“Lily was a princess she was fair-skinned and precious as a child/She did whatever she had to do she had that certain flash every time she smiled/She’d come away from a broken home had lots of strange affairs/With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere” – Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, Bob Dylan
The problem, it is always said, with Psychoanalysis, is that the patient is often wont to get worse before they get better. Unearthing memories is not an easy thing to do, even when you have paid someone to help you do so, and it may be even harder when the memories start coming back to you unwanted.
Lily, the protagonist of Missing by Amit Lahav, at first resists the attempts to make her remember that she was once not an English Lily, but a Spanish Liliana. In her soft-padded English way she quite politely declines. Firmly, but politely, in the manner of someone very used to saying No: ‘It was lovely to meet you on Tuesday, but unfortunately we won’t be needing you for the job’.
Unfortunately, despite these well-mannered efforts to decease the Italian man from opening up the boxes of her past, the boxes are opened just the same and opened with one word, Liliana.
The English – and this is probably true of most other cultures too – have an almost obsessive need to shorten names. I used to be a Rosie, but changed it back to Rosemary, partly because I didn’t feel all that rosy and partly because I spoke too fast and was sick of having to repeat my lispy name down the telephone five times before giving up and sticking with Daisy or Posy. Victoria started at work last week and was immediately asked if she was a Vic or a Tori. If Liliana had made it through without becoming a Lily, she too would probably have had to smile through frequent “Ooh! That’s an interesting name!” and “Can I call you Lil?”
As it is, Liliana and Lily are now two different people. One, a small black-fringed child is lost in amongst her mother’s red skirts, until the mother –tired of the incessant rows – walks sobbing out of the house and never returns. The other is firmly entrenched in a grey, M&S skirted job with take-away lattes and patronizing phone calls continually flying at her. Trapped in an awkward marriage to a man whose physical being seems perennially at odds to her own – elbows in the face when watching a film; cufflinks caught in hair repeatedly – her soul, according to Lahav, is ‘in decay’.
The boxes of Liliana’s memories, once opened, gradually encroach on all of Lily’s existence. In snippets and longer passages, they replay and replay and replay. The sound of a stupid row over the wine served to guests, along with the creation of memories she cannot herself have witnessed – her parents’ first meeting, for example – gouge dents into her focus on other activities.
Eventually the inevitable happens and her own marriage breaks up. Crumpled on the street, the sight of the new lovers disappearing, she bends over into herself. Tries, it seems, to keep the little Liliana inside herself warm and stop her from seeing people walk away again (and again).
It is so much easier to remember the bad memories, idiots often squeal, insinuating that remembering awful events is somehow a bi-product of laziness, an unwillingness to rally and re-paint the rose bushes of the past. But memories are memories and Liliana –fittingly acted by a puppet in the production – really did get changed into Lily. The grown woman, in turn, tried hard to resist having to confront the repetitive film reel of her past; this was not brought on by a desire to wallow.
Crouched down on the street, it is Liliana that Lily needs to comfort, needs to take care of, not the characters stuck shouting in the memories. With a jerk, she is home in the present again, this time being Spanish – being Liliana. She dances with her mother behind her, a happy memory making the present beautiful.