So far in Embraceable You. Josefine Hanrahan, the neglected daughter of mining tycoon St John Hanrahan, has escaped from her boarding school to play her saxophone in the mist garden beside the National Art Gallery. There she will connect spiritually with her mother Liv, who died when Josefine was six years old.
Josefine had been told fragments of her parents’ story, partial explanations for what made a soulful Danish beauty marry an empty vessel like her father, but it never made complete sense to her. Liv Axelsen was an air hostess on an international flight which had ferried her father to a business meeting and the busy tycoon had been so enchanted that he bought a ticket and got straight back on the plane, missing all his connections as he followed her home. Morfar, her grandfather, never joined in with the story but Mormor Axelsen told it as though it was a great romance, that the great and powerful St John Hanrahan was so overwhelmed with love that he couldn’t help himself. She told it as if Liv’s signature song had come true for her.
“Just one look at you,” the lyrics explained, “and my heart grew tipsy in me.”
Mormor blended real life with Gershwin, as if she actually believed St John was capable of feeling any sort of emotion for another human being.
“You and you alone, you bring out the gypsy in me.”
Maybe Liv briefly believed in the fairy tale too, because she was raised with love but Josefine recognized that St John pursued with an acquisitive impulse, not for love. He saw something he wanted, paid the price to acquire it and then lost interest once Liv was his, as he had done with possessions all his life.
Josefine noticed that when Liv sang, her thoughts were a long way away. Not wanting to break the spell, she never once asked who her mother was thinking about, but she hoped with all her heart, that the wistful expression wasn’t anything at all to do with her father. Josefine never saw her father touch her mother, not once. She’d never intercepted a tender look between her parents. In fact, she could barely recall seeing the two of them together except in photographs in newspapers and magazines as the smartly dressed couple posed with fixed smiles, framed by luminaries at important social functions.
Even as she played the role of society hostess, always being supportive and smiling in public, Liv Hanrahan constantly defied her husband’s wishes about their child. St John wanted his daughter despatched to the care of nannies as soon as she was born and to a boarding school as soon as she turned five, but Liv kept Josefine close. There was love in spadefuls in the Hanrahan home, but it was all locked up in the bond between the woman and her child.
Through business magazines in the school library, Josefine followed her father’s ventures. Like a hunter, she tracked his company acquisitions and hostile corporate raids; she probably knew more about St John Hanrahan than most of the men who sat on his boards. In neat notepads, she kept extensive records of the patterns that made him swoop down and swallow up companies that seemed irrelevant to his vast empire.
“Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you. Embrace me, you irreplaceable you,” the sound of Liv singing played in Josefine’s head. She opened her eyes and saw that the rusty sculpture, the bones of a becalmed ship, was enveloped, embraced, by a salty ocean of greying smoke. Standing quite close by, looking down on her with an odd mixture of emotions on her face, was Miss O’Mara, her college principal.
“I thought I’d find you here.”