At first Granny would only whisper when she spoke about the bachelors. That’s why I only ever heard snatches of what she told the cards ladies, but I knew it was something exciting and delightful, like a slice of her lemon meringue pie. I was a skulking, flappy-eared child; always hovering around adults rather than playing in the garden with my cousins.
“Go outside and play, Timmy boy,” Granny would say, and reluctantly I’d trail away into the garden.
I didn’t seek out my cousins though. Instead I perched below the open sunroom window, listening to the ladies within.
Granny’s long dead brother Morris had been a bachelor, she told the cards ladies, and she loved him dearly. Morris was a private, proper man, so the fact that he never married was not up for discussion. However, one day he came home so shocked from an occurrence that he simply had to share it with Granny. A friend from the RSL had invited him around for afternoon tea. On the appointed day, Morris turned up, his Scottish Terrier in tow, eagerly anticipating a Marie biscuit and a chat. The door was opened by an elegant personage wearing a silky black negligee and immaculately applied make-up. My dignified great uncle was so shocked that he ran all the way home, his little Scottie trotting obediently after him. Morris wasn’t that kind of bachelor.
Granny’s hairdresser was also a bachelor, but of a more extroverted variety than Great Uncle Morris.
I was shy of Charles and always hid when he paid Granny a visit, usually in the pantry off the kitchen where he cut Granny’s hair.
“Why does Charles talk in that way?” I asked, once he’d left.
“In what way, Timmy boy?”
“He talks like he’s excited about everything.”
“Well, he leads a very exciting life.”
“What does he do?”
“Oh, he goes to a lot of parties and has some very artistic friends.”
The next time Charles came round to cut Granny’s hair, I ventured out of the pantry and sat at the kitchen table, pretending to read a Famous Five book, but really I was watching Charles. He was wearing pants and a shirt like Dad did, but around his neck was a floral cravat that shimmered and rustled as he flittered about Granny, snipping off wisps of her hair. His tales of parties and galleries and Europe were far more exciting than the bedtime fairy stories my parents read me. From then on, I always happened to be reading in the kitchen when Charles came round to cut Granny’s hair.
Granny went to mass twice a week and she prayed with rosary beads. One night I was round at her house sitting in front of the fire, rearranging crackling mallee roots and briquettes with a poker.
“Timmy boy,” Granny said. “Don’t you ever forget that God loves all people. It makes no difference to him whether they’re a bachelor or a married man.”
“Yes, Granny,” I replied, but I didn’t know what she was talking about.
Granny died when I was ten but I think she already knew that I would be a bachelor when I grew up.