Even darker

By Rhonda Dredge

The last day of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival fell on Sunday, September 2. A reader, feeling a bit low, rushed into the city, hoping to find inspiration among the wordsmiths and soothsayers of the day.

The reader hadn’t booked for any sessions but hoped to mingle with a literary crowd out for the city’s premier writerly event.

First stop was the architecturally impressive Seafarers’ Mission, a new venue for the festival.

 Pies and coffee were available in the bar so the reader ordered a cappuccino and sat at a large round table. A man sat in the next chair and began chatting loudly to the bar staff. The reader tuned out, preferring to suffer in solitude. 

There was a chapel at the mission so the reader took a seat in there just as a Chinese ceremony was coming to an end. Soon after, a man in a cap brought in a plastic tub bulging with toys, including a cricket bat. He was due to do a re-enactment of his own troubled childhood, which promised to be amusing. 

“Are you here for the performance?” the man asked.  

The reader nodded. 

“It doesn’t start until two.”

The reader looked at the clock on the wall. It was only one. There was a moment of uncertainty the reader tried putting into words. It went something like this: even if they weren’t actually having fun at least they could have pretended. 

Eventually the reader got the hint. Further down Flinders St there was another venue, a chapel devoted to pets. A woman invited the reader in. There were ropes marking out places to queue and pictures of animals all over the wall.

A man selling books was standing up the back so the reader wandered over. The man spoke strangely, as if the words were stuck in his mouth. The reader’s childhood anger began to surface.

There were only a few people in the chapel and lots of empty chairs. Perhaps the reader had missed something important. Was this the story of a life lived too privately? Was it stupid to expect to enjoy traces of the festival? 

When a pet goes missing you are meant to be bereft. The reader tried empathising but it just didn’t work. Why? This was a question worth answering. Why didn’t the reader believe in a pet chapel or a kindergarten for adults? Why was the reader such a skeptic?

Soon the reader was out the door and walking towards Flinders Street Station, feeling much better for being on the way home.

People were out and about. They seemed happy. The trams were running. Men in yellow jackets were bossing everyone around. There was pageantry on the street that was missing at the more tortured events the reader had just rejected.

Flinders Street Station was solid and impressive. The reader began to cheer up. Perhaps a glass of wine would create the literary nuance that had been lacking. The obvious choice was Federation Square, an important hub in the city’s history where every year at the festival readers and writers gather to discuss the events of the day.

There was a section cordoned off at the festival cafe. Two women were sitting on a small stage. Ushers were inviting people to get involved in a question and answer session. Families were being warned that the session was not child-friendly.

“What’s the topic?” the reader asked, hoping to add a little personal experience to the mix. Finally, the chance had arrived to offload just a skerrick of a battered youth onto the kind and wide shoulders of two lovely writers. 

“Stillbirth,” replied the usher.

The reader decided against the wine. Drinking during the day can bring up untidy emotions.

Luckily there was a novel in the reader’s bag and it was even darker.

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