Climb: A Play in Fifty Words

fish creek5

–  Just sit up there.

–  Here?

–  Nah, go up, like, another branch … yeah, and another one … another –

–  It’s high

–  Yeah.

–  I could – I could fall.

–  Yeah.

–  It’d hurt.

Pause

– You should look scared.

–  I’m not.

–  You need to look it but.

–  OK. Like this?

–  That’s good.

–  Now what?

– Dunno. 

They wait.


Weekly Writing Challenge - Fifty
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On realising you’re in your thirties or: Isn’t age just a number?

"When I grow up I want to be a teacher" by me, aged 6 (1986)

“When I grow up I want to be a teacher” by me, aged 6 (1986)
Actually, I wanted to be a gypsy or a racing car driver but I went with the safe option for my grade 1 scrapbook.

The casting brief asked for a woman in her 30s – 40s. I thought there must have been some sort of mistake. Me? Play 30s – 40s? Seriously? I’m only … no, hang on, wait up … I remember now … I am 33. Turning 34. That is my age bracket.

How the hell did this happen?

I mean, obviously, we get older. Mum always says, “I’d rather be old than the alternative”. By “alternative” I assume she means dead rather than not-ageing-but-staying-in-the-blissful-carefree-stage-that-is-your-twenties. If the latter were the alternative then I would be going for that. Anyway, my Mum also says she’s just “visiting her aunt” when she heads off for the bathroom, so I don’t know how seriously I can take these little sayings of hers. (I love you Mum.)

When I was a kid I would always tell people I was the age I was going to be rather than the age I actually was. So, in 1989, a month after my 9th birthday I would tell people I was 10; after my 10th birthday I was already telling people I was 11. Needless to say, I stopped doing that – I’m still 33 and won’t be telling anyone I am 34 until that day in July when I eat too much cake and wonder what the hell have I done with my life?

Back then, when I’d say I was 10 but I was actually 9, it wasn’t because I wanted to be older. There was just something more interesting and exciting about the year ahead. What would 10 bring that 9 just couldn’t comprehend right now? In reality it brought nothing but the wonderful butterfly cupcakes Nan would make for our birthday parties. They were amazing. I wish I could recreate that. Surely I should be able to bake by now? Be able or, at the very least, interested in baking? I am 33 after-all.  Who am I kidding? I don’t bake and I’m OK with that.

I had no desire to get older. I got quite upset after receiving clothes for Christmas one year. I think I was 10 but telling everyone I was 11. It wasn’t like the clothes were awful, it wasn’t as if I didn’t like them … but Christmas presents were meant to be toys, right? Getting clothes meant I was getting older. Only kids got toys for Christmas. If I didn’t get a toy I was no longer a kid. I wasn’t ready for that. Mum said I’d love to get clothes one day … she was right, of course, and the next year I forgot all about the no-toys-for-Christmas saga and desperately wanted a denim jacket. So it goes.

Whilst I hadn’t wanted to be older, I had always looked forward to being sixteen. “Sixteen”: mythologised in popular culture and American teen books where the kids are all rich and drive sports-car and hang out at the beach or the local diner. The fact that we weren’t rich, that there was no way in the world my parents would let me get in any car driven by any teenager and that diners weren’t really a “thing” in Australia did not deter my somewhat clichéd imagination. I was dreaming of this sixteen year old version of me when I was only 12 and reading way too much Sweet Valley High. At this age I also read George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, delved into The Odyssey of Homer and got through many of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets – sadly it seems that Francine Pascal’s awful trite influenced my somewhat impressionable mind a little more than Orwell at that point in my life.

Anyway, despite being pretty well read, I thought sixteen was going to be this amazing year full of school dances and high-school romances and hanging out and eating pizza with my friends and first kisses and fun-fun-fun. I pretty much thought it would be just like Beverley Hills, 90210 – the fun parts, not the serious, issue-based stuff, and I’d be Kelly Taylor, of course …

As the wonderful 16 got ever closer I like to think I matured enough to know it wouldn’t, couldn’t and, possibly, shouldn’t be like that. I am sure I knew but a little, tiny part of me still dreamed of this Hollywood version of sixteen. When the day came I had a little party with my friends. Most of them left early because there was a bigger, better, non-supervised party with a bonfire and older boys and beer happening within walking distance from my place. It wasn’t the Sweet Sixteen birthday party John Hughes had led me to believe I would have. The all magical sixteen wasn’t as magical as I thought it would be. There was a lot to deal with; heaps of homework, exams, simply surviving every day at my terrible high-school, bitchy girls, idiotic boys – there was reality.

Naïve, optimistic, sixteen year old me doesn’t seem all that long ago. She is not a distant memory. She was only … nope, hang on, she was 17 years ago. How the hell did that happen? Where did the time go? And why do I still have the exact same hair-cut?

So, it was with surprise that I read the casting brief for a woman in her 30s – 40s. I had to stop and think … surely they have sent this to wrong person? But, no, my agent can do math – that is my “age range” now.

Wow … that went fast …

And I was OK with it, I think.

I mean, I never wanted to grow up but here I was – suddenly in shoved into the 30s – 40s bracket and that was OK. It was actually OK.

Until the meeting with the literary manager of some theatre company.

She wanted to talk to me about my work and I was thrilled. It was going well, until she asked me how old I was. I answered, honestly because, well, I hadn’t thought anything of it. “Don’t tell anyone that,” she said in this hushed tone. “You’re not as impressive now I know how old you are.” That was my chance to interject with a comment dripping with wit – it didn’t happen. “We thought you were some kinda child prodigy thing or something,” she laughed and the meeting was over. I never heard back from them.

It made me panic. I was too old. I’d missed my chance. Clearly the only people worth supporting in their creative endeavours are the young. I still thought I was young. I still thought I had my whole life ahead of me. I didn’t know there was an expiry date on creativity and I really didn’t expect that expiry date to be in one’s 30s …

So, what’s wrong with being in your 30s? I’d rather be old than the alternative … thanks Mum. Being in your 30s doesn’t make you old. 30s is the new 20s which makes 20s the new teens and, as much as I thought I wanted to be sixteen, I wouldn’t be going back there in a hurry.

Of course there isn’t an expiry date. Of course not. Well, there is that one big expiry date but there’s nothing I can do about that one … People will always have different perceptions on age – different expectations they place on somebody based merely upon the year they happened to be born. Well, let them. You are only as young as you feel, that’s what they say, right?

I have always looked younger than I am. I am sure it will catch up soon. I still get asked for ID which makes me feel great. I still get spoken down to like I am an inexperienced 20-something which makes me feel like crap. There is such an emphasis on being older or looking younger that I don’t think I ever enjoyed just being the age I am.

There seems to be this idea of what you should have achieved and by when. Just like all the pressure I put on the idea of being sixteen – at sixteen year old I should [insert implausible scenario from awful teen film here] – now it is the pressure of what I should have achieved in my 20s (but didn’t) and what is expected of someone in their 30s (which makes me incredibly anxious) and on and on it goes until you are in your 90s and then you can do whatever the hell you want and no one can say a word because you are 90, damn it (except maybe the people in the 100s).

Age is just a number, right? A concept. Aren’t we all just deceived into this perception of past, present, future? Isn’t everything happening all at once? Aren’t there scientists who believe there is no such thing as time? Einstein told believed that

the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.

I could be 22 and 16 and 106 and 2 all in a matter of moments, all at the same time. It hurts my brain …

So, I am just going to be 33. Until July 10. Then I’ll be 34. And I’ll tell people my age. And I will enjoy it. I have never been 34 before … (according to Einstein and others I have been, yes, but … oh, it is too much).

I may not be doing what people are “supposed” to be doing in 30s. I may not have achieved all those things I was “supposed” to achieve in my 20s. And I will be OK with that.

And I will start looking forward to my 90s. That sounds like a fun age to me.

***

Part of the DP Challenge

Dear Abby

Dear Abby,

You turned 12 earlier this month and you still haven’t received a card or a gift from me. I have sent it. I sent it late. But I did send it, and a gift, so it should be in your letterbox any day now. Honestly. I am so terrible at this Long-Distance-Aunty stuff. It’s not like I forget birthdays and important events – I usually buy the card and gift weeks in advance and pop it on my desk and then the big day comes and goes and the gift and the card are still on my desk. It can’t post itself. I know that. So why don’t I just post it on time? Why don’t I? What is that about?

I have a One Direction collector card and lollipop pack thing sitting in the top kitchen drawer. I don’t know why it is in the kitchen drawer but it is. Every time I need a tea-spoon I see it; Zayn, Louis, Harry, Liam and Niall mocking me and my inability to post things on time. I bought you the collector card and lollipop pack thing on a whim from the local 7-11 months and months ago. I thought, I should send Abby a little something, let her know I’m thinking of her … But it just ended up in the drawer. You probably don’t even like One Direction any more, do you? Have they suffered the same fate as Justin Bieber who you didn’t like, then you did like and now you don’t like again? Bieber spat on one of his fans so I think you made a good decision to move on from him (1D haven’t spat on anyone have they? Oh, and did you notice I wrote 1D – that’s cool right?). What is with that behaviour? I suppose there is a lesson in it for all of us. If you ever get so famous that you think it okay to spit on someone who adores you without even knowing you, the same person who has, in some way, however small, elevated you to this level of fame where, for some reason, you can get away with the aforementioned behaviour then maybe it is time to just take a step back and rethink your life choices.

Now, I have never spat on anyone and I don’t think I ever would. Someone spat on me once. I was on the tram and this woman thought I was spy and said some disgustingly racist things to me (even though I’m not the race she seemed to think I was) and then she spat on me. Yep. That’s when I moved. In hindsight I probably should have moved when she thought I was spy but I didn’t want to be rude or judgemental or anything. So, instead, I got spat on. It was really gross. At least you could bottle up Justin Bieber spit and sell it on eBay to some Bielber for a lot of money.

Even though we can roll our eyes at Justin’s spitting there will come a time when we all, metaphorically, spit on a fan. We will do something that we know isn’t right or makes us feel horrible inside because we want to fit in or feel better about ourselves. Especially when you are 12.

I did it.

I said some really mean things about people when I was hanging out with this so-called popular group (our relationship didn’t last long but it has had a lasting effect). I remember them all laughing at one girl and her bra; a whole group of us laughing over something to do with her bra-strap. It was something so minor and idiotic, absolutely nothing worth laughing or picking on someone about, but I was going along with them because they were the ‘popular girls’.

I felt horrible inside. But I didn’t stop them. I was part of the group.

This group would relentlessly pick on someone because they were fat or thin or short or wore coke-bottle glasses or stumbled over an answer in class or wore the wrong sneakers or couldn’t run fast enough or didn’t play netball well enough or fell over or cried or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time …

It was at this time I also decided to stop eating. The ‘popular girls’ liked me, I was in their group, and I knew the only reason for this sudden acceptance was because I had lost all that baby-fat people love to talk about. Why do people do that? Talk about baby-fat like it is something they can have a comment on like the weather. Is it anyone’s business? Really? Well, I noticed as I turned 12 that is became everyone’s business. People loved to talk about how I was losing it, the baby-fat, with a mixture of sadness and relief in their voices. They all noticed, even my well-meaning year 7 teacher.

What they didn’t notice was that I was losing more than the baby-fat. I hadn’t realised that losing baby-fat is just something that is meant to happen, that is just a part of growing up; nope, I thought it had all started because one day at school I skipped lunch. Now, I’m not dumb Abby (I was reading George Orwell right alongside Sweet Valley High) but that is how anorexia made its way into my brain and took up residence for awhile. So, I kept skipping lunch and eating as little as I could when I was being watched. It was stupid and it made me feel horrible inside. I wasn’t spitting on a metaphoric fan; I was spitting on myself. That is just as bad and even weirder, right?

But, I was 12 and I thought that being really, really skinny would mean the popular girls would accept me and I would be happy. But it felt funny inside. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t happy or healthy. But I didn’t stop it. I was part of the group.

So much of what I was doing when I was 12 was about impressing other people and not about impressing myself. If I could go back and be 12 again I hope that I would be able to be more myself and stand up for the people getting metaphorically spat upon on by the metaphoric Justin Biebers of the school.

When the leader of the popular girls decided we should write a very awful letter to our delightful music teacher I said ‘no’ and I finally left the little in-crowd. They were pretty spiteful but I managed. I discovered that the term ‘popular’ is very misleading in this context Abby. The ‘popular’ crowd tend to be the least popular, they are cliquey and cruel and not many people really like them all that much. Why should they like them? They were bullies. And I was a bully if I stayed with them.

I would like to say that that was that – from that moment I was on my own path and didn’t care what people thought … Of course I cared. I cared when they all started laughing at me and my shoe-laces (which were once considered very cool) and my skinny arms and my inability to play netball. But it gets better. It really, honestly, truly gets better.

I feel like it all begins when you are 12; that idea of going along with the majority, not wanting to cause a fuss, not listening to that little voice inside you that knows that you shouldn’t be laughing at / picking on / gossiping about someone, wanting desperately to ‘fit in’ (whatever the hell that means) …

Abby, please don’t fit in.

Don’t be one of the crowd. The crowd, particularly the ‘popular crowd’ are boring. They really are. Be yourself. Don’t change who you are, what you stand for or what you look like for anyone. You are not boring. Listen to that wonderful Abigail who is inside you and trust her no matter what. If something isn’t right call it, speak up, make it right. Don’t be scared to be different; be proud to be different.

Start your own popular group and actually be popular – inclusive and interesting and different.

And don’t, ever, spit on your fans.

You are a wonderful human being Abby. You are. Enjoy being 12 and enjoy being you.

Happy (belated) birthday. Now, let me know when that card finally arrives.

Missing you and sending lots of love,

Katy

xxx

***

An open letter to my 12-year old niece, and all 12-year old nieces, for the Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dear Abby

Temporary (a short story)

cropped-these-are-the-isolate-009.jpg“I’m not paying you. You’re useless. Go home,” Charlie barked, his white shirt already proudly displaying vicious sweat patches.

“I’d rather be here.”

“I’m not paying you to be here. Like I said, you’re bloody useless.”

Sam wanted to reply but the words got caught somewhere between his lungs and voice box and there they stayed, lodged in his chest, bringing tears to his eyes. Before he could stop it one escaped and rolled triumphantly down his cheek.

“Jesus Christ – go home,” Charlie’s bark was a little less biting as he handed him a tissue.

Sam hated his job. He had been planning to resign the very moment he started. But she had told him it was only temporary and she had meant it. Then. Of course she had meant it.

The fluorescent lights flickered and hummed. He watched a determined moth knock itself senseless against the plastic light fitting.

“Look at that little guy,” he said to no one in particular. He was always doing that; talking to no one in particular. It used to drive her insane, she had told him as much with that you’re-embarrassing-me-we’ll-discuss-this-when-we-get-home look he knew only too well.

Charlie, on the other hand, simply stared at him blankly.

“Jesus Christ, go –” but before Charlie could complete his somewhat predictable sentence the ding-dong customer alert chimed from the sliding doors.

Charlie sat up like a meerkat.

The ding-dong customer alert could be misleading at times. It had a tendency to be temperamental and cruel – raising the hopes of desperate salesman who felt sure this would be the sale they’d been waiting for only to learn it was just the wind. Sam liked to imagine it wasn’t the wind but ghosts who hadn’t yet realised they were actually dead going about their daily business, shopping for furniture, wondering why the sales assistants were ignoring them … He had mentioned this to Charlie who looked at him strangely and told him there was vacuuming to be done. Sam was always vacuuming – he felt more like a cleaner than a sales assistant.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong and alert as the young couple stood, confused and unsure, in the entrance to the store. Charlie fixed his tie, popped a mint in his mouth and grabbed a clipboard. “Nothing in it but it makes you look important. Customers respond to that sort of thing. It is all part of my technique,” Charlie had told him on his first day.

Charlie stood up and tucked his shirt in; his ever-increasing beer-belly clearly took offence to the constraints of business wear. His sizeable belly constantly pulled his shirt away from his pants, burst belt buckles, popped buttons. He blamed manufacturing, the drycleaner, his wife but never the beer, fried food and copious amounts of cream and jam donuts that filled his morning tea ritual. Sam would push out his belly at home and warn her that he too could look like that one day. She laughed that laugh and told him she would love him no matter how fat he got and added it was only a temporary job anyway, he wouldn’t be there forever. He didn’t tell her but he had noticed his pants were getting tighter and his face a little rounder – he quietly did fifty sit ups every night when he thought she had drifted off to sleep.

Charlie took up his suit jacket from the back of his chair and slowly put it on. Sam quite enjoyed watching Charlie’s pre-sale routine. “You don’t want to appear too eager,” had been another pearl of wisdom Charlie had kindly shared on Sam’s first day. Unfortunately customers were becoming an endangered species at Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium and the mantra you-don’t-want-to-appear-too-eager often meant losing customers before eye contact could be made. Sam blamed the fluorescent lights; Charlie blamed the economy, the competition, himself.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong – happy that it had the opportunity to announce real customers rather than those pesky ghosts who persisted in shopping for furniture despite the fact they were dead. The young couple scanned the store from the comfort of the welcome mat (Charlie said customers respond to that sort of thing, it made the store welcoming because it said as much on the mat) and then whispered quietly to each other. It looked as if they were plotting their getaway.

“I’ve got to grab them. Just – just …” he flapped his arms uselessly as he trotted over to the couple, all minty-fresh, clipboarded and tucked-in.

Sam knew what the flapping arms meant: Stay away from the customers. He’d seen those flapping arms on numerous occasions, predominately in his first month of employment when he was forced to wear the condescending ‘in-training’ badge and laugh uproariously whenever a customer attempted witty repartee about his ‘name badge’.

“Where’s that from?” they’d ask with a smirk.

“Excuse me?” he would feign confusion.

“Your name,” they’d point to the badge to emphasis the hilarity of the joke, “In Training.”

They’d always put on some dreadfully insulting accent – French or German or something – Monsieur Entrainin, Herr Intraining. Then he would laugh and they would beam at their cleverness and continue to “just browse” and leave with a “see ya Mr Training” but no sofa or coffee table or five dollar throw cushion which was an absolute steal but no thanks not today … He hated customers. He had told her he was not cut out for customer service and she just laughed that laughed and told him it was only temporary.

He watched Charlie convince the couple to extract themselves from the welcome mat and take a wander around the store. Charlie would be their guide. Their friend. Their assistant. “Never call yourself a sales assistant,” he had told him, “it puts people off.”

The couple looked as dazed and confused as the moth who continued to knock himself against the light fitting. Sam wondered whether they too had simply been drawn in by the fluorescent lights.

He remembered visits to stores like this. He remembered feeling overwhelmed, wondering why they needed to buy a new sofa at all when the one he had picked up from roadside collection was quite adequate and a perfect example of lowering one’s carbon footprint and recycling and affirmative action for the environment because, after all, she was the so-called environmentalist and how could she buy into that Western wastefulness, that Capitalist greed … He sighed. Why could he only remember the fights?

Sam watched as the couple contemplated the queen-sized mattress. They looked like oversized dolls, lying shoulder to shoulder, shoes on, arms by their sides, stiff and disinterested as Charlie pointed out the miracles of the foam, the springs, the stitching. Sam watched as the woman took her partner’s hand. Sam watched as the man gently brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. Sam watched as she cupped his face. Sam watched as Charlie, in discomfort and politeness, referred to the clipboard and cleared his throat. Sam watched the tender scene unfold whilst the moth thumped against the fluorescent lights that hummed overhead. Sam watched as the woman told the man they were being watched. Sam watched as the woman pointed him out.

“What are you looking at?” the young man shouted from the mattress.

Sam remembered how she lay like that; she had looked like a tiny, porcelain doll upon the mattress, arms by her side, stiff and disinterested. He hadn’t expected it, her, to look so unnatural. On their backs, shoulder to shoulder, arms by her side he had picked up one of her delicate hands and kissed it, he had cupped her face in his hands, he had called her name, he had stroked her hair, he had called the nurse, he had said goodbye. He had known it was coming even though she had insisted, every step of the way, that it was only temporary – the hair-loss and the injections and the vomit and waiting rooms …

“Hey! Retard! What’s your problem?”

Sam didn’t know where else to go so he had come to work; his temporary job.

The young man stormed towards Sam. The young woman sneered. Charlie flapped his arms uselessly. Sam continued to watch and blink and breathe and listen to the dull thump of the hapless moth.

“He’s still going for it. What a determined little guy,” he said to no one in particular.

Unfortunately there was someone in particular who assumed Sam was speaking to him.

The man moved in close to Sam, his warm breath smelling like fast food and sugary energy drinks. Sam watched the man’s lips that had, moments earlier, kissed the young woman’s hand suddenly curl and contort into a barrage of insult. The young woman appeared at her partner’s shoulder and pulled him back.  Sam watched the woman’s hand that, moments earlier, cupped the young man’s face suddenly twist into a finger sign.

The ding-dong customer alert sounded and they were gone.

Charlie stood on the welcome mat, flapping his arms uselessly in time with sound of the ding-dong. “Jesus Christ. Sam. Jesus –” Charlie put the clipboard back in the drawer, returned his suit jacket to the back of his chair, untucked his shirt and exhaled for what seemed an eternity.

“I know, I know. I’ll …” He considered going back to the house. Usually as he pulled into the Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium parking lot all he could think about was turning the car around and heading back home.

The moth fluttered and faltered around the light above him.

Sam’s job usually included spraying the moths with fly spray or inducing a fatal blow with the rolled up newspaper. Not today. Charlie watched as Sam stood on the desk, reached up to the light and gently cupped the moth in his hands. He watched as Sam slowly made his way across the store with the moth cradled in the cage of his hands. He heard the ding-dong customer alert as Sam tenderly released the moth into the parking lot.

Sam stood, a lone figure on a welcome mat, and watched the moth flutter and fly until he could see it no more.

“Come and have a donut,” Charlie called.

Sam wiped his feet on the mat and returned to his temporary job.

 

*****

Making myself keep up with this blog with the help of The Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dialogue