Zelda is in Rundle Mall on one of her rare forays into the city. An eye test for new glasses is not something you can organise on the phone. She sails regally through the swarms of school kids, glaring at any who are slow to move aside. It is only when one of them, a girl, stands right in front of her, lips moving, that she realises it is Sarah.

Zelda never gives much thought to her daughter’s step-children, let alone the grandchildren. She would be hard-pressed to recognise the younger ones if she saw them. But she has a soft spot for Sarah. Something about that gawky struggle for self-expression appeals to her. So now she produces what could almost be called a smile.


‘Hi Zelda.’

Zelda becomes aware that the girl’s companions are sniggering and realises that, in greeting her step-great-grandmother, Sarah has demonstrated admirable independence.

Zelda draws herself up. ‘How lovely to see you,’ she says. ‘Do you have time for coffee?’

‘Yes,’ says Sarah, not giving herself time to chicken out.

She feels an unexpected flush of pride at going off with a mad old woman, in defiance of group norms. She looks more closely at Zelda. She is very very old, no doubt about that, older than Gran and Granny Julia of course. Her skin no longer seems to be attached to her bones.

But she is more stylish than Gran. Her clothes are smart, not fashionable, but smart. She clearly takes some trouble over her appearance. She has her own style, Sarah decides.

Sarah has been mulling over the business of appearance for a long time. Her family is hopeless of course. Sometimes they say things that are meant to be kind, but what would they know? Her friends talk about diets and stuff all the time but only because it isn’t cool to admit that you look good. Sarah doesn’t trust them. They aren’t ugly the way she is.

But Zelda might understand, even though she’s so ancient. Sarah finds herself explaining about her troubles. Her teeth, her nose.

Zelda regards her unsmilingly. ‘What absolute nonsense,’ she says.

Sarah is shocked. However dumb her mother and grannies may be, they always treat her with respect.

‘You are young, all your bones are in the right place. You have the beauty that any young animal has, no more no less.’

Sarah considers this.

‘In another seventy years you’ll look back at photos and realise that what I’m saying is true, you were beautiful. So make the most of it.’

Zelda gathers her belongings and levers herself upright. Who was it who said that youth is wasted on the young?

Sarah goes home thoughtful and looks at herself in the mirror. She is not cured, but she has heard that a dash of cold water can be good for the complexion.