She was tiny. Most of her silver hair was pinned up in a bun apart from these wisps that defiantly fought to stay impractically and romantically free. “I cried”, she said. “I haven’t cried in thirty years, but I cried tonight. You did that.”
” Do you want a hug?” I asked, then she lifted onto her toes and hugged me firmly. After that she nodded, tapped my arm and told me, take it everywhere. She had been our first audience member. She’d asked me, in the foyer, we’re early but is it ok to come in out of the rain?
I welcomed her in and directed her to the theatre when she stopped, opened her handbag and asked, with the same determination as her curls; “Where’s your wall? I have a picture.” She was flustered as she tried to find it. It had slipped into a small note pad, but then there it was. “Your son?” I asked. “My husband,” she said. It was a picture of him sitting at a desk, writing. She had written the dates on the bottom and a one-word question: Why? This was the first face pinned to the Wall Of Faces, by the end of the night we would have nine.
Noel Thomas the man who brought Marooned to Yarrawonga had set up the majestic hall with bench tables and chairs. It’s how they like to do it out here. Tonight on stage the waiting room of Marooned was four church pews that a Rotarian had chuckled as he’d told me were a bastard to lift up there. But they looked reverent. Like a small church. All that was missing was a bare wooden cross.
Ian, the tech had the same passion for presenting plays as I had of writing them. In another town and another skin we’d be talking cars or motorbikes but here it was theatre. I live in here, he said with a grin, and you felt it, he was like the monk who cared for a great temple, and this hall was great. He told me of all the balls they used to have every weekend, some nights they showed films, and other nights they put out the tables and played a card game called, , ,that they were all mad for. It was a hub for life and she with a proscenium arch and red curtains was the pride of their town, a chapel initially built for one religion, theatre. And Ian, with his lines and his rollies was a true disciple. Her custodian.
The country women manned the tables with the coffee and tea and the biscuits and the plates of slices one or a few of them had made as the men walked around greeting each other and shaking hands and each handshake was firm. Years of weather was worn into their faces yet the floods and the droughts and the fires hadn’t eroded their ability to laugh.
The story of the night had been quietly shared by a few. It was of a farmer that had some property up north. He’d been up there loading his cattle into a truck. He wanted to bring them down here but then some officials had told him he wasn’t allowed. They’d told him it would be too cruel for his stock were too weak to move. He’d argued that thanks to the drought there was nothing here for them, no feed, no water, so after a few uncomfortable hours on the truck they’d be better off as on his property down here he had everything they needed. But the rumour said they wouldn’t be swayed so he gave in and unloaded them, then after the officials had left he got out his rifle and shot them all, one by one and then he shot himself.
The only way to explain how these men talk about these suicides is with low voices as if the walls had ears. It’s as though we were in a communist country where some all powerful and yet secret force had removed someone else, and if these men spoke too loudly or even with their normal voices someone might overhear and who knows what would happen then?
All I could think of as we continued to set up the theatre was the perseverance it would take to shoot all those cows. To stop, reload, aim, shoot and then reload as all the exhausted cows he had yet to shoot watched him. Had he meant to take his own life before he started the cull, or was it just a case, like Cormac McCarthy states in No Country for Old Men, “this country is hard on people”
Rohana told me the women spoke about the problem in the same way. They talked to her about how many they had lost. One woman said she’d lost three from her circle in a short time. Another woman, who’d come by herself, hugged her and then told her how much she related to the isolation of Rohana’s character known only as 768.
Before the show, several of these women were concerned that no one would turn up. It’s a party weekend, they told me and for the first time in a long time it was raining. We could all hear the rain on the tin roof which was several storeys above us. But after the play had finished, as the actors, the Wolves, bowed, the hall erupted in a punchy applause and to the left three people stood up and another dozen joined them. With their hands above their heads clapping it was the casts first standing ovation. Was that because of the performance or because of the play’s full-frontal attack upon the silence or both?
One of the songs we play before the curtain opens is, “There’s something happening here.” And there is, and tonight all of it was watched over by the quiet faces of the missing, those ordinary men, pinned with messages of love to our first Wall of Faces.
One more show today, 2pm.
Michael Gray Griffith