"We do all the top artists’ hits as well as the golden oldies,” Tony began as he, Mavis and the band grouped together behind the band tent, unplugged guitars in hand, the drummer with his sticks. The sounds and life at the showground were a blurred backdrop to them.
The drummer and bass player, after a sharp reactionary side look at one another, hijacked the discussion. They listed the musicians whose material they preferred to play: “Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Men at Work, Beastie Boys, Silverchair, U2 …”
“Stop, fellas! They’re all great, but … I can’t do their songs with only a rushed run-through. A lot of them I couldn’t pull off at all! I’m sorry, Tony, you’ll have to cancel.”
Denying defeat, Tony said. “But we’ve stacks of material. Let’s work this from your end. What would you do for the gig if circumstances were different?”
“Well … your audience is a mixed bag so I’d have a cross section of entertainment and dance music. ‘Love is in the Air’ is still huge given the success of Strictly Ballroom. A lot of the Keimera Show Society are ballroom dancers so that’d work. Don’t cringe like that, guys. Maybe ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC or Garbage’s ‘Only When It Rains’ as we up the beat. Some country rock like Shania’s ‘I’m Outta Here’ What I’d pick is no good though. You’re used to workin’ with a guy.”
“No, we know those songs. Sylvie Martin was with us until she broke up with our drummer. That’s when Matt joined us. How about Mellencamp?”
“Do you know ‘Wild Night’, Tony?” Mavis asked.
“Yeah, we’re tight on that, and our bass player loves it!”
“Cool. So, which ones will we do?” Mavis asked.
In unison, the guys said, “Not ‘Love is in the Air’!”
“One thing, Mavis,” Tony said, “you’ll have to wing it. We haven’t got sheet music here for that material.”
“I suspected that. Anyway, I can sing those songs backwards. Let’s run through them and see what’s what. Oh, and while we’re doin’ that, Gary, I want you to talk to the sound guy. The band’s volume has to be based on my volume. I want it balanced and at a reasonable level so lyrics are heard. Tell him the baseline is: if you need to raise your voice a bit to have a conversation then the band is at the right volume; if you need to yell in his ear, the band is too loud. No arguments about volume, guys, or I’m out.”
“We’re ahead of you there,” Tony said. “That’s been another pain in the arse with Matt.”
The drummer and bass player wore an air of sullenness, their brows lowered. Later, when Mavis was out of sight and earshot, they exchanged heated words with Tony over his capitulation. The exchange built into an expletive-laden argument before an uneasy truce was reached.
Nervous but maintaining the appearance of calm, Mavis settled on a stool in front of a microphone, the borrowed guitar resting on her lap. She strummed the introduction to her solo, one of her own creations, and relaxed into the music. The grassed area before her was sparsely populated. She focused on her friends, her son, and on the song penned before she had given birth to Dan.
Mavis’ voice, pure and strong, attracted attention immediately.
Those people already seated or standing in the grassed area stopped what they were doing, absorbed in the soaring notes of her music and the beauty of the lyrics. As distinctive as a fingerprint, her voice had a textural quality, more than vocal colour or skilled intonation, which signalled its uniqueness. She sang with passion, with the joy of someone who had reconnected with her life’s love. Her performance drew people from other parts of the showground to her.
As the last bars of her solo faded, the drum, wah-wah guitar, and keyboard picked up the interlude to ‘Waterfalls’. As this was happening, Mavis put aside her guitar, stood, and stepped backward to the standing mike to join the band. Entering the rhythm of the song, her hands moved in synch with the drummer’s. Cued by the drummer, she began the verse. There was a sultriness to her voice in this song, a siren’s call. She carried the melody in counterpoint to the rhythm.
The crowd grew.
Delighted by the bass solo, Mavis focused the audience’s attention on the bass player by turning toward him. He stepped forward, pleased. At the refrain, Tony joined her in harmony. Clearly, they were having a good time in the joining.
The audience before them moved in time to the music. Music spoke to them, connected them through emotion in a way other language did not. At the front of the crowd, Mavis saw Kate dancing with Dan while Gary danced with his blonde, blue-eyed girlfriend, Sarah, whose chic dress and silver sash made her a standout in this crowd.
“Well,” Kate said to Gary, who stood with Dan beside him and his girlfriend on his other side, “we all know now where Mavis truly belongs.”
“And we all know what her parents think,” Sarah said, her right arm linked through Gary’s. “Dan’s the picture; Mavis is the frame.”
The onyx darkness of the night sky heightened the brilliance of the stars and moon that hot summer’s night, while in the darkness, ocean waves whooshed against the nearby harbour retaining wall. Passing under the arched canopy of trees that marked the wooden gates to her parents’ town house in Keimera, Mavis, her son, and her two friends returned to her home. The Mills’ cream, cement-rendered, circa 1857 colonial cottage stood at the forefront of the 1500 square metre housing block that overlooked Keimera harbour, while Mavis’ smaller sandstone cottage stood at the rear. Instead of rebuilding on their fire devastated dairy farm as previously planned, the Mills had invested in renovating this house back to its former glory.
“Can I see Gran, Mum? I want to tell her …”
“Tomorrow, Dan. Time for a bath and then bed for you. It’s been a big day.” Turning her attention to her handbag, she said, “I’m goin’ to have to do something about my house keys. I always lose them no matter what size my handbag. I was sure I dropped them in …”
“Know exactly what you mean,” Kate said. “That’s why I have my keys clipped onto a ring and chain and then hooked onto the corner of my handbag. Finding keys is simply a matter of following the trail.”
“Gran has a spare set. I can get them, Mum.” Dan was already on his way to his grandparents’ back door.
“No!” three voices spoke in unison followed by laughter.
Dan stopped in his tracks and looked back at them, puzzled.
“No need. I’ve got them, Dan!”
Passing through the front door, they entered the main living area, a simply furnished room. The house throbbed with the day’s heat.
“Throw the lounge room windows open will you, Kate, while I work out what we’ll have for supper. Dan, I’ve had second thoughts about you goin’ to bed. You can play out back for a while.”
Dan disappeared into the dark of the house.
“Dan, did you hear me?”
“I heard you, Mum!” was the boy’s muffled reply.
“Gary, can you keep an eye on him? I don’t want him …”
“Visitin’ your mum?” Gary held her gaze for a moment.
“You’ve got it in one.”
Reappearing with a zippered black bag that held balls, a jack, and measuring line, Dan asked, “Gary, will you give me a game of bowls?”
“I think you’re gettin’ too good for me these days, matey, but I’ll give it a shot. Your grandpa’s a champion, and I reckon you’re goin’ to be one as well. So how’s about givin’ me a handicap lead of …”
“Not a lead, but we can bowl from the same line.”
They passed through the faded stained, double French doors into the backyard.
Kate sat on one of four white stools positioned under the breakfast bar. “So, how are you going to tell your mum about performing with the band for the Show Society’s dinner dance?”
Mavis looked back at Kate from her small recessed pantry. “Don’t know, but whatever happens, I’m not letting this opportunity pass. I had thought of not tellin’ her.”
“There are some secrets that can’t be kept in a small town like this.”
“It’s at times like these I wish I lived in the city.”
“You sure you won’t reconsider and let Gary and me shout dinner?
It’ll save on the mess and heat of preparation and eliminate the need for washing up.”
“Friendship involves give and take, Kate. Besides, it’s my turn to spring for a meal. I thought for supper we’d have an antipasto plate, and Dan can have a snag sandwich.”
“Perfect. I’m not that hungry, and I doubt Gary is either given what he has stowed away today.”
“His body will become an Esky for his six-pack if he’s not careful.”
Kate laughed. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Would you mind gettin’ the cold meat out of the fridge and addin’ it to these ingredients while I open up the rest of the house? The onshore breeze should cool my room and Dan’s pretty quick if I open that part of the house up now. It’s one of many Reasons I like livin’ here. When I was a kid, the farm homestead seemed to get hotter and hotter each summer’s night. Bein’ in a valley, we didn’t get the benefit of sea breezes. I am so glad Mum and Dad decided against rebuildin’ after the bushfire.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean about hot summer nights in the country. When we lived in the Northern Territory, during the wet season, I learnt what awful summer heat really was. Mum longed to come back home and to the coast.”
“I’ll be back,” Mavis said, terminating the conversation. Exiting, she paused and looked back, “I just felt like …”
“Yes, that catchphrase always brings Arnie and that movie to mind for me too.”
Mavis disappeared into the house.
After foraging through the fridge and coming up with only sliced ham and a lone sausage, Kate returned to Mavis’ small pantry in search of more ingredients. Disappointed, she returned to the fridge, having decided to add raw vegetables to the mix. She had rejected her fleeting idea of popping down the road to the nearby shops to buy more ingredients. Chiding herself for forgetting how financially tight things were for Mavis, she regretted her thoughtless extravagance earlier that day with the hat purchase.
The envisioned lavish antipasto plate reduced in reality to marinated olives, shaved ham, a few aging mushrooms, carrot sticks, and thinly sliced tomato. Kraft cheese – a cheese product publicised across the nation for its nourishing goodness and an Australian staple – had been cut into triangular slices and positioned with slices of crusty bread to bulk out the platter. Kate put the sausage under the grill, taking care to add water to the grill pan to reduce shrinkage.
Having thrown a white patterned tablecloth over the wooden outdoor table and set out plates and drinks, Kate sat down. “Fellas, five minutes till supper.” She found the chilled white wine, a budget brand, surprisingly refreshing.
“Time enough to finish this game,” Gary said. “Looks like I’m trounced again.”
The screen doors swung open, and Mavis emerged with Dan’s sausage sandwich in hand. “Sorry, it took longer than expected. I just had to change. Fellas ….”
“I’ve already given them the five-minute call,” Kate said.
“You know our routine so well.”
“I do that.”
“Geez, Kate, supper looks better than I thought it would.”
“So, how are you going to tell your mum?”
“I’m dreadin’ it and haven’t a clue as to how.”
“Nor do I,” Kate said. “You won’t let her talk you out of this, will you, Mavis?”
“No way! I really want this, Kate. Nothing is goin’ to stop me.”