True Stories

True Stories by Helen Garner

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Authors: Helen Garner
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became feeble and began to appease her.’
    â€˜We’re always very quick to apologise,’ says Three.
    â€˜That’s our way,’ says One, ‘of keeping everything on a safe, superficial level. We say, I’ve hurt her. I’ll call it rudeness and say I’m sorry.” Whereas if we were really going to have some form of intimacy, we’d yell at each other—“damn it, get that look off your face!” ’
    â€˜I hold back from fighting, usually,’ says One, ‘because if I say to my sister what I really think about her, I’m licensing her to tell me what she really thinks about me. And I don’t know how to defend myself against that. I’m afraid of it. Because sisters don’t subscribe to each other’s mythology. To the myths of each other.’
    â€˜I’m scared of you,’ says One.
    â€˜I’m scared of you, too,’ says Three.
    They laugh, and look away. Then they glance at each other again, curiously. Gently.
    There is a tendency in our family to brood on slights. Each likes to tell a story in which she appears more sensitive and more hard done by than another. We would rather be wounded, and glory in our outraged sensitivity, than take it up to the offender and make a protest to her face. Thus we end up with a series of shrines. Each of us (with the exception perhaps of Two, who is more robust, frank and fearless) keeps a private shrine to herself, with a little lamp inside it eternally flickering, and the oil that feeds it is the offences dealt out by her sisters. The misplaced smirk, the thoughtless crack is stored away, and for a while the little ego-lamp burns more brightly—until there’s the shift, when the incident is related to one of the other sisters as a story, constructed and pointed with the primary aim of provoking laughter and a momentary sense of alliance. It becomes another chapter in our fanatically detailed, multi-track story about ourselves, which is hilarious, entertaining, appalling, obsessive. It is related in a secret language composed of joke pronunciations, silly accents, coded phrases whose origins were forgotten long ago but which are heavy with meaning and will always raise a laugh. We are major characters in the stories of each other’s lives; we are all acting in an enormous comedy that will go on till we die. It has no audience but its own performers: our children and husbands roll their eyes and walk out of rooms. Its time scale is an endless, immediate now.
    Obsession and Intimacy
    â€˜Once I was raving on,’ says One, ‘about my family to a bloke I know who’s got four brothers. After a while he started twisting in his seat, and then he burst out, “Anyone would think you were the only person in the world who had a family!” I felt foolish. But I sort of couldn’t help it . ’
    â€˜I have to hold myself back,’ says Five, ‘with anyone I meet, from talking about our family. My friends are probably driven bonkers by the way I go on about it. They never seem to need to talk about theirs. I prod them. I say, “I didn’t know you had a brother. Tell me about him.” But they say they can’t be bothered. “Why?” “Because he’s boring.” How can a brother or sister be boring ?’
    â€˜I think it’s something wrong with us ,’ says One. ‘I’ve spent my life trying to have friendships outside the family which will provide as much intimacy as I get from my sisters. It’s a doomed enterprise. So I keep crashing and smashing and falling out with my friends. They can’t stand the demand for intimacy and attention. I bore them, I irritate them, I wear the friendship out.’
    â€˜I don’t think intimacy is the problem,’ says Two. ‘It’s because you’re too bossy. We’re all too bossy.’
    â€˜ I never got this intimacy from our family,’ says

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