We’re very proud to announce our new Writer in Residence – Emilie Collyer! Emilie writes plays, performance words, fiction and poetry and in between all that she’s also one of our Pop Up Playtesters. We asked Emilie to respond creatively to playing The Curse at The Village with us.
by Emilie Collyer
It was the start of a beautiful friendship.
They met playing a simple game and swiftly became a tight gang of three. Like the Famous Five or the Secret Seven, but only three.
‘What should we call ourselves?’ Oliver asked.
‘I don’t think we need a name,’ the sensible one, Jill replied.
‘The Thirsty Three? Thick Three? Thorough Three?’
Janey was the creative one, or at least liked to think she was. Really, she was just the most insecure.
They started meeting every Saturday afternoon in the park where the friendship began. It was the kind of place where kids played sport on the main oval, while in the surrounding gardens young couples rolled around on the grass together and fierce mothers walked with three-wheeled prams.
In the beginning it was enough to just meet and talk, make up fun names to call the group and get to know each other.
‘I used to eat peanut butter on white bread when I was a kid,’ said Oliver one windy Saturday afternoon.
Jill had thought to bring a rug and the three of them were lying down, bodies prone, heads touching.
‘But I didn’t eat it flat. I rolled it into balls until it was like dough, you know, raw, like dough and then I sucked on the peanut butter dough balls until they were soft enough to slide down my mouth without chewing.’
‘I drank strawberry milk,’ said Janey.
‘My mother only gave us dried fruit for snacks. Fuck I hate prunes. I really hate them. I’ll be fucked when I’m an old person and that’s all I’m supposed to eat.’ Jill was surprisingly passionate.
Clouds drifted across the sky and the three friends pointed out animal shapes and pictures to each other. There was a rabbit, a dinosaur, two sheep, a cup and saucer. When Janey said: ‘Clown’ they all fell silent.
The clouds merged together then and covered the sun.
Each of them pulled their coats a little tighter around their bodies. Janey’s coat was a red parka. Jill wore a cute denim jacket. Oliver’s coat was leather. Retro. From an op shop.
Janey sat up too quickly. She felt faint and the world swam before her eyes.
‘You know what we should do,’ she exclaimed. Inside her mind she used that exact word ‘exclaimed’ because she wanted to make a point in a way that a feisty young English girl from the country would make a point. Not in the vaguely ironic, modern urban Australian way she usually made a point.
The other two sat up, more slowly, like rising shrugs.
‘We should help people. Or … or solve mysteries. You know, do something real in the world.’
Oliver glanced at Jill who gave him a little half smile that Janey caught but decided to ignore.
‘Come on!’ she exclaimed again. ‘It will be fun. And that’s the kind of thing The Thorough Three should do.’
Jill sucked on her bottom lip.
‘Did we decide on that name?’ She asked, not wanting to be mean, just feeling a bit self-conscious about the whole thing.
‘We don’t need a name,’ said Oliver, thinking he was helping.
Janey zipped up her parka and tried not to think about Jill and Oliver kissing.
‘But that is a great idea Janey,’ Oliver said emphatically. ‘We should definitely help some people.’
The three friends stood up and all brushed imaginary bits of dirt off their jeans. Jill folded the tartan rug they had been lying on.
‘Who would need our help around here?’ She asked.
Janey blew air from her mouth, up towards the tip of her nose, and tried not to think about punching Jill in the face.
‘Maybe some of those clowns are still hanging around,’ Oliver said.
It was a smart thing to say. It broke the tension and it reminded them of the bond they shared. They had all been scared by the clowns the night they met, the night of the game. The clowns had appeared from nowhere. They served a purpose in the game that was quite simple and not at all terrifying. And yet something about their presence, the way they usually appeared from behind, the disjuncture of their normal voices coming out from those white painted, red nosed, fuzzy haired faces, well it had got under the skin of all three friends. The tall one, with menacing eyes. The two short ones, who could have been children. It really was this shared terror that had brought them together as much as the success they’d had playing the game.
The three friends hugged in the park, while the clouds continued to swirl overhead. It was a tight, spontaneous three-way hug. They promised to always keep an eye out for clowns and always watch each other’s backs.
Jill and Oliver left together because they were catching the same tram home. Janey tried not to think about them sitting close, their thighs touching, maybe accidentally holding hands, listening to the sound of each other’s breath.
Oliver called Janey with the news. He felt more of a need to protect Jill. He imagined one day he might marry her and also protect their children. But Janey was the woman with whom he could share his deepest fears.
‘Were you sleeping?’ He asked.
‘No, no,’ Janey lied.
She held the phone back from her face and saw that it was nearly 1 a.m.
‘They’re here,’ he said.
‘Where? In your flat?’
‘Outside,’ Oliver whispered. ‘Gathering. They’re a few hundred metres away but I …’
‘It’s okay,’ Janey said.
She sat up in her bed and switched the lamp on. She drank a sip of water and splashed some on her face.
‘Do you want me to come over?’ She asked.
‘No,’ said Oliver. ‘Just talk to me. It’s … I just needed to know you were there.’
They talked for a while longer and then sat in companionable silence. Eventually they fell asleep. Janey woke a few times throughout the night and wondered idly about her phone bill, but she didn’t want to abandon Oliver. She wanted to always be there for him.
‘Should we close our eyes?’ Jill asked.
The three friends were in the corridor outside Janey’s flat and they were giggling. Janey lived on the second floor of an apartment building and the corridor smelled like a combination of carpet cleaner and stale cigarette smoke. She didn’t know any of the neighbours although the girl in the flat above had smiled at her once while they’d both been putting out their bins.
‘Yes,’ said Janey. ‘No. I mean yes. Yes, that will be fun.’
Oliver and Jill closed their eyes and Janey fiddled the key into the lock, holding the door handle at just the right angle so everything fitted. (‘Sandy soil,’ the landlord had grunted when she’d first told him about it being hard to lock and unlock the door and he’d had to come over to let her in, ‘the buildings, they shift, you know? You just have to jiggle. Here, I show you.’)
It was quiet inside.
Janey got the giggles even more. She was nervous and excited. Her laughter infected Oliver and Jill. By the time they reached the lounge and Janey opened the glass panelled door the three of them were in fits. They were having trouble staying upright.
‘Stop it!’ Oliver was panting. ‘It hurts!’
‘This had better be good,’ Jill said, heaving between gasps of laughter. ‘I’m going to kill you if it’s not. I just wet my pants.’
‘It’s good,’ Janey said. ‘I promise! Okay,’ she paused for effect and to calm herself down. ‘Open your eyes.’
Oliver and Jill opened their eyes.
‘Oh my god,’ she said.
Lying on the floor, in the space between the chocolate velour couch and the television, was a clown. He was trussed like an animal, his wrists and ankles bound, a single length of rope connecting hands to feet so he had to stay curled in a semi-foetal position.
‘What the fuck?’ said Oliver.
They both looked at Janey.
‘Surprise!’ she said.
Oliver snorted with laughter but Jill was silent.
The clown looked up at them. He was wearing a flesh coloured head cap with bright blue curly hair sticking out all around the edges. He had a black star painted around each of his eyes and a perfect bright red foam nose stuck over his own nose. He wore a faded black tuxedo jacket, a white shirt with ruffles down the front, a large yellow and red spotted bow tie, black knickerbockers, red and white striped socks and a pair of very large, obviously over-sized, black patent leather shoes.
He was sniffling. His white face paint was smudged and had started to run. He convulsed a bit and then took three big breaths in through his nose. Coming out of his mouth was a pink silk handkerchief.
Janey smiled and shrugged.
‘One less clown to scare the shit out of children and grown ups everywhere,’ she said.
‘Are you serious?’ Oliver asked. ‘Mate, are you all right? He’s an actor right. Are you an actor?’
Oliver reached down to take the handkerchief out of the clown’s mouth. Janey pushed his hand away.
‘He’s not an actor. He’s a clown. A real one. When you called the other night Oliver,’ Janey paused, enjoying the reaction on Jill’s face to this bit of news, ‘well I went online. That circus, you know the one, it’s in Melbourne all the time at that oval in Richmond. That’s why you saw the clowns Ollie. It’s just around the corner from your house.’
‘So you … kidnapped him?
Oliver and Jill were looking at Janey like she was someone they didn’t know.
‘No!’ Janey said. ‘I asked him to come and do a gig.’
The other two were silent. The clown was taking small, panting breaths.
‘Come on guys. Remember what we talked about. I’m just … scaring him a bit.’
Oliver and Jill sat on the couch. It sank low underneath them. Janey had picked the couch up from a street side hard rubbish collection a year or so earlier. It had never been great and now its springs had given way all together.
Jill’s lip was quivering. Oliver took her hand and put it in his.
‘He’s not hurt.’ Janey folded her arms and leaned back on the window sill. ‘This is just like, what do they call it, aversion therapy. You know, we take our power back.’
The clown closed his eyes.
‘So you’re really … a clown,’ Oliver said. ‘For real?’
The clown opened his eyes and nodded.
‘It’s his actual job!’ Janey said.
Oliver was relaxing and Janey could see that he was starting to enjoy the scenario, just as she’d hoped. Jill still looked like a frightened cat.
‘What’s that?’ Jill asked, pointing at the clown’s head.
‘His wig,’ Janey said, barely concealing her disdain.
‘No, under that, see there,’ Jill leaned forward.
A dark bead of blood had slipped out from under the clown’s wig. It started to slide down his face.
‘What the fuck?’ Oliver said.
‘It’s nothing, he’s fine,’ Janey pulled a tissue out of the box on top of the television and dabbed the blood away. ‘I just had to give him a quick knock so I could tie him up. It’ll stop.’
‘It’s not stopping,’ Jill said. She was shaking now and her voice was getting loud and scratchy. ‘It’s not fucking stopping!’
Jill launched herself from the couch onto the floor and pulled the wig away from the clown’s head. A thick gush of blood flooded the side of his face. His hair, blonde and greasy, was matted. He was shaking now too. He and Jill were both shaking. The clown’s eyes rolled back in his head and he started to convulse.
‘Do something!’ Jill screamed.
Janey took the box of tissues and pushed a wad of them against the clown’s head but the blood, now bright and flowing fast, seeped through them in seconds.
‘Put the wig back on. It was holding the blood,’ Oliver said. Then he seized the wig and tried to jam it back onto the clown’s head. ‘Call an ambulance,’ he ordered Jill.
‘I don’t know how!’
‘9-1-1,’ he shouted.
‘That’s American Oliver. That’s fucking American!’
The three of them were all on the floor, pressing whatever they could find against the clown’s head.
‘Janey?’ Oliver asked.
‘My phone’s out of battery,’ she said.
‘I don’t have one. Who has a landline any more?’
‘Go. Run,’ he said. ‘Knock on a neighbour’s door.’
‘I don’t know any of the neighbours.’
Oliver jumped to his feet and ran to the front door. He pushed it open, leaving bloody hand prints all over the off-white gloss paint.
‘Help!’ he shouted. ‘Somebody call an ambulance please!’
He stumbled along the corridor. Blood dripped onto the grey carpet.
Janey and Jill stayed with the clown. His breathing became shallow. Janey stopped applying pressure to his wound and took his head and cradled it in her lap. Jill took the clown’s hands in hers and rubbed them.
‘Ssh, ssh,’ said Janey. ‘It’s all right,’ she said, her voice sounding clear and low, like a church bell. ‘Everything will be all right.’
The clown’s blood was all over the carpet. His tuxedo jacket and white frilled shirt were soaked. His eyes were closed again and he was vibrating ever so slightly. He seemed to be comforted by Janey’s voice and Jill’s touch. The smell of his blood filled the room.
‘It smells so rich. Too much,’ Jill said softly. ‘Like … too much life.’
The corner of pink silk poking out the side of his mouth looked like a cat’s tongue. Janey pulled the handkerchief out of his mouth, being as gentle as she could. Next came an orange handkerchief, then green, blue, yellow.
‘It’s amazing,’ Jill whispered, pressing the clown’s hands as they slowly went still.
‘Like magic,’ said Janey.
The silk handkerchiefs kept coming, one after another, every colour of the rainbow.
Photo of James Tresise by Robert Reid