First Dress Rehearsal

theatre story

The story I’m about to tell ya is true. It really is – dead set! But ya won’t believe me, will ya? Na, ya won’t ‘cause it’s too bloody fair dinkum weird to be otherwise!

The story begins in Northern Ireland, on a train traveling between Belfast and Londonderry. Now, you’re probably wondering to yourself, what the hell was I doing there? Well… like any true-blue adventurous Aussie, I thought I’d take a decko at the Emerald Isle, after all my great grandfather was said to have come from some part of it, and furthermore, it was a welcome change from the concrete jungle of Earls Court.

So, here I was on this train in a compartment with four other passengers, three of which sat opposite me. They were: a stocky old woman nearest the window, a sleeping fat man with a flushed face seated next to her, a thin poke-faced bespectacled clergyman reading a book, and beside me a long lean fellow in a white mackintosh wearing a tilted felt hat, with the ugliest scar you’ve ever seen, that ran high from his cheekbone to the dimple on his chin. Glancing at him now and then, I noticed that his face seemed frozen in time; in fact his whole body was in some eerie immobile stance. Fascinated I looked to the other passengers for a reaction. The clergyman caught my eye, and quickly shoved his reading material up to his face. The old woman, her face traced with fear, looked longingly across at me. I smiled. She returned a little nervous grin. I stole another look at Scarface. Not an eyelid did he flutter, not a muscle did he flinch. He just sat there like a cold piece of sculpture, staring directly into the face of the frightened old woman.

The whole bloody thing was getting to me, until the fat man sluggishly began to stir from his sleep. He started to sing, revealing to all of us that he was hopelessly drunk. Then without warning he flung his arms around the old woman. She screamed like only a female could. Suddenly Scarface leaped from his seat and let fly a heavy punch into the fat man’s drunken face, the sickening sound of smashed teeth and bone clearly heard by all. The old woman cringed against the window whimpering. Scarface politely tipped his hat to her and went back to his seat, resuming his statue-like stance as if nothing had happened, while the drunk lay sprawled like a discarded doll, a thick trail of blood running freely from his mouth.

Just about then the train eased into a station. Instantly the terrified woman scrambled to her feet and made a bee-line for the door, flung it open and bolted down the corridor. Then the clergyman, seeing the opened door also fled, leaving his book behind. The train rolled again, and I can tell you I felt more than a bit uneasy with this madman beside me. Then the unthinkable happened: he tapped me on the shoulder! I ignored it. Another tap, this time more firm. I shuddered, swallowing hard. This was it! If I had to fight this lunatic I would! Clenching a sweaty fist I turned nervously to face him.

‘Look, I’m frightfully sorry for that,’ he said crisply, gesturing towards the drunk.

‘Oh… no worries, mate,’ I answered cheerfully, concealing my clenched fist.

‘Oh, you’re Australian! How interesting! Sydney?’

‘Yeah, mate.’

‘Oh, how I’d love to go there and stand on that magnificent bridge of yours and take in the finest harbour views in the world.’

I grinned as I visualised this creep on the big coathanger, leaning over the side, and with me right behind him with my foot raised to his arse. He was smiling broadly now, which caused his scar to stretch, adding to its grotesqueness. He noticed me eyeing it, and said with a laugh, ‘Oh, that; I almost forgot.’ He raised his fingers to his scar and… peeled it off! I gasped. He smiled contentedly, while his left eye held me in a terrible baleful stare. Still smiling, he put his hand over his eye socket and pulled out… a glass eye!

‘Strewth!’ I shouted.

‘Winnie Weir, playwright,’ he beamed, thrusting out his hand.

I shook it limply.

‘I’m putting on my play in Derry at the weekend. All about a train journey, you know, in which I play the main part of course…’

I was speechless! And then anger engulfed me when I realised what this weirdo was all about. The bastard was an exhibitionist! An egomaniac if ever there was one! And by his flaming accent it was as clear as day that he was one of those upper-class educated twits!

He was still babbling away about his play, when I interjected pointing, ‘Did ya have to knock that poor drunk out? Was that really necessary?’

He bit his lower lip, glanced at the drunk, then at me. ‘Look, I’m awfully sorry about that, and I do apologise if I’ve disturbed you, but you see—’

‘Listen you,’ I said, pointing my finger. ‘I’ve seen enough to convince me what you are. You’re a sicko, mate! Ya know that? Sicko! And if I were a quack I’d have ya certified on the spot! Dead set!’

‘No, no, no! You don’t understand, really you don’t! If I can just gently explain it all to you. You see—’

‘Don’t try and explain it all away to me, mate. You’re one sicko, and ya flamin’ don’t know it. You need help… lots and lots of help!’

‘Perhaps it’s best that I leave, what?’ he stammered, smiling nervously.

‘Yeah!’ I growled.

He fumbled awkwardly with his glass eye before finally placing it back in his eye socket. Then he rose from his seat and walked to the door.

‘I say,’ he chirped, turning round, ‘would you care for a free ticket to my play – front seat of course.’

I swore and told him in no uncertain terms what he could do with his free ticket! He left immediately.

Across from me the fat drunk began to regain consciousness.

‘How do ya feel, matey?’ I asked sympathetically.

‘I just wish sometimes he wouldn’t hit me so hard,’ he groaned, nursing his swollen mouth.

Then it dawned on me that he wasn’t drunk at all! In fact he was cold stone sober!

‘Ya know him?’ I asked, dreading the worst.

‘Do I know him? I bloody work fer him! Just wish he wouldn’t hit me so hard, that’s all. Already lost three teeth this year because of him. And he’s takin’ his play to England in August; travelin’ all over the blinkin’ place we are… by train! Bejessus, I’m not exactly lookin’ forward to that at all, ye know.’ He coughed and spat a tooth out onto an already blood-soaked hanky.

‘God almighty!’ I cried out. ‘Why do ya do it then?’

He hunched his shoulders, and said nonchalantly, ‘Beats diggin’ ditches, don’t it?’

See… I told ya you wouldn’t flamin’ believe it!


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