Rebecca has returned to the house in which she grew up to convalesce after waking from a coma three months ago. She awoke to discover that her body was paralyzed from the neck down. The accident occurred late in the afternoon of a warm July day. A dive into murky water which concealed a large tree limb, that floated away as invisibly as it had approached, left her with a broken neck and a severe concussion. Her injuries were efficiently inflicted. Her only disfigurement was a lump raised at the back of her head that remained concealed beneath her auburn hair. The modesty of the spectacle belied its dramatic effect on those who witnessed it. The climax of anticipation, produced in the silent period between a diver entering the water and his subsequent revelation at its surface, was powerfully enhanced in the moments that marked Rebecca’s submersion as unusually long. This left the swimmers who witnessed the gentle resurfacing of her unconscious body momentarily incapable of action, as if they were unable to conclude that they were looking at the same body which had recently entered the water.
In hospital Rebecca’s unconscious body was bathed, massaged, and nourished intravenously. On the morning of her 164th day of hospitalization, a nurse noticed that her closed eyes were reddened and puffy and that the pillow supporting her head was dampened where it touched her cheeks. The jubilation occasioned by her awakening was impossible for Rebecca to involve herself in. Thankfully for her, this excitement subsided after she returned to her childhood home to begin an indefinite convalescence. In the three months that have passed since her return, she has endured a sparse but consistent pattern of visitations from friends and family brave enough to witness the wretchedness of her condition—or innocent enough to fail to comprehend it. Friends have normally appeared during the week, thereby containing the duration of their visits to the period between work and dinner. Relatives, however, owing to a compulsion to mobilize their entire families and make of their visits a kind of reunion, have invariably chosen weekends.
This weekend has proved no exception. Her sister has driven from a neighboring state with her two young daughters, who are Rebecca’s godchildren. Late in the day, in the privacy of her room, Rebecca has instigated a game with her nieces, Olivia and Simone. The game consists of the girls dressing Rebecca up as a character of their choosing, and Rebecca then interpreting their partial creation by devising speech patterns, dialogue, and facial expressions to complete the character. In the first round of the game, Rebecca was dressed in an incoherent medley of the fancier garments to be found in her mother’s wardrobe, which she complemented by talking very properly of charities and musicals and performing very deliberate facial expressions.
A second round was begun in which the girls were inspired by a favorite picture book which documents the dancing partnership of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev at the Royal Ballet. For this costume they removed Rebecca’s nightgown and posed her body so as to approximate a dancer’s position. They then began to apply her costume which consists of various undergarments and a pair of slippers collected from their grandmother’s wardrobe. To celebrate their dancer the girls have strewn flowers sent from well-wishers on and around Rebecca’s body. Simone, the younger niece, has run outside to the garden on a mission to obtain more flowers where she has been observed by her mother and grandparents in the act of harvesting her grandfather’s carefully tended roses. Recognizing that Simone has taken an excessively long time to return to her room, Rebecca has correctly surmised her circumstance and now considers the certainty of her own discovery with satisfying indifference. Olivia hides in the closet behind Rebecca’s bed.
Supported by the Australia Council for the Arts
Fiberglass reinforced polyester resin, polyurethane foam, oil paint, natural and synthetic hair, catheter, slippers, ribbon, necklace, negligee, fur stole, various articles of clothing, wood, wall paper, convalescent bed, bedding, wheel chair, artificial flowers, ceramic and glass vases, various furnishings, geared electric motor and connecting hardware, book, carpet, rug, telephone, glass vessels containing acrylic medium and decorative straws, mirror, umbrella, toilet bowl, crystal chandelier, fire tools, fire grate, fire screen, electric fan, diving snorkel, children's sport shoes, leather ladies shoes.
© Kristian Burford