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Saturday, 3 November 2012

Lucky Beanie


Already the grass is drying out in the absence of rain. As much as I enjoy the weather warming up (and it has done this quite gently this year, unlike the typical skip-the-middle-numbers temperature spikes), the yellowing as the season marches towards summer is a bit depressing. It gets harder and harder to water the garden enough (while trying to be responsible with our limited water resources), and the risk of bushfire increases. Still, if the possums and parrots don’t get them first, we do have wonderful summer fruits to look forward to. It’s difficult to be too sad about summer.

The story for this week is a quirky play on a song my daughters sang as a warm-up exercise for choir rehearsals. Let me know if you recognise the song!

Lucky Beanie
I pressed the end-call button on my mobile before I let myself go.
            'I did it! I got myself a gig at the Crooked Crown. It's my break, Seona! Do you know who hangs out at the Crown? Talent spotters for record companies, that's who!' I whooped and danced around our flat like a tribal, singing an impromptu tribute to my lucky gig beanie. I just knew that beanie would give me the edge I needed to become a famous singer-songwriter.
            Seona just smiled, the crinkles at the corner of her eyes revealing her genuine, otherwise unexpressed, pleasure. 'Oh, and thanks for the idea,' I mumbled. Seona doesn't say much, but she's so smart, what she does say is worth more than I can think in a week.
            I stayed up late that night finishing off a song I thought I'd debut at the gig. I spent the next two weeks planning and rehearsing my bracket. I made flyers and handed them out to my friends, hoping they'd turn up to boost the friendly numbers. I even told my parents and then had to invent a good line to prevent them from coming. I knew they'd be proud of me, but performing to old folk whose idea of real music is a violin virtuoso in a painfully silent room doesn't bring out my best.
            I should've realised the dream was doomed by the way everything rolled along so easily until Friday.
            On Friday I thought I'd pop by the hotel to suss it out. It's one weird place.   While I was there, I had a chat with the manager who, after some checking and rechecking, finally accepted that it was me who would be playing between nine and ten the next night, and that, in fact, I would be playing a twelve-string guitar and singing original songs, not doing a stand-up comedy act accompanied by a trombone. It's all good, I say.
            At home I pulled out my guitar my favourite, still-paying-the-mortgage guitar to find pale green and black slime all over the fretboard and dropping in lumps into the sound hole. Ah yes, the snack I'd packed for my last band practice and forgotten to eat. Fortunately avocado doesn't smell too strongly.
            Yep, it's all good. Then, as I cleaned the strings, the top E-string snapped. Hurried phone calls to the guitar-playing friends since the shops had shut by then. They'd open the next morning to find a large number of guitarists keen on buying spare E-strings because it turned out that none of them had one. And to make sure they didn't sell out before I rocked up, I camped on the doorstep from six in the morning. Only got moved on twice by the police and once by a drunk who thought I looked like his last landlady.
            By 9:03 I'd been told that the distributors were currently having difficulty supplying steel strings. At 10:03 I found the spare E-string I suddenly remembered I had. Why I had hidden it in a hiking boot remains a mystery. It's just a good thing I tipped up all my shoes in order to find my beanie.
            You've got to understand about my lucky beanie. It's as ugly as heck, murky brown wool mixed with something like sludge green in a rough fibre. It was once my Great Aunt Farula's. I remember the way her eyes sank into the layers of wrinkled skin covering her skeletal head and the beanie she always wore, which I studied intently to avoid looking at her face. Somehow I knew when I inherited it that it was going to change my life.
            I hunted through all my shoes, all my drawers, the dirty washing, the ironing pile and the bags of clothes waiting to be sent to the refugees. I found the much-needed E-string, but not my beanie.
            It was getting dark. I sat in the cramped lounge of our third floor flat, looking around the room at every picture, poster, photograph and ornament as if they might turn into the mysteriously absent beanie. I was out of ideas. I was working hard to push aside the terrifying thought of appearing at the Crown, on this, the night of my big break, minus the beanie. Deep, agonised silence. My thoughts had collapsed into a soggy formless lump.
            Who knows how long I might have remained in this state if my beanie had not inched its way, with jerks and jumps, before my initially unseeing eyes. It was most of the way to the kitchen before eternity thawed into a distinct now.
            I pounced. My beanie screeched. I picked it up. It shuddered. I dropped it. My beanie had never behaved this way before. In fact, it had never behaved. What had gotten into it? I flipped it over and stared, uncomprehending.
            Clinging to the inside was a jelly-like purple thing with tiny nose, mouth, limbs and claws. It quivered but it wouldn't fall out no matter how hard I shook the beanie. I turned the beanie inside out; the purple creature stretched to cover what was now the outside. How dare it take over my lucky beanie! I put it under the tap, first the cold, and then, with a rush of jealousy, the hot water. It made no difference, other than the thing spraying me like a dog shaking to get dry.
            The time was nearing seven. I had to eat, dress, and catch a bus to the hotel by eight-thirty. I left the beanie on the kitchen bench while I prepared some food I had no appetite to eat. I wondered whether Seona would come home, turn up at the hotel, or spend the evening in the library as usual. I cooked her some fried rice anyway.
            I made a crucial decision while I was eating: I would wear the beanie, even with the purple creature inside if it came to that. The beanie hadn't moved for ages. Maybe the thing slept. Maybe it had gone when I wasn't looking. Anyway, I didn't have to wear the beanie until I played, so I stuffed it into my backpack.
            By 8:35 I was at the Crooked Crown. Not a lot of people yet. Which ones were the talent scouts? Couldn't tell, so I searched for faces of friends. Couldn't see any. I dumped my gear at a table near the corner where a couple of guys were playing bass guitars and singing tunelessly. I sat at the bar with a Coke, taking in the smell of stale beer and the distant clatter of poker machines, trying to tune into the mood of the place. Not much mood; everyone was ignoring the musicians. Good, I thought, they'll be fresh for me. I couldn't wait to get started.
            When I returned to my gear, I thought for a moment the backpack had moved. I intercepted a look from one of the bass players, whose gaze returned to the pack just as it lurched towards him. I looked inside, acting nonchalance. Everything seemed as I'd left it. The beanie was still and silent again.
            The guys finished their bracket to a few slow claps, packed up and pushed through the drinkers. I took a deep breath, said a prayer, and moved into the corner to set up. A couple of friends turned up, and sat at my table.
            'Hey, Jodie,' boomed Sasha. 'Looks like Mara's about to play. Should be a great show!' He winked at Jodie.
            I stepped up to the mic quickly. 'Good evening, all. My name's Mara Simbaya, and I'm going to entertain you with some of my original songs. I hope you'll enjoy them. I'll be around afterwards for a chat. So lean back and feel the flow of good vibes.' I pulled the beanie over my dark hair, strummed some chords and launched into an old favourite. It felt good, and the crowd settled to a quiet hum of contentment, while Sasha and Jodie clapped and cheered.
            As my confidence gained momentum and the audience seemed to be eating out of my hand, I tried a few one liners as I moved between songs. They went down well. But in my fourth song the mood shifted. The crowd were watching me closely but they seemed distracted. My song wasn't reaching them. Sweat trickled from my forehead into my eyes; my confidence leaked away. How had I lost my audience? And my best songs were yet to come.
            'Oh my God!' Jodie screeched. 'It's moving! Look at the beanie!'
            Her words drew me out of a desperate focus on the song to the strange sensation on my head. I realised it had been happening for a while. My hair was being nibbled and tugged, accompanied by a squelching sound. I quit strumming to peal the beanie off, intending to throw it aside. It wouldn't budge. I finished the song, and tried some banter into the microphone while I wrestled with my beanie, subtly at first, then with growing urgency. It was beginning to hurt.
            My audience was laughing, clapping and throwing comments to me. Sasha and Jodie had slunk away. I had attention; I wished I was invisible.
            Seona! I saw her at the edge of the crowd. I tried to telegraph her with my eyebrows to come and help me. She saw, watched some more, and then began an infuriatingly calm progress towards me. Nobody rushes Seona. When she reached my side she whispered, 'It's a purple people-eater. Loves hair. Very rare. I borrowed it from the laboratory but I've got to return it on Monday.' She slipped her hand under the back of the beanie, flicked, and removed the beanie without too much of my remaining hair being pulled out. I was free.
            I could feel the heat of the lights on a patch near my crown. I resolutely continued my bracket, but I had no energy for performing, and the listeners drifted away. The last twenty minutes dragged. I couldn't satisfy the half-hearted calls for jokes; I couldn't think. When the feature band of the night moved to take over, I fled to the bathroom. I couldn't see it but I felt a bald patch on the top of my head, and the slight dents of teeth marks in the tender flesh.
            I tried to sneak out the back way, but the manager caught me by the kitchen door.
            'It might have worked better with a trombone,' he said, his droopy eyes flicking past mine, cold as a lizard's. I left without answering. What can you say when your dream dies at birth?
* * *   
That was last week. Last week, last year, time frozen in eternal wastelands.
            I visit Seona at her laboratory on my way to the city, offering to donate the traitorous beanie to support her research on irritating jelly-like creatures.
            'So what's your plan?' Seona asks as she stares at the beanie, which still has a skein of my crinkly hair attached to it. I can see her mind is somewhere else.
            'Some woman rang and asked me to meet her at the Blue Fish CafĂ© for lunch. She didn't say much, just said she had an offer she wanted to put to me. No idea what it's about, but I haven't got a life anymore, and, hey, it's a free lunch.'
            Seona is with me now. She's grinning. She knows something I don't so what's new? Her smile stirs hope in me though.
She offers me the beanie. ‘You’ll be needing this, Mara.’  

Until next week…
Claire Belberg

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