be ashamed of what we were doing together—as she always insisted we were—but I lived in terror of my mother steaming open one of her letters until I discovered that for a few dollars a year I could have my own post office box with my own key. Gradually, subtly, tenderly, Alice taught me about her body—the body I had never seen—what she liked, what she loved, what she adored. Yet sometimes, afterwards, as I lay awake, staring at the side of Mr Drukowicz's shed, she seemed further away than ever. And no matter how eloquently I pleaded, she remained adamant that until she was healed—at least she had begun to say until'—we could not meet. I couldn't accept, or even understand, but I did come to see that my entreaties were only distressing her. I gave up pleading and kept my plan to myself. As soon as I had saved enough for my fare, I would be on the plane for England; I would search the length and breadth of Sussex until I found her. In my darkest imaginings, I would see myself being turned away with a stern 'Miss Jessell does not wish to see you.' But I went on saving every cent I could muster towards my airfare, and praying that I would not die without having seen Alice Jessell face to face.
T OWARDS THE END OF MY THIRD YEAR AT M AWSON U NIVER sity College, I set about applying for a passport. I was still living at home with my mother, banking the extra money I earned from shelving books in the college library, along with every cent I could save from my library studies scholarship, but still over a thousand dollars short of the sum that would take me to England and Alice.
For almost seven years now, my mother and I had maintained the pretence that Alice's letters were as invisible as Alice herself. At first, whenever I got home from school to find a letter waiting on the desk in my bedroom I used to examine the envelope closely for signs of tampering. (I had read about steaming open letters, though I'd never seen it done.) But I never found any. I knew that I was causing my mother pain, and if she had once broken her silence over Staplefield, I would have felt much worse about doing to her what she had previously done to me. Her 'nerves' had grown steadily worse, even before my father's sudden death. She hated being left alone after dark. Even now, if I got home more than half an hour late from my evening shift at the library, I would find her haunting the telephone table, wondering when to start ringing the hospitals.
Without Alice's letters, life at home would have been intolerable, but without Alice I wouldn't have been living there. Or in Mawson. My grades had been high enough to get me a place in one of the big eastern universities, but—apart from confronting my mother's pathological fears on my behalf—that would have made saving for England impossible. Whereas the Grace Levenson Memorial Library Studies Bursary paid all my fees and a living allowance, and would, I hoped, get me a job in England in just over a year's time.
And it pleased Alice to know that I hadn't abandoned my mother. Soon after we began writing, Alice and I had vowed that no matter what happened, we would never betray each other's secrets, or let anyone else read our letters: apart from the postman, no one outside our house even knew that Alice existed. She now had photographs of my parents, our house and its surroundings, and even, more recently, of me, to illustrate the day-to-day chronicle of my life in all its sameness and tedium; though Alice frequently assured me that nothing about me, however trivial, could possibly be boring to her. But she was troubled by the estrangement between my mother and me, and too perceptive not to see that she herself was partly the cause of it. At the same time, she understood my fear that if I broke the silence on my side, my mother would keep pushing and pushing until she had forced me into another confrontation. 'I know it's hard,' Alice had written recently, 'but you must cherish her, Gerard,