Woman With A Man Inside by Barbara ParkinWoman With A Man Inside by Barbara Parkin

Woman With A Man Inside

byBarbara Parkin

Paperback | January 1, 1996

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Skeptical and feminist, funny and disturbing, Barbara Parkin's stories expose the truth about her characters' lives - some rugged, some pastoral, all humming with danger and beauty. Philipa struggles to define herself outside her mother's fantasy that she will marry royalty; Lena confronts the women who tormented her when they were girls; Joy looks all over for somewhere to call her own, and finds herself in the house of her childhood. These women struggle with the "man inside" who urges them to see themselves as men do.

Parkin's skill and daring makes her strong characters, exquisite detail and perceptive observations about human nature convincing and compelling. These powerful, gripping stories are about ways of perceiving the world.

"This is wise, sharp, powerful writing, and we're fortunate to have it."
-Gayla Reid
Barbara Parkin's poetry and fiction has been widely published in magazines and anthologies. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and has worked as a university instructor, magazine editor, library assistant and promotional writer. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Title:Woman With A Man InsideFormat:PaperbackDimensions:160 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.4 inPublished:January 1, 1996Publisher:Nightwood EditionsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0889711623

ISBN - 13:9780889711624

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Read from the Book

YOU DESERVE A HOME WITHOUT THE RAT," Ingrid said. "I'm going to take an apartment up the hill and give you and the girls the house."Joy said, "He is not a rat, Mom."Her mother said, "Do you want it or not?""I'll take it," Joy said.It was the house Joy had grown up in, the street that had shaped her, for better, for worse-gangly feet bounding across sidewalk cracks, around laurel hedges, under dogwoods, into the abundant vegetable gardens, for thievery. Joy was prone to defending it, the street (but never the house itself, the way every house flaunted a fertilized green lawn, trimmed edges. Orderliness could impress her. There were times she wanted to share in it.The first day in Ingrid's house, Joy painted a wall with four shades of green and made a blurred mural of forest trees. With a can of blue paint she mixed up a sea and surrounded the trees with it. She wanted to be loose, rough and completely unaware.Kim and Allyson watched her with a kind of nonchalant awe. She knew they tried to have many secrets and maybe they did, though fewer than they believed."She's a goner without Dad." Joy heard them in their bedroom. "When's his turn?"She wanted not to listen, but leaned toward their opened door. "Let's tell him Baskin and Robbin's The Extravaganza." The door slammed shut. Their resistance gave Joy hope.The girls were accustomed to long absences from their father. How different would a legal separation be? Throughout the marriage, Quaid lived in mining exploration bush camps-months at a time-and the girls were diminished to wetted mouths, living off their father's Express-posted teddy bears and postcards, waiting for his return, body and soul. When he finally did arrive home, he gave them the fullness of his bright love, his chocolate treats, his extravaganza of attention.He and Joy made love nightly-until time came for him to return again to the rocks. His frequent absences and far-away affections had suited her. Intimacy was best had from a reliable distance. Who honestly wants the same body around, close-up, night after night after night? The same worn terrain year after year? He accepted this, as he accepted most things about her. She could never say he had not been supportive.Quaid had always held fast to the hope of discovering a geologic anomaly, a mineral deposit with economic grade ore. He loved rocks, their solidity, their unending durability. Instead of monthly visits home, he used to send Joy letters filled with his plans for their future: the plot of virgin land he wanted to buy; the solar-heated geodesic dome he would one day build. He did want her feedback. Did she like the idea? Did she, too, want a geodesic dome, or virgin land? He was always using that word, given the chance. Virgin this, virgin that, virgin caesar, virgin page. It should have been no great surprise what happened.After the separation agreement had been signed, Quaid visited daily, when not in the bush. He was a trier. When he visited the house the first time, Joy was at work in her mother's garden, planting, composting, mixing herself up with the earth in her short shorts, her legs full in the dirt.She felt his eyes on her before he spoke. The weight of his gaze, so rare upon her skin.Truth was, he knew his wife better by touch than by sight. She did not want to be seen close-up, particularly while making love. So, he turned off the light. He misunderstood, and she did not want to explain.In a police line-up of masked naked women, he would be hard-pressed to identify his wife. She had accused him of this a few times. That she could even imagine such a scene--this, he said, was the real problem of their marriage.Their former marriage. Her long thighs, the sleekness of them, the memory of them receptive and open beneath the weight of his body. She knew what he saw when he looked at her. She felt his desire, his body longing for the woman who was his wife.He knelt beside her. "I want to make a home with you again.""Please," she said. "Stop now." She went in the house, closed the door, the drapes. A moment passed and she peered out, watching him stand firm beside her rose bed, empty of roses. The neighbour Jack Andrews, once a friend of her father's, appeared across the street, marched down his front steps. He tipped his baseball cap at Quaid. Quaid nodded.The two quick gestures exchanged between the menestablished common ground. She understood some men. It was no problem-she had one inside her.She'll be putty in your hands.She knew the talk, her father and his friends.Don't let those tight pants get to you. Wait your turn. She'll be back where she belongs in no time.Joy closed the drape and slid down the muralled wall onto the floor, knees up and apart. She thought of them, the men, looking upon her. Everything was tight.She concentrated on the following: roast chicken, lemon potatoes, bean salad, prep time: 30 minutes. The men vanished easily. She had a kind of control.Quaid returned a week later to visit his daughters for an afternoon. As he left, he put his hand on Joy's shoulder. His fingers rubbed into her suncreamed skin. She kept digging. Weeds. Grass. Worms. Her hands in the dark soil with the slugs, bits of composted egg shells and carrots. A flat of Super Cascade petunias lay waiting for transplanting. She wanted to reach, no gloves, and witness her hands inside a beginning, to start from seed, to be returned, ungardened, never domesticated.She watched his shoes walk back to his car. She listened to the car start up and rev, then unexpectedly switch off.She was forced to look up.Jack Andrews stood beside the driver's window, talking to Quaid. Both men looked in her direction. She was predisposed to this feeling-knowing the aim and intensity of men's eyes around her. But this was really happening. They were looking.Quaid revved up again, jumped into gear, and was gone.Jack Andrews strolled across the street toward her. He even moved like her father. She really had not counted on seeing him, his form, so often.Her father and Jack had been strange bedfellows, to be sure. Joy's father was the neighbourhood's hippy artist, King of Nude Sunbathing. Andrews had a buzz-cut and bulging arm muscles. They shared, however, the same shape-short, broad torso and long striding legs.Mr. Andrews took this occasion to lay down some rules. He made it his business to expect the street cleaning crew. He said this as he handed a notice to her, instructing the bearer to park elsewhere for the day, so that West Sixteenth Avenue could be soaped up, brand-spanking new."I'll be placing the notices on the windshields of all local cars. I watch over the place, the block.""I see.""Your father," Mr. Andrews said. "He's well, I hope.""Yes." Why not think of him?"He wrote me a postcard not long ago," Mr. Andrews said. "Could not believe it. England! Sent a computer code as his return address!""He doesn't like to miss out," Joy said.Mr. Andrews and her father, once the magnates of the neighbourhood. He had been a good man, her father. Certainly he had. Together he and Andrews had arranged neighbourhood hockey games, built a communal swing on the boulevard's giant oak. Although one voted NDP and the other Social Credit, they both kept track of kids who had lost their house keys, were both aware of the comings and goings of strangers. They pruned trees and rosebushes and enjoyed the domestication of nature,even though her father maintained a defence of pesticidefree gardening.Always, neighbours gave them the finest fruit from their gardens. Who did not love them?In his first letter to Joy, postmarked from Bristol, her father had announced that he was newly engaged to a forward-thinking woman from home, meaning Bristol. This news Joy was expected to give her mother. A year had passed since either had seen him.She could not speak to her mother about this passage in her father's life. Her mother was not a listener. She did not want to know.And so it went. Her father began to surface, looming benevolently in early morning dreams. She did tell her mother this much, and her mother reminded her that dreams were scientifically irrelevant, "like the brain's way of passing gas. Only narcissists, like your father, indulge in such foolish considerations."He appeared at Joy's bedroom door as she, a girl, prepared to undress for bed, to say that he had noticed a button missing from her blouse, and that she should leave it in the sewing bin for her mother to mend in the morning. He was no ogre. He never laid a hand. Get real.Sometimes she used to avoid her father's eyes, tried not to be the object of his curiosity. Other days, she found his gaze comforting, the way he took such an interest, unlike her mother, who was always on the way out, it seemed.At the breakfast nook, he sat across from her as she ate. Staring and smiling, just that. He told her things about herself, as if he knew her better than anyone. She was his. He made her. He fed her.When she was fourteen she determined (by observing other girls' fathers) that her father was special, the way his eyes followed her every movement, the way he and his friends talked about... well ... bodies. They were liberated! You could call it that. When she began to wear clothes in layers, they reminded her not to hide herself:The body beautiful!Let it all hang out, baby.Joy, her father said, one day you're going to have to let some young buck get a better look at you. It's nature's way.He said this to the nodding approval of his friends, who sat around the kitchen table drinking Inka. Against the bright window behind the men, delicate prisms hung, casting shards of bent light.Her mother always left when the art friends arrived.In front of mirrors, Joy began to see herself as her father saw her. It seemed necessary.You'll feel better without a bra. Bras are out.Women will kill for a shape like yours. You'll be an hourglass. Know what those are? 36-26-36.Her father said, Get your mom to measure you and we'll record your progress. Ingrid used to be one curvy lady. "at a shape, man. A goddess.The boys are going to be lining up for you one day soon.What if this were actually true? Or what if it turned out to be completely untrue? She did not know which was the worse future. Maybe this is the father's role, to foster her chances atsuccessful romance. When she did wear short shorts, the artist men who were gathered there in the kitchen sang their approval, rated her progress:Youth is wasted on the young.Some lucky guy. There goes Eve!It was fun, almost, standing there. And then she wanted to run like mad.When her father couldn't tell her something about herself, he wanted her to expose a detail he may have missed. Many evenings he asked what she had eaten at each meal, and then he tallied up her day's intake: "Caraway toast and jam, a bowl of Aspen, then ... let me see if I can remember. Lentil soup for lunch and Mexican cheese pie, salad and green beans for dinner. Did you have a frozen yogurt? I'll bet it was really good. What flavour?"Joy thought he was asking her what she had eaten to see how much she was costing them in food, but it became apparent that the cost did not concern him. It was something else. He wanted to know what she was digesting, what was going on inside her.Joy couldn't explain her problem to anyone; she couldn't call it anything. She mentioned her father's interest in her diet to her mother. It sounded absurd.Her mother believed in predictability. "So he asks you what you eat? He's taking care of you as he should."Joy gave her mother many chances to become another person. She tried to have her mother alone for discussions about the innuendos, but it seemed her father was almost always nearby, inside his wife's shadow at every chance.He might say to Ingrid, curled on the sofa, "Yin, here's Yang.""Oh, so there you are," her mother said, laughing, glancing quickly at Joy then back to her book. Her father read-usually an organic gardening journal-at the other end of the sofa. Under their bed were stacks of Playboys and the ones in which men urinated into naked women's mouths.Joy had read them all, of course. It was effortless, really, to become a woman who takes a man inside her and leaves him there, peering out at the woman in the mirror, inhabited. It was survival.When she asks her mother to remember her own bedroom, the state of it, her mother is a sealed vessel. Did nothing bother her? Ingrid tells her this: Her husband was not always this way. He used to wear shirts with collars, pressed slacks with cuffs. He polished his shoes. He loved to sketch and was an avid rose gardener. He ate simple British foods for dinner, drank moderately with friends at the pub, accompanied Ingrid to matinees. But he was never one to miss out. His sketching led him to art college, which further led him to the doorsteps of many young models. Nudes in particular.She had done her best with what she had. She loved having Joy. Without Joy, Ingrid's life would have been nothing. Still, she would not tolerate ingratitude for the privileges of Joy's life. She would take no criticism. He never laid a hand on you--that's the main thing. You learned a lot about the natural world from that man. The rest was silence. And even if there was more, Ingrid would not hear it.Now, morning after morning, Joy planted herself in the garden. To grow all over it, wild, weedy, herself a spray of colour and light. But she kept buying bedding plants from the supermarket-the ready-made garden. This time, a flat of lobelia and mixed nikkis waited.The neighbour Andrews approached her yet again, this time with a mower. He said, "I show good will toward everyone by mowing their lawns for free. I figure we all deserve carpet quality.""If you'd like to cut the grass, you're welcome."She watched Andrews regard her. Tough Broad, you need to come down a notch. The lines on Andrews' face spoke clearly enough.She walked onto the carport, trying to throw him. But with each of his cool gestures, he moved further over her, on top of her shadow. He stopped at the toolshed door and pointed to the tall willow on her lawn."You'll excuse me," she said."That tree's growing wild," he said. "Needs trimming."She imagined calling Quaid: Get this man off my property, Mother's property. Amicable relations, they had both agreed to it. The failure of their marriage had never been his fault, no matter how it looked. Not really. She was the one who had never been honest about her desires.Moving toward the phone, she saw Quaid taped to the fridge in a photograph taken last summer; she regarded the glint of his scalp, the entire top of his head. Beside him, eight-year-old Kim bent in concentration over her bike, the loose chain. Kim had posted the photo the day they moved in.You belong to our girls, that is who you are. She wants to say this to him: It almost worked. We almost made it work. Isn't that what happened?She opened the fridge. The girls appeared beside her and clamoured over the stove elements."I miss the old mornings," Allyson said. It was the first of such comments, the impossible new beginnings."The way he used to make us all a glass of Indian tea," Kim continued."You make good tea now," Joy said."Yeah, but it's not home," Kim said."I know," Joy said. "I know this isn't your real home." She went to the closet and pulled a jacket off a hanger and onto her back, aware of her fingers, unsteady, forcing the buttons through the holes. They were crowding her in that kitchen, their expectations too loud in that kitchen."Mom, don't." Kimberly, the adult concern on her face."Just a brief foray into the light of morning.""What?" Kimberly's pitch rising. "That doesn't help things," she said, "when you talk that way.""Ten minutes," Joy said. "And I'll be back with a plan about the tea. Okay?"Neither of her daughters looked at her as she went out. The door slapped against the frame. She was grateful for the way they deliberately refused to observe her.Across the street, the evenly pleated drapes in Mr. Andrews' living room window opened and closed. Whether he was there or not was irrelevant.I want something else. She said this to herself. She returned to the house, determined to give her girls a competent mother, someone they could depend on. They were not to worry."I'm back," Joy said."You were never here," Kimberly said. "We've agreed to forget the morning."Allyson nodded and stared at the toaster, making faces at her reflection. There were few mirrors in the house.Daily, Joy stood at the front window. Jack Andrews marched along the boulevard, sipping from a coffee mug."Mom," Allyson said. "You're acting like a statue standing there."Possibly this was true. She had been staring at the street a lot. To endure your opponent's gaze, you take him inside your body, and observe him from the inside out. Then you know what to watch for.He entered his neighbours' porches, or secretly penetrated their gardens with bulbs or fertilizer, and Joy stood guard, monitoring his advance.She hid from him. She used the invisibility techniques she had developed as a teenager. At fifteen she had done her reading in a variety of hiding places-under her bed, or crouched against the side of the house where she could not be detected unless he leaned out the window. This was also a good place to overhear her father's conversations, to keep tabs on his visitors.They talked about the women they knew, which one was the most desirable, body and soul (Mia), who opposed free love (Sandra), who had the most juice (Avril). They debated the value of strip joints. Were they disrespectful of women? They concluded that the girls were hardworking and in it for capitalist reasons. A kind of Women's Lib, they supposed.They debated the value of mushroom manure in vegetable gardens, the European sense of design as compared to the American, the legacy of Lichtenstein and Pollock in the New York art scene. Why not treat the female body as an art form, too? Why not study nude, sunbathing women? It was an act of appreciation, to enter an object by means of close scrutiny.Now she read the morning newspaper behind the bookshelves in the living room. She wrote her covering letters for job applications while sitting on the floor, out of Jack Andrew's line of sight. As the days passed, she identified herself as paranoid, but then reasoned that she was simply cautious.When making tea or cooking dinner, she stood against the fridge where he could not watch her and she could breathe. Her father used to instruct her mother into the kitchen, detail the ideal method for washing salmonberries, how not to knead the whole-wheat pastry. He liked pies made late at night, so that in the morning they'd be just that little bit firm. Sometimes he woke up Joy to suggest that her mother could use a bit of help in the kitchen, stuffing berries into pie shells. He stood in the doorway, sipping his warm milk, smiling only at Joy.Something was wrong, and it had no name.She and her mother finished the pies. The house quieted, everyone appeared to be asleep, and then she'd hear him. The dull hum of the TV in his den. His body hovering between the kitchen, the den and the bathroom, night after night.It should have worked then, with Quaid, for he was never the same body around night after night. He could never take her fully under his scientifically trained eyes. But rather than a solution, Quaid's prolonged absences became their problem.Why a babysitter, though? It was an embarrassing clichefrom a drugstore novel. Why right under her nose? Had he wanted her to watch? Had he wanted to be seen by her, fully, wholly, no matter what?Joy had always treated Quaid as she had wished to be treated herself, which meant she never looked at him for very long. Particularly when he was naked. She wanted to promote a respect for privacy. The body was a private place after all.He had found her averted eyes hurtful.He must have set up his affair so that she would see him. She had been due home at 1:00 p.m., and he had known it. At exactly 1:00 p.m., above the dark bed sheets, Quaid's long naked ass rose like a moon, its surface slightly mottled. Up and down. He moved between the legs of an enthusiastic teenager, who yelped when she caught sight of the observer at the bedroom door.Quaid had been seen by his wife.She had no desire to be the observer. So she moved out.After a month of living in her mother's house again, she received two letters from Bristol. One listed the names of her new forty-year-old stepsisters, Jude and Claire, along with the names of their children and husbands. The other letter suggested that she pack up the brood and travel to England. I can't wait to see you again.That same day Quaid visited. The girls were in school. Joy decided not to mention her father's letters. Instead she talked about the neighbour.Quaid said, "Don't go rabid on me.""The guy is sick." She insisted. "He's always peering around." "Sick?" Quaid said. He took a long sip from the instant coffee she had made him. "Okay, you could be right."Don't be the teacher's pet, Q-Tip. That is what she thought. Don't think, as you're doing right now, that siding with me about the neighbour is going to get you places.She opened her makeup bag and brushed mascara onto her lashes in her compact mirror. She looked herself over. Who has the most juice?Quaid's eyes watered. "Jesus, I just want to make a home with you. Tell me, is that a crime?"She said, "No, that is definitely not criminal activity."She followed his eyes on her breasts. With each breath, she felt her breasts rise. Intake, intake. Out. Her heart pushed against the walls of her body. She saw what he saw. She felt his desire.She felt her own desire for her own body rise within her. She led him by the hand.Afterward, he sat naked on the bed's edge, stretching his hand toward her, expressing a rough desire for something that may never have existed between them. The weight of him had been calming to her. He was beautiful still, she could not deny it. She wanted to want him, but did not.She felt herself flaccid, frustrated. He would not really look hard at her.She did not know how to tell him to gaze upon her, to stare over her, unthreatening yet omnipresent, judgmental, assigned to rate her progress while she, on her knees, performed careful acts of the everyday. She did not know how to tell him to cone watch her perform upon herself, to satisfy them both. He couldnot understand any of this, which was, of course, why she had loved him. Her body stood lithe, waiting for something. She said, "I'm going to take a bath.""In private?" he said. "Yes."But of course she was lying. Nothing was reparable.He took the message.She closed the bathroom door behind her, ran the water, poured the bubbles in. She bent over the tub.She could feel them now. Behind her, the men stood invisible, fully clothed in a line-up. She sat in the water. They did not undress. They came only to observe her technique with close scrutiny-and would not be kept waiting. She gave her fingers to herself, to no one else.They stood over her, hard and watchful. Some muttered their approval and wanted to have a go, bringing the show to its highest point-and then to its consummate vanishing end.

Table of Contents

1: The Room Behind Her

The Room Behind Her

2: Woman With a Man Inside

Open Zoo
Brochure to Save the Marriage . . .
In Hiding
Miss Sixteenth
In Place of You
Woman With a Man Inside

3: Motherland

The Waiting Rooms
Philipa of Harare
You Are Mine

From Our Editors

Woman With a Man Inside is a striking first collection of stories form Barbara Parkin. Her fictional universe of childhood friendships, dissolving marriages and family reveals the subtleties of human relationships. Three friends face their childhood cruelties when they reunite at a funeral. A man confronts what his life might have been when he meets his ex-wife's baby son for the first time, in Parkin's perceptive and human creations.