The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble
MOVING AWAY.................MOVING OUT.........
Recently betrayed, divorced and rejected...
Meet ladylike Candida
in soft pinks and dusky blues,
in part one of her diary.
She turns 50 soon
of the seedless grapes,
when you taste them.
brought up in that faith,
temptation is sin.
She inherited their sense of guilt.
She has never lived
in the heart
of a big city before.
Looking from her tiny flat
at a spectacular London view
and distant council high-rise,
never changing morning sky,
day after day,
with dim and polluted sunrise,
waiting for a deadly grey
to sunset of orange, purple, yellow
and bloody red.
Although the stars are often obscured,
Candida can see the constellation
of the seven sisters
if true change can still happen
at her age…
Passing a sad and browning
on her first walk
around her new estate
just like her,
a year or two back.
“Will it outlast my own sojourn?”
She keeps asking herself.
Once upon a time,
she lived in the centre
of England’s first Christian community
in a house of the family of Earl Grey fame.
She drank the bergamot-scented brew,
scoffed scones with the creamy
works and wander
amid wild and lovely grounds.
It seems so empty,
so pretentious now.
Once upon a time,
she was married
to a very good looking Englishman,
correct in every way,
when love has perished,
he has become the most self-satisfied
and self-serving hypocrite in England.
Once upon a time,
she was three times a mother,
and could rule over small lives.
Her three daughters:
Haughty first born,
Candida drove her husband
The second born
and the least favoured,
has removed herself from the family
and the youngest one
is full of
‘Darling this and Darling that’
towards her new stepmother.
Candida finds such manners false.
Once upon a time,
she allowed two women
to befriend her,
she has always been a passive person,
so different to Julia from her school days,
who came from somewhere
and was already set on traveling elsewhere.
Julia’s England was a society of citizens
who are upright and self-sufficient,
energetic, adventurous, independent-minded,
loyal to friends and robust against enemies.
Candida has grown accustomed to looking
to her ex-husband for her welfare,
the idea of looking out for herself
seems impossible and frightening.
Fat and noisy Sally visits her,
how they entwine about one another
and strangle one another.
Sally, like Julia,
likes talking about sex,
although by her own account,
she had no experience of it.
Seeing Candida’s discomfort, she laughs:
“If you just set out to be liked,
you would be prepared to compromise
on anything at any time,
and you would achieve nothing,
not even a good laugh.”
She looks back on her arrival in this strange place.
Pigeon dirt, dog dirt, cat dirt
and human dirt,
in this trap is her freedom
there is no profit in self doubt
and too late for regret and remorse.
Now she lives trapped
an enclosing gloomy and grey
The only real security is the security of the opportunity.
Who might she befriend on crowded London’s streets?
People are always banging irritable
and sometimes angrily into one another.
Londoners are not patient people,
they don’t speak to one another much.
is there anyone to meet?
Anais is her first exotic girlfriend
she has known riches in her time
and she is still by temperament a big spender.
Anais believes that there is creativity in all.
“No one should feel guilty about wealth
or being exceptional, but work hard
and exercise humility.”
She bursts out laughing from her carmine lips
and moves lustrously in her dress
in splashes of mango and canary.
All inhabitants in Candida’s building
they don’t even look at one another
as they pass on the stairs.
There is something liberating about this total indifference.
Mrs Jerrold is in her mid-eighties
and lives in a posh part of the London,
in an overcrowded bohemian little nest.
She looks as though she is looking
into the thereafter.
Perhaps she spends too much time
thinking about the long-dead.
She caught Candida’s glance
and leapt into the present.
“To wear your heart on your sleeve
isn’t a very good plan,
you should wear it inside,
where it functions best.”
Her third London’s friend,
Cynthia, takes her breath away.
Candida never really had a job
in her real life,
but Cynthia seem to have had dozens
lined up for her.
She has a restless energy,
no skills and isn’t good with money.
She plays life as it comes
and learns as she goes.
“I look out at the world with confidence,
I am used to take responsibility
and I am allergic to the culture
Cynthia waves at her and rush
to another evening class.
“Cynthia is right,”
Candida smiles to herself:
“There is a lasting pleasure in the exercise of the mind.”
In the part two in her diary,
they sail homewards
across the Mediterranean Sea,
from Tunis to Italy,
Candida and her friends,
setting off bravely,
as good companions.
“Do she still have it in her to find some happiness?”
She asks in her last entry before the voyage starts.
“That magical land awaits you now.”
They hear the voice of Valeria,
their dusky and musky guide,
that is a fine counterblast
to the pallid English looks of theirs.
These women keep faith with the past,
they keep faith with myth and history.
The seven sisters see the sights.
“How can anyone bear to live in the dark damp streets of London,
beneath an evil sky?”
The travelers of the third age cry out loud.
They gaze, wander and enjoy their free gift of aftertime.
They come across palaces
long since tumbles into ruins.
long miles on deserted beach.
“The ocean is just like life itself,
so difficult to control.”
into gentle waves:
“So much wind,
so much unpredictability
with swell and tides..”
She gets a phone call from home,
her daughter is in hospital.
Suddenly Candida looks
dim and miserable,
the dimmest of the stars.
At her age and living in solitude,
she is so thinly connected to life.
In part three in her diary,
love for her daughter
has taken her
by the throat
and forced her heart
for a moment
that she had died.
she had passed
from life to death
and into eternal time.
As the ghost of the precious mother
she writes her diary
in her daughter’s tongue.
She has only ever wanted
to by taken by surprise,
to get to where she doesn’t know herself,
to become ‘her no more’.
Self pity is a seductive emotion,
Candida suddenly realizes.
In the last part of her diary,
she is condemned
to wearing out her life.
She tries to mend
the gap that had opened up
between herself and her daughter.
She has been lying to herself,
at quite a deep level,
for most of her life.
She must learn to grow old
before she dies.
Daring to fail,
listening to her sisters' advice:
“You are Londoner now,
you don’t succeed
by having the right ideas.
You need the confidence
to defend those ideas,
and see them through.
Life is not always about compromise.”