After Battersea Park

By (author): Jonathan Bennett

While most of the action takes place in Sydney, Australia, and Toronto, this whirlwind tour of long-separated twins also lands in Hawaii, London, Scotland, Madrid, and Mallorca. The twins — Curt, an Australian jazz musician, and William, a Canadian visual artist — were driven in different directions at the age of four when their drug-addict father separated from their mother. She soon found she could not feed the children and had to give them up. At age 27, they learn of each other’s existence and begin a journey that draws them together from different ends of the world.


Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is the author of five books including the critically acclaimed novels Entitlement and After Battersea Park, two collections of poetry, and a collection of short stories, Verandah People, which was runner up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He is a winner of the K.M. Hunter Artists’ Award in Literature. Born in Vancouver, raised in Sydney, Australia, Jonathan lives in the village of Keene, near Peterborough, Ontario.


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Margaret’s flat was one of three on the ground floor of an old sandstone mansion that looked out across Sydney harbour. Standing in the lounge, Curt remembered the day his mother moved in, years ago, when he had still been a teenager.

Look at that view, Curtis. This is divine.

The two of them had sat on the floor eating fish and chips, planning where they would put the furniture. He had crossed and re-crossed his long brown legs, uncomfortable, while his mother drank gin and tonics from a paper cup.

Do you think the bed would fit under the window, Curtis? Help mummy move it. She loves to wake in the morning sun.

At his new school the next day, the finality of his parents’ divorce — the rip and tear of it — had hit him hard. Playing cricket, batting, he’d taken an uncharacteristic prod at a ball well outside the off stump and dragged it on. An inside edge. The wickets had splayed open and the ball rebounded and hit him in the head. Out for only two runs. He’d walked back to the small pavilion with sweat stinging his eyes, a raw throat and an egg swelling under his cap. It seemed like such complete loss.

Now, years later, his mother was dead.

It was a different sort of loss now, Curt thought. He sat at her old piano and ran his hands over the keys — the sharps, flats and naturals. Everything she owned was still in its place. Now, looking at something (a book on a shelf, put there by his Jonathan Bennett mother), the logic of his adult years fell away, paralyzing him. What if someone was to move it?

He’d not slept well for the past two nights, unable to relax, to let go and slide into sleep. Perhaps, he thought as he pulled the stool out from under the piano, he was afraid of what he might dream.

Curt laid his fingers on the correct keys and played the first bars of The Skye Boat Song. It was one of the few pieces his mother could play from memory; it was enough to conjure up her slender white fingers. More than the gin or the anger, this sad song she’d sung to him as a little boy, stroking his brown cheeks, his fine dark hair, this was his mother.

It was quiet now. She lingered about him, a weakening shadow. Beside the front door, her brown gardening shoes, heels touching, toes slightly apart, were unlaced and ready. Curt swung around on the piano stool. Her flat, her home — the smell of the lemon wood polish, the colour and order of the book spines; the Jacobean sideboard where each Christmas Eve he would open the cutlery drawer, scoop up fistfuls of inherited silverware with yellowing bone handles and set the holiday table; the oil painting of a Scottish castle, the gold-framed mirror in the foyer, all of this had been hers. Until three days ago.

In truth Curt felt his mum might come through the door with armfuls of fruit and booze any minute, saying, “Oh, darling, I was getting grog, and then I went to the greengrocer’s. Sorry I’m running late.” Surely it had all simply been a misunderstanding.

As the sun sank closer to the horizon, the sky faded off into a dark metallic blue. Out in Sydney harbour, the reflections of silver boats bobbing on their moorings crisscrossed the water. The sound of cicadas swelled in the late afternoon air. Curt stretched out across his mother’s bed and took the envelope from his pocket, unfolded a thin sheet of pale blue airmail paper:

Darling heart:

When I first brought you home, you were my jewel. I was so undeserving of your love. For months I feared your real mother would come for you, wanting you back. But I earned you, didn’t I darling? Didn’t I sing to you? Hold you? Didn’t I protect you? We used to be inseparable, you and I.

I am so sorry for this. But you’ll forgive me. I promise.

You’ll always be my love, my dearest, Curtis.

— Mummy

Curt studied each word. Each letter cleanly executed. He stared at the M beginning Mummy. Upper case. She had never capitalized it. In a shoebox somewhere, he must have an old Christmas card with “love, mummy” on it as proof. This M was the M of her name, her signature. Had she begun to sign her name and then stopped? Had she not been his mother in the final moments before her death?

Reader Reviews



208 Pages


October 01, 2011


ECW Press



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FICTION / Literary

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