I was admiring Ben Quilty’s etchings of artist Margaret Olley, the sketches he did when he was preparing his winning portrait of her for the Archibald Prize, when I thought I’d better call my mother.
I’m not sure what it was that made me connect mum with Margaret. It could have been just the image of an old lady staring out at me from those intriguing prints. It may have been the knowledge that Quilty, a long time friend of Olley, would have visited her in her studio many times before she sat for him. That certainly made me feel mean with my own time.
In any case, duty or guilt called and my mother answered.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were still in the land of the living,” she quipped. She’s magnificent, my mother. She could have represented Australia in the Olympics of passive aggressive behaviour.
“Surprise. I’m still here,” I answered, marveling at how well the passive aggressive gene had carried through to me.
“What have you been up to?” I changed the subject.
“Oh, just the same old things. Nothing very interesting happens here.” Somehow, in between my last visit and this phone call I had failed to provide my mother with a life. My eye roll must have been audible because she straightened up.
“While I’ve got you on the phone, would you mind looking up something on the Internet for me?”