Next day, after Walter had left for work, Katherine put on her little black dress, her single strand of pearls and ear rings, make-up, dressed her hair in a French roll, calmly took down a bottle of tranquillisers from the bathroom cupboard, sat on her couch with a glass of water and swallowed the tablets, three by three by three by three, until the bottle was empty.
Drowsy, feeling at last peaceful and free, she lay down under her favourite mohair rug, arranging it gracefully around her. I wouldn’t want them to find me looking a mess, she thought.
As the anguish and bitterness floated out of her she saw only the light part of her life. Her mother plaiting her pigtails and telling stories of her own childhood. The Christmas tree with her blue Malvern Star bicycle, its rainbow cotton web over the back wheel. Riding at speed down the hill from home to school; selling rides on her bike, Dad laughing approvingly at her enterprise. Playing cricket in the back yard with Dad and cousins when they came for Sunday roast. Mum advising her not to get above herself when she won praise for her beauty, Dad advising her to reach higher when she won praise for her brains. How lucky she’d been to have wise and caring parents.
London days and her first taste of life on her own; carefree, optimistic, enchanting, exciting. Coming home and winning roles in theatre. Meeting Walter. Falling in love with Walter. Walter falling in love with her. Their perfect love, vows of fidelity. Buying their home and renovating it with their own hands. The warm shared satisfaction of entertaining friends. At weekends, making love before, rather than after dinner so that they could linger over a romantic dinner, aglow.
Oh, it had all been so-o-o brilliant.
And it had been brilliant. So brilliant. But that was before ... before ...
Well, you read her story.
He fell in love with her instantly. Totally. For ever. That moment changed his life. So overwhelming was the emotion that he struggled to get his breath, as though he’d just run a mile. This was not love by degrees; he’d gone from composed director to shy boy. He put his hands in his pockets to stop them shaking. Now he knew what the word thunderstruck meant. The word he couldn’t find was the one to describe her. ‘Beautiful’ was an absurdly over-used word; it could mean everything and nothing. He always thought of himself as a Grace Kelly sort of man, but this was Audrey Hepburn.
‘Who is she? She’s so ...’ he whispered to his as-sistant.
‘So ... I know. She’s beyond description isn’t she?’ Bill Anderson was smitten too.
‘But who is she?’
‘Name’s Katherine Bates. She’s trying for the part of Esther. No bets on whether she’ll get the part.’
Coming to his senses, assuming his responsibility as the senior director of television series, Walter Leverson said ‘I haven’t heard her voice yet. No good without the voice.’
‘Well, listen, right now, she doing her lines.’
Walter listened. Perfect, her voice was perfect. It was music and wine, pleasing his ear and his palate. He was producing Australian drama and felt the Australian twang was over-represented these days, as though there was a national determination to es-tablish an identity through the Australian ‘accent’, if that was the word. Katherine Bates had what he would call, natural speech; not the affected English accent you heard from certain announcers and around the high end of the social set, but a voice without accent, with a warm tone that sent a shiver down his spine,
Everything was perfect about her in Walter’s eyes. Her facial proportions reminded him of the heads they drew in art classes: classical dimension, an oval with a line down the centre, one across for the eyes and another across for the mouth.
Classical. That was one word to describe her. Young, yes, but there was character in her face, suggesting she had experienced life. He didn’t care what her experiences had been, he would marry her. Such was his confidence. But not only confidence, it was a belief that they were destined to marry. And he believed in destiny.’
When she came to his office to meet him, as was customary for new actors in the series, Walter was in his mantle of director.
‘Miss Bates, welcome to the cast. You’ve met the crew by now. Esther develops into a substantial character, so you’ll need to read the scripts through in advance ... get the drift of her involvement, which runs to the end of the series, so you will be commit-ting for the rest of this year. Management will draw up your contract and deal with that side of things.’
‘Mr Leverson., One thing I should mention. I’ve applied for a job as a newscaster. If I’m fortunate enough to get it, I don’t think it should prevent me from playing in the series. Would that be all right with you?’
‘Katherine ... we use first names on the set, so I’m Walter ... quite a few of our cast have what they call ‘day jobs’, part time work they fit in with acting, which doesn’t pay enough to live on. Newscasting is a ‘night job’, so I’m sure it will fit in. Good luck with that by the way. You’ll make a first rate news reader. It’s good to see women in the role these days.’
Katherine stood to leave and Walter rose, reached across the desk and shook hands. Could she feel his pulse beating? beating, along with her pulse, twin pulses keeping time with each other?
He said simply, with a smile that embraced without touching, ‘I expect to be seeing a lot of you Katherine.’
When she had gone Walter leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Pure joy. She responded to him. He could feel that. She blushed when he held her hand, the faintest smile on her lips. She must know her destiny is linked with his. Like Andro-gyne, they were halves designed to find each other and become one.
Walter Leverson was one of those blessed with an equable nature. Everything about his life had been equable. His parents were middle class, intelligent, responsible and reasonable folk They brought their son and daughter up to look at life on both sides, to weigh up, to settle for peace.
In their youthful years Elaine and Roy Leverson leaned to communism, - so many thinking people did in those days. When the movement became aggressive, they modified their views and became socialists. When socialism was glued to communism in most eyes, they swayed to the Labor movement, which they found more congenial with their ideas of equality. When Trade Unions became violent on occasions, they retreated a little and turned their attention to the United Nations with its ideals of finally making this a fairer and more peaceful world.
So that Walter, when he became a producer of documentaries, was able to present a balanced picture of his subject. This skill served him equally well when he began producing films; he was able to bring out all sides of a character; even the villain was some mother’s child, had a portion of non-evil. It was what distinguished Walter Leverson and won him many awards.
In appearance he was average: average height, average build. Even features, straight brown hair, warm grey-brown eyes. Even his teeth were average, a little irregular, crossed fronts, most of the molars filled, eye teeth crowned and he hoped to hang on to them for life now that he was having regular dental care.
Not bad looking in fact. A warm smile that went to his eyes.
With his belief in non-violence, he had never been in a fight in his life. He either talked peace or walked away and thought kids who spoiled for fights were quite irrational. After all, what did they gain from a fight? A bloody nose, or they gave one.
As a documentary producer, though, he was confronted with scenes of enormously destructive violence, and used the rational argument that by playing his part in distributing the scenes he was showing viewers how senseless and brutal it was. When he was producing films, although the violence was faked, he wrestled with the thought that faked violence was there as entertainment. He was more at home with the television series he now worked on - dramatisation of Australian life, from colonial to present day.
Unlike most of his mates, he was light on sexual experience. Not because he didn’t feel passion, but because he was looking for something more than sex and reckoned it was worth saving himself up for that. He poured his passion into the scenes he filmed and found himself aroused when the actors were convincing.
Katherine Bates was this ‘something more’, he knew on sight of her. She had soul.
‘Oh Walter darling. Not like that! The glass should be here, like this.’ Katherine followed Walter around the dining table moving the crystal glasses several inches to the right at each setting.
Walter huffed off, out the kitchen door into the garden. He wasn’t used to being directed. What did a couple of inches matter with a wine glass. If Katherine had a fault, it was that she was too meticulous. Still, he didn’t want to have an argument over such a petty issue. After the first sip their guests would put their glasses where they pleased. He chuckled as he pictured Max plonking his glass down and splashing a bit on the immaculate tablecloth. Not to mention wiping the perfectly ironed table napkin across his greasy lips.
He recalled the time he lifted his eyes from the book he was reading to watch Katherine ironing those delicate napkins. She ironed the surface, then folded it in half, precisely, ironed the division, then folded in quarters, precisely, and ironed again. He tensed with irritation, got strung up over it. Had to walk away to stop himself saying something like ‘For god’s sake, do you have to make such an exercise over that?’ He would have folded the damned thing in four and given it a once-over each side.
He supposed that’s what being married was about: getting irritated about little things. It was how you handled it that mattered. Walking away from it was his best method. By the time he’d gone a few steps he was over it. Sorting personalities and rela-tionships was, after all, an essential part of any director worth his salt; Walter had a discerning mind.
He was marvellously content three years into their marriage, remained utterly in love with Katherine. He’d discovered that her soul was as lovely as her outside. Unspoiled by adoration ... and everyone adored her ... thoughtful, loving, generous, faithful. He’d never had a moment’s doubt about her fidelity. She took her pledges seriously. And if all that makes her sound too good to be fun, well far from it.
He folded his arms to hold in the thought: she was the perfect lover, perfect for him. They were at home in each other’s arms, yet it could seem they were exciting, uninhibited strangers when they made love. He hoped they’d always be like that - magical souls uniting.
Tonight was one of Katherine’s dinner parties. Always a success because she planned and prepared - with typical precision - and brought it together like a theatre production, so that guests were so at ease they opened up like nourished blossoms.
Max was bringing his latest girlfriend, Fay Cunningham, a journalist from a city paper; Joan would be there. And he’d asked Pallin Manne. He didn’t know Manne well, much lauded travel writer, but he was making a name for himself as an actor. Max wasn’t keen on him, but still, opposing minds can make for lively discussion.
Tonight’s dinner was a special one: he would announce at some stage, when the glasses had just been filled and nothing contentious was under discussion, that Katherine had been appointed to host a new show called The Interviews, which would discuss social and political affairs with the leading figures in their field, not just in Australia but across the world. He was immensely proud of her, if a little abashed that her salary would surpass his. It certainly confirmed management’s respect for Katherine’s intellectual capabilities, which meant a great deal to her.
‘Now don’t go making a fuss about it tonight,’ she said, when he told her he would call for a toast at dinner. ‘I’d prefer a toast after I’ve proved myself in the role.’
Walter and Katherine had three overseas journeys together, In Europe they hired a car in Paris drove off main highways along small rural roads, stayed at village inns and guest houses, ate at ordinary little restaurants obviously serving the locals, where they sometimes had to wait until the regular workmen had been served. When they finally took their seats at the table, they ordered what the workmen had and thus brought home recipes from the heart of France, dictated by the cook, in his or her large apron, and written by Katherine on the back of their meal docket or a scrap of butcher’s paper from the kitchen, into which they were generally invited.
Back home, Katherine typed them all out and filed them. It followed that most were from France, where cooking is an art, as Katherine divined, because like artists painting, the cooks designed as they created their dish, tasting and adding. So Kath-erine’s collected recipes were never precise - ‘Careful with the salt, taste it first’, ‘If I have fresh basil I add it’, ‘A little sugar might be needed’. ‘Sometimes make with beef, but c’est bon with chicken’.
Tonight she was serving as near as she could to the veal cordon bleu they’d had at a sixteen-seat restaurant in a village in the centre of France. Katherine started her day pounding flat twelve veal slices and sprinkling them with salt and pepper. She placed a slice of Swiss cheese and ham on six of the fillets, fitted the remaining veal on top of each and pounded the edges to hold the contents. The veal ‘envelopes’ were dipped in flour, then in beaten eggs, then in bread crumbs. The cook’s secret was to add finely grated parmesan cheese to the bread crumbs and to fry in dairy butter. Katherine fried the veal envelopes on each side and put them into the fridge ready to bake through in the oven later to serve with asparagus spears and tiny new potatoes roasted until their skins bubbled to crispness.
An entree. Beans Parisienne, of steamed runner beans sauteed quickly in butter, salt and lots of ground pepper, lemon juice, topped with pan-browned sliced almonds, was the French way of starting a meal, confusing Australians who expected their greens and spuds on the same plate as the main course.
To please the men at her table - because it’s men who like their puddings - Katherine took trouble with dessert, and since Walter had decided to make it a special occasion, she chose to honour the French again with the glorious Gateau St Honoré, which she and Walter adored above all desserts.
Mid-afternoon she prepared and cooked the pastry base with its puff dough border; made the cream filling, and set both aside. Marguerite, the owner of the Provencale kitchen where they came across the cake, advised ‘Assemble at last moment’ to keep the pastry and dough crisp.
A balanced meal and early preparation meant that Katherine could give her attention to her friends at table rather than fussing in the kitchen.
Walter sat at one end of the table and Katherine at the end near the door and kitchen. It was called ‘the head of the table’ in her upbringing; Walter looked rather like her father, sitting there.
Max thought the beans a bit pretentious, and said so, at which Joan had told him he was being gauche.
‘I am not left-handed,’ he countered, spoiling for a friendly verbal contest.
‘I didn’t say that. I said you are gauche.’
‘Gauche means left-handed. If you use French words you should know what they mean.’
‘It’s been Anglicised. Means, in my dictionary, socially awkward, tactless. Fits you perfectly.’ Joan laughed to show Max she was joking when she saw him glower in her direction.
Walter pipped in: ‘Yes, they do change meanings with constant use. I expect the French would be furious that we should steal their words and change the meanings. They don’t like anyone mucking about with their Français. Or their anything else for that matter.‘
‘Good for them,’ said Katherine. ‘Especially their cooking.’
Conversation turned to the French and their determination to remain French French, not European French.
‘Can’t blame them. People are held together by language,’ Walter said.
‘And by religion,’ Pallin Manne said. ‘Look at the Arab world for instance. Not just a country, but many countries held together by religion. And what is the result? War. Bloody war.’
‘Nothing new in that,’ said Max. ‘They’re all guilty - at some stage. I thought He said, or was it Jesus? “Love one another”. Christ almighty, to use his name in vain, there’s been a mighty lot of hate emerging from religion.’
‘Hard to argue with that. But there’s been a lot of good too,’ said Katherine. ‘And where would we be without some sort of religion ... I mean moral guidance?’
By the way Pallin Manne drew himself up in his chair, here was a subject of interest to him. ‘One can set down moral guides without a god to dictate them.’
‘And where do you suppose these guides would come from?’ challenged Max, who had not followed any religion since Sunday school.
‘From rational thinking. In a primitive society, you slice the head off a member of your tribe and he’s no longer of use to the tribe; you’ve diminished your numbers. Therefore, tie him up and punish him, but don’t kill him.’
‘All with the intention of using him to fight a neighbouring tribe and slice their heads off I suppose,’ said Max.
‘Certainly that would have been reason enough to stop killing your own. After all, the tribe had to defend its territory. In time, with a bit of cross-trading and conferring, the idea would spread that it wasn’t a good idea to kill.’
Katherine: ‘I think you’re wrong. There’s an inherent good within us all. Look how we react if we see someone in pain. That feeling of compassion isn’t something that comes from outside of you. You can’t learn to feel compassion. No amount of expla-nation can make you feel compassion. It can only be brought from within you to your senses by ... well, I think by religion. That’s perhaps the true value of religion.’
Pallin: ‘It isn’t doing a very good job then.’
Katherine: ‘And what would your alternative be then? How would you make this a world without religion, without wars; without hate, without injustice, without violence? Without poverty for that matter.’
Pallin: ‘I’d ban religion for a start. Then I’d gather the wise men about and have a list of dos and don’ts drawn up. Bit the way you run a school.’
Walter: ‘And I suppose you’d be the headmaster.’
‘I might be as good as any.’ He laughed and drained his glass in a sort of salute to himself and his ideas.
‘You’d have a hard time banning religion,’ Max countered. ‘There are some pretty fierce believers out there. And they don’t slice heads off these days - they turn a gun on ‘em or send in a suicide bomber whose been promised a place in Heaven with a posse of beautiful girls.’
‘I’m speaking hypothetically, naturally. But I hold to my views regardless of the impossibility of doing anything about it. I find the whole idea of God a myth in a world where science has given us better and surer explanations of life on earth. And I’m just one of a rapidly growing number. Besides, one lot has their god and another has a different god. And some have many gods. So who is God for god’s sake?’
Katherine: ‘I like Gandhi’s view of this best. That all religions are pathways to the one God. That we should respect each other’s religions and try to be better within our own religion; Christians better Christians, Muslims better Muslims, Hindus better Hindus.’
She could hear Walter in the kitchen rinsing the main course plates, a circuit breaker in the conversation destined to reach nowhere,
She stood up. ‘The dessert calls me to my kitchen.’ She and Walter paused for a joyful kiss as they passed in the passage to the kitchen. ‘Love you, love you,’ she whispered. ‘Adore you,’ he said.
She piled the creamy custard into the pastry, dusted with icing sugar and returned to the dining room, holding the plate high. ‘Tarah, tarah.’ It was a triumph. Walter and Max had seconds.
Then Walter stood up. ‘No don’t stand up Walter. Say it from the chair,’ Katherine felt shy.
‘OK, from the chair then. Everyone’s glass full? Well, friends, tonight we celebrate not just a brilliant cook and a stunning hostess, but a woman who stands out from all the rest - apologies Joan and Fay - but er, her moment you might say. Katherine has been appointed to host the new show The Interview.’
Clapping interrupted Walter’s train of thought and he forgot the little speech he’d intended.
‘Darling,’ he said raising his glass to her, ‘You’re going to be the best show host ever. I should know that.’
When the guests had gone Walter and Katherine sat in their comfortable lounge chairs in the living room with its windows on to the garden. Outside the trees, green and lively by day, were silent, ghostly forms, the sky more distant with its stars.
‘Say, how about a nightcap?’ said Walter rising from his chair. ‘Curaçao? Or fancy a vodka?’
‘Curaçao ... more flavour.’
‘How long have we had this bottle of Cointreau? Must be three years and still half left. The right drop to finish the night, again thanks to the French.’
‘Didn’t the Dutch discover it? Storing the herbs and spices and fruits in a brandy-based liqueur made from Valencia oranges on the island of Curaçao. I read somewhere they put bitter orange peel in it.’
‘It says on the bottle that the French invented the dryer triple sec, producing a clear liqueur, coloured it orange and called it Cointreau,’ said Walter scan-ning the label. ‘Debate goes on about the triple sec; one school reckons it’s triple distillation and the other says three times as orangey. The Grand Marnier with its brandy base is more after the recipe of the Dutch, even if it is a French label.
‘Don’t know why Cointreau colours some of it blue and some red. I much prefer orange, looks better, tastes nicer.’
‘Agreed. Red is a bit off. And blue doesn’t go for a drink. I’m not a judge of Cointreau, but I agree with many opinions that it’s one of the best triple secs on the market.
Katherine pushed her shoes off and sipped the li-queur. ‘Mm. Nice. Reminds me of Venice. Remem-ber when we had three of them at Harry’s Bar one night? Wonder we didn’t fall in the canal.’
‘I also remember that the canals smelt like toilets. But I’m being unromantic aren’t I? Looking on the dark side.’
‘No,’ she said smiling across at him. ‘Just your honest self. Not many people are their honest selves. And that reminds of those fantastic masks we saw in Venice. Did they represent the honest selves, or the hoped-for self, or the deep unconscious self?’
She sat up, alert now. ‘Since people, all of us I mean, wear a sort of mask most of the time, then those fantasy masks were really masks worn over masks.’
‘You’re getting complicated Katherine. What’s this all about?’
‘Well, as you know I’ve been studying Jung for some time and he talks a lot of masks. He calls them our persona.’
‘Now don’t start losing me in some deep psy-chological business I can’t handle or I’ll switch off.’
‘Quite simple Walter. Jung means that we wear the mask to signify what we are supposed to be in the public eye. For example, a man who is a judge, wears a fairly serious expression, is careful never to appear flippant or irresponsible; a teacher puts on a mask of authority and avoids looking like a night club dancer; look how priests behave? They walk like priests, talk like priest, behave like priests. But are they really like priests on the inside?’
‘I guess that’s why it makes headlines when someone behaves the opposite of the mask. Say a judge is caught dealing in drugs or something.’
‘Thing is, under the mask, in the unconscious self, things are flourishing in the dark, like weeds. If you don’t take a good look at them they’re going to overtake you and come out a bit like a volcano.’
‘You mean, say, a child hates his father but subdues it, obeys the old man but resents it until eventually he murders him.’
‘In extreme cases, yes.’ She sipped and licked her lips, savouring the Cointreau.
‘What about Max then? What’s under his mask?’
‘Hah hah. I’m fond of Max, despite his cutting wit and dismissive style - his mask. He’s a softy underneath all that and can’t risk anyone seeing it, because probably as a child he cried over a dead kitten, say, and was laughed at.’
‘And his girlfriend of the moment, how about her?’
‘Fay’s wearing the mask of the tough journalist out to dig up a story, If she doesn’t dig up her own story in her unconscious, she could end up trapped into living a lie and never knowing her other self. I don’t see much future in their relationship with Max and his mask and Fay and her mask.’
‘Joan then? How about Joan?’
‘Joan sits behind her mask, but she has her dark side, like all of us. She obviously found the role she was best suited to play: friendly, helpful, understanding, generous. But she hides her unconscious self. She has the primitive instincts of all women, jealousy, hatred, vengeful,’
‘Joan, vengeful, hatred; doesn’t sound like her.’
‘She’s had moments when she’s lost her temper and said something hurtful, gone off in a huff. Then says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me” as though it was some unrelated thing that came over her, it wasn’t her. If she looked into her unconscious and sought the cause of her temper, she could bring it into the light and deal with it. We can’t go on pretending to be someone else without consequences.’
‘How about you then? I can’t see you having any deep down demons. Can’t imagine a dark side to you.’ Walter said. ‘What I see is what I get with you.’
‘To an extent. But only because I have looked into my unconscious and come to terms. I found deep down I was resentful, sulky, vengeful, destruc-tive and a lot of other unpleasant things. When I was quite little, about three or four, my mother spoke harshly to me for doing something wrong; I went to my bedroom and sulked and then tore the arms and legs off my favourite doll. It was years before I opened that up and realised I’d been resenting my mother and the whole world. I battled with it, but it’s always there deep down. I know it’s there but I’ve admitted it and that helps me reason it out of the way.’
Walter, apprehensive, said: ‘What about me, or is it better not to ask?’
‘I suppose it’s a risk, because you have a strong resentful streak.’ She noticed he was about to reject. ‘Oh yes, you do. Not that I love you less for it don’t think that. The mask you show the world is one of a measured thinker, fair and reasonable, peacemaker - and of command when you’re filming. But my feeling is that your unconscious hides a violence you can’t let out because you were taught as a child to suppress what is after all a primitive urge in man. So you have burning anger in you which comes out sometimes in your reaction to any attack on your integrity - by which I mean, attack on your persona, your mask. Your anger comes out not in physical action, but in words, sometimes words not spoken, but thought. As Jung says, it takes moral resolution to realise our shadows.’
Walter at that moment was inwardly all she had said: resentful, angry, vengeful, and needed to turn it on someone else. ‘What about Pallin Manne then? What’s his mask?’
‘Ah there’s a mask indeed. A man with a deep shadow and an unexamined unconscious. Believes he’s the font of wisdom endowed with prophetic powers. God doesn’t exist because he’s taken that role himself. I feel there lurks something quite dangerous in him.’
‘Dangerous? Overstating a bit aren’t you?’
‘Yes. Dangerous, because his feeling of godlikeness, his inflated opinion of himself, is something he can’t control, can’t see. He’s become the myth he’s created. I sense there’s a festering inside him that will force its way out, somehow. Maybe in violence or ... well, I don’t know what.’
‘Enough. It’s all too gloomy. Let’s off to bed,’ said Walter.
When they lay in bed, Walter hugged and kissed his wife. ‘I’m so proud of you darling. Regardless of what they said about God tonight, I’m thanking Him for bringing us together.’
‘I too, Walter. I feel so blessed. We have so, so much to look forward to in our life together.’
She kissed him lightly. ‘Too full of food and wine to make love tonight. But ... tomorrow is ... Sunday.‘
The Interview became the highest rating programme in the channel’s history. Katherine Bates’ intelligent and probing questions, her ability to draw out the interviewee, to strike a balance, won even the harshest critics. Newspapers and rival channels followed her leads. The BBC checked her programme daily and frequently picked up items from The Interview.
Research and preparation meant giving up newscasting, where she was greatly missed, but viewers stayed on her programme following the news. The Board considered Katherine Bates their most valued asset.
Life was on a high for Katherine for the next three years. Then, just when, overjoyed, she found she was pregnant, her father died suddenly of a heart attack. A life arrives and a life goes. She was deeply affected by his death, but sustained by the loving, rich relationship they’d had. The blessings for his life made her sadness more bearable.