Mothers Claw
Book Sample

My Mother's Claw

1. This Story has no Denouement

This story has no denouement.

What resolution can there be for a story given with such scant detail? What resolution can there be for a story covering only a fraction of her life lived? By taking your own life you robbed our lives of continuity - love stopped crudely at a young point. But did you mean to, to do that? Were you at the last moment aware? You were sure. You timed four trains. Jumped surely under the fifth. There was no mistake.

You came... I know... you came two weeks earlier... to say hello... to be with your babies again. Or was it... even then... in your mind? Was it for one last look... your precious last ones... the twins?

‘No we won’t cry,’ we chimed, as we stood in the yard of the children’s home. In sight of his blue Holden station wagon, we chimed ‘No, we won’t cry.’ And we didn’t cry, Mother, not in front of him anyway. He begged us not to. We stood stunned... Standing on the gravel path under the pines we were stunned... I remember it as a cold winter’s day... Frosty and bitter...

We connected the news with the strange woman who visited us... strange in many ways. But what startled us was her hair. If she was our mother, how was it that her hair was blonde instead of dark brown? She was unfamiliar. The question now in adulthood was to check that bare lonely fact. When she died... what colour was her hair? From this we could check that young memory... the blonde that should have been dark brown...

But we did cry. After we waved him off in his blue holden for his long journey home. To work... to feed all those young mouths. We did cry. We went to the toilets and locked ourselves in the same cubicle. And there we cried... together... after putting on a brave face and waving him off. We cried until a woman found us and comforted us...

I understand, Mother, you timed well. The head, like Anna’s, was intact. Had you read Tolstoy, Mother? Did you think that a romantic end? What kind of a legacy was that for us? The beautiful silver nitrate ghost who departed à la Tolstoy. Had you read Anna Karenina to know what to do? To time and time well. The fifth I’m told. I’m told you looked at your watch and timed four. Took your point on the fifth. Well timed, I’m told. Intact head. Beautiful head.

She can’t tell me. Your mother. She can’t tell me. And didn’t... a body long gone, cold skin stiff and stretched. A beaky instead of a fleshy nose... like a witch’s hat. Nails grown and shaped into claws... like she’d never worn them when alive. Stiff white covering. A slanted narrowing edge to the leg-end of the coffin, saving wood...

You weren’t mentioned at her funeral. The priest, no friend of the family, came with the funeral package... Well, the priest rolled off the names of Dorothy’s children. I listened for your name. I said to myself... I’ll bet Vonnie gets no mention. I concentrated as the names were rolled out. You were not mentioned. I wanted to protest, but I contained myself. Anyway he was a sleazy priest, Mother. He pinched Nanna’s wreaths. We came out of the crematorium and he was loading the boot of his car with her flowers. He said he was taking them for the poor parishioners. Would you believe it, Mother? Collecting wreaths for the poor parishioners!

But Nanna never spoke of you... except once, when it could only be you she was referring to. She said... she said to the room or, more exactly, to the atmosphere in general - she said with a sigh... ‘They should never have taken her children away.’ She was seated beside my bed in the psychiatric ward of a general hospital. Mothers with post-natal depression were feeding their babies. My grandmother... your mother... sat... and sighed with deep regret.... ‘they should never have taken them away...’ Those were her only words. She did not name you.

And now this couch is what I have left. Your couch. It is old. Older than me. No doubt it sat you... sank and formed itself into the shape of your body... offered comfort and rest to your body, knew your body...

I’m sorry I don’t remember you or your body, or your touch, or your smile. No memories. Your death was too soon to allow memory to register with me. Others remember. Hold stories close to their hearts, withhold all...

You hoped it would be taken as an accident... didn’t you? Positioned at the level-crossing end of the platform... It wasn’t taken that way - you were observed. Your brother, your favourite, he went down to identify the pieces, your bits of broken bone and flesh - Was there no neater way for you to die?

You were burgled away from my childhood... by illness... burgled away so I never knew you. Divorced and absent of any memory of you, I treasure a few photographs... From them I recreate you...

Your flesh was crushed between the rails and wheels of a train - I imagine the impact...

But I hear your voice sometimes taunt me, dangle my loss... taunt me with the cadences of Keats....

Look here... see... here it is... my nipple. It suckled you dear... way back then... With it I thee suckled... See, here it is... I hold it towards thee... Your painful entry was my demise... Stroke the wet of my vagina... see if you can remember that warm place... the place to which you can ne’er return...
Like Keats your voice has the power of a dead hand.

Listen to his poem -
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed - see here it is -
I hold it towards you.
Mother... withdraw your icy hand...


He doesn’t like my dwelling on your death. My man. I’ve been with him for ten years. He held me down on the bed once, and screamed - ‘Don’t drag me down into the muck and mire of your filthy past.’ He didn’t want my pain. ‘Let her sleep,’ he would say. He would implore me - ‘Let her sleep.’ He fought against your memory... a nightmare... that kept me locked in the past... ‘Let her go...’ he would say.

Dear Mother, the agony in my heart twists into a knot, and if you weren’t already dead I would strangle you... My narrative stumbles, twists into a knot... entangles a noun - your memory, and strangles and unties your last felt verb.

Your story has no denouement...

2. The Characters of Nineteenth Century Fiction

She wanted to squash the characters she read about in nineteenth-century fiction. She wanted to put an end to their wholeness, the bodies given to them by an author. They had histories, motivation and denouement.

She kept the characters in matchboxes. They were small but they were real. They had bodies.

One day she took hold of an axe. It was a toy axe with a head one centimetre long and a handle four centimetres long. It was small but sharp. She opened the matchboxes one by one. She looked at the characters she’d read of. One by one she killed those fictional people.

She held the miniature axe in her giant’s hand. The boxes with characters of fiction in them lay open on the bench top of the vanity basin in her parent’s bedroom. Anna Karenina with her deep grey eyes. Heathcliff with his brooding brow. Rochester with his stern face just beginning to gentle at the corners of the mouth. Tess with her torn and bloody dress.

She looked down on those bodies, creatures of the imagination. She lifted the axe five centimetres above the first box. She hesitated, then brought the axe down firmly. One at a time she killed those characters. With her little axe she chopped each in turn into three pieces - head, torso and legs. She watched the blood soak into the matchboxes. The matchboxes swelled with the wet of the blood. The blood stained the white surface of the vanity bar and ran in rivulets into the basin. She picked up the matchboxes and dropped them into the small white plastic bag that lined the bedroom rubbish bin. The bin was made of metal. It was coloured red, green and white. The bin had a painting of roses on it. The roses were scattered around the centre of the circumference of the bin. She washed the bench and basin of the vanity bar.

She picked up the white plastic bag containing the dead and bleeding bodies of the characters of fiction and walked out of her parents’ bedroom. She walked down the hallway. The floor was covered in a square geometric pattern with orange-brown and beige cork tiles. She walked across the TV room, which opened out, without a wall, from the hallway. From the TV room she walked to the bathroom and from there to the toilet. The toilet had two doors connecting it to the bathroom and laundry. She walked through the toilet into the laundry and from the laundry she opened the back door and walked out into the back yard.

It was mid-morning of a hot summer day in central Victoria. The gum trees in the back yard stood tall and grey-green against a blue sky. The air was shimmering, bristling with the noise of a hot summer day. Cicadas crackled in the heat. Blowflies and bees bumbled, hummed and hissed in the heat.

She walked across the back yard towards the fence that divided their home block from the neighboring farm. Along the fence was a channel. She hitched up the skirt of her dress into the legs of her underpants and waded into the warm, brown, muddy waters of the channel. She was still holding the white plastic bag with the dead and bleeding bodies from fiction in the separate matchboxes.

She waded through the waters to the bulrushes. The yellow-green leaves were long and narrow and sharp. They grazed her legs as she pushed a path towards the centre of them. The bulrushes themselves were soft and beige in colour. They were beginning to open and would scatter soft seeds when the wind rose.

She stopped in the centre of the channel, surrounded by the bulrushes and hidden from view. She rested her bundle against the reeds of the channel and untied the double knot in the white plastic bag. She picked up each matchbox in turn and opened it. She gently placed the little heads, torsos and legs of the characters of nineteenth-century fiction between the reeds. The pieces of the bodies floated and then slowly sank into the muddy waters of the channel.

She bent over and gently swirled the pieces of the characters in the muddy waters and then pushed the pieces softly into the sandy soil at the base of the channel. Then she stood and bent down again to swirl her empty hands in the water. She stood up again and dried her hands on her dress. She bent over and picked up the white plastic bag, rinsed it in the muddy waters and watched the darker brown bloody liquid pour back into the channel. Then she walked back through the bulrushes to the edge of the channel.

 She scrambled up the bank of the channel, still holding the white plastic bag. She walked across the back yard, under the gums to the back porch. She placed the plastic bag in the big metal rubbish bin that was standing by the back door.

She walked from the back door along the path that led around the house to the front yard. Her brother was cutting the front lawn. She picked up the rake and followed him in the mown path he had made. She raked the fresh green grass in piles and felt and smelt the clean grass at her feet.

3. My Seated Lady

My seated lady is a sculpture. She is made of fibreglass. She is a grey moulded life-size figure of a seated woman. My Seated Lady has her eyes shut. Her face is pensive, contemplative. Her hands are folded in her lap. The legs of My Seated Lady are parallel, the left leg raised slightly higher than the right leg. My Seated Lady has no feet. Her legs end in stumps on the floor.

I can see My Seated Lady as if she were alive. She raises herself from the chair. She walks two steps to the dining table and I hear a metallic heavy clatter as her feet-less legs and stiff-jointed body move from the framed steel chair of the sculpture to the soft cushion of the dining chair.

My Seated Lady sits at the dining table with her hands folded in her lap. She cannot move her arms or hands. She cannot rest her arms on the table, say, and let her hands gesture as she makes light conversation. Her arms and hands are moulded into the side of her body.

So My Seated Lady sits at the dining table without the use of her hands and arms. She is demure and looks with interest at the surroundings she has slept in for the past year. My demure lady looks at the steel sculptured frame of a chair placed in the corner created by two perpendicular floor-length windows. She looks askance at me. I return her look. We glance pointedly, silently, at each other. Having expressed our mutual distrust we sit back in our chairs and relax.

I offer My Seated Lady a drink. I pour two glasses of cold white wine. Because she doesn’t have the use of her arms or hands I place a straw in her glass. She leans forward and sips her wine graciously. She sits back and flips her head back. Her lank sculptured hair is no longer swept on her right side but sits comfortably on the nape of her neck. Her hair is now free of the back of the sculptured steel chair.

My Seated Lady sits back in the dining chair. Her head turns sideways to look on her right side and out of the window. She seems about to speak. I gesture for silence to be maintained and leave my dining chair and go to the window. I raise the floor-length venetian blinds so that My Seated Lady has a view from her position at the dining table through the picture-frame, wall-sized window into the middle branches of a plane tree. The sun streams in through the window and warms My Seated Lady as she sits at the table.

As the sun warms My Seated Lady her fingers begin to move and crackle and stretch in their demure folded pose. As her fingers stretch into action her arms move upwards. The fibreglass breaks away down her sides in a rough seam as she raises her arms. She raises her arms above her head and stretches, her grey-black fingers cracking and moving above her head.

A breeze blows through the plane tree. A branch bangs and scrapes against the study window. I call the branch which arches directly against the glass pane of my study window My Mother’s Claw. My Mother’s Claw always points at me accusingly as I sit at my desk. While My Mother’s Claw points at me, the leaves around the branch flap against the window pane.


My Seated Lady looked from the dining room to the study. My study opens out from the dining room through an arch. My Seated Lady sat forward and leaned her fibreglass elbows on the table and propped up her fibreglass head.

‘How do you live with that branch hanging and scraping against your window?’ asked My Seated Lady.

I did not want My Seated Lady to speak. She was sitting opposite me at the dining room table, her chin rested in her uplifted hands, asking me sardonically, ‘How do you live with that scraping branch?’

I looked across at My Seated Lady. I did not answer her. My Seated Lady shrugged and stood up. She went into the kitchen and fetched a sharp knife. She walked with a clatter like a knight in armour from the kitchen across the dining room to the study. My Seated Lady clambered up on the study desk, her bended knees against the wall, the feet-less, stumpy ends to her legs protruding over the desk edge. She opened the study window wide and leant out towards the tree. With her rough fibreglass arms and crackling hands My Seated Lady took hold of My Mother’s Claw and pulled the branch towards her. With the sharp kitchen knife she hacked at the branch. The branch was freed with a ragged edge from the tree.

My Seated Lady arched her back downwards and brought her shoulders and head through the window and back into the study. She dragged the hacked branch of a plane tree inside with her.

‘Do you want it? Do you want to prop it somewhere or can I throw it away?’

I looked at My Seated Lady with disdain, jerked my head and remained silent. My Seated Lady leant back out the window and dropped the hacked branch onto the bitumen footpath, one floor below. The branch landed with a thud and rustle on the ground below.

My Seated Lady arched back from the window and clambered down from my desk. Her joints were warm and loose now. She ambled back to the dining table. Without sitting down she picked up her glass of wine. She removed the straw and drank the rest of the wine in a gulp, her rough seamed fibreglass arm moving her hand and glass freely to her mouth.

She placed the empty glass on the dining room table and walked to the steel sculptured chair.

‘Thanks for the wine,’ said the Seated Lady as she sat back into her frozen pose, her hands folded on her lap, her legs parallel, the left leg raised slightly higher than the right leg, her sculptured hair frozen into a sweep on the right side of her face.

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