Excerpt From Down Under
The Middle, or the Muddle
In the middle of the journey of her life, Jude Ewington realizes that she is starting to see lapses in the looks department. For a once-handsome woman, these downturns hurt, the losses as portentous as a rich man’s failing fortune. Some small restitution might be made – the equivalent of cents on the dollar – and rather than bemoaning this fractional comfort, Jude tries to embrace it. Products are available and she buys them; they promise to restore the appearance of a viable sexual allure. And buying them is action. It is dynamic, almost lusty, to care this much. At this particular moment (the eve of another birthday whose number insults her), Jude stands gamely in front of her mirror, wrangling the hooks and eyes of a waist-cincher. Her face reddens in a tug of war against time, that flesh-destroyer. Rage, rage, against the dying of delight – or buy the right foundation garment.
A feminist, a reader, intelligent and educated, Jude has to laugh at the irony. Having started her life on a par with any male, she now willingly tortures herself in ways they rarely would. The boned garment with which she wrestles was forced on women in more benighted centuries. Worse, still, are the anatomically incorrect shoes – too tight, too high, too pointy. Modern women bought such daggered monstrosities in order to follow the fiat: Seduce. This kind of self-inflicted pain – so female – was now oddly deemed macho, not masochistic. But no settled soul would stand it.
Jude had come of age in the heyday of sexual and gender revolutions. She knows that men are no longer conveyors of identity, status, or joy. She accepts that women can and should attain bliss on their own shoe-leather (however pointy). She has her accomplishments; she has had great moments independent of male company or opinion. Most, however, had occurred before desire had swept her away, weightless, and into their arms. She’d been an eager, curious girl until boys had entered the picture. Then her life had tilted as she leaned, eagerly, curiously, toward love. After that came marriage, home, and children. Yes, she worked (sporadically), but passion remained her narrative focus. Somehow, she’d been cast out as the lead. She’d had twin boys, which meant that three males circled her hearth, running towards it or away just as they pleased. So much of Jude’s life was conditional, vicarious.
She knows it all; she knows too much. But knowledge is not wisdom, and neither will affect a true desire. Nothing had ever felt as good as that first sweep of erotica, the brief touch of immortality that romance had once brought her. Jude is no pioneer right now; she wants to be a paramour. Like a courtesan, she needs to adore and be adored. After all these years, her chief wish is still to buckle up and rocket to the stars. She wants to shudder with love and relief as the truth reveals itself, crashing. What, she thinks, did these clomping years have to do with passion? They’d buried it. But wasn’t truth supposed to be timeless? And wasn’t love still the deepest source of truth?
Jude still feels that love is the deepest source of truth. She will excavate and find it once again.