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Nuit Rambles On

Celebration Part Three- Curtain Call

Celebration Part Three- Curtain Call

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Part Three
Author: Nuit and Fourleaf Clover
Rating: Adult
Disclaimer: I certainly didn’t invent Steven Shaw or Joe Byrne of course. These are pure wild imaginings for which no one would pay me, even if I asked them. Apologies to David Storey for borrowing his difficult and emotionally restrained character. Joe I think is used to me taking liberties (ha!)
Warnings: Only sex and complete confusion
Summary: An opium dream takes Joe Byrne to places he couldn't have dreamed about. This idea was conceived by Four Leaf Clover who has written 2 parts of it- the Introduction and the third part where Joe finds himself as Orlando at the stage door. Mine is where he finds himself in 1960’s Britain and the life of Steven Shaw, a character from David Storey’s In Celebration.
It is a weird premise for sure, but inspired by an overwhelming flood of feeling and gratitude at seeing flashes of ‘Joe’ walking around on that London stage, live and in person. Truly a gift. 

Curtain Call

His eyes opened reluctantly, slowly focussing on dull, flat flowers just inches from his face. A papered wall, he decided after a moment, and under him a poor, hard bed. Still, a step or two up from the ground or the haystack by his mother’s place. He closed his eyes again, chasing sleep, but it was receding too rapidly and he opened his eyes again. Something was not quite right, a tension in the air around him, a sensation of being watched. Well Christ, he’d felt that a few times. Glimpsing movement through the trees; waking up suddenly afraid for no reason he could put his finger on; telling himself over and over like prayers in church that it’s only paranoia.

Cautiously, he rolled over and sat up. Sure enough he was in a room with a bed in it, but the curious cold red light trapping the dust and illuminating his surroundings was not coming from any window. Instead, where the far wall should have been there was simply…nothing. Well, perhaps it wasn’t exactly nothing. A void certainly, but the empty darkness beyond the light was somehow pregnant with expectation as if something waited there, holding its breath to see what he would do next. Traces of voices – human, warm, reassuringly dull and un-frightened – reached him from below. There was a door in the corner of the room. He pulled it open and found himself on a small platform at the crest of a rickety set of stairs, hewn from new un-planed timber and roughly assembled with a rudimentary banister so as to be little more than a step ladder. Despite the unfinished state of the stairs, someone had taken the trouble to carpet them. Nothing around him resembled the style or homeliness of the room he had just left. What he hadn’t noticed in there was that the walls rose on either side to a height just above his head, and above that they had been cut away; Joe could see the lath and plaster work and the splintery saw work as they jagged down the stairs beneath him. Way above them, in a ceiling higher than anything he had seen indoors before, he glimpsed long shining rails and pulleys and looping ropes and huge white lamps. At the far sides, beyond and behind him, were walls of black painted brickwork. Joe counted to ten without being entirely sure why and then carefully descended the stairs.

As he reached the bottom, the voices he had heard grew louder. He could tell that the men talking together were just on the other side of the wall from him, quite close to each other, and although he could not make out the words, their tone did not suggest any argument. Nevertheless they were, well, not shouting exactly, but speaking far more loudly than normal conversation demanded. He rounded the corner and found himself in another room – similar to the bedroom upstairs but more heavily furnished and with the same bright lights and tense, empty darkness beyond. There was a cushioned couch in the centre, and in absence of a better idea, he went across, sat down and waited a little fearfully to see what would happen next.

A heavy, older man, not fully dressed, and presumably one of the speakers, was standing nearby. He turned to Joe. His face, a mask of exaggerated concern, was covered thickly in garish hues of pink and red paint that a Melbourne whore would think twice before trying. In the same overly loud voice he asked, You alright Steve?

Steve. Well. Alright. Steve then.

“Aye,” he ventured.

This seemed to be acceptable because the man nodded, the vigour of his nod at odds with his solemn expression, and added, “I mean, nay lad…if there’s anything the matter.”

“Er, No.”

His own voice, equally loud, sounded heavy and foreign, treacly slow in comparison to how he normally spoke.

“It’s not Sheila is it?”

“No, no.” Well, that was true at least. Whatever was happening here, he didn’t know Sheila, so she could hardly be blamed for his confusion. Joe wondered how long this questioning might last, how long monosyllables would serve him before they discovered he was not Steve after all. Would they be angry? What would happen if the real Steve appeared? What was their connection with the strange, living darkness before them that they were all so fixedly ignoring? Another man, taller and younger, his own age perhaps, added cheefully,

“Sirloin…If we’d all had steak tartare like Colin. Trust him to have all the luck”.

“Nay,” interrupted the older man, who seemed determined to understand the source of Joe’s hesitancy and confusion, “Look I don’t know. Your mother’d be that unhappy to see you upset.”

She would? Joe looked at him in some surprise. Whoever this Steve was, he was a lucky fella to have so many people concerned about his well-being. Even the young man – who also had a painted face, he noticed – was regarding him with almost fraternal interest.

“She would,” he affirmed.

“You’re not ill?” enquired the fatherly man.

“No…” said Joe, shaking his head again. He in the hope that they would leave him alone. To his relief, they took no notice but carried on their loud conversation, a third man who had been standing some way away now joining in.

Left to his own devices, Joe took a closer look at his surroundings. He was nearer to the void now, and as his eyes became more accustomed to the strange lighting, he started to make out blurry shapes beyond. Shapes like human faces. Then it struck him. He was on a stage. The darkness beyond him, those shapes - that was the audience, the sensation of having his every move studied. That was why the house was real only from certain angles, cut away and unfinished, that was why the three men spoke so loudly, and, he supposed, drawing on his sketchy knowledge of theatricals, why they wore make up.

Now that he realised, there was nothing either alarming or challenging about finding himself taking part in a play in this way – alarm and challenge were emotions that played a part in his waking life, not in this, his dream state. He simply moved where he felt like moving, said what came into his head and it seemed to be what the other actors and the audience expected. Emotions flowed across his lucid thoughts like cold water over stones in the creek. Overwhelmed by sadness, he curled up at one point and wept silently, wept for the unhappiness and frustration that was Steve and for the loneliness and desperation that was Joe as the others never saw him. And as he did this he sensed outpourings of empathy, love even, rushing towards him from the audience as if to see him cry broke their collective heart.

Finally, it ended, and returning to the stage, he confronted them properly for the first time. Women. Sure nearly every last one of them was female, and they stood and applauded and cheered and watched his every movement, every wave and smile and bow. Of course they were watching the other actors in the same way, he supposed, but the overwhelming impression was that they clapped and smiled for him alone, as if he was the most important person, not only on the stage, but in the room. It was a pleasant illusion – for illusion it almost certainly was – and he was rather sorry when the cast eventually left the stage and it ended. He realised that whoever Steve was, he was laid aside now, and he wondered what kind of life an actor, this actor, led. Travelling probably, scratching a living, despised by ‘decent’ people but fascinating to them nonetheless. Joe smiled wryly to himself. Well, he could do that just fine. And judging by what he’d seen of the audience, not so many of them seemed to be looking down their noses at him neither.

The feeling of warmth and adoration persisted as he was led up endless flights of narrow stairs to a small dressing room. The room was barely enough furnished although there was a carpet and a faded blue couch as well as an indoor toilet and shower area in one corner. A gleaming, rather over-fed, black dog which had been dozing on the couch shook itself and ambled over to him. As it drew near, however, it stopped abruptly, flinching as if troubled by a fly, and whining disconsolately. With a remarkable burst of energy, which it had barely seemed capable of, it fled to a corner of the room where it cowered, shivering and watching him suspiciously.

The most noteworthy thing about the room however was that all over it, heaped on the counter and piled on the chairs, were brightly wrapped gifts, postal packets and letters and also, more strangely, many vases of fresh flowers. It had not occurred to Joe before that a man might receive bouquets, although a young girl he’d met on the road in the Woolshed a few months before had given him a small posy of flowers. He’d thanked her with a wink and tucked it safely into the breast pocket of his jacket and then promptly forgotten about it until he’d pulled out the brown, shrivelled mess a week or so later. This actor though – his name, certainly theatrical enough to Joe’s way of thinking, seemed to be Orlando – well there were great bunches of roses, towering lilies and many others kinds he did not know the name of, all for him. Orlando, it appeared, struck quite a note with the ladies. Joe regarded his reflection in the mirror and considered this point. It was certainly his own face gazing back at him, gaunter than it once was, but unmistakeably his. No beard but a neatly trimmed moustache. Not a bad face – not strong and full like Ned’s and maybe too fine to be regarded as handsome by many - but regular all the same, and pleasing enough to the girls he courted. Apparently all the more pleasing, he reflected, since he’d been on the run with Ned and the boys and achieved some notoriety. He wondered how much of Orlando’s success rested on similar claims to renown.

Standing under the blessed force of the hot shower, he examined his body carefully. There weren’t so many differences here either. Smoother and more cared for certainly, but the same long-waisted torso with its hairless chest and jutting hipbones. Same scars on the legs, same wide, flat nipples and sparse black body hair trailing down faintly to a low, neat bush and something particularly familiar below that. Near his belly button, Orlando had seen fit, what with his artistic leanings and all, to decorate himself with a small but intensely-hued tattoo of a sun. There was also a design of some other outlandish characters Joe did not recognise on the inside of his forearm. All in all he concluded, here in this other place and time he was looking pretty good. He dried himself on a towel of quite remarkable fluffiness and dressed himself in Orlando’s clothes. Strange clothes to be sure, but this fella was not stinting himself on the quality. Beautifully cut and laundered trousers and a sweater, soft as mist, draped themselves over him so that he could hardly feel what he wore. Even the leather shoes, as far as a body could get from his riding boots with their harsh worn uppers and uneven larrikin heels, were a luxury beyond his usual daydreams. Joe revised his opinion of an itinerant performer, desperate for a shilling and a bed for the night. There was a good living to be had here, masquerading as sad Steven with his concerned family and comfy bed.

Leaving the building, however, Joe discovered, was not the simple matter he’d supposed. It appeared, in fact, to be a complex operation that overshadowed even his painstakingly arranged nocturnal visits to Beechworth. For a man who dressed so fine and was so much admired, this Orlando had remarkably little control over his own movements.

“Bigger crowd than usual tonight,” said the towering black fella who stood at the foot of the stairs by a heavy-looking door. There was something large and black in his ear with what appeared to be some kind of wire trailing from it. “If that’s possible,” he added with a friendly laugh. “Mind you, mate, we’ve the police out in St Martin’s Lane already, so shouldn’t be too much trouble. Your car’s ready when you are.”

“Thank you,” said Joe politely, retreating behind good manners to conceal the fact that although he understood all the words the man used, the sum of them made not the slightest sense to him. The mention of police made him particularly uneasy, but they’d been evoked in a tone that suggested this was something he should find comforting rather than concerning. . The man pushed open the heavy door and leaned into it, holding it back for Joe with one arm. He took a hesitant step into the dark street beyond and was instantly engulfed in a great crescendo of yelling, shouting and screaming. To his left, light, whiter and brighter than midday sun catching on glass, lit the scene. He shrank back against the door. What was this?

“You’re alright,” the man said to him cheerfully. “You want the car now?” He began to mutter rapidly into his hand.

“Uh no,” said Joe. The people standing around just outside the door seemed neither surprised nor afraid. Indeed, several of them were walking towards the noise and light with smiles on their faces. He ventured another glance, screwing up his eyes against the blinding whiteness. .

The narrow dark passage stretched away for maybe fifty yards. At the end there was what looked like a city street, but brighter, with vivid signs everywhere - and women. Hundreds and hundreds of women it seemed, penned in by orange fencing, pressing against it and waving to him, shouting to him, holding their arms forth. A great many of them held little boxes before them that seemed to explode regularly in a gunfire-like volley of white light. It was the constancy of these miniature explosions that were lighting the entire scene, for he could see above the crowd and the buildings the night sky, dark and distant and timeless. Instinctively he raised his arms to shield his eyes from the glare, but then he heard a clear, shrill voice,

"Orlando! Over here! We want a photograph!"

Joe paused and lowered his arms. A photograph? Was it possible that all these tiny flashing boxes were really some kind of personal, portable cameras? He had very little experience of photography - just the once his mother had persuaded him to have his likeness taken for her, and he'd hated every moment. And yet now his mind had conjured a place where hundreds, maybe thousands of images of him were being captured every second, without him having even to pause in his movements. Why did each person need so many? What would they do with them? He noticed that the women nearest the fences did not stop and walk away after taking their pictures. They continued to click and laugh and wave and shout in a continuous frenzy as if there could never be enough likenesses of him.

He moved forward again and somebody pushed a pen into his hand. Many of the girls were reaching forward, offering him more flowers, wrapped gifts and shiny pamphlets. He took one of the pamphlets and turned it over curiously..

"Will you sign it for me?" said a clear voice, and he looked up.

The girl who spoke regarded him steadily with sharp, blue eyes. She was instantly noticeable, not only for the firm calmness in her voice but because she was not even holding one of the little flashing boxes. He met her gaze and held it, letting her see him take in her tight little clothes and the promise of her curves. It was gratifying to notice a flush spreading down her neck, licking like flame on paper to the very swell of her breasts. In a world of confusing possibilities - it was obvious that Orlando could take his pick from this crowd, but Joe had no idea how he went about arranging it - it was good to know that some of his own charm and skills were still useful.

He studied the pamphlet again.

"Here?" he asked, playing for time. Clearly, however Orlando went about this adoring crowd, he knew enough to write his name in the right place.

"Yes." She was laughing at him, he could tell. It didn’t seem very likely that many of the crowd would mock him to his face and he liked her the more for that. He wrote in his careful script, each letter formed as he'd been taught at school , Joseph Byrne, and returned it to her. She studied it carefully, and then looked at him searchingly. Deep and long into his eyes, then scanning his face as if for confirmation. He was just about to sign another pamphlet that was thrust into his hand when she spoke.

"You’re Joe!" she said, and this time her voice was low, softer and wondering. “You’re Joe, aren’t you?”

He stepped back, shocked at her certainty, then he recovered and winked at her.

"Aye," he said, “Maybe I am. Would you like to come along with me and check that out for sure now?”

"OK. This is getting a bit heavy," said a male voice in his year. "They’ll have that barrier down in a minute. Come on, we've got to get you out of here." A low door opened in front of him and the heavy hand resting on his shoulder intimated with the greatest respect that he should stoop to pass through it. He looked back at the girl and she was staring at him, pale with shock in the sickly light. He reached out towards her and then he was being pushed a little more firmly and felt himself move forward under the pressure..

“Come on, I said. Time to go. It’s morning. Ah Joe, wake yourself and be gone.”

He looked once more at the bright lights, yellower now like the morning sun, and it was morning and the hand on his shoulder was the Chinaman shaking him awake.

  • This was very special and I am very glad that you and FLC did this together.
    • me too! was a great thing, and worked out really well. We haven't know each other very long, just on the same wavelength I think..haah she might disagree.
      I really enjoyed writing this- and glad so many people 'got' it
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