A memoir of the end of a marriage by playwright Renée.
At the age of 50, Otaki author Renée started to write the plays that made her one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed writers. Her focus was on creating work that put women centre stage. Now, at 88, she has written a memoir; it tells her story in a series of patches, like a quilt. Each one is either an account of her life, an unpublished poem or story, or an extract from one of her plays or novels. The following extract is an autobiographical account.
Saturday, 30 May 1981. The woman, fifty-one, dark, plumpish, glasses, packs a large suitcase. Every thirty minutes or less, she wipes her face. She has severe menopausal symptoms. She hasn’t slept properly for three years. It has taken her fifty-one years to get to this moment.
The man, sixty, thin, balding, glasses, sits at the table, watching. He is not an articulate man or one to give in to emotional outbursts. He’s basically kind, he does his best, he’s faithful, he understands about good sex, he works hard, he loves her but he doesn’t know how to say, Please don’t go. I can’t bear it if you go. Or perhaps he does but he knows she will go anyway.
She: There’s food in the fridge.
She: I have to go.
She: It’s not your fault.
He nods. He doesn’t believe her. But she’s right, it’s definitely not his fault. It’s not hers either.
She: I’ve stayed for thirty-one years, you can’t say I haven’t given it a good go.
He: We should never have come to Auckland. It’s her.
She: It’s not Auckland. It’s not her. It’s not you. It’s me. I’ve had forty-eight years of being responsible for other people. Now I want to be responsible just for me. I haven’t ever had any time to do things. I’ve had to ask for time. Had to ask if it was okay. I don’t want to ask any more. I want it to be my time. I don’t want to have to arrange things to fit in. I want to just know that it’s my time and I can do whatever I want with it. I don’t want to have to fit in. Sorry, I’m repeating myself.
He: I thought you were free.
He looks to where a second, younger woman stands in the doorway, says: You’ve won.
The second woman says: It’s not a contest.
The first woman thinks, Yes it is. It’s a contest inside me and for the first time, I’ve won. She looks at the younger woman and thinks this won’t last either, a year or so, she’s too young.
She: I don’t think I’ve changed, I think I’m just tired of having to fit in, of always having to remember you, the kids, others. Now they’re grown-up, they don’t need me. I don’t want to just gradually grow old, be part of some background. I want my own ground. This is the only way I can have it.
He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t answer because he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what she means. All he knows is that something’s broken in him but he doesn’t know how to say that either.
She knows it. She knows it but she pushes the clothes down in the suitcase and forces the lid shut.
He: Can I come and see you?
She: Ring me. The number’s by the phone.
She picks up the suitcase. It’s really heavy. The other woman is leaving.
He: I’ll carry it.
She: My own ground.
She carries the suitcase.
He begins to cry.
She walks out. It’s not until she’s shutting the gate that she realises she’s crying too.
These Two Hands by Renée (Mākaro Press, $38) is launched at 7pm this evening at the Otago Women’s Pioneer Hall in Moray Street, Dunedin. It will also be launched in Wellington (November 12) and at the Women’s Bookshop in Auckland (November 21). These Two Hands is available at Unity Books.