Monday 10 February 2020

In a bid not to instantly backtrack on my post last week, I've decided to dive right in and share a piece of my fiction writing with you today. This is a short piece from a "show" I wrote on commission a couple of years ago. I put the word "show" in quotation marks like that because it was actually a walking tour, rather than a sit-down theatre piece. Except in this walking tour, instead of telling the factual history of buildings I'd collected peoples memories. I then took these memories and wove them together. Some of the stops we made on the tour I would just retell one person's story, at other stops, like this one, I had mashed together fragments of what people had shared to paint a picture.

This was one of my favourite stories to tell on the tour. For me, this was the perfect exercise to go back and try to edit it into some sort of final piece. When I'm writing a script, which I know is only going to be read by me, it's often very much a work in progress, and the story morphs and changes every time I tell it. I'll let you be the judge of whether or not this works as a none performance piece - I can't read this in any other way than the way I would have performed it, so I'm sorry if one or two dramatic pauses or hand flourishes are lost along the way!

It might not look like much now. Just another forgotten doorway on a street where people rarely stop to look, but we are standing outside what was once the place to be on a Saturday night
Tony's Empress Ballroom.

People used to congregate here in their hundreds, waiting for the doors to open, and their night out to begin. At the perfectly reasonable time of 7.30 pm which is about 3 hours earlier than any night out I've ever been on began, but really is it all that different?

You can almost see them, can't you? The crowds of young people, desperately trying to look casual. Hanging around in groups, in the way people of that age always have, and always will.

There's a tingle in the air that can only come from the promise of a dance and hundreds of people waiting for the possibility of someone special to walk in.

You can hear their laughter. See them gently jostle. Joke with one another. Subtly and not so subtly eye up the other groups. The nudge and giggle as one group catch another looking at them, because, they were looking back.

They are young. They are hopeful. And, on the surface at least, they are carefree.

But there's one girl that stands just slightly apart. One whose not doing quite as good a job as the others at acting without a care in the world.

Close enough to the others to still be a part of the congregation but far enough apart that you'd be forgiven for thinking she was observing this tradition rather than worshipping at its altar.

On her, youthful hope and possibility look... anxious.

She was excited as everyone else, but she has never done anything like this before. And while only this afternoon, the idea of disobeying Mother felt intoxicating, the execution of doing so has left her feeling hungover.

Or at least that's how she would describe it if she knew what a hangover was.

Which she doesn't.

While the others shuffle from side to side because it's cold or they're giddy, she is waiting for someone to shout "Hey you! What are you doing here?'

And as she warms up on the starting line, contemplating running, her shoes threaten to chafe or worse... scuff. A blister she can hide, but there would be no explaining a scuff to her Mother.

'Don't be ridiculous' her more rebellious side tells her 'your father used to come here all the time' it reasons.

'Be careful of your shoes' her other side, the one more used to being in control, chides.

Neither succeeds in stopping the shuffling.

Her friends are due any minute, and as she tries to convince herself that she'll be fine, above the cacophony of voices already fighting it out in her brain, one is clearer than all the rest. The one that sounds exactly like her Mother.

'You shouldn't be here. What if someone sees?'

What would happen if she was caught out in her best dress and her new shoes at a place Mother despises?

It didn't bear thinking about.

Despite all of this, she stays. She doesn't turn away and leave before her friends arrive. Not out of determination to see the rebellion through but because how could she?  Back then if you made a plan, you stuck to it. There was no "sorry can't make it" last-minute phone call or hastily typed out "Change of plan! Sad-faced emoji"

No, despite every anxious whisper and every possible scrape of a shoe, she stays, and gradually all those other possibilities become intoxicating once more.

Her friends arrive, she relaxes,  her feet no longer move aimlessly, but with purpose and rhythm. Now they're warming up for dancing the night away. And as she moves one new shoe in front of another towards the door she knows, that despite what Mother says, on this night, she is exactly where she is supposed to be.

You can't deny a feeling like that. You can't ignore it when it pulls on the bottom of your stomach leads you towards what feels like fate.

The doors open, on the dot at 7.30, and she checks her coat into the cloakroom. Pays her 2 and 6 entrance fee.

The band starts up, and the atmosphere hits her straight away.

As she enters the room, she becomes bolder. She orders a drink. A port and lemon or a cherry B, maybe?  No. Tonight calls for a Babycham -  with the little Bambi on the glass. Her shoulders lose that anxious edge, and her smile comes freely.

Particular fellas catch her eye and make a beeline for her. After all, they've never seen her here before.  She dances with them for a song or two before dismissing them for the next. Their attention going to her head more than the Babycham, not that they mind.

That's the routine they're all there to dance out after all. Dance, switch, dance again. Until someone comes along, and the thought of swapping partners never enters their ever mind again.

Her friends give requests to the band, and they dance.

And nothing terrible happens, and Mother won't find out where she's been. At least not on this occasion. Tonight her shoes go unharmed, and she makes the last bus home.

11 pm. Standing room only.

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