MARIETTA PEABODY, MY NEMESIS.
A fictional tale – any comments would be most welcome.
Even after all these years, her name still has the power to send shudders through my body. From my earliest childhood to my twenties, she was the bane of my life, and the town busybody. She made it her life’s work to pry into everyone else’s business, though she seemed to concentrate mainly on mine. Why she singled me out, I have no idea. Maybe because we lived next door, or maybe she just had it in for me. However, I didn’t realise the true extent of her evil nature until I was around 4 or 5 years old.
I went to school with Christopher and Robyn Cahill, they lived over the road in our little country town. One day they decided to play doctors and nurses, I had no idea what that really meant. My older sister was a nurse, so I naively thought it would be about saving people. I even had a little plastic stethoscope to listen to my patient’s chest. How green can you be? We were half way thru discovering parts of the anatomy I never knew existed, when my father arrived. The look on his face was not ‘a happy to see me look’. He yelled at me all the way home where ,upon arrival I got the strap, nowadays it is called child abuse I’m sure. How did he find out? Marietta Peabody just happened to be passing by the Cahill’s place, and she felt it was her responsibility to pass this vital information onto my parents. What did this woman have against sex education I ask you? After that little episode , I decided I disliked her .
Her next effort caught me smoking a cigarette behind my parent’s woodpile. She saw (?) the smoke rising and decided to investigate. By the time, I wandered up the back stairs feeling very sophisticated and daring, my mother was waiting with the feather duster. Punishment for my sins again, courtesy of Marietta Peabody, now I really disliked her. Didn’t that woman have anything better to do with her life? Did she lie in wait all day for me to do something wrong so she could hightail it over to Mum and Dad, and tell them of my grievous misdeeds?
There were numerous infringements over the years, too many to relate here, so I will give you just a small sample.
My father told me to come home straight from school, no detours. All the other kids went to the local milk bar after school for milkshakes, ice creams, gossip, and a bit of flirting. This sounded a lot more fun to me than staying at home with nothing to do, and nobody to play with. Therefore, one day I decided in my wisdom that I would join them. Guess who was doing her shopping at the town centre? You guessed it, Marietta Peabody. My father arrived on foot with a thunderous look on his face. He marched me home in front of everyone with the occasional slap on the backside to make sure I knew I was in trouble. How humiliating. My dislike became stronger. I could barely look at the woman. Not that she was much to look at anyway. Grossly overweight, her greasy brown hair was flecked with grey, and she had mean piggy eyes that never missed a trick. She also had an annoying habit of scrunching up her mouth when she looked at you, as if you had just crawled out from under the nearest rock. I don’t think she was ever a kid, or if she was she must have been perfect, I’m sure.
As I grew older, my crimes became more serious, kissing Martin, one of the older Church boys, rated highly on her radar. She got a lot of enjoyment out of that one. After Sunday school while the adults were still in Church, all the kids used to sneak down the back paddock, where hidden behind some bushes, we felt quite safe from discovery. All was going well. I was enjoying myself immensely, and learning quite a bit about kissing. It was much better than practising on my pillow, or my arm, which the other girls at school assured me, was the way to practise if you didn’t have a boyfriend. I wasn’t too bad at it either if I say so myself, Martin didn’t complain. Now really I ask you, what possible reason would a woman of her age have, to be going down the back paddock while Church was still going? Why wasn’t she in Church with all the other adults? I’ll tell you why, spying was more fun than praying obviously. I am sure she defended her actions as doing God’s work – as if! In the time, it took us to scramble guiltily to our feet, dust ourselves off, look presentable, and then wander nonchalantly back to Church, Mum had already been informed in graphic detail. Another severe lecture, and more privileges revoked. Thank goodness, I was getting too old for corporal punishment now.
The list of misdemeanours went on and on, until I reached my twenties. I was convinced that woman had spies out all over town, or at the very least had eyes in the back of her head. On the other hand, maybe she was clairvoyant.
When I was twenty-one, I met my future husband, Brian. I was boarding in Brisbane while I finished my studies at University. Weekends, I drove home to visit my parents. Needless to say I tried to keep out of Marietta’s way as much as possible. Brian and I decided to hold our wedding in Dad’s country Church. Dad would take the wedding service, and Mum would play the organ. My brother-in-law was going to give me away, and my sister was to be the bridesmaid, so it was to be quite the family affair.
After our marriage, we were going to move to Brisbane permanently to follow our respective careers. I was studying to be a social worker, and Brian was studying medicine. He wanted to be a pediatrician. I came home one weekend full of good cheer and excitement to discuss wedding plans with my mother. All was going well until we decided to go through the list of people invited to the wedding. Guess whose name leapt out at me?
I put on a very convincing act of a demented person, I ranted, I raved to no avail, and I pleaded. I think there might even have been a little bit of foot stamping in there as well, but it didn’t sway my mother’s resolve one little bit. Marietta was invited, and that was that. It was beyond my comprehension, how could my mother befriend a person like her? Mum said she felt sorry for her, and I was being selfish. Selfish my foot, it was after all my wedding. The only person that was going to be sorry was me. Let me ask you a question, would you invite your worst lifelong enemy to your wedding day? I think not.
The great day arrived, and luckily we had beautiful weather for the photographs. Our wedding went off without a hitch. Everyone said the bride looked beautiful, well, they always say that don’t they? I was wandering around the reception chitty chatting to the guests,and thanking them for attending, and for all their lovely wedding gifts, and their kind words etc. when disaster struck. There was Marietta dressed in a garish red and black suit, more like a tent if you ask me, in full voice telling my new husband’s entire family and friends, about all the crimes I had committed in my childhood. They were all smiling and nodding, some of them laughing. I was panic-stricken. There were things I didn’t want anyone to know, let alone my new family. Who, I might add, had thought up until then that I was quite a nice person. Rather than cause a scene, I put on my sweetest face, and cooed to Brian that I needed to see him on a matter of extreme importance. Looking puzzled, he trotted obediently after me.
“Get your parents away from that woman,” I hissed in his ear, “She’s senile, not only that she’s nasty and vicious as well.”
In his best condescending bedside manner he said, “Oh! I think she’s a bit young to be senile don’t you? Besides, it is funny listening to her talk about your childhood. You never tell me those sorts of things.”
“I wonder why? Maybe it’s because those things are private, and not for public consumption?”
I stomped off in high dudgeon with a toss of the head and a swish of my wedding dress, convinced that everyone at the reception would soon be talking about my misspent youth before the evening was out. Once again, she had ruined my life. Dislike turned to extreme dislike.
That was over thirty years ago. After I finished University, we moved to Brisbane, started our careers, and had our nuclear family as planned. A few years later, my parents also moved to Brisbane to be near their two grandchildren. I didn’t ever have to face the prospect of seeing that awful Marietta again. Thank goodness for that, my life was complete.
Until today that is.
The ward sister gave me a list of people I had to interview regarding their suitability for an aged care facility. Three positions had become vacant. Since they were as scarce as frog’s teeth, we had to make sure the most deserving got the positions. Guess whose name printed in bold black type was on the top of the list. No! it couldn’t be. Was this woman going to pursue me to my deathbed or beyond? Surely, there could only be one of her? With my heart pounding, and my palms sweating, I went to the door and anxiously scanned the waiting room through my glass panel. I couldn’t see her anywhere. Maybe it was a mistake; there could be someone else with the same name. I said a silent prayer, please, please, let that be the case. Nevertheless, as I opened my office door and tentatively called her name, this wizened old woman came tottering in with the aid of an orderly and a walker. It was her. I would recognize her anywhere. I was speechless. This was my nemesis? The woman I had hated, well actively disliked anyway, and feared for over forty years. Even though I had aged, gracefully I might add, she had stayed just as she was in my memory, eternally frozen in time. I never thought of her aging or changing in any way. After I had seated her in my office, we caught up on what was happening in my life, and I asked her about hers. She opened up to me and told me things that I never knew, though I am sure my mother knew. Marietta told me that she had become a young widow after her husband was killed during the Second World War. She had never remarried, and admitted that she had become bitter and resentful. She spent her life grieving for a way of life that could have been, a happy marriage, children, grandchildren. She denied herself all future love and happiness because she was so caught up in her first love. She was convinced that she would never find another true love, so of course she never did.
As I sat listening to her life story, I felt pity instead of dislike or fear. I decided I couldn’t hate Marietta after all. Her few friends had moved away or died, her parents and siblings were long dead, and she had no one to care for her, or about her. In her late eighties, she couldn’t look after herself anymore, and she was frail and sickly.
It’s funny you know, when I was a kid I never thought of her having a life or having hopes, dreams, sadness, or love. It was an alien concept, because I never thought of her as being a normal person. She was always Marietta Peabody my nemesis.