Now what does the clock show? Only three! Still two hours of it! Two hours that are like a hill you have to climb over with a ton on your back. Don’t let the hours be piled into a hill—let them be a straight slope you can go running down fast. The machines are making the noise of a train, of an express train, streaming down the long, straight rails. You be a passenger—you be a girl riding on a fast train.
Of course there’s no scat for you on the train, but you can walk up and down. As much as you like you can walk up and down. Certainly when you’re on a train you don’t have to be tying together the broken threads, and you don’t have to watch the spindles and the bobbins with their whizz, whizz, whizzing rhythm. Don’t you think about the spindles. You think of what’s outside the train window—the trees and the green grass and the smoke coming up out of the chimneys.
Easily you can think of the smoke because of this fluff all about you—this fluff that comes up off the machines and floats through the mill and all around you, clinging to your face and your clothes and your hair—to your fine, free, shining, golden hair.
You’re Lana Turner, and you’re on a vacation—you’re going down South. You’re going deep down over the border to the orange groves and the palm trees and the long, full summer.
Oh, but there’s a hand, and it’s holding on to the time—it’s a hard hand!
But you, you at the tall machine with your running and tying—why don’t you snatch a fistful of life? Wrench yourself free of the whizzing and tying. You can creep out from under this roof that stoops down over your life. Go out into the free air, and walk over the yard slowly, to the tin shed, and the only haven. But you’ve got to ask the foreman, and he’ll say, ‘What, again?’ Not that you mind what he says, the old fish-face.
Go now! But wait—don’t go now—because, look at the boss coming through. His sad, tired face looks down, because he doesn’t want to be coming through, but he has to and now he’s talking to Fish-face. It’s warm and smooth with a faster rhythm, and time leaps on. The boss drags down the big hand of the clock, because you can look at his clothes which are thick and grey and good. You can stare at the warp and the weft standing out in their squares. And he’s got a broad back, and he’s so close you can touch him.
He’s gone now; there’s a machine where he was, and time’s like a sea that’s closed over the place where he was. Oh, this isn’t a job, this running and tying! It isn’t a job because it hasn’t an end. You can never say to yourself, ‘Now I’ve done that much—that’s good.’ You just go on and you go on. You tie up the threads that get broken; that’s all. Every thread you tie up is a bit of time you’ve tied up. All day you’ve been tying up time.
What a life! What a life for Lana Turner! What a life for the girl with the fine, free, shining, golden hair.
Why not go out and get yourself a drink now? Why not go out and put your mouth under the tap and turn on the sharp water? They can’t stop you turning on water. Everybody turns on water. Everybody but Fish-face. And then when you’ve turned on the water, and come back, of course it will be a bit later, and a bit later, and a bit later. And the lateness will climb up in a high point, and stretch to five o’clock and touch the whistle. And a blast of the whistle will shatter the machines, and they’ll murmur and stop, and then you can go home.
And now you can go home, because here it is—the whistle. This is what you wanted, isn’t it? You wanted to go home. Off you go and punch the clock. Give it a hard punch—give it a punch to go on with. You’re in a hurry, you are. You’ve got to catch a train.
Look at the night. The wind blows needles of rain in your face. It’s cold and fast and it hurts and you rather like it. In the grey street, with the dark coming on, the lights look like moons. Misty and yellow they look, with a soft edge dimming out of them.
You’d better hurry, Lana. Remember who’s calling at your apartment tonight? Of course there’ll be Larry, and perhaps there’ll be The Kid—poor Kid. You’ll have to be putting them off, Lana. You’ve got a date with Someone Else. ‘Now please don’t be silly, Larry…and…I’m sorry, Kid.’
That noise you can hear—that’s the train. It gets crowded down the line, and now there’s all this mob from the mill getting on. Don’t let them push you about, those boys. Don’t look at the boys. Don’t look at the boy with the oily hair and the pimpled face. You’re shy when it comes to boys. Look the other way, get in another carriage; get on your own.
Now you’re in and you’re standing in a crowd, but you’re on your own. The train swings and jerks so you’d better hold on. Now, where were you? Oh, yes—Larry. ‘Larry, you’re not to be stupid, please. Why, of course I like you, I’ve always said I like you—but not ‘like that.’ You know how it is, don’t you, Kid—or do I have to explain?
Just down the hill and you’ll be home. It seems years since you left home, and you’re hungry. What is it for dinner tonight? But you don’t have to wonder, do you? Sausages again. It’s always sausages. There’s something wrong with your mum, and she can only think of sausages. And she’s left the gate open and the children will be up the street, and you’ll have to go and get them. As if you didn’t have enough to do without running all over the streets after a couple of kids. But they’re not out after all; they’re home. That’s Stannie you can hear yelling. You’ll give him something to yell for, won’t you? You’d like to, anyway. You’d like to give Valerie a piece of your mind too. Valerie’s getting a big girl, and nobody cares about Valerie. Your mum doesn’t care. Your mum doesn’t care about this family at all since your dad cleared out.
You’d better put your nose in the kitchen and say hello to your mum. You’d better ask if you can help dish up. You needn’t wait to hear if she says yes—you’d better ask her, though.
She’s thought of sausages. And it’s full of steam and smell and frying, the kitchen is. Look at the sideboard mirror—it’s clouded over. Wipe off the mist and the steam with your hankie. Wipe off a circle big enough to see yourself, wipe off a big circle.
Look at you. This is you. So you thought you were Lana Turner? What, with your straight black hair, and your face like a white pie, and your eyes like heavy grapes?
Turn your back on the mirror—it will get misted again, and then you can be Lana Turner—Lana with Larry coming, and The Kid; Lana with a date to keep—with Someone Else.
You ought to ask your mum if she’d like to go to the pictures too. You know she’ll say yes. That’s why you won’t ask her, because you know she’ll say yes. She’ll interrupt you all the time. She won’t let you be Lana Turner. Well, anyway, you’d better wash up. You’d better scrape up the dishes, and pour on the water, and watch the steam rise. Don’t make yourself late with the dishwater and the grease and the steam rising.
You’re not very late: they still have some single seats—and it’s warm inside. It’s dark and warm and the war’s on the screen. The seats are soft and there’s a carpet, and maybe your feet will dry off, and maybe when you go out, maybe it won’t be raining.
It is, though; it’s still raining. And you’ve seen yourself in the foyer mirror. Oh, what a blob you are with your black hair and your white face and your eyes like heavy grapes! Because, in America everybody is young and beautiful, and they wear furs and full gowns, and diamond flower-shapes are in their hair, and they live in white houses, and they go places, and everybody loves them. Yes, everybody loves everybody in America. And there’s Uncle Sam, and he loves everybody, and everybody loves Uncle Sam, and nobody gets up to breakfast, because there’s a black maid, and she brings it in on a tray.
But you have to get up for breakfast. Anyway, you have to get up. Put your key in the door, Lana, but don’t turn the key. Don’t turn it yet. Look, you haven’t said goodnight. Someone Else wants to say goodnight to you.
It’s warm in bed, Lana, and your fine, free hair is gold on the white pillow, and your arms are white, and you’re so beautiful. ‘Ah, it’s no good, Larry, and I’m sorry, Kid. It had to end like this, didn’t it? Don’t take it to heart, Larry. You knew there was Someone Else. Who is he? Who is he? Well, he’s…I’ll tell you who he is. He’s…he’s…he’s…’
He’s not the foreman and he’s not the boss. He’s dressed like the boss and he’s got that sort of a face. He’s taller, though, and he’s getting taller and taller. When you stretch up and try and touch him, then he’s gone. Then he comes back, and he’s not like the boss at all—no, he’s the boy with the oily hair and the pimpled face. But you like him now, don’t you? Yes, he’s not so bad now, because now he’s Someone Else. And you’re riding with him on the train, and you’re both near the door, and the train is swaying, and now you’re swinging out of the door, and you’re clinging on so hard to the boy with the oily hair, because you’re going to fall. And he’s holding on to you, and he’s going to fall too, and you’re both falling and falling and falling…and somebody’s screaming. Who’s screaming!
It’s the alarm clock screaming. You’d better turn it off. You’d better get some sleep.
Wake up! You’ve overslept. You’re late. Oh, you’re late, you’re late, you’re late. Too late for breakfast. Get dressed and run for the train, that’s all. You’ve just about time for the train. You’d better hurry.
Why should you hurry? You’re late already. It’s awful when you’re late. The foreman looks at you. Not that he says anything—it’s the way he looks at you. You’d better not go.
You’re not a millionaire—you’d better go. Well, you’d better hurry if you’re going. You’d better hurry and you’d better hurry and you’d better hurry.
You did hurry. It’s because you live at the end of the hill that you’ve missed the train. It’s because the station is at the top of the hill, and because there’s a ladder of steps going up, and a bridge across and the steps going over. And the train was coming and you heard the train and you remembered the steps and the going up, and the longing to scream and fall down with the weight in your thighs…and the pain in your mind that goes up with the guard’s green flag.
It’s gone now. The train’s gone and the day’s gone. The day at the mill has gone with the train, because you’d rather not go than be late with the foreman watching, and not saying anything, but only watching.
Look, Lana, it’s a lovely day! Look at the sky. Did you see the sky, Lana? It’s blue like summer, and you can go down South. You can go down deep over the border to the orange groves and the palm trees, and the long, full summer.
So this is goodbye. Don’t take it to heart, Larry; never mind, Kid. I said it had to end. And the end is always like this—it’s the burnt-out cigarette, the lipstick on the cup, the way I wear my hair. Give me something to remember you by. I told you there was…Someone Else.
Mona Brand (1915 – 2007) was a twentieth-century Australian playwright, poet and freelance writer.