‘Would you like to join us for a non-alcoholic beverage?’
Behind them, a warm sheet of water falls east of the city. It must land before the Pacific, deepening the harbour, diluting the oil left behind by cruise ships. Oak and willow leaves flutter against textbooks, crackle under strangers’ sandals. The crowd swells outside the Figtree building, bags rattling, elbows wedged out like anchors. The woollen gloves were a waste of money. It is nearly winter, somewhere, not here. Your cheeks shine. Your eyes lower. Your shoulders lift and drop with practised indifference.
‘We aren’t too loud, I promise.’
They giggle and Gwen’s red locks of hair dance. They are mermaids: musical, buxom, bold. Their pupils shine white-bright in the sun. They are the drama girls. Drama, pronounced do-ra-ma, and girls, with voices that run soft and harsh and husky and high behind you in the lecture theatre. Last night’s show tickets peek out from Lucy’s back pocket, and liner flicks up at the corners of her bright eyes. Yesterday’s glitter has settled along Stella’s collarbones, and in the crooks behind her ears. You picture them curled up on their velvet beds reading Shakespeare. Dreaming of Chicago. Patting white rabbits. Singing.
‘We settle down after we’ve been fed.’
These things you will learn later, over drinks after nights at Griffin Theatre: they listen to podcasts about the Civil War, eat laksa, wear cottontail knickers, feel Suzuki, spend years in the UK with lovers who remind them of home. They share a mink coat between them, and – surprisingly – are not vegetarian. They don’t read Shakespeare only because they have already read Shakespeare, performed Shakespeare, and lived Shakespeare for weeks at a time in the rehearsals of their youth. Ophelia’s recipes will still surface on Gwen’s lips when she is sleeping; Lucy will dress in Othello’s tunic when she is feeling small. Stella will proofread her emails to change perchance to maybe. They will share these secrets with the clarity of song lyrics, with the structure of a tragicomedy. They will gesticulate wildly, hands on their hearts, fingers jabbing at characters offstage. Backs always straightened, shoulders always held back. Their voices will rise and fall, bouncing off the table, and always heard over the noise in the bar. Resting your elbows either side of your wineglass you will nod and listen, saving the words to a notebook deep inside your head. Their conversation will span across pages of a hypothetical script, minute by minute drafting the story of your life.
‘We’ll be up at the caf if you want to come along later.’
And in the last hours of those rare nights when you finish your merlot, chemicals will swim through your veins and drown your uncertainty, so you will speak. You will recall kneeling in church with your mother, watching her lips form the words of a prayer. Moving your lips, pretending to sing. You will recall the piano lessons of an infinite childhood, the teacher pressing softly on a key and you staring at the floor in silence when you were supposed to say laaaa. You will recall the Juliet who stood in your grandmother’s dress in an empty gymnasium, and told your best friend be but sworn my love, while she fiddled with the volume dials on her CD player.
You were never a drama girl. Your opening lines will not be grand. You will stutter through the punch-lines, hands curling around each other as you realise you told events in the wrong order, that you have said the word ridiculous ten too many times. You will pause midsentence when the band’s trumpet plays its loudest notes. On several occasions, this pause will last so long that the others will forget you have spoken, and pipe up with a new subject. But usually they will hear you until the end, when you reach the limits of your memories. You will learn that they love stories, including yours.
‘I’ll give you my number in case you can’t find us.’
Stella pulls a page from her notebook. Gwen and Lucy wait as she scribbles with her fountain pen. They share this waiting with you. This is the first of many times when you will wait for Stella.
Two universities and four countries later, the three of you will wait in the fading August light at the rear of a theatre, holding your coats against the southern winds. You will distract yourself from the winter with calculations: the weight of the greenroom door ahead of you, the power of its deadlock handle, the number of young actors undressing behind it. Beside you, Gwen will pull at a loose thread she will have found along the seam of her jeans during interval. Lucy will stand on your other side, her hands resting on her shrinking stomach.
Back home, the babysitter will be counting the minutes overtime. The silence will be comfortable, even in the cold. You will have said all you wanted to say. You will have listened for years.
You will have seen the play eleven times now: two matinees, nine soirees. Your eye for detail will have become needle-sharp, noting delays in actors’ speeches, spying the feet of the backstage crew. You will have forgotten the plot long before opening night, long lost the character that you will have inspired. Is it the woman who holds her memories too close? Or the man who she remembers? Both? Neither?
Just when your noses and fingers begin to slide off your bodies, Stella will emerge, shrugging into her mink coat. She will shiver in the night, and call to you with eyes green as leeks.
Your paths will diverge at the station, Gwen for the northwest line, Lucy for the last bus. Stella will take your hands in hers, rubbing your knuckles until they gleam red under the streetlights. You will lead each other home.
‘See you soon, I hope.’
Ruby is a reader and writer hailing from coastal Victoria, now living in Sydney. Her main passions are couscous and creative nonfiction. Online, she generally publishes memoir. In person, she likes to rant about sexuality, political agendas and certain women’s magazines. CV-relevant information: Ruby has recently achieved First Class Honours in creative writing at RMIT, and is now studying to become an English teacher.
Image : Katie Blench
I appreciate the markers of personality that you drop in slowly rather than as a whole “The woollen gloves were a waste of money. “ “practised indifference.”
“green as leeks.” to me doesn’t seem to fir the tone, but it’s not a big distraction. While I understand the sentiment, I feel this comes slightly close to cliché: “ Their conversation will span across pages of a hypothetical script, minute by minute drafting the story of your life.”
But this line in particular struck hard home “They will share these secrets with the clarity of song lyrics, with the structure of a tragicomedy.”