Neville Allsopp is still staying with us two weeks later when Uncle Jack and Auntie Moira come to Sunday lunch.
‘This is Neville Allsopp, who’s staying with us for a while, Jack,’ says mum.
“Neville Allsopp? Neville ALLsopp?” he says in his loud slow voice.
‘Yes, Jack,’ says Moira, ‘I told you Veronica and John had a young fellow staying with them, he’s a friend of Father Lonergan.’
‘Staying here for a while, are you?’ says Jack.
‘Yes,’ says Neville Allsopp, and looks as if he wishes he wasn’t.
‘And whereabouts in West Australia do you come from, Neville?’ says Moira.
‘Albany! I think that’s where Dolores Atkins comes from. Jack, Neville comes from Albany like Dolores Atkins.’
‘Dolores Atkins?’ says Jack looking mystified.
‘Yes, you know, Jim and Doll Atkins, they live next to the Trumbles. In that big white place.’
‘The place with the triple garage?’
‘Yes, that’s right, Jim and Doll Atkins.’
‘What about them?’
‘Dolores Atkins comes from Albany.’
‘No she doesn’t, she comes from Carnegie!’ roars Jack.
‘I don’t mean now, I mean when she was a girl, she grew up in Albany.’
‘What do you keep going on about Albany for?’ says Jack, his face getting redder and redder.
‘Neville comes from Albany.’
‘WHO’S NEVILLE?’ bellows Jack.
Markie’s laughing so much he’s nearly being sick. Dad clears his throat and looks down at his soup, and mum and Moira look at each other with a suffering look.
‘This is Neville,’ Moira says slowly to Jack, putting her hand on Neville’s shoulder. ‘He’s a friend of Father Lonergan. He’s staying here for a while.’
Neville’s Adam’s apple is bobbing up and down like a yoyo. He stares out the window as if he might see God telling him what to do.
Dad pours out another glass of wine for Jack and mum looks at him crossly because Jack’s already begun to shout.
‘A glass of wine, Neville?’ he says even though Neville Allsopp never does.
‘I think I might,’ says Neville, pushing out his glass and watching the red wine splash into it. Then he takes a big swig.
After lunch mum and Moira go into the kitchen to do the dishes together and have a good talk. Moira’s a terrible gossip. Mum says she could talk underwater. She wants to know every single thing about Neville Allsopp so she can get on the phone and tell all her friends.
‘It’s like getting blood out of a stone trying to make conversation with him,’ Mum says crossly. ‘ He spends enough time on the phone to Father Lonergan, though, and of course it wouldn’t occur to him to offer to pay for the calls, any more than it would occur to him to offer to help with the washing up.’
Moira says, ‘Perhaps he’s not suited to the priesthood. Ruby McCooey’s got a niece about his age.’
‘I wouldn’t wish him on anyone,’ says mum.
Later that night when Neville’s gone for one of his walks, she says to dad,
‘Poor Neville, all of Melbourne will know about him now that Moira’s got hold of him. She’s even trying to marry him off to Ruby McCooey’s niece.’
‘Who’s Ruby McCooey?’
‘Now don’t you start!’ she says.
When Jenny says we should feel sorry for Neville I always say I don’t, but all the same it makes me gloomy to think about him. He doesn’t know how to be like anyone else, or how to make people like him. I wish he’d make up his mind and go back to being a priest or else marry Ruby McCooey’s niece. I don’t understand why, when you’re an adult and you can do what you like, you do something that makes you miserable.
This is another extract from Gert’s unreliable memoir memoir 32 Park St. Names have been changed to protect those incapable of defending themselves against our lies.
You can read our previous post on Neville Allsopp here .