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Pieces of Terry

  • 01 September 2008

Terry Monagle, 12 August 1946–10 July 2008

Terry emailed me from hospital to make sure I knew about the movie Lacombe Lucien because of a story I'm researching. Immediately I remembered Django Reinhardt's French jazz on the soundtrack and the Citroen 'traction avant' — the one with backward opening doors used by the Germans Occupiers in the movie.

When I said this Terry replied that he'd always liked the model although many regarded its engine with disdain. His knowledge of cars surprised me but not his interest in my project despite his own troubles. Now his voice will blend with Django as I read the Resistance.

Terry can't have long. He told me so himself a fortnight ago. It's only two months ago that Graham drove him from another hospital and John filled the table with Italian food, and the group talked about Virgil. Terry refers to the meal as the good old days — when he could eat and drink and read the Aeneid. He was in strife then even though they let him out for dinner with us.

Today Eileen, Terry's wife, let us know he's nearing the end. I bought coffee and joked with the waitress. Terry even then was entering his last hours, and I think of the day my daughter's mother closed silently on death while I quarrelled with the kid and did her hair and hurried her to see her mother.

When a group of friends met for a meal at the end of 2003 I was early and so was Terry. I told him about the book group — finished Ulysses, onto Proust — and how we aimed to read every great text before we died.

When everyone arrived Terry told us he had advanced cancer of the prostate. He was hoping to reach October 2004, ten months later, to see his first grandchild who would be born by then in Baltimore. He was interested in joining the group which had three volumes of Proust to go. It seemed like it would be a close run thing.

Terry's first group gathering was for Sodom and Gomorrah and I read a passage aloud which still has a marker in it: '[F]rom the black storm through which we seem to have passed (but we do not even say we) we emerge lying prostrate, without any thoughts.'

Earlier Proust imagines waking as a caveman and putting