Her conversation made me sea sick.
The weather is more inclement than this time last year I'm told. It took them ten years to refurbish this theatre. Embezzlement. The manager ran off to somewhere where all those companies hang out so as not to pay for hospitals like decent folk. Leeches. One of the girls from the office left too. Floozy. Didn't take her daughter. Fourteen. She is Mrs Reginald Hathaway. Small amiable face, round eyes, frizzy hair. Like a spider monkey. Charmed.
Mr Reginald Hathaway would be good in a crisis, if only he could realise when he was in one. Programme in hand, mint slurped in slow-motion mouth. Mrs H. pneumatic natterer, periodically pulling on one arm, abandoned urchins wrestling against his other. Parents having gin and tonic. Nothing. Plaid shirt behind, playing the accordion on a pack of minstrels, inspector gadget legs. Cold stone. Ahead: she can't say that about his mother, the operation has taken its toll. Ingrowing toenail, no excuse for being a........ Red haired couple anger. Long grey face, steely eyes forward. Submarine.
'And at eighteen! She really is the most extraordinarily talented girl. The voice.....' Mrs Hathaway does a little shimmy in her seat. Razzmatazz hands: 'The stage presence'.
I smile silent. I don't know where my daughter Olivia's confidence came from Mrs Hathaway, but it has always been there. I remember watching her as she went into High School on her first day. She had been on the bus and didn't know that I was there. She has been through a lot. I like to make sure she is okay. The school yard jumped. Long, gaunt boys, in last year's trousers around their calves, hustled with smiling snippets. A football, slightly less round than the boy eating crisps at the gate, bounced off a blazer; its stuffing pretended not to notice. A pair of teachers with suntans, greeted each other enthusiastically in the car park and became so engrossed in conversation, that they could not possibly notice the maelstrom around them. Girls who had mistaken glitter for glamour, swanked around the new arrivals, who huddled together clutching their satchels for safety. But not Olivia. She glided through the gates and breezed through the bustle, collecting the hand of a particularly petrified satchel strangler along the way, before sailing into the school. Queen of Sheba.
'Yes' I say. I find bare approval is generally what people want.
'Her parents must be beside themselves with pride'.
I am Mrs Hathaway, but please it's just me. Just me.
'And so beautiful, I bet her father spends his life chasing mooning lotharios away'
'It's just me'
I squeeze the arm of the seat, press my tongue against my cheek. Somehow that little face next to me shrinks further and my words hang hot in the theatre air. I can feel the current of her response building. And I wait, as the slap splashes around the auditorium.
'She is your daughter!' Eye-balls swim all over me. I look anywhere else than at them.
I love this theatre. Gaudian boxes, like bubbles of molten lava. Carved pillars stand proud, like a sprawling reed gate to a magical garden. The lush velvet and gold curtain impenetrable, even to the golden hair cherubs on the fresco that surround the stage. A boy, blows on a trumpet, as the girl stares longingly at the curtain dreaming of the performances that will be given. And then when the curtain raises, they are gone, enveloped in darkness as the bright life blasts out. The golden hair girl's dreams played out in technicolour.
I know that Mrs Hathaway is talking at me, but it is muffled, a distant murmour across vast oceans. She would not understand, but my daughter and I are different. In everyday life we are falling in darkness, cascading down the stark rocks. The withering wind of the mundane is constant and belting and we surge and crash violently against the marled edge so not as to evaporate or seep into the crevices of the stone. We live for those moments of inspiration, of clarity, when the curtain opens and we are lifted out of the rapids to a higher, brighter, private place.
I like to stretch out of the bounds of my physical word whenever I can, but it is rarer for me to feel my way out than for my daughter Olivia. It is my constant battle to feel something new. I like to buy old clothes, get to know and then reinvent them. I grip them tightly musing on the adventures, passions, romances they have seen and dream of what they could be, with an altered line or contrasted seam. Sometimes I find they are sad and I leave them weeping in the wardrobe. I like to take photos of people by surprise. Anger is the best. I made a collage of irritated faces into a Cheshire cat.
I need to write. It is like sleeping or eating, everyday about anything, everything. I write of my life and of people in faraway places real and imagined. I write about David, who I miss so terribly. I write about him so much I sometimes wonder if my memories are of my imaginings rather than the time we spent. I sometimes write as if he is still with us and doing ordinary things, but Morrisons feels like the moon. I spend a long time writing a single page, trying to find lines etched deep. Sometimes I can go for weeks without feeling 'it', but when I do for a short while, the world of my imagination seems closer to reality than that of my every day. I am lifted out of my body.
David used to carve things in wood. He looked like a cross between a lumber jack and Jesus Christ superstar too. Beautiful. We met when I brought a rocking chair from him at a craft fair. I had to have it despite the cost. Long, sinuous curves and intricate rosed ornamentation. I said, I didn't think right thinking people made things like this themselves anymore. I didn't mean it, but he agreed and his eyes burned with pride at the chair. I knew then we would be a fine pair. I don't remember anyone else buying anything from him. At night when I cannot sleep, I rock on the chair and think of him. I grip the wood. The flowered indentation stains my hand and I watch it as it fades. I squeeze so tight, but they fade so quickly. Ever since we met, he had been carving a boat. He said one day, we would sail away, but I am still here.
'But, where is her father?' I plunge back down with a jolt. It is not your concern, Mrs Hathaway. We are nothing to do with you.
'I mean…..I am so sorry to ask, but you hear so much about these men who just go without so much as bye or leave. It makes me so thankful to have had Reginald.' A particular virulent tug on Mr Hathaway's arm does nothing to alter his course; that cold grey vessel gazes blankly forwards. I can feel my heart beat. My toes crack.
'But, well Olivia.' My insides flinch. 'She is just so incredible, it's difficult to see…… I mean, it is such a testament to you.'
'He died' say I. A bite of the lip, pity eyes and a squeeze of my arm, says she.
A welcome pause. Broken by a dredge of Mr H's mint sucking saliva, as the waves of the audience begin to subside, the orchestra settles and the lights fade.
Mrs Hathaway does not appear to notice:
'Was your husband musical?' I laugh. David was tone deaf. An odd low booming rumble from another world. But he sang regardless. Never in tune. But it was so thick that it lingered. My favourite Rioja. He held Olivia in those massive hands, and his fog-horn mumble swamped her in sleep as the cat ran for cover.
'Hush little baby, don't you cry, Daddy's going make you an apple pie and if that apple pie's too hot, da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da'. I love apple pie.
'I have never married,' I smile.
'Oh, yes I see.' A shuffle in her in her seat and a pull on her husband's arm, as the curtain opens and the music begins.
* * *
'The strings have started Olivia, you're on in twenty five minutes, twenty five minutes.' I tilt my head to glare at the boy in the mirror as Rodney, with a concentrated anguish, strokes powder on my forehead as if he were painting the Mona Lisa.
'Stay still, you hussy. You're the Queen of Night…Mozart… fabulous' Rodney waves his hands in circles as if to power his brain 'not…Mort….Mortician… Addams Family'.
'Twenty five minutes, the strings are on.' As if announcing a departing train the boy repeats, while the sound of the string quartet fills the dressing room through a speaker.
I suppose he is older than me, perhaps nineteen or twenty. Built like a navvy. But he has that look. A cross between blind panic and doe-eyed longing. Makes you feel like his baby-sitter. He replies to my stare with a shift between a 'can I help you with something?' to a 'what have I done?' face. In the headdress of peacock feathers and tiara of diamond spikes, I seize the opportunity and open my Kohl-rimmed eyes widely and point my black satinned hand to my ear. Rabbit-in the-headlights. He scurries off.
'Leave him alone bitch, he's mine' Rodney clenches his teeth and holds a pair of tweezers against my head.
'Not another one, you slapper'. I laugh.
Rodney's arms flap:
'No, no, no laughing you break the Dark Queen face…. You just jealous as Rodney is biggest diva in town'. His finger rapidly points at my eyes and mouth as a smile begins to emerge and he shakes he head. 'And anyways….. Not yet……..'Rodney's grabs the boy's imaginary buttocks and then with a wide eyed grin, he raises his shaking hands up the body, towards his shoulders which appear to have exploded to Herculean proportions in his mind. 'But soon………………'He runs his fingers across an overly plucked eye-brow and points at himself in the mirror.
'I don't think he's gay.'
Rodney shakes his head at me 'you are so young so I forgive you, you sweet, innocent little thing. He don't have to be gay! No, no, no. They all want Rodney. Men, women, black, white, purple. They all want Rodney. You want Rodney.' His finger is on my lips before I can laugh.
'I am just about to sing eight arias!'
'I know' he shrieks 'I have been watching your face as you do your sing-song and painted boat race to those movements. You are not the real artist here you know Miss Opera, it is Rodney.' His hands moves down in a swerve against the reflection of my face if it were a burlesque body 'This is aria, Queen of the Night face, not laughy, smiley face'.
'You've put in on with a trowel, I've nearly got on as much on as you.' I say. Rodney smiles through pantomime disgust. 'I'll never get out this evening by the time I've taken this off.' His expression moves from Punch and Judy anger to excitement:
'Where are we going tonight, darling?'
''We' are not going anywhere, my mum is here'
'Your mamma? Excelente. She love Rodney.'
'She d……' His face drops and I catch myself 'she does, but she will want to speak about the performance and what I am doing next. No fun for you sweetie.'
He yawns 'that is your mamma's trouble sweetie, so lovely, but so serious all of the time. It is art this, opera that. All brow high intense. It's not her with all her theories, who is big star, it's you baby. You got to enjoy your moment in the big lights, you won't be there forever. You know, your star seems brighter with your youth, darling'. He puts on his serious face.
I know that, but I am enjoying my moment and I love what I do.