what life has taught me

‘You wear us out, when you keep on being stoical,’ I said. ‘It’s like a horrible mask. We want to smash it. We want to find you.

’‘We can’t bear the smile, darling,’ said Iris gently.

‘You don’t have to smile.’

Nicola wept on, in her niece’s embrace. Gab came to the door, looked in, and crept away. But Iris held my gaze without a flicker, her sober face tilted up towards the bench behind which I stood wringing the dry dish cloth in both hands.

In a little while Nicola stopped crying. She took a few quivering breaths, and freed herself from Iris’s arms. Iris reached for a clean tea towel and handed it to her; she dabbed at her eyes, folded it, and laid it on the bench.

Then, in a hoarse voice, she said, ‘But see all my life I’ve never wanted to bore people with the way I feel.’

We were silent.

‘No one wants to know about it, if I’m sad or frightened.’

Again we said nothing.

‘I’ve learnt,’ she went on, ‘to shut up. And present an optimistic face.’

She got off the couch arm and stood in her cotton nightie in the middle of the room. Light from the high window blurred her white hair. The shawl hung like two red curtains from her bony shoulder.

“Anyway’, she said, ‘that’s what life has taught me.’             Helen Garner The Spare Room p141-2

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