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The Rose Lane MS Ch 4

by Jubbly 

Posted: 09 December 2003
Word Count: 4719

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Chapter Four

This is Jean; I'm not in please leave a message.

Even auntie Jeans ansaphone sounded miserable. Melanie tried to picture it; Jean kept the ansaphone on the bedside table in the little backroom overlooking the veranda. Melanie hated that room, it was too close to the back yard, almost outside, therefore it was often the first port of call for any venturing spiders in search of food.
"Oh take no notice of them Melanie, we need them, they're a big part of natures plan, they eat all those horrible insects that feed on my plants, I love them, you're peculiar you are, you wouldn't think you grew up with an outside toilet the way you go on."

Oh well, at least she didn't have to engage in a long meaningless chat with her aunt, she just wasn't in the mood.

Hi, it's me, Melanie, thanks for your letter, yeah, I sort of remember that chap in the paper, but not very well it was all so long ago, I don't really recall that much, anyway thanks for sending it and I hope you're well. Bye.

A few days later the good old Aussie postal service came up trumps.

Dear Melanie,
What's the matter with you? Of course you remember Brian Trinder, if I do you do. He was the director of all those amateur musicals your mother dragged me to. I can see him now as if it was yesterday. Bit of a poofta, dark hair with a terrible perm gone wrong certainly wasn't married and he wore funny clothes that you don't get normal men wearing. Your mother got on well with him, he took her to that awful place one night, up the Cross, that drag show club, Les Girls, I'm sure it was him, she had a photo, she was wearing a silly belt made of chains and he looks like he's got eye shadow on. I've probably got it somewhere in one of these boxes you've got stacked up in my spare room, you really must come and help me sort them out Melanie. Six months you said they'd be here, six months and what's it been? Fourteen years. Fourteen years they've been in my spare room, I'm sick to death of bumping into them; I can't have anyone over to stay because there's nowhere to put them. Did I tell you Mavis Stratton died, cancer, they cut her open and stitched her right back up again, hopeless, gave her a month to live, she was in agony. She said to say hello to you but I that was ages ago, oh well must go, Jedda’s barking and I can't bend over to clean up dog mess like I used to.

PS: Hope you like the Cherry Ripes and they're not too broken.

It was no good trying to forget him, Brian was under her skin as real as her worship of Cherry Ripes, an Australian chocolate bar filled with cherries and coconut and covered in dark dark chocolate. She sat back, nursing a mug of coffee, bit into one of those foreign and delicious Cherry Ripes, crossed the sea and the years and let the memories flow.

Melanie's mum quickly set about making friends with the other mothers. They all sat in a semi circle at the back of the room by the door. A gaggle of middle aged women, not strictly stage mothers as this venture wasn't strictly professional but all of them there for the same thing, to see their little darlings shine.
"How do you do, I'm Vera, the Louis's mum.” said a lanky thin woman with wisps of grey hair annoying her face.

Pattie extended her hand a little too anxiously.
"I'm Pattie, my daughter Melanie's in the ballet, she's one of Miss Sanderson's little girls."
"Vera Daley, so do you come in to the town school every week then?"
"No, she goes to the Hurstville branch....at the moment, but she's going to be starting in town soon."
Well that was news to Melanie.
"Miss Sanderson's very good, my Angela's been going to her for two years now, I've got a girl as well as the two boys."
"Really, three of them, how old?" Pattie pried.
"Angela's 12 and the boys are 13."
"Twins?" Pattie was agog, "And they're both called Louis? Isn't that confusing for you?"
Vera threw her head backed and laughed, catching the eyes of the other amateur stage mothers who joined in with the cackling.
"Their real names are Gary and Henry, but they're sharing the role of Louis in the show." Explained the ever-smiling Vera.

"Louis Leonowens, " added another woman, a chubby blonde with coral pink lipstick and modeling the latest floral culottes.
"Anna's son, you know Anna Leonowen, they sing that lovely song. She rolled her head from side to side and sang...when ever I feel alone, I hold my head up high , and whistle a happy tune......dum...du."

Oh, said Pattie and nodded, her face reddening.
What did she really know of show business and the characters in musicals. Yes, Melanie went twice weekly to the Hurstville Branch of Miss Sanderson's School of Ballet but that was largely so that Pattie could get out of the house away from Sid and do a bit of shopping at the nice mall there. Her only experience of the theatre was back in the old days when she worked as an usherette in the cinema.
In the golden days of cinema, when the staff were helpful, courteous and above all glamorous. Before going on duty, the ladies were subjected to a grueling spot check. Eyes, hair, teeth, nails all routinely inspected, they were made to stand shoulder to shoulder in their cloakroom, gold leather belts cinched tiny waists punctuating red velvet ball gowns. The fingernails were considered of the utmost importance; remember, apart from a flashing smile, the hands were the main point of contact between ordinary members of public and the hallowed usherette. They tore the tickets, pointed the torch and gestured designated seating.

But that was then, now she lived a quiet life in Engadine, at Chez Baker, and stuck to a routine. She worked as a shop assistant at the local newsagents and took Melanie to her ballet classes on Saturdays, every other Sunday the family chanced on a picnic, traveling in Sid's old 1939 American Plymouth. It was coffee brown and very swish. Beautiful interiors of leather cream and ashtrays on every arm. No seat belts of course, but then Sid was a very cautious driver. Pattie and Melanie in the back and Sid and the mongrel family dog, Cassie in the front. Sid wouldn't have it any other way. They'd drive and drive till way past lunchtime, Sid and Pattie arguing over where to stop, always searching for the ideal spot, and never finding it. Melanie sitting silently in the back, staring out the window, wishing she were elsewhere. She couldn't even read, lest she'd projectile vomit all over the interiors and that simply wouldn't do. More often than not, they'd return home about 4'0clock, starving and sweating.

Pattie would spread out the old outdoor blanket underneath the willow tree in the back yard while Melanie carried the esky from the boot and unloaded Tupperware cartons of cold meats, cheese and blood red beetroot onto plastic plates. They'd drink powdered saline mixed into tap water from a flask and think themselves lucky to have made it at all. The futility of these journeys never seemed to dawn on either parent and their eccentric behaviour was lost on lonely, only Melanie. On one such miserable occasion Pattie had tried to open the tin of ham too quickly and cut her hand, that bit of flesh between forefinger and thumb. Oh how it bled. "Shit, bugger, blast! No one cares, do they, no one bloody cares!"
Her mother wrapped her bleeding hand in a tea towel and disappeared to her room, Sid shut himself in a shed and Melanie sat alone under the tree, her only dining companion the dog, Cassie. She felt quite contented until she noticed a trail of blood on her plate of ham salad. Melanie did the only decent thing, and gave the meat to Cassie who didn't seem to mind one bit.

Two days later another letter arrived. Jean preferred not to phone, too expensive she said and always the wrong time of day, "You're either too tired and can't be bothered to talk or the kids are playing up, or you'd rather be watching something on the telly, so I'm not going to waste my money ringing."

Dear Melanie,
You won't believe this, but on there was a picture in the Daily Mirror of one of those shows you were in. The King and I it was. You remember, the one where you played one of the Siamese twins. Remember? The other little girl playing your twin looked nothing like you and you both had funny eye make up on to look Oriental. It's a picture of that silly woman that always played the lead, the pommy one, and the fella that played the king; they're holding each other around the waist pretending to dance. Anyway I won 't waste time describing it to you because I'm going to send you a photo copy, I didn't have time to get one and post it with this letter because I forgot to. The papers reckon the body might be someone who was involved with the musical society. Incredible isn't it, I was telling Pauline, the lady with the deaf cocker spaniel Monty, you know we sometimes walk the dogs together, but it takes ages. Anyway I told her you used to be a dancer with that group when you were little and she was fascinated. Said theatrical types are always hiding secrets, mysterious people. She said you might have to talk to the police, tell them everything you can remember. I know it’s a long time ago but think, perhaps you knew her. She was only young; you must remember whether or not you had a friend who disappeared. The heats been terrible here, I've had to put a fan in the bedroom, Pauline's got air con, but I hate it, terribly bad for the sinuses. You know it was your mother's birthday the other week; well that little china cat she had fell off the mantelpiece and smashed to smithereens. I suppose she was trying to tell me something, probably wanted me to dust it more regularly, that'd be right, as if I haven't got enough to do. Anyway must go, got a doctors appointment. Nothing serious just a few tests.

Love your old auntie Jean.

Melanie folded the letter carefully following the creases aunt Jean had made. She held it up to her nose and sniffed, ahh, familiar smells. A twinge of homesickness hit her hard; she hoped Jean wasn't really sick. It had been nearly twenty years, far too long to be away from home. Oh well, she thought, perhaps I better had start remembering.

"Right, all the children line up over here, chop chop." Brian Trinder clapped his hands together and as if a magic word had been uttered, a swarm of children scurried over to his side.
"You, what's your name?"
Everyone looked at Melanie. Brian was the absolute centre of attention, the hearth of the room and so too anyone he spoke to.
"Cat go your tongue, no room in this business for shyness, name darling?"
Oh god this was hell, yet Melanie felt thrilled as though her whole life was about to change.
"Melanie Baker," she gasped.
"And you." He pointed at another girl about the same age as Melanie.
"Cindy Simms." replied the other dark haired little girl. "I was in Half a Sixpence."
"Of course you were, right Melanie and Cindy, you are the twins, the Siamese twins, not literally, we're not into the Method here." He puffed away, so that smoke came out mingled with the words.
"Right everyone else reform the line in order of height, no no, you there, darling, too tall go to the back."
Angela, sister to the Louis's frowned as she skulked to the back of the line, aware that she would be one of the last to make an entrance.
"My hair's longer than yours". bragged Cindy.
And it was, long and very fine making her sticky out ears all that more visible.
"We'll probably have to wear it up in a bun, that way no one will notice, cause we are meant to be twins." Cindy added.
Melanie was confused, when were they going to dance? In truth, Melanie wasn't the best dancer in the world and no doubt would never make it as a prima ballerina. Apparently she didn't have the right pelvis for ballet - when all the other little girls stood in first position, their heels touched and their two feet came together in one straight line whenever Melanie tried, her feet formed a V shape. Miss Lorraine, head teacher at Miss Sanderson's Hurstville branch, said she didn't really have the right feet for ballet either, there was no instep to speak of and instead of her toes curving into a swans neck - as Miss Sanderson liked to call it, her feet resembled a Dodo's beak, most ungainly. Nevertheless she’d been studying for quite a few years now at Miss Sanderson's Hurstville branch of the school of ballet and loved it. The school had a concert every Christmas and last year Melanie had got to do a solo. A character piece Miss Lorraine had suggested, Mel didn't know at the time but in later years would understand the purpose of character pieces. They were to give non-dancers a chance to shine, leaving the real talent to perform the complicated routines. Tutus and tiaras, Pointe shoes and flesh coloured tights, hairnets and eyeliner all these accessories stood for ballerina. Character numbers were left to the goofy girls, those who could move pleasantly enough and those who possessed what Miss Lorraine called Expression.
Melanie triumphed with her version of The Little Match girl" a sad and sorry tale of woe. A young waif, penniless and starving on the Victorian streets of a long ago London town trying to sell her last match.
Sid had been only too eager to rig up a prop style match that actually lit up when struck. It was made from a yellow, plastic drinking straw attached to a battery concealed in the palm of her hand. Perched on top of the straw a tiny light bulb flickered hopefully when ever she pressed the little lever on the battery. Her dress was brown and grey giving the effect of rags held together by dirt. She'd carefully smudged dark eye shadow on her face to pass for soot and performed the whole piece barefoot. When the music reached its crescendo and the little match girl looked heaven bound and saw the vision of her late grandmother beaming back and beckoning her to join her in paradise, Melanie shivered with make believe cold and pretend consumption then collapsed on stage still clasping her precious match. When all the life ebbed out of her character's exhausted body, a solitary tear rolled from her eye to her cheek and the audience went wild. A true star, "You had us crying darling," said Pattie so proud.
"Not bad dear, "said her daddy, "But I wish I'd put in a bulb with a higher wattage, don't think you could see it from the back."
What a night, a gratifying feeling, belonging to Melanie and now here she was, after weeks of begging her mother to let her join the musical society ballet so she could repeat her wonderful performance in front of a grander, bigger, city audience only to find herself queuing up with a load of kids. Some of who had never even been to ballet school, some were only there because their parents were in the chorus and they couldn't get childcare. It just didn't seem at all fair.
Just then Melanie felt a forceful hand on her shoulder,
"Don't walk in front of me little girl, never ever, always pass behind me when we're on the stage, I am the star and people do not want their view of me obscured by a child, understood?"
The magnificent Miranda had spoken and Melanie thought she'd die of embarrassment. Miranda turned about heel, strode off toward the window, and lit a long thin brown cigarette; 'More' they were called and suited her well.

Oh dear, something had rattled the divas cage.
"Take no notice," whispered Cindy, "She's a bitch, my mum reckons she's up herself cause she's a pom, she reckons she thinks she's Lady Muck around here cause she's from England and she knows everything about theatre. Mum reckons they wouldn't even give her the time of day in London never mind the lead part in the King and I, Mum reckons she'd be lucky to get a job behind the tie counter in Harrods. I think she's ugly and Anna's supposed to be beautiful like Deborah Kerr in the movie - did you see that?
Melanie nodded, remembering a rainy day in an empty cinema, in the old days when Pattie had worked as an usherette and used the celluloid screens as a baby sitter for her.
"My mum reckons Miranda is jealous of Jeanette.”Cindy continued her mantra of the Word of Mum.
"Jeanette; whose she?"
"Jeanette's playing Tup tim , you know, TupTim , she was given to the King as a present but she's really in love with Lun Tha, don't you know anything?"
Cindy pointed to a woman in her early thirties, clearly far too old for the role of young Tup Tim but very attractive in a fashionable sixties kind of way, even though this was 1971.
Her light brown hair turned up at her shoulder into a stylish bob and she wore a lolly pink leotard under brown stretchy slacks. Jeanette looked over and smiled, perhaps she guessed they were talking about her.
"She's really pretty isn't she? My mum reckons Brian likes her, you know, much more than he likes Miranda."
And back to Brian, she watched him waving his arms about, cigarette smoke circling overhead like a halo waiting to settle. No she thought even then, Brian does not prefer Jeanette to Miranda, or Miranda to Jeanette, his preferences require an entirely different type of gender altogether.

The train ground to a halt yet again on this long tortuous journey back home, always just short of the station, so you were left there, the platform just in sight but just out of reach, like a mirage in the desert. Is it real is it not? Dusty railway tracks criss crossing like some giant metallic doodle scribbled by a weary impatient all knowing God of Public Transport.
Melanie was hot and tired; the train smelt of sweat and take away food.
"Have another sandwich,” Pattie offered.
Melanie shook her head, how she hated her mother’s homemade cheese and vegemite sandwiches. The cheese cut into lumpy shapes and the bread sliced down the centre rather than the infinitely more modern diagonal cut.
"You can't live on lollies and chocolates my girl, not now you're getting older and your body's changing, you'll get fat, the size of a house you'll be, you'll rot your teeth and your skin will break out and no one will want to put you on the stage."
How extraordinary, what started as a reluctant experiment for Pattie had somehow turned her into a full-blown stage mother. Those women had really had an effect on her.
"Don't think much of that Vera, up herself, and she had terrible B.O."
"Well she did, personal hygiene's very important, don't you forget that my girl, that's why I bought you that junior deodorant and I hope you remembered to use it, you have to use it every day or people will notice. If you don't, then they'll start talking about you behind your back."
Melanie's cheeks burnt bright red and she knew every passenger in the train was staring at her.
"What did you think of that Brian? The queer one, I thought he was lovely, a real gentleman."
Exactly what Melanie had expected in her own naive way. Mel had often heard her mother refer to the male friends she'd had as a girl when she lived in the city. Her boys, her escorts, the queers. Of course she'd had very little to do with them since she married Sid, he didn't really care for them.
"How'd you like it if I walked down the street arm in arm with some lesbian eh?"
And Pattie had to concur she wouldn't like it one little bit.
"I didn't realise you wouldn't actually be dancing."
The real proper dancing was only for the older girls from Miss Sanderson's city school all of them at least 15. One pretty blonde girl who appeared in the special Uncle Tom's Cabin ballet was all of 19. Her name was Inge and she wore her long blonde hair up in a tight bun and smoked Viscount cigarettes in the dressing room.

"Perhaps they'll let you have a go in the next one, we'll ask Miss Lorraine."
Next one? Melanie was amazed, was this her new hobby? Pattie certainly seemed to have plans for the future. And still the train journey went on, only nine more stops, they'd missed the express thanks to Melanie's weak bladder and had to make do with the all stopper or wait another hour and a half and that was no good Pattie had Sid's tea to think of. A barbecued chicken and a bag of chips weren't going to buy them and that's what Pattie intended purchasing as soon as they alighted.
"We'll get something from that chicken shop near the station, I'll order it and you wait there while I ring your father to come and pick us up."
They lived half a mile from the station and buses didn't run on Saturday afternoons, so Sid was under strict instruction not to venture too far from the house, if he must go outside and tinker about in his sheds, he had to leave their back door open so as to hear the persistent ringing of the phone. As it happened Sid was in earshot, he wasn't in one of his many sheds; he was outside, building another one.

"Did you know that Brian's had a lot of experience in the theatre?" Patties voice washed over Melanie like a soothing warm shower, giving her that cosy feeling of not wanting to get out and dry off - yet aware that her skin was beginning to wrinkle up like a crinkle cut chip.
Her mothers monologue continued regardless.
"Apparently, he, that's Brian that is, has been to London. Yes, that Yugoslavian woman was telling me, you know she had the two little girls, I asked you to go and talk to them but you wouldn't, you can't be shy in show business Melanie, you have to be an extrovert to get on, anyway there was another Yugoslavian there, a chap but Vera said no one had ever introduced them to each other in case they weren't the same type of Yugoslavian, I don't know something to do with that Warsaw pact or whatever it's called, they're funny over there.
Anyway Vera said Brian came to London to study the theatre and acting and worked over there for a long while now he's back here, she says he wants to put on one of his productions in the Opera house when it opens." She clicked her tongue, "If it ever opens that is, bloody stupid looking thing, nuns in a scrum."

As Pattie and Melanie crossed the railway bridge at Engadine station, Melanie saw the faithful old Plymouth waiting for them. Two silhouetted heads in the front seat, one human one dog. I'm back, thought Melanie, disappointment slowly creeping into her life - she'd been to the city and brought a little of the city back home with her.
"What are you doing here, I didn't ring?" asked Pattie, a little put out.
Sid shrugged, "Just passing."

After their chicken dinner Sid finally asked about the rehearsal.
"So, any good dear?"
"Yeah, "she nodded, "It was fun will you come and see the show?"
Sid cocked his head from one side to another, "Don't like musicals much, can't take them seriously, load of bloody awful songs getting in the way of a good story."
Her mother brought the bowls of ice cream and chocolate sauce to the table.
"Oh don't say that, you can't disappoint her, she’s not just in the background she's got a part, she's playing a Siamese twin."
Sid winked at Melanie.”Siamese twin eh? Do you have to wear whiskers then?
Melanie blushed, "Don't be silly Dad."

"I saw a film once with a pair of Siamese twins in it," he continued, "Real ones. Couple of beauties, one of them had a boyfriend and when he kissed her the other one felt the kiss."
"How would you know?" asked Pattie, sceptical.

Sid winked. "She had a twinkle in her eye and she sort of shivered, you know like she was enjoying something."
"Oh and you'd know all about that wouldn't you?" snapped Pattie. "I didn't put any crushed nuts on your ice cream, so you can't complain they're stuck in your dentures."

Pattie rarely sat down to a meal with Sid and Melanie, she was too busy dashing about the kitchen, trying to look occupied but in reality indulging in her quest for the perfect figure, though when Melanie had gone to bed and Sid to his shed, Pattie would recline on the sofa in the lounge room, listening to her Pepe Jaramillo records, snacking on potato chips and gulping down glasses of beer, a little private Pattie party every night.
Sid and Melanie sat opposite each other and at the end of the table like another dinner guest was a Television set. Sid liked having a TV in each room; he'd worked as a TV repairman for a few years and felt comfortable with them around. He didn't really enjoy watching the programmes he just liked to make sure everything was in good working order. He was forever moving the aerial this way and that, or fiddling with the tuning knob, trying to get a flawless picture.
After dinner, Sid patted his mouth with a serviette.
" Come on lets finish this and go into the lounge room, I've got the projector set up."
Sometimes they did this, as a family, sat about in the cramped lounge room, lights turned off, wonky screen set up by the front window and watched all Sid's old home movies. Sometimes there were new ones, Melanie as a toddler, hosing down the family dog, a young Melanie eating a meat pie under the pylon of the Harbour Bridge. Then back in time to Sid's round the world trip with his mother and his brother Fred. Grainy black and white footage flashed onto the screen. Her father barely recognizable in his younger dapper days. Her long departed Grandmother, standing firm between her two boys, their rock. A dark coloured 1950's dress, dead animal fur draped over her shoulders and little hat with net shielding her eyes.
"Oh, look at old Mum, "said Sid in a voice usually reserved for their pet dog Cassie.
"Yeah,” mumbled Pattie. "Looks like she's in a bad mood as usual."
Sid sighed and ignored his wife's hostility.
"That must have been 3 years before she went." He added, sniffing.

"Yeah, " said Pattie, "Dropped down dead as soon as you told her I was having a baby, that's how much she cared about you, her only grand daughter, now you know."

After the screening, Melanie retreated to her bright yellow bedroom and printed neatly in her private little pink book with colourful flowers and a picture of a cat on the cover.... Dear Diary; today I became a member of The Rose Lane Musical Society.

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Comments by other Members

Tim Darwin at 14:07 on 10 December 2003  Report this post
Julie, this is delightful, your story is really in its stride and humming along wonderfully well. Lots and lots of splendid moments (the trail of blood over the ham salad, the utterly convincing 'voice' of Aunt Jean's letters, the politics of Am-Dram productions, Sid building a new shed, etc.). I'm just not qualified to offer any professional comments, but as a reader, I've been enjoying this one, and find I slip into the world you have created with ease and pleasure. Many thanks indeed!




I'm still puzzled over the "commercial" issue...really wish I understood that one!

Jubbly at 18:00 on 10 December 2003  Report this post
Thanks for your lovely comments Tim. I think they mean it's too Australian for the UK and probably to English for the Ozzie market. I was told by someone that it should be more urban, whatever they mean by that. Anyway, I think it probably suffers in the latter chapters but hopefully posting it up here, if people stick with it, I'll manage to sort that out.



Account Closed at 17:38 on 11 December 2003  Report this post
So many lovely images: the ballet classes, her match girl sketch, the fiddling dad and her indiscreet mother - I loved the cinema job description. It wasn't clear to me who's dream the Rose Lane MS was - I'd originally thought Pattie was the pushy mother, then you say Melanie begged her mother to go. I suppose it was Pattie's advice session before going in in the previous chapter that threw me. Also, from her character I could imagine that Pattie wanted to live out her own dream through her daughter. Anyway, the plot is definately thickening and I am curious to know how all this is going to link up (so you must be getting it right!!)
Ready for chapter 5?

Jubbly at 18:03 on 11 December 2003  Report this post
Thanks Elspeth - Pattie is one of those people who says one thing and means somethng else according to her moods. This is semi autobiographical and my mum was one hell of a character. Ch5 & 6 coming soon.


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