative Lives, National Library, 2009
18 short stories
web address: penhanley.id.au
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