Carolyn Taylor-Watts: A Sometime Husband

The Opening Chapter to a Novel


Date: 1986

“I don’t want to go!” George refused to get into the back seat of his mother’s car.

“Oh, for heaven’s sakes, why ever not?”

“It’s boring,” George muttered this between his teeth. “Old ladies sit around and talk about flowers and cooking and stuff and grumble about their husbands …”

“That’s enough!” His mother had heard. Then, softening her voice she said, “We can drive to the farm afterward. You can look at it, maybe walk over it.”

George slid into the back seat of the family’s old Chevy and said nothing until his mother drew up to a rambling wooden building at the junction of the main road and one that ribboned itself up into the hills. “I’ll stay in the car,” he said.

“No you won’t. You’ll get out and come in with me. Stand up straight.”

But George remained slouching in the driveway to the hall, hands in his pockets while kicking gravel with his school shoes.

“Irma, why did you bring the boy?” Several grey heads looked his way as George sulked behind his mother.

“I can’t leave him at home alone. Not a boy like him.”

A boy like him – What did she mean? But George knew. Over months and even years, he’d heard voices whispering about the house, the shop, the teachers at school. The boy needs his routines. After all that’s happened, you don’t ever want to surprise him. He needs to know in advance what he has to do.

At this moment, George looked about for his chance to escape the pitying eyes of women who gathered every month in this drafty old hall. The Women’s Institute, they called it. His thoughts raced: he could hide behind the parked cars. Make a dash for the road that ran past the petrol station. Take a short cut through the gully and so get to the farm. Twenty minutes would do it if he ran fast. And in his mind, he was already roaming with his brothers and the dogs over hills and valleys between Uncle Bruce’s farm and theirs, chasing each other across the creek, climbing macrocapa trees.

“Oh, here you are George. How are you, young man?”

George looked up, to find himself on a cold Saturday afternoon, back in the hall’s pebbled driveway, a lone boy among a bunch of nodding farmers’ wives.

“Well, little man.” At the particular inflection, George stuffed his hands tightly in his pockets. Little man? Why do grown-ups call a boy a little man? He was eleven years old, and right now he would give up everything he valued to actually be a young man and escape all this: his mother, his brothers, the butcher shop, this bunch of fussy women who seemed only to talk in banalities: “How are you? Oh, you know.” Sighs followed complaints about husbands, about badly-behaved children, about the new teacher’s demands and the upcoming autumn fair. About the quality of linen. About recipes.

“Do men have meetings to go too?” He heard his voice, high and scratchy.


Only to the beer hall.” Someone laughed.

“Here’s Kath!” His mother’s voice bounced loud in the echoing space of the community hall, and into it stepped a woman unlike any George had ever seen, unlike any of the women chatting in groups near the stage. Tiny, dressed in blues the colour of forget-me-nots, scarves the colour of a fiery sunset, she seemed to appear out of nowhere – and then she was gone – gone as though she’d never been.

At this moment, his mother’s voice jolted him.

“George, it’s rude to stare! Kathleen has come from Hamilton to talk to us about interior design and how to decorate our houses. Heaven knows I could do with the help. And you: you might learn something useful which is why I brought you.” She smiled at him briefly. “About colours and such things.”

It was not his mother’s voice he heard, but the strange woman’s fluting one, a voice that surely could silence nightingales, her smile light up a dungeon. He hung about her as the women chatted, smoked, laughed, as they gossiped and complained some more about their husbands.

Kath spread out coloured cloth and paint samples on tables, a jumble of home decorating books beside them.

“Kath, do come home with me for dinner. It will be just me, my husband and the boys – oh, and my brother-in-law Bruce. You’re not in a hurry to get back to the city, are you?”

And that was how Aunt Kath met George’s bachelor Uncle Bruce.