Warning by Jenny Joseph (1932-2018)
When I am an old women I shall wear purple.
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
When I put my grandson, Max, to bed tonight here, he said, ‘But this smells like Noah.’
Noah is Max’s cousin, the same age, three, and a strong significant presence, like breakfast, or mummy, or love.
He indicated the quilt. ‘This is Noah. It smells like her.’ Him.
It does. It smells like the washing detergent that Noah’s family use, and it is Noah.
Then we read about dinosaurs. He falls asleep, strongly living, and asleep. His hand is still reaching for the lamp dial, an Ikea lamp with a brass dial that controls the light.
Then I go and look at some books given to me by a friend who is 94 and can no longer hold the books upright to read them. Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong; a set of four volumes dressed in pale green watered silk, announced in gold, housed in a slip case, and volume one with a large grease stain on the sublime watered frontage from when he last read it, propped at breakfast.
My friend, Richard, who can no longer hold the books up, is lying strongly, asleep.
All is life.
When Peggy was young she left her husband in Woomera and he burned all her books in revenge. When she told me this, she laughed and said: more fool him.
She came to the shop again, last Friday, driving up from Adelaide all by herself, fearless, irreverent, divine and eighty four. She only has one eye, the other one is made of glass but she threw it in the bin some years ago: the doctor that prescribes that can go to hell. Once when I visited her, she showed me a photo of herself just before she was sent to an orphanage. She said: gawd I was ugly. But she wasn’t.
Peggy has read everything.
She always carries a few emergency thrillers in case she is forced to go to a show, a musical, to church, and then, luckily, she can read to pass the time.
She says: what have you got for me to read Kerry? I offer her Good Literature and she says it is all shit. She goes to the science fiction instead. She is very tall, very angular, very bold, unforgettable. When I used to visit her in Strathalbyn she wore a man’s dressing gown to the door and carried a glass of red wine. She has read all of the Game of Thrones and can’t wait until the next volume or the next season to comes out, when she will be 85.
I said: that series is very violent and she said approvingly: hahaha.
Last year she nursed her own daughter, who was dying of cancer, until she died. Her new friends she has made since moving to Adelaide tell her to join a walking group. They say it will be good for her. They say she should not read so much.
(Peggy has read everything.)
She looks at me and asks me if they are right.
I ask her to please never change. She says: hahaha!
Peggy has never once had an easy life but this does not impress her and it has never mattered.