In the snippet from a picture, Lesley’s sister Dorothy, our Auntie Dot, squints into the sun at the camera, while Lesley has managed to look winning by burying her face in a rambling rose. I cannot really be sure that it is Dot, for I find that I have no strong image of her face in my memory. I surmise that it is her from her resemblance to her mother Vere and her daughter Patricia, both of whom I do recall, and from the sororial way that she occupies Lesley’s body-space. There is no portrait of her in Lesley’s albums.
At some time in the early 1960s, Dot went into the bathroom of her Port Elizabeth home, put a loaded pistol into her mouth, and pulled the trigger. The single shot that she fired was instantly fatal, and the single consolation we had was that her death was quick and she did not suffer, although we did not discuss what suffering may have brought her to this impasse in the first place.
In later years Lesley described Dot, with some tenderness, as a person who had loved only two things in life – her blue eyes and her fur coat. I do not know what family threads were woven into this harsh assessment, or its affectionate expression. It seems to me that the means Dot chose to escape from suffering were anything but vapid: irrefutable, assertive and decisive. I wish that I could remember her strongly enough to counter my mother, but in my memory, Dot’s image is inaccessible, obscured by a question burned into my imagination as a child: who cleaned up that bathroom, who scraped and patched the bullet-hole in the wall?