The scene is The Busker’s kitchen. He’s cooking and she’s watching him cook. He’s singing while he’s cooking, like he sings while he’s doing lots of things, like walking through the house, like fucking her. She’s thinking about this and smiling to herself but keeping her face turned towards her son, who sits at her elbow drawing an underwater scene of fish and bright coral with the hastily provided paper and pencils found to keep him from whining.
This could have been a different scene. She went to the wrong house at first and knocked and knocked into silence. The wine bottle was tucked in her arm like the second baby she never had. She held a bag of chips in her hand, and she felt silly, standing with those things and telling her son to pick up his bike because their friend who had invited them to dinner wasn’t home after all.
‘Their friend’ is a nice way of putting it, and the only way she can think of putting it. But, as she leaves the empty house, she thinks that she might be putting it a different way from now on. She heads back down the road with the wine bottle and chips and writes a quick message into her phone, before giving up for good and later, opening the wine bottle on her own.
But that is a different movie —
because he sends his correct address back and it’s on the other side of the road.
So, she turns around again and very soon finds herself in the new scene, the scene that starts this movie if she could really choose where the movie starts and not get side-tracked like she does.
Is that why she does this internal cinema — she wonders — to try to keep herself in the narrative? Instead of shooting off into a different movie with different characters and a different setting…
Back to the scene. He’s called The Busker because that what she first called him when she couldn’t remember his name. When she spoke to her friend Penny, she said ‘I’m going to have dinner with the Busker tonight,’ because the name had been set from the start and she knew Penny would know who she was talking about.
The Busker is also a great movie name, like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, and he is like The Dude, not in character, but in how he embodies his movie name. He moves through the world as if he’s always busking. His smile is designed to draw the coins from your purse, yet it is not ungenuine, it is just how he is.
She wonders how she is beside him. ‘Low’ is how she described it to him. He’s high and she’s low. In energy, she meant, but also in something else, something she can’t name and that has to do with him being a performer and her being an observer. Yet she observes herself too. So much so that she talks about herself in third person and always places herself in the scene. Unless she’s just walked out of frame so the other characters can talk about her. Which in reality, probably never happens.
So, The Busker dominates the scene. He sings. He cooks. He tells jokes that she wishes were the lines given to her but which make her laugh all the same.
‘This is the Melrose Place of single parents,’ he quips and her laugh is a little too loud and a little too sad.
She realises, he’s her very own Manic Pixie Dream Boy. This makes her feel better, it gives her character depth, even if it’s only true in the movie sense and nowhere near true in the real life of sitting here in the kitchen waiting to be fed. But in her movie world, the narrator says things about her like; She held fabulous dinner parties and all the best writers went. They told stories long into the night and drank and laughed and still had plenty of time to write. Which is the exact opposite of what happens in her non-movie world, but —
the edges do overlap.
NEW SCENE ~ It’s late. They’re at her house this time, drinking champagne because it’s all she had in her fridge on short notice. The Busker isn’t really interested in drinking, he tells her he had a joint before he came. He offers her one, and our protagonists thinks that it would nicely liven up the scene, but then she remembers her son sleeping upstairs and the reality that won’t ever slip fully away, no matter what she does to push it. So, they drink.
She walks from the kitchen holding their drinks, and The Busker says ‘nice jammies.’ She does a daggy dance step and laughs, ‘I really made an effort hey!’ But it’s easy to sit cross-legged on the couch in pyjama pants. It’s easy to pull off pyjama pants. She’s never seen him in a shirt before this night and she wonders if they planned for different scenarios. Or for the same scenario, but with a different tone.
She often gets the tone wrong, or the world gets the tone wrong, or the tones between her world and the outside world just clash somehow, and she finds herself sitting in a room with a bunch of school mums all staring at her open-mouthed, with her words hanging strangely in the air like ghosts, because they have nothing at all to do with the talk of kitchen tiles and cake making. But, if she’s honest, she added them just to jolt the script into something less mind-numbing.
It never works. They are extras. They swim around in her peripheral vision and beg the director for decent lines, but she never gives them. She would like to give them, she just doesn’t know how to dig deep enough, and she’s afraid of what she will uncover if she does.
The Busker has all the good lines. Afterwards, he talks about her lines, as she sits on the couch with her naked legs resting across his lap. He traces a finger along her thigh and across her stomach, then pulls one side of the lace top of her knickers down an inch, explaining how it changes the lines of her body, studying her like you would study an artwork.
Normally she’d be offended.
But there’s something authentic in the way he does it. Something that hints at a deeper appreciation. A work of art has many levels, after all. They talk about feeling disconnected as they lean towards each other on the couch. She thinks about art. Later, when he’s about to leave, he cups her face in his hands. He asks her if it’s okay to touch her like that.
‘I know you don’t like soppy stuff.’
She doesn’t, but she laughs and looks slyly at his wrinkles. ‘It’s okay. But it is a little bit (singing) “I will be your father figure put your tiny hand in mine.”’
He enfolds her into his chest and the laugher rumbles through his ribcage.
NEW SCENE ~ Coffee in Frankston. Her favourite people-watching spot outside Shannon St Mall. A place where the people flow past her like a stream of colour and she can sit back and just watch it happen. Only with The Busker, the stream keeps breaking off, and driftwood comes towards her. He is the local scene in a way she never is. This is his busking spot, and the place where she first met him, a couple of weeks ago. He is known here. He doesn’t have to move to see the action; the action comes to him.
She’s enjoying it for a change. She’s still an observer, but as his side-kick, she can throw the odd line in, disrupt the flow if she wants to, and make it take a different direction. They are joined by an odd couple, a lively, voluptuous woman, and a slender, dull man, who starts immediately telling them about his hang-over. He makes the same joke several times, and our protagonist feels like maybe the man’s been cast wrong for this scene. He obviously doesn’t think so, and he repeats his one line with gusto. She’s thinking about cutting him out in the next edit, when The Busker leans towards her and speaks out the corner of his mouth.
‘I’m keeping this one at arm’s length, just for now, don’t want to encourage him too much.’
She laughs and looks on with the renewed focus of a co-conspirator.
CUT TO ~ They’re walking to the library with a book to return in her handbag. The Busker is the first person she’s met who is happy to keep pace with her. She likes to walk fast, and with school hours being child-free for her now, it’s a more common but still fantastic treat, to barrel along the street at a bracing speed. They side-step a chugger who doesn’t even open his mouth. ‘He knows we’re on a mission,’ she jokes. They’d be kept in shot with a hand held steady cam, and the background would be a blur. The music would be something frenetic, like in Run Lola Run. She drops the book into the return chute by the door without pausing, and they stride into the library.
Here they part ways. She’s looking for a documentary on the plane that dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, which she needs for a writing project, and he’s using the computers to download and print off sheet music. She wanders off to argue with the search function on the computer browsing system.
She types, The first nuclear bomb.
The computer offers her, Truth Bombs — a guide to surviving your marriage.
She tries, The Enola Gay.
The computer offers her, The enjoyment of being gay — LGTB pride.
She gives up and scans the shelves herself. Obviously, she’s limited in a technological sense, or she’d be at home downloading the most suitable documentary. She used to think this limitation gave her character a nice little human flaw. An adorable quirk. But then she realised it was just laziness. Still, downloading would negate the need for this journey, for the wonderful irritation it has created. Emotions are essential for any drama. She can see her annoyance in her posture, the way her eyes flick across the titles. We would cut from a high shot showing her leaning to look at the DVD shelf, to a close-up of her face, a few renegade strands of hair hanging over her eyes, so that she scoops them back with her fingers in a quick, irritated gesture. Maybe The Busker glances at her from across the library.
Maybe he doesn’t.
She finds a documentary on the Second World War that may or may not tell her what she needs to know. She takes it up to the computer at the front with a sign stuck to it saying, borrow here. She stands in line and thinks about the diminishing chances for human interaction in the modern world. She glances at the bored library worker at the desk several feet away. A wide shot would show her in line, and the library worker opposite. They would be at separate ends of the frame, face to face, but not making eye contact. Then she moves her head slightly and her POV changes. Cut to a close-up of the woman in front of her in the line.
‘Hello! I know you!’ Our protagonist’s greeting is a declaration of sudden hope.
She can see The Busker in the background now, glancing with interest towards her from his position at the computers. Her voice comes out self-consciously loud. She uses one eye to keep him in shot and the other on the woman in front of her.
‘How are you?’
The person she is addressing is not even a close friend. She is a friend of a friend. They may have had a conversation once.
‘I’m borrowing a book called When you’re 40, fat and single.’
The friend of a friend is going along with the assumed intimacy. Or, she is just addicted to self-deprecation. They laugh, anyway. Then they have to acknowledge their connection.
‘Have you seen Penny’s new place?’ She steps aside to give our protagonist access to the borrow here computer.
‘Yeah I like it.’ She thinks about her friend’s new house, nestled into a little enclave of terraced houses, with shared stairwells and only one driveway entrance, yet she hasn’t seen any of the neighbours yet. She places her library card on the little square marked place card here and waits for her details to load.
‘It’s like Melrose Place, don’t you reckon?’ All it needs is a man on a bike riding in.’
‘All anyone needs is a man on a bike riding in.’ Even though she hasn’t seen Melrose Place, she knows how to fake it, she’s done it before. She sees The Busker flash his eyes at her as she swipes her DVD.
‘No, that’s the last thing anyone needs.’
They laugh again.
‘We should get together, tell Penny, we should go out sometime.’
‘Sure, sounds good. I’ll tell Penny.’ She sees The Busker heading her way, ‘Well I better go, hopefully catch ya soon.’
He scoops her up and they sweep out the door with their creative tools.
CUT TO ~ Further down the street. They’re talking fast, to keep up with their walking speed. She’s telling him about a comedy sketch she saw once comparing homophobia to people who want to fuck their dogs. She’s imitating the comedian, and saying loudly, ‘Are you telling me I can fuck my dog now, is that what you are telling me, because I really want to fuck my dog!’ Then she glances sideways to see the friend of a friend, heading right towards them, having taken a shortcut from the library. There’s a beat, like a short pulse of shame that runs through her, before our protagonist decides to just look the other way. The Busker has already taken the conversation and run with it.
‘I do wonder about some older, lonely women, and their dogs…a little bit of peanut butter just here.’
She decides her character has a fuck it attitude today.
‘Nah, I can’t even rub one out with my cat watching.’
The explosion of laughter from him is intensely satisfying. She’s pleased with how her character is developing, how she’s finally getting some good punchlines. He leans down to kiss her goodbye and she wonders if her friend of a friend is watching.
NEW SCENE ~ Days drag together, she often feels like she’s treading water, just waiting for that peak of her hero’s journey. Occupying her time with self-sympathising movie scenes, and busker types who want nothing but the coins from her purse. In the morning after school drop-off, she walks to her favourite café where they write messages on the lid of takeaway coffees. It’s cliché, but she always reads them with interest. Maybe she will find something in the message that will be the spark that gets her to that hero’s peak, like the chaos theory shown in The Butterfly Effect.
Maybe she won’t.
As she walks from the café, there is a close-up to show that the cliched message on the lid of her takeaway cappuccino reads find joy in the ordinary. She sips it and steps towards the road. A car shoots straight through the pedestrian crossing, and from her POV we catch a glimpse of the driver, a hand held to her chin, her eyes staring furtively ahead into her own future drama. Our protagonist pauses, one foot off the gutter, and a middle-aged man about to cross from the other side does the same. How would this look from an overhead shot? Two strangers, avoiding death, in perfect symmetry.
Alexandra O’Sullivan writes fiction, creative nonfiction, articles and reviews. Her work has appeared in publications such as Meanjin, Tincture, Kill Your Darlings, Seizure and Gargouille. She has been shortlisted for several awards including The Newcastle Short Story Award and The Profane Nonfiction Prize. She has received Highly Commended mentions in The Horne Prize for Creative Nonfiction and The Feminartsy Fiction Prize.