Room for Delusion : Margaret Mathews
Room for Delusion
Bella. Isabella Cavani. I whisper her name. It sounds like a hummingbird fleeing my mouth, and if I shout it, the letter ‘l’ pulses in my head and vibrates away. She’s Isabella Cavani. Bella. She’s my therapist. And I’m terrified of losing her.
Bronwen is vulnerable. She consults psychotherapist Isabella Cavani. But who is Bella? In consultations at the well-heeled therapist’s home, Bronwen wonders: is she the younger version of her mother who can listen as her own mother could not? Or is she the secret woman she desires?
Certainly Bronwen (with an ‘e’) will reveal through their sessions the shapes of her life: her parents, teenage angst, her husband, the kind and gentle Richard, her children and their times. An exposť of the fantasies and yearnings of a woman undergoing psychotherapy, the novel offers insight into the spirited but destructive Bronwen and her quest to overcome fears and obligations to an ageing, disturbed mother.
Told through the lens of Bronwen’s lusting for Bella, Margaret Mathews Room for Delusion oozes with life. Mathews is brilliant at capturing the panic involved in some of our everyday acts. You will ache for the ending.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world
My mother’s younger than I am. I only see her for an hour a week in her lounge room. I’ve never seen her at night, never had a coffee or a meal with her, never seen her bedroom and never given her a kiss. I visit her every Friday at eleven.
She always seems delighted to see me. She swings open her front door after I knock, smiles serenely and beams ‘Hello Bronwen.’ Once I thought I heard her call me Bron. She may be tired or troubled but never shows it and I would never ask. She leads me through her hallway into our room and shuts the door. We are alone. She is mine for an hour. All mine.
A distant train clatters and toots, a school bell dings and children whoop and squeal, but inside, all is hushed and tranquil, as if in a cathedral. The cider-green, high-ceilinged room is lit only by daylight. A piano hugs one wall and jutting from another is a mirrored Victorian mantelpiece. Vases and unlit candles are strewn across it. A writing pad, diary, box of tissues and a dish containing pens, sit on a coffee table. Yellow roses have been shoved into a clear vase.
A bay window glares onto a gaping lawn spilling into a purple paradise. The bunching wisteria clutches a trellised brick wall and fingers of sunlight tease it further. It nestles and commands. Nodding straight-laced irises, enticing lilac and pliable sweet-faced pansies, wave and smile. A bobbing lanky buddleia turns, oblivious to the surrounding hierarchy. Only the jasmine interjects. It trespasses through the azure-like labyrinth and occasionally its scent sneaks into our sanctuary. If I crane my neck, I can just glimpse Port Phillip Bay. Sometimes the drapes are drawn so I cannot daydream. We have to concentrate, this younger mother and I. We have to work hard. She will fix me. She will make me better.
She sits in her paisley-printed chair and waits. I hesitate onto an opposite matching two-seater couch. She’s there just for me, this Madonna of mine and her goodness and guidance will save me. She waits for me to speak. Always. She encourages and praises and listens ever so attentively. She studies my body language; catches the lilt in my voice, sees my hands clasp and notices my eyes watering. Sometimes hers water back. She leans towards me and occasionally mirrors my gestures. But we are different and not allowed to merge. That’s forbidden. Taboo. ‘Death,’ she says.
My younger mother is only younger by sixteen months. Actually sixteen months and four days. I counted once.
‘How old are you?’ I asked.
‘I’ll be forty-five on Cup Day.’
Finally, I knew something about her. I only had to inquire.
Sometimes though, if my question is considered too personal, she says nothing and just smiles. She says I slip over the boundaries. Also forbidden.
She’s shorter than I am. I’m tall with beefy shoulders because I’m a lap swimmer, but she’s more genteel. God threw me together, although he chucked me a good pair of legs, long sensitive hands and (thank you) an attractive face, but He pondered over her. He painted her an olive colour and moulded curvy hips. He marvelled at his generosity with her breasts and really took time with her face. Her eyes are like alpine lakes stung by the Mediterranean sun, and when she smiles, could radiate world peace. Her hair is Roman black, cut into a bob. As it swings into her face, she brushes a wispy bit from her lips.
She smells like... well she doesn’t smell like anything really. She’s not meant to draw attention to herself. It’s part of the job. Often a whiff of coffee and sometimes cinnamon, tempt from her kitchen. I suspect she’s a sensational cook. A server, a nourisher, a pleaser. Her voice flows out like honey. Orange blossom honey.
She wears lots of black, mostly tailored suits, but occasionally flits around in hugging jumpers, short skirts and opaque tights. Lately with boots. Once I saw she was wearing long stripy socks under her slacks. All the way up to her thighs.
‘Great socks,’ I murmured.
‘They go all the way to here,’ she pointed.
Sexy, teasing bitch. She is cultured and classy, elegant and educated and I reckon she’s also a rich bitch. I can’t live without her.
I would never have met this woman if my marriage to Richard hadn’t crashed. We were separated but still had sex. He’d moved into a nearby flat and after midnight if I was crying or shaking, I’d bolt from our sleeping daughters and roar around and pound on his door, even if his lights were out. He was always asleep. Thank God another woman wasn’t there. And he always accommodated me. I felt soothed but restless after our lovemaking, would dash home soon afterwards, and gaze at Georgie and Alex, hoping they hadn’t dreamt of my abandonment.
When Richard came over, we were cats marking our territory—flinging ourselves across the kitchen table, straddling dining room chairs, pummelling into the carpet. Flesh fanatics. But I always felt empty afterwards and Richard would get angry. Cock, tongues and tits couldn’t fill us up enough and we felt bereft and bewildered.
With a crate load of courage, we staggered, like a couple of refugees, into the Rathdowne Street Relationship Clinic. Like a lighthouse, it beamed out signals of illumination and hope.
Our first counsellor was Pauline. I think she had red hair. Her breath smelt of onions.
‘How did you two get together in the first place?’ she queried.
She was one of those clucky, broad-bummed, finicky types and said, ‘I can help you but I can’t ease your pain.’
I was glad when she left for Sydney.
At the next session my fairy godmother appeared. Even then she had a certain aura about her. She was always the professional. Long strides, firm shoulders and confident address. Yet when she sat and faced us, seemed as vulnerable as a little girl with ringlets. Her hair was longer then and she wore it behind her ears. When she became animated, her earrings danced like marionettes.
And she cared. Her concern, like warm milk, soothed us.
She battled on, as Richard and I blamed and cajoled, lamented and wept. We were lambs, and she yelped like a sheepdog, focusing on our desires and anxieties and disappointment at not being able to fulfil each other’s unmet childhood needs. She did enlighten us and radiate hope. Occasionally Rich would say ‘she’s on your side.’ But she wasn’t. She was very fair.
I visited her months later. She greeted me like an old friend. Richard had moved back in and we were all sweetness and light with each other.
She ushered me into her room, drew up a chair, and leaned forward. I was wearing jeans, and a floral T-shirt with pockets, where I hid my hands when I became anxious. It doubled as a maternity top.
I blurted it out. ‘I’m pregnant.’
‘I can tell,’ she said. ‘Your eyes say it all. You’re just blooming.’
She was happy for me. Happy that I’d fallen pregnant again at forty, after always wanting three kids and happy she’d helped Rich and me re-unite.
‘You’re a genius,’ I remarked.
I know we spoke of my father that day. She knew he was dying of lung cancer and had encouraged me to try and get close to him. And I did, although he wasn’t very receptive. But I’m glad I tried.
Even now I remember the exuberance of that session. She can’t recall a lot of our Carlton sessions and can’t quite picture Rich’s face. She wished me luck. I asked her if she saw clients privately and she simply replied ‘yes.’ She sent us a card after Andy’s birth and I rang to thank her, but she wasn’t there so I left a message.
And I picked up a red felt-tipped pen and wrote her name and number very boldly in our Teledex under the letter ‘B’. They stayed for six years and I often wonder why I didn’t erase them, but they stand fiery and defiant. The letters slope, like their namesake, sexy and seductive, sleek and mysterious. Bella. Isabella Cavani. I whisper her name. It sounds like a hummingbird fleeing my mouth, and if I shout it, the letter ‘l’ pulses in my head and vibrates away. She’s Isabella Cavani. Bella. She’s my therapist. And I’m terrified of losing her.
|Box Opening Ceremony|
22 August 2027 at Black Pepper
photos by Laila Moughanie
Maragaret sees her book in print for the first time