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Rose Lane, Ch 5,6

by Jubbly 

Posted: 11 December 2003
Word Count: 6980
Summary: Continuing the saga of TheRose Lane Musical Society

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Chapter Five

The house seemed so quiet these past few days. A family home bereft of family. Matthew had insisted on taking the boys away, a camping trip to France.
"Give you a bit of peace and quiet, time to recover."
I don't need bloody peace and quiet, thought Melanie, I need attention, care and devotion, I've got a bloody broken wrist, damn you. I don't want to wander from deserted room to room like a ghost of a nun in a silent order I just want someone to bring me a tray with a nice preheated Mark's ready meal and a glass of wine every so often.
But she didn't argue, fine, will 'she' be going? Oh no, Matthew reassured, his girlfriend Kim wouldn't be seen dead camping.
Tut, tut, shame.
Besides this trip was just for boys, it was all about testosterone bonding, fishing and BBQs, not girlie stuff, no rest assured, 'she ' wouldn't be there.

And Kim was just that,'she', a girl. No more than 27 years old, such a cliché. Kim was a radio producer determined to get into telly at the BBC and Kim was going places fast, even without the aid of roller blades. However and this was a big however, Kim would be meeting up with them a few weeks into the trip and then all four of them would head up to her fathers place, naturally, wouldn't you know Kim would have a father with a place in rural France, how utterly typical, how utterly nauseating, how utterly Sunday night, ITV, two part drama about divorce in the 21st century is that?
Melanie and Matthew had been apart for nearly six months but they were together for nearly twenty years. He was her reason for staying away from home so long. It wasn't a spectacular exit, he didn't just up and leave on the verge of a dinner party. It happened gradually, him staying out later and later, going away for weekends on business, not answering his mobile, preparing to communicate with her only by email, Check out this website - Stupid accidents and unnecessary deaths.com. It's hilarious. Don't forget to book the car in for a service. Fancy trying that new Thai on the High St, heard they deliver.
Matthew swore blind nothing untoward ever happened with Kim until he'd officially moved out. Melanie chose to believe this story, it made things easier all round, no guilt, not bitterness, no regrets, just good old fashioned dumped for a younger model syndrome, a neat and tidy end to a twenty year relationship.

Matthew and Mel met a few months into Mel's 'round the world trip.' Mel was doing the obligatory and requisite bar job for any young Australian living in London . That's where she was when she met Matthew, pulling pints and dreaming of exhibiting in an exclusive Mayfair gallery way back when the Hoxton/Shoreditch Tracy Emin art scene was just a twinkle in Brian Sewell's eye.

Matthew was all ripped jeans and well spoken, so were his T-shirts, full of statements and politics.
She'd noticed him before in the pub, always one of the last to leave.
"Give us your glasses and shift your arses!" boomed old Eric, the assistant manager who still lived with his mother, when the last orders bell rang out. She noticed how Matthew always laughed with Eric and not at him like most of the regulars and tourists who viewed him as an eccentric misfit. Gradually Matthew noticed her. He would linger at the bar when he got his round in, making small talk. He was usually with what appeared a very hip group. Girls in hats, all wearing black, boys tall and pale with serious expressions and copies of The Socialist Worker and The Face rolled up and secured under their arms. Sometimes he came in alone.
"Why'd you come over here, don't you miss it in Australia?"
Oh yes and she'd reply with her usual rehearsed answer, the culture, the people, the proximity to Europe blah, blah, blah.
"Where do you live? " he asked, leaning into the bar, his eyes full of night time promise as they tarried long enough to percolate her very active imagination.
"Just up the road," she said, gesturing vaguely doorward.
"In central London?"
"Must be a squat, right?"
And it was, the squattiest of squats.
A two bedroomed basement flat slotted into a row of Georgian houses. Their former grandeur long gone, antique furniture and daily dusting given way to 'artistic' splashes of black and purple paint and posters advertising bands stuck up on the wall with blu tak. The glass pane from the back door was non-existent and there was no bathroom at all, just a toilet. Melanie had tried to make a feature out of the dilapidated throne room, she pinned a couple of old rose-coloured satin sheets to the walls to give the effect that instead of entering your common as muck old toilet, you were instead treated to a visit inside the Giant Pink Snail from Dr Doolittle. Someone once compared her loo to a vagina, "Just going for a slash in the big pussy." they shouted back to the assembled.

When a proper wash was required, Melanie and the two Italian girls she shared the place with used the bathroom in the next door flat , which though very convenient also suffered from the lack of door policy, compulsory for inner city squats at the time. When that was in use or it was just too bloody cold to strip off with a gale force wind ripping through the room, Melanie filled an old plastic tub, formerly used for ferrying fruit from field to market and squeezed her whole body inside until there was barely room for any water, and that was her customised bath.

She nodded. "Yep, it's a squat alright."
"Knew it, so can I come back and take a look?"

So he came back and they went to bed strangers and awoke a couple; it just happened that way, they were habit forming - nothing special, just together. In those days Matthew was working for a listings magazine, writing theatre and film reviews. He was famed for his caustic take on popular culture. He preferred films to theatre, always fancied himself as a film maker, big on the obscure what Matthew didn't know about Werner Hertzog wasn't worth knowing. A man with something original to say, yet in all the years they were together the only original statement he'd ever impressed her with was 'Life's too short to remain unnoticed.' Marvellous, so clever, so on the pulse, she found out later the saying was originally attributed to Salvador Dali and understood for a brief moment what Yoko Ono must have felt on learning the words, 'Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans' was originally said by a woman years before her John had made it his own. Never the less Yoko lost her beloved to a gun crazed madman, Melanie simply gave hers away to the first bimbo who came along.

She wandered into the boys room. What a pit, untidy and reeking of dirty football socks and dodgy science experiments. Pulling back the curtain by Ben's bed she was surprised by a glass containing a murky brown liquid perched on the window ledge. Taped across the front was a strip of white paper bearing the words, Avocado seed. No, it looked far more sinister than the kernel of one of her favourite salad starters and sure enough under closer inspection there was something else there, something moving, maybe swimming, Oh Christ something with legs.....torn between the parental impulse to throw the bloody thing in the bin and a sentimental nurturing of Ben's young pioneering mind, she pondered what to do. Leave it, she decided, I never saw it and pulled the curtain closed. Typical, Melanie's usual response to anything that bothered her, total denial, like the time she developed galloping psoriasis on her arms and legs and instead of seeing a doctor and getting a prescription cream she simply wore long sleeves and jeans until it cleared up. 'If I can't see it, it doesn't exist' was all too often Melanie's motto for life.

As promised Auntie Jean's package arrived, it was heavier than she'd expected.

Dear Melanie,

Well I finally cleared out my spare room. Debbie helped me, you remember Debbie don't you? Joyce's daughter? My friend Joyce Smithers from Sydney, she died of cancer a few years ago, bowel, terrible it was, awful disease. Well Debbie's divorced now and her kids have left home so she's decided to move up this way. She's been great company the last few weeks, she loves the dogs and says her last dog, a kelpie cross called Iggy suffered dreadfully from diarrhoea so she knows what I'm going through , with the dog I mean. Oh, my doctor says I have to go in for some tests next week, I told her straight up I said if it's what I think it is I'm not having any treatment so you can forget that. She told me not to worry it's just routine. I said routine is me taking the dog for a walk on the beach and cooking a chook for our tea not driving all the way down to Gosford hospital for some stupid test. Anyway Debbie sends her regards, you two used to play together when you were little, she's a few years older than you, we all went to Manly beach for a picnic years ago, only your mother was in one of her moods about something or other and left early taking you with her. I think she'd had another row with your father and as usual decided to punish all of us. Anyway shouldn't speak ill of the dead in case they're watching and start moving round furniture to frighten us or something. I'm writing because we found a load of those old programmes from that musical society you can't remember belonging to. All dated 1971 through to 1974 and I thought that what with that poor dead girls body being found you might find them interesting.

PS: You must be worried sick about Ben and Alfie , your mother would never have let you go away camping to a foreign country, you never know who might sneak into your tent when you're asleep. Oh well I suppose it was Matthew's idea, it would be wouldn't it.

Love Jean.

Melanie folded up the letter and placed it in the kitchen drawer with all the others, letters from Jean, the ancient blue airmail from distant friends she hoarded. Mates from Uni, her once inseparable, gal pal Karen, Toby and Tim and all her old queeny gang; once upon a time barely a day could pass without some kind of contact with them, even when she moved to London, letters and phone calls followed. But they all got a little older and their lives took them further away, until those oh so important relationships from your late teens and early twenties fade and you're as likely to keep up with someone you once shared a house and every secret under the sun with - as you are little runny nosed Sharon who you sat next to in Primary school. It's no coincidence that the website Friends reunited is popular with people in their early twenties , who are not so much straddling the long intervening years as hopping blithely from one to the next. But surely Mel was on target, didn't they always say once you got to 40 you should be able to count the number of your really close friends on the fingers of one hand. Poor Mel had really neglected her old pals, all she was left with were just the two fingers, Sarah and on and off mad Toni, her Yankee mate. Which pretty much summed up how she felt about maintaining relationships, just the crude two finger salute.
Since Matthew's infidelity he had been well and truly relegated from all digits.

Melanie gently extracted the old programmes from the envelope, they smelled musty but still contained a remnant of their original glossy aroma. As a little girl waiting at the cinema for her mother to finish her shift, she'd loved breathing in the scent from those programmes. In those days all the big films had programmes, Dr Zhivaggo, Mary Poppins, Greyfriars Bobby, The Sound of Music. The whiff of the shiny, sleek paper always made her feel glamorous, and it was so distinctive, Melanie had never ever smelled that aroma before , it was only reserved for a certain type of paper. She delicately examined the old faded covers, while flicking through the pages a typical early seventies advert caught her eye. A radiant couple reclined on a bed, the woman draped in a silky sheet and beside her the man, shirt unbuttoned to the chest, gazing away from her - his mind greatly preoccupied. A slim bottle of perfume hovered above the photo and the revealing caption beneath read.

'Emotion is when your heart beats faster. Emotion is a fragrance by Helena Rubinstien.'

Another featured a black and white still of a half peeled lemon , it was advertising a brand of gin and bore the catchy slogan - 'More lemons peel off for Gordons than for any other gin in the world.'

Melanie stretched out on the sofa. Her arm ached today, and she felt very alone, the phone rang slicing right through her desolation.

"Hello, what? I can't hear you, you're breaking up."
"Alfie is that you?"

After several frustrating attempts to contact their mother, they eventually got through. Yes the weather was good and they were having a great time. Ben had caught a fish and he and dad cooked it up on the BBQ in the campsite, he even made a gorgeous soy and ginger sauce, you've never tasted anything like it, he enthused. They had a massive tents, like a small house, apparently. Everything was just wonderful. Did I know that dad could water-ski? Fancy that.
Ben came on the line and chatted in his usual monosyllabic teenage drawl. When they'd rung off, Melanie looked out the window, cars crawled along steadily, that was the beauty of their little Victorian house, the front might face a busy street but the back was as peaceful as a covert woodland. On one side stood a funny, old fifties house, split into two flats, it was built on a bomb site, the new occupants were always finding broken pieces of crockery nestling in the garden. The neighbours to that side were mostly itinerant and of Turkish appearance. They sometimes said hello when they saw her, but pretty much kept to themselves. Occasionally, in the summer months, jingly jangly Balalaika type music wafted across from their windows. On the other side was a very smart terraced house, slightly wider than Melanie and Matthew's. It housed the Faraday family. Mum, Cath a nurse from County Clare , her husband Rick an IT consultant and their two small children, Ryan and Daisy. Cath was just what Melanie needed at the moment. Cath was competent, strong and down to earth. But Cath was also spending the summer with her family in Ireland, and Rick was away working in Japan, so the house was empty and Melanie all alone.
Two grey squirrels wrestled with each other over a newly planted bulb , broken old toys and forgotten footballs haunted the garden - making it both children's playground and urban oasis. The boys ancient Wendy house stood unused and home to a million creepy crawlies. Once when the boys were small, she'd gone to water the grass after an untypical dry spell. The hose unbeknownst to her was now refuge to a colony of ants, when she turned it on and the first drops of water trickled out, those poor creatures reacted as though in crisis and indeed they were. Hundreds of them passing the warning down the line, with military precision , desperately rescuing their unborn eggs and carrying them to safety, the destination altering with every twist and turn of the hosepipe. The boys thought it was amazing, "Look at them go, wow, they're really brave aren't they?"
She doubted the ants thought they were very brave, just terrified, very quick on the uptake and desperate to continue their species, insect instinct an enviable quality.
"Can I have an ant farm mum?" Ben begged.
Melanie thought back to the time when as a child she'd caught some tadpoles down the creek and brought them home in a plastic bag. Poor creatures, all very fine in their embryonic state, but when they develop and begin to hop about the house like independent pogo sticks, most impractical. Pattie had a tiny ornamental aquarium, filled with such oceanic delights as, plastic mermaids, glowing octupie, and iridescent seahorses. Melanie couldn't resist, in went the tadpoles.
" I'll create a Marineland to rival Manly." she thought. But innocently, she'd condemned the dismal creatures to a short claustrophobic existence,. She placed the aquarium high up on the top shelf of Sid's home-made shelving unit and promptly forgot about it. When Pattie noticed a terrible odour some six months later all came clear. There they were, six baby frogs, bloated and trapped. So cruel, unintentionally of course , she'd always felt guilty about that, indeed her one and only therapist told her, those frogs symbolised her own inner feelings of being a big fish in a little pond, Melanie pointed out quite rightly, that frogs were not fish.

As Melanie turned the pages of the programme, fading faces stared back at her.
Names all but forgotten, only scratchy old photos giving a clue.
The grand dame Miranda Allerton; Her red bouffant hair encircling her head. Her familiar glossy coral lipstick still shining from the black and white photo reclaiming its colour. Pearl earrings met the top of her black polo neck jumper, and neatly drawn eyebrows framed long lashed , penetrating eyes that stared straight through to your very being.
"Ha ha, here I am," they seemed to say, "You can't get away from me, I am Immortal." What it actually said was.

Miranda Allerton as Anna Leonowens.
Since her arrival from her native England where her style and voice made her a natural choice for Mrs Anna in the 'The King and I', Miranda has played many parts, who could ever forget her sublime Dolly Gallagher Levi in our production of 'Hello Dolly."

On the opposite page there was a perfume ad, Jolie Madam.....for the woman who wants it to last forever.
How ironic, thought Melanie, knowing Miranda she probably paid to have that placed so strategically.
Melanie turned the pages over some more and there he was , his comely face frozen in time, his time, when he was crowned prince of all his dominion.

There in the biography pages, a young and dapper Brian Trinder all of 30, eyes seducing the photographer with his inimitable charm. A mass of dark curls resting on the collar of his open necked shirt suggested how he thought saw himself. A heart - stealer, a soul thief.

Brian Trinder
This is Brian's third production with us and we are very honoured to have him. Brian has recently returned from overseas where he was living and working in London. Brian studied acting and theatre direction at the renowned London Arts Academy for three years, blah blah blah. Odd, nowhere did it say, Brian was an enigmatic, charismatic, master of a man who had a menacing influence over the young and inexperienced and was quietly hatching a plan to control their minds and hearts for as long as they lived.

Chapter Six

"Silence!" Brian's voice ricocheted around the rehearsal room bouncing off the mirrors until finally terrifying it's intended recipients into muteness.
"You have to remember you are children of the Royal court. Only the peasant children outside in the rice fields jump about and squeal and act the goat. " Brian tempered his inflections, whispering when he thought necessary, drawing the young things in to him, shouting when he wanted to shock and generally rolling his words over his tongue and around his mouth like an actor doing a voice warm up.

"You are different, you have dignity, you have been trained by your father, the King and his attendants to be motionless, completely still if you have to be and quiet at all times, you are full of respect for your father and the court. Do you understand?"
The children nodded, a small boy at the front giggled and one of the Louis's coughed.
"That means all of you even the very youngest, let's not forget by the time Shirley Temple was a mere 4 years of age she'd made sixteen Hollywood films, now come on you're all going to be on stage, so that means you're acting a part from the moment you make your first entrance until the curtain falls. Right let's try it again."

Mrs Petrauskas banged out the notes on the old piano once more. Dah dah dah dum, dum dum dum dum d - dum dum dum.

The parade of pretend commenced. Royal children crocodiled across the rehearsal room. Melanie, holding hands with her make believe twin Cindy painfully aware that she was already sweating far too much.
"Ergh," sneered Cindy , jerking her hand away from Melanie's sticky palm. But when Melanie spied Brian watching she quickly reached for Cindy's hand and squeezed it hard ignoring Cindy's pinched up tight little face. When the music stopped Brian applauded.
"Very good, excellent now I have a family of Royal children and that's the performance we all want to see, weren't they wonderful Maureen?"
Maureen , the producer nodded and smiled patronisingly at the young thespians.
Maureen Donovan was a handsome woman in her early sixties. She'd started out as an assistant on the very first Rose Lane production over thirty years earlier. Maureen had discovered the Society while leafing through the local newspaper and nibbling on a corn beef sandwich one lunch time.

New and Exciting Musical and Operetta Society starting soon. Singers, actors, dancers , technicians , stagehands and administrative volunteer staff wanted!

She circled the advert and dialled the underlined telephone number as soon as she got back to her office.
Maureen was sharp girl and an expert organiser, soon she was promoted through the ranks of the cogs in the society and now she was sole producer, a role that complimented her day job, a senior clerical officer in the Health service. Maureen was passionate about the Musical Society, she cared more about it than anything else in her life. Her family was living testimony to that. For many years now Maureen's priorities lay fairly and squarely with the society. All family occasions came second to her beloved Rose Lane, never mind that her husband's 50th birthday coincided with the opening Night of Camelot there was never a choice to be made. Naturally he came along to the show leaving 29 friends and family waiting at a sit down dinner to celebrate his half century. Their Silver wedding anniversary went unnoticed as Maureen struggled with the dilemma of a leading man with laryngitis and her own daughter's wedding was conveniently fixed for a date that suited Maureen's commitments. Maureen had always got on well with Brian but lately their seemed to be a definite power struggle developing. There was a time when her word was final, but Brian often disagreed and had the ability to argue a plausible and more often than not definitive case for his own particular bone of contention.

"Very good," Brian clapped. "right everyone, lunch break."
This was a Sunday rehearsal, a full day starting at ten and finishing when Brian said so.
The Royal children broke from their leashes and raced off in different directions, remembering once more how to laugh and shriek and behave like modern day commoner kids. As Melanie hurried over to her mother to retrieve her sweaty sandwiches and flask of juice, she stumbled and fell, almost knocking over Miranda Allerton as she tried to regain her balance. Miranda's face contorted in anger.
"Little girl," she half whispered so that all eyes were upon Melanie.
"I thought I told you before, never, ever cross in front of me again, people want to see me, not you, so please pay attention as to where you are walking, and for Gods sake child, slow down."
Miranda turned heel and marched off, her cigarette smoke following her like a pet cloud.
Melanie knew she shouldn't be such a silly, sensitive goose but all the same she felt hot watery tears gathering in her eyes, blurring the faces of the witnesses.
Rather than explain her predicament to her mother she ran straight to the toilets, and into the very last cubicle, the one with the door that reached right from the ceiling to the floor and there she sat, hiding and willing her unstoppable tears to cease their constant flow. Ratatat tat on the door.
"Melanie, Melanie are you in there?"
Melanie sniffed, "Hang on mum."

"Come and get your sandwiches before the bread goes all soggy, you know I put tomato in them, Melanie are you crying?"
Her mother hadn't even noticed the farce unfold before her.
"No." snapped back Melanie.
"I should hope not, Vera said she thought you were and I said you probably had hayfever again, are you alright?"
Melanie took a deep breath and wiped her face with her hankie.
"Yeah, I think I have got hayfever" she managed.
"That'll be all the dust in this place it's absolutely filthy hasn't seen a broom in twenty years, come and get your lunch and I'll see if anyone's got any anti histamines."

After lunch, they rehearsed the parade once more.
"Stop, right - you, little girl at the front what's your name darling?" Brian asked a tiny child in a yellow smock and blue jeans.

"Tisha." replied the sparrow like infant.
"Tisha?" repeated Brian, cynically.
"It's Tricia," said her mother, an attractive blonde sporting a bulbous baby bump.
"Come here Tricia darling," he took the sweet little cherub to one side.
"Now, my dear, I've a very special role for you."
Miranda looked up from her song book, a frown resting on her brow.
"When the music stops and you're in your position at the front of the stage I want you to walk over to Anna, and hand her this bouquet of flowers. " He gave her a small plastic posy of assorted fake flowers.
Little Trish nodded and beamed at her proud mother.

"Right let's try that. And Miranda, do try and look grateful on receipt."
The adults laughed, Miranda, smiled cheesily at Brian and rolled her big, cynical eyes.

And off went tiny Trish, unsteady on her feet and concentrating wholly on the flowers, it would be a lovely moment you could already hear the audience oohing and ahhing but wouldn't you know it just as Tricia was about to present her humble offering to her adorable Anna, she stumbled and the flowers shot through the air , quick as a flash, Melanie dashed after them catching the bouquet mid air, she then picked up little Trica, secured the bouquet in her tiny fingers, dusted her off and escorted her over to Miranda before retreating back to her awaiting twin.

"Oh yes," cried Brian, lovely, "A stroke of genius leave it in darling." He gave Melanie a broad smile and winked.
"Melissa isn't it?" he ventured.
"Melanie!" she heard her mother announce in a far too loud voice from the side.
"Well Melanie, very quick on the uptake, wish I'd thought of it myself, now do you think you can do that again, both of you?"
The girls nodded, only too happy to take all credit for the additional business.
"Now, now Brian, this scene's already in danger of being over long." snapped Miranda.
Brian, jerked his head toward Miranda, oh no, she had displeased him.
"You sing, I'll direct, and once more. "
Miranda sat seething , her knitting needles noisily clicking away, like a Morse code distress signal. Miranda often knitted but rarely finished anything. Sometimes the wool would be blue the next day red , there was never any continuity and never any completed jumpers or even scarves. Brian always thought she did it for effect.
"Look at you luv, like one of those mad old bats under the guillotine during the French revolution."
"Off with their heads." Miranda chorused, and the pair would fall about with laughter, today they weren't in a laughing mood and Brian knew she wasn't happy.

Melanie dipped her spoon into her mocha cake - cracking the icing open and scooped out a dollop of rich coffee coloured cream. Her mother frowned as she felt the need to comment.
"You better cut down on those if you want a career as a dancer, I know there's nothing of you now but mark my words when you start to mature you'll turn into the size of a house over night."
Pattie was always on a diet, she nibbled lettuce and cheese like a famished rodent. Even here in the coffee shop at Wynyard station she'd only ordered a black coffee and popped a shiny sugarine tablet into the hot liquid. She sat there drooling as Melanie tucked into her hot chocolate and mega calorie pastry.
"I was watching the ballet girls practising upstairs today, oh they were lovely, absolutely beautiful to watch. The choreographer's a very nice woman, Miss Belinda, she's called, teaches at Miss Sanderson's city school, anyway I asked her how old you have to be to do the dancing and she said it depended on the show, so I said you'd be thirteen by the time the next one was on and she said she wasn't sure what the next one was going to be but if it was Carousel they'd definitely be using younger girls but if it was Mame they'd only be using boys. Fancy that. You'll be lucky I nearly said, boys, where does she think she is? Russia? "
Pattie continued her uninterrupted monologue, after all she'd declined any cake so her mouth was never full.
"Anyway I'm gong to ask that Brian next time I see him, ask him straight out what show they're going to be doing next, there's no point in you coming all the way in if you're just going to be an extra, it's too tiring all this travelling for nothing. Oh did I say, they might be doing a one off Christmas show, maybe a musical version of A Christmas Carol you know by Charles Dickens, now I know there's lots of kids in that, mind I don't think they'll be doing much dancing from what I remember from the story they were all half starved, let's hope they do Sound of Music, mind you can't sing very well and you're not blonde. Oh come on, we've only a few minutes to get the train and I want to get a chicken for your father's tea."

Melanie gathered herself up in the oversized armchair. The leather cooled her back as it moulded itself around her body. She felt like a child again, all cushioned and secret, hiding away from her parents, head buried in some little girls book. Usually Anne of Green Gables or one of the Katy Did series, books are often the absent siblings in an only child's life. Today, she was reading a collection of essays on Salvador Dali, an end of term gift from her students. She was an art teacher at a nearby secondary school, yes, of course she'd hoped for more, doesn't everyone, when they're young, when your whole future is before you like the greatest roller coaster ride of all time, the loops, the dips, the stomach churning drops, screams and laughter combined to create a counterfeit hysteria. But now the ride seemed all a bit too much, it hurt her neck, squashed her legs up too tightly against the seat in front. The queue was too long and not really worth the wait, and besides, she'd noticed of late, the whole thing made her feel a bit queasy, more of an ordeal and less of a thrill. Bloody hell, why not end it all now? But no Melanie wasn't depressed, just dealing with what the experts call mid life, which comes much earlier for women then men. One upon a time, when she'd dreamt of becoming an artist, a name to be reckoned with but that wasn't to be.

She liked teaching and she was good at it, she had a knack for relating well to teenagers, a skill that is pretty much vital for survival these days. The kids liked her and often confided in her. She tried to be more their friend than authority figure,

Her job sometimes required her to take her students on educational trips abroad, Paris to visit the Louvre, and of course the Uffizzi gallery in Florence where Melanie proved most heroic at the city's hospitals accident and emergency department administering advice and motherly care to a pupil who'd had far too much grappa on an empty stomach. Then there was the time she caught a swarthy , local barman sneaking out of one of the girls bedrooms - when accosted he simply smiled and kissed her hand, shh he said pressing his finger to his lips and whispered, "She's sleeping now." he winked conspiratorially and eyed Mel's ageing breasts peeping out of her nightie. Melanie was too embarrassed to confront any of students, for a start there were four of them sharing a room and she had no idea how she'd start her interrogations.
"Attention, would whoever just had earth shattering sex with that gorgeous Italian stallion please pack your bags, get your passport and follow me ."
What a terrible mother I'd make, she thought to herself almost forgetting she was a mother, but somehow boys didn't seem to count as much, they'll be alright, they'll just get on with it, they don't need me as much, they're turning into men, and what the hell do I know about men? That's what their father's for, she thought, he'll handle all those tricky situations. But that was before, before she knew he couldn't be relied on.

This long summer break was going to be even longer than she'd imagined. Gone were her plans to drive across America with her friend Toni and the boys. Not practical with her wrist, what with all the physio she needed and the possible impending operations due to complications setting in, old bones, wouldn't you know it. Besides she couldn't do her share of the driving and that wouldn't really be fair on Toni who took the cancellation news well as she'd already decided to head off with her new boyfriend Alex, the reflexologist anyway. They were probably ensconced in a seedy motel off the Freeway as she spoke, Alex massaging Toni's lower spine trying to release all that pent up anxiety and remarking how fortunate Toni was to have such a clumsy gal pal. That was the beauty of Toni, she was a born optimist. No sooner had she finished with one man than another popped up , like a joint at a student party, might be a laugh might make you pass out or throw up but as long as it's being offered you might as well go for it. Toni was divorced, luckily her ex had been quite a wealthy man so home for Toni was a lovely house in Primrose Hill teeming with domestic animals, lanky teenagers and a full time cleaner. Toni led a charmed life, she was originally from California and that old Beach Boy spirit flowed through her veins.
"Hey, whatya doing? Wanta come over and hang?"
There was something about entering Toni's world that made you feel like you were on a film set, circa 1967, a constant soundtrack of up beat jazz and hard-core garage aided the atmosphere even more. Her house possessed all mod cons and fabulous designer chic furniture yet you couldn't help but feel something madly decadent and hippie sixties was about to happen and most often did.
"Hey has anyone got any underarm deodorant I could borrow?" Toni's transatlantic drawl, shattered the religious silence of the dressing room at the gym. That was how they met, the English women in the room were visibly shocked by Toni's raucous request and all simultaneously feigned selective deafness and peered into their lockers as though searching for lost treasure. Aussie Mel had no such objections.
"Yeah sure, it's spray on anyway." smiling, she offered the tall, slim, loud American girl her deodorant .
Afterwards they went for coffee in the pretend healthy cafeteria by reception, and bonded over cappuccino and carrot cake.
That was coming up 15 years ago and their friendship had lasted, Mel had stuck by Toni through her divorce, her new man to help her get over her husband, her new young man to help her get over her old new man and a succession of lovers and platonic mates who succumbed to her charms only to be tossed out like an old pair of shoes when Toni realised they were probably better off being just friends after all.
Toni was a well respected potter and worked from a little studio in her basement. Nothing much surprised Toni. In fact, Melanie felt sure her friendship with Toni had landed her in this domestic chaos in the first place. It was quite few years ago now, Toni had yet another one of her wild BBQ parties that turned into a writhing night-club when the sun went down. The boys were staying with their paternal grand parents and Matthew was tired as usual. He sulked throughout the festivities not really joining in, spending an inordinate amount of time lurking in corners, involving himself in intense and earnest discussions with intense, earnest young men. Smoking dope and drinking cold beer, occasionally throwing in the odd tequila shot for good measure, all the while his mood turning blacker and blacker. While Melanie on the other hand was in good spirits, dancing, drinking cocktails, snorting the sporadic line of charlie and flirting outrageously with one of Toni's new male acquaintances. Even his name slipped her mind, Jed or Ned , perhaps Ed, maybe Ted. After a few hours Matthew announced he was leaving, he was going home to work on some reviews he still had to write up. He didn't seem at all bothered whether she joined him or not. Fuck it she thought, and she did.
Next morning, waking up in Toni's spare room with Jed, or Ned, or even Ed or maybe Ted, Melanie was awash with guilt amongst other bodily fluids.
She was mortified and swore Toni to secret, rushing home to the sleeping Matthew, creeping into bed and insisting they make hasty love as soon as he awoke.
"What's got into you?" he whispered, oblivious to any intended pun.
But yes, something had got into her, something much more than a perfect strangers appendage, a taste for what she'd been missing. It happened just a few more times, always in Toni's spare room, always when the boys were staying over with friends and always when Matthew was being a Shit.
The she stopped, Toni met someone new and stayed with them for nearly two years, a record as far as she was concerned. The parties stopped and the opportunity was gone but so too was the desire, Melanie thought she'd been lucky, she got away with her mad, mid life crisis so - better quit while ahead. As far as she knew Matthew was unaware of her sordid little infidelities, had absolutely no idea , but something had died in their marriage. Their sex life was just as good, if not better , but that's because maybe they were both thinking of someone - anyone else .

Matthew had known Kim for around 18 months before he told Melanie he'd fallen in love with her. Yes they'd been sleeping together for a few weeks, yes he was going to tell her, yes he still loved her - she was the mother of his children after all, but no, he didn't want to be with her, he wanted to be with Kim. This, she decided was what she deserved.
"I know you haven't been faithful," he once told her, "It doesn't matter now." he said.
Her eyes filled with guilty tears.
Back then, when Matthew first confessed to her about Kim, she was devastated. Ouch, she hadn't meant that to happen. Surely her little adventures, for want of a better word, were cries from an ageing woman desperate to be young, vital, sexy and pretty again, nothing serious. But Matthew was different, she hadn't counted on that love thing getting in the way, she thought boredom was part of the deal as you grew older and stayed together, you just got on with it, spiced up your sex life with what ever means necessary. Everyone did it, wife swapping clubs. Threesomes with girls who replied to ads in dodgy fanzines, even visits to prostitutes were given permission, but no, this was different, she'd lost out to someone whose company he preferred and you can't argue with that. He finally had what she'd always been afraid to admit she wanted, a life companion, a soul mate, a best friend and a lover.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 13:08 on 13 December 2003  Report this post
Hi Julie,
I'm still with you - just a little slow brained today! I could quite happily sit down and read this (preferably in book form!) so am making comments just to give you food for thought.
In these chapters I particularly enjoyed the moment in the bedroom where she finds the suspicious culture because it was a quiet, revealing moment. There seem to be a lot of people in this and relationships and interactions - how Matthew met Kim, how she met Matthew, how she met Toni etc. which needed a lot of concentration. I did wonder if all the backstory about the producer woman was really necessary - maybe you could think about cutting it and show up how dedicated she is to the job rather than going into her family history (and why hasn't HER husband left her!) I guess it's the tension/power struggle between her and Brian that is important here which could be shown during the rehearsal scenes. Likewise, Toni do we really need so much information so soon?
I love the aunt's letters with the recurring people-with-nasty- illnesses-and-dogs theme.
As I say my brain is lazy today which is maybe why I'm not receptive to lots of new info. For you to decide!

Jubbly at 14:37 on 13 December 2003  Report this post
Elspeth, thanks, I think you're probably dead right. You forget when you know characters so well that others don't and tiny details actually leave them wanting rather than saturating them. I'll make some ammendments and thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I think your lazy brain is probably more active than mine any day.


Tim Darwin at 11:43 on 19 December 2003  Report this post
Julie, forgive my delay in getting to this installment of The Rose Lane Musical Society, which I have been enjoying enormously (but I got tied up last week finishing Act II of my own current work in progress!).

On the plus side here: your narrative 'voice' is strong, clear, and deeply engaging, it gives your work a wonderful feel of 'companionability,' the sort of narrative voice the reader is delighted to accompany through the story. To me, this is an absolute essential for a good novel, and you've got it here in abundance. There is an enormous wealth of splendid observations about the odds and ends of life which at once ring true, witty, original and highly entertaining. This is delightful!

I feel there is a down side somewhere here too, though I am struggling to put my finger on it. But the very first thing to say is that I really am not qualified to make professional comments, so you really must discount my reservations here if they aren't helpful; I would hate to make a really useless comment like whoever said your tale should be more "urban" (still can't for the life of me work out what that was supposed to mean!).

I think part of my small problem here is something Elspeth is suggesting above (if I read her comments aright). There is a wealth of detail, which is wonderfully well done and very illuminating about these entirely credible and splendidly 3-dimensional characters, but at times almost too much detail. Only, the level of detail isn't really the problem, I suspect, but the relation between all that detail and the main narrative line of the story--which I sometimes felt went out of focus. There were times I felt a sense of 'information overload,' though I don't think you should jettison anything, because it really is delightful. But somehow (and I'm not quite sure how), the narrative line needs to be a bit more to the fore, the many insights you give into your characters needs to be just a bit more integrated with the actions of the main "here and now" narrative.

But it maybe that my sense here is misleading. When time permits, I want to go back to the first chapter and read through in one sitting and see how much of a main narrative line comes through.

Now I'm worried my comments sound too negative--certainly not meant that way at all, you really have done a splendid job here! This is one I want to see on my bookshelf, and I wish I could give advice to help put it there!

All the best


Tim Darwin at 12:20 on 19 December 2003  Report this post
Julie, an afterthought--but with the same caveat as before, it might be bad/useless/inappropriate or all of the above, so please ignore if it hinders rather than helps!

The thought is: what would a scenario of this novel look like? Taking each chapter as a scene, what is the story question in each for the principal characters. It doesn't have to be a big question, it just has to be something along the lines of, what is each main character tryng to achieve/resolve. That's the part which, for me (and maybe only for me), seems to go out of focus. But if that structure were a bit sharper, it could happily support all the rich character observations you have developed here and which would be a pity to lose.

Hope that helps, disregard if it doesn't



Jubbly at 09:33 on 20 December 2003  Report this post
Tim Darwin, sorry I haven't thanked you for all your comments, I kekep having to refresh my PC all the time and I'm missing stuff, only just got your comments on Ch 5 and 6. I really appreaciate you taking the time to read and make useful and thoughtful pointers. There is nothing negative in anything you've said, on the contrary it is all very positive. I agree with both you and Elspeth, there is too much info and I think that's the problem, the one publisher that has read it, loved the first three chapters then most probably got bogged down in the early stages and didn't finish it. I intend to sort that out post haste. Have a merry Christmas and keep writing.


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