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Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’

A Parallel Companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health

EIGHT: The Start of the Yellow Brick Road

The panto had two runs; one at ‘home base’ – the St Anthony’s Church Hall (and guess who was annoyed about that?!) and the other at a nearby church which had been built onto, and adapted, so that the whole thing was nearly open-plan worship and community hall. As the first run in the church approached, we rehearsed there more and more, and I would ‘hide’ onstage behind a large piece of scenery from the start until my entrance.

There was only one reason – I could watch Beth up close. I watched her tell Dorothy that the Bad Witch of The North was dead, to take the Ruby Slippers and… well, the Munchkins will tell her if they came out of hiding. THAT smile would appear and She would say, “Come along, little Munchkins.”

Each time, each smile (and with greater desperation), I desired to see her eyes up close; to feel her heart beating two breastbones and a couple of layers of skin from mine and to hear her whisper into my ear at just the right moment, “Come along, little munchkin,” coupled with that smile spreading across her like the mutual warmth spreading between us… After which moment, we would simply lie entwined in sweaty embrace.

Whichever way I considered it, I had it bad – whatever ‘it’ was; and although there was doubt and uncertainty, despite the potential for ‘choice,’ I knew which way my inclinations were leading me. Gillian and I still went out occasionally, and our friendship seemed to be progressing very nicely, thank-you. With her, I felt more brotherish… yet enjoyed the frisson we still had. Nothing was ever quite out of the question, and if ‘it’ happened, I felt it would simply be right and natural between us. However, Beth – with her passing resemblance to Jane (and, I realised, also to Carol) – was sort of more my… well… level, I suppose you could say. Well-spoken and actively doing the same sorts of things that I enjoyed doing. Gillian was more… ordinary. Not common as in ‘like muck’, but just… I was getting the ‘now what?’ feeling with her that I recognised from my earlier relationships, only without the relationship. Somehow, I could not see an anywhere for it to go.

Nerves were running high that first night of performance in the church. This was it. The Yellow Brick Road beckoned and to prevent our exhalations billowing onto the stage area, we smokers were banished outside. With a few minutes to go, only Beth and I were left there; shivering in the cold and our cigarettes crunched out on the floor. Then, with a wry smile and almost-shrug, she turned to go inside. I put my hand on her arm and stopped her, my nerves jangling (and not because of the theatrical exertions yet to come). Yes, I was nervous because such a situation was not without precedent; this was so similar to (yet so different) from ‘That Moment’ with Carol… I was NOT going to make the same mistake. She turned to me and I stepped close, sort of holding her hands.

“What about a kiss?” I said softly. “For good luck.” Her hands came up and rested on my shoulders, my own were on her waist and I marvelled at the feel of her; her head tilted up and mine down… our lips touched. Gently. A small, tender, long lip-kiss. Only our lips. Not even rubbing noses. A second or two later, and we unhurriedly stopped kissing and Beth looked up and away thoughtfully, and said,

“Hmm. No tongues…” and disappeared inside. A moment or so later, I went in, too.

In a whirl, the week at the church came and went, then there was the minor event with Gillian and the slight snog… Xmas week to New Year off, then, January 2nd, back at it ready in the hall at St Anthony’s for the final run. Every evening, I drank in the Munchkin Smile like it was the last time I would see it. Every evening, Beth and I would hang around together, bantering and feeling more at ease with each other. After one rehearsal, she invited me to her flat for a coffee, and we sat on opposite sides of the room while I tried to entice the family cat to come and say hello to me (which he refused to do), and this was not sexual tension, this was torture. After a while, a tentative hug, and off I went home… with odd visions of Gillian dancing in my mind as we were going to the cinema together the next night.

The final show arrived and, by this time, I was so full of the darn thing I just needed to vomit it out in one revolting splurge. I was more than ready to leave the Merry Old Land of Oz and never think about going Over the Rainbow again. Ever. The curtain call came and went, and the St Anthony Church Hall’s current occupants went into overdrive. Away went the chairs, out came the tables and the food as the kitchen people continued clearing away the coffee things from the interval. Happy little munchkins, high on the whole thing ran around – some in costume, others not – and the adults all tried to become themselves again.

With the ghastly costume stripped off and the silver gone from my face for the last time, I found I needed a place just to escape the hubbub; it was a Saturday, and that day in the shop had been gruelling. I was not high. I was dissatisfied. I seemed to be so after every production. Where was the joy in all this for me? Why the blazes was I doing it? Shall I continue into this new year? Is this how I would have felt if I had fulfilled my wishes and managed to get into this kind of thing for actual work? These questions taunted and tortured me, and all I felt was the burning need to get the performance out of me.

There was an office to one side, off the main rooms we used as our Green Rooms, and I secreted myself in there for a short while, only to find Beth coming looking for me. She put her hand on my shoulder, which I covered for a moment with my own, and we exchanged words about how people were noticing I was not ‘outside’ and how I would only be a few minutes, I just needed a tiny bit of breathing room. She left – I think she was annoyed a bit, and was believing me to be a prima donna, but it is too fuzzy. I took myself to the back car park for a few minutes, took my time with a cigarette in the cold air and then slipped in the side door.

A quick tour of the room, a chat here, a smile there, glass of wine? Er, ok, thanks… no, no snacks right at the min, still a bit… you know… yes, wasn’t it?, and I spotted at the corner of my vision a flapping arm. Beth was calling me over. Meet some friends, and she was clasping my hand tightly and in a strange constricting position; my other hand hovered near her hip, wanting to make full contact but very concerned about what was happening to the hand being ground to dust. Beth was sort of half sitting on a table – and happily telling people how hard I had worked on getting pitch-perfect for the songs – with a glass of wine in one hand and my hand in the other… then finally she let go. The room went spinny and I leisurely dashed outside; it would not be proper for me to suddenly vomit all over the place.

Outside, I drew breaths and everything stayed put, except for my whirling thoughts. What had that been all about? Why was she showing me off like that? Could it be? But… how, from now? How would we naturally be in the same place at the same time? I went back inside, the party was winding down with several declarations about going down the pub, and Beth was nowhere to be seen. I excused myself and went down the pub, hopeful that she was there. She was nowhere to be seen. Gillian was not there either. I ended up – as I so often had after doing a performing thing in that hall – all alone.

Interlude: at time of writing

There are layers of life and memories overlapping. Some memories I have tried to capture, because they seemed to come from a particular time and place are misplaced and from somewhere – someone – else. I can remember feeling so tired as a result of my first full-time job, and it being Xmas (therefore a consumerist nightmare) with loads of overtime. I was rehearsing the panto and in one other play. From sleep to work to stage to sleep to work… only now do I remember how it felt; it was almost exactly like the time of Sir Toby and The Carol Incident.

At the time, there was a tickle of it, a nuance, but I was pell-mell into the whole thing at the time, and felt like I had put those school days behind me. Only in dreams, which now resurface, do I remember how my subconscious mind replayed THAT time on the stage. Yet, it was Beth to who I ended up making a declaration, not Carol. Furthermore, I could feel… something… happening in my life, and it made me nervous. I was not sure if it was welcome. Although the time leading up to the afternoon of passion with Ann had been fun, and the afternoon itself with its ages of leisurely foreplay had been terrific, that whole affair and Ann herself had been very confusing. She had been so exotic to me in many ways – and so, too, was this brace of women, both about the same age and stature, and of the same circumstance; divorced for quite some time and raising a boy and a girl on their own… yet the difference in age between me and them did not seem to matter at all.

In my dark and lonely hours of desperate self-comfort, the never-was of Carol merged with physical memories of Jane, and become a desire for Beth… who sometimes has Gillian’s face, all combining with memories of Ann.

And over the years, these memories of fantasies fold and fly in the theatre of my mind with increasing vividness, causing ever more grief and loneliness.

The last night of the panto was long gone; the next time I would be seeing Beth seemed a very long time away although it was only a couple of weeks until the company would be performing at an old people’s home… then on the night, I discovered that Bella would be taking her part as Beth was going to the annual choir dinner. Bella sang superbly and played her little part very well, running into my arms for a hug as she soon as she came away from the performance area. Then, a little over 90 minutes later, another production and another part played became a part of history in the history of my life.

And farewell to it, I thought. I’d had enough. Bella was outside, waiting for our lift and seemed a little deflated. I put my arm around her and told her, once more, what a fantastic job she had done – and knowing that it was her first time, I kept her chatting about how to keep it fresh with her. I knew what she would be going through and, when we got to our dropping off point, I said I would see her safely home. Although it was just a hundred yards or so, she smiled in what seemed to be an overly grateful way. Round to the entrance to the flat, in through the door, keeping the chatter going – ‘what about the old guy sitting over by the door, did you see him?’ sort of thing – and all was dark beyond the door. She told me Alex was off at a school disco (they did not have these ghastly Americanised Prom things, whatever they are, in those days).

Only someone with a very hard heart, someone who does not care about performance and what it does to people, would have left Bella alone. I knew that if I had, she would have had the most awful mood-crash; I could see it coming and I knew exactly what I had to do… perhaps I might not do it these days, but they were very different times; there was no automatic suspicion of men being child molesters.

“Well,” I said as she turned on the fire, “this all seems a bit flat without the party like when we finished in the hall.” I paused and she flumped onto the sofa. I remembered my time-traveller, and let him out. “So,” I/he declared with that twinkle in his eye, “why don’t I just pop over the road and get some lemonade and cola, perhaps some crisps and chocolate and we’ll say goodbye to the panto by ourselves, eh?” Bella’s face lit up, and smiled, nodding vigorously. I flourished out of the flat, and dashed to the off-licence; damn. Closed. Into the public bar, a takeout of each, various flavours of crisps and a few bars of chocolate from the machine.

We passed the time playing cards, drinking the pop and eating the crisps and chocolate. I watched as she calmed and became more normal after the high of the performance, and inside felt so glad I had done this… and annoyed that Beth had not left a little special something for Bella to come home to. Then the door banged open and Alex bundled in with a bit of start then a cheery welcome as I offered him some our celebration supplies. The three of us had a couple of rounds of cards. Somehow it felt right that we should. It felt… normal. It was getting late and, although more than a little desperate to see Beth, I wanted to go home and have a bath more. It was hot and unpleasant in that costume. So reluctantly, I said my goodbyes and walked home through the darkness. I wondered how she might have felt, had she arrived before I left, and how long I might have stayed…

About twenty minutes later, I was in the final stages of running the bath when my parents returned from the same function Beth had been to. After the usual mutual enquiries about how our evenings had gone, I was finally about to step into the bath when the phone brayed, and I heard from downstairs, “Yes, I’ll get him.”

It was Beth. She was slightly drunk and telling me how very, very kind I was to have stayed with Bella like I did. Every time I told her it was my pleasure, she would tell me again. After a few minutes of this, I told her that I was about to get into the bath as it was now getting cold, so would she mind..? Oh, yes, one more time, I’m kind. Okay, now go and sleep tight, ok? Will we see each other soon? Oh, it’s fairly likely. I started to skip up the stairs when my father called out,

“You’d better watch out, son.”

“Eh?” What did he know about her that he really ought to tell me?

“Well,” he said, “you’re a boy, she’s a girl, you’re both single…”

“Yeah, right,” I said and finally got to have that bath.

Which was cold.

NINE: The Tin Man Gets His Heart

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Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’ is a parallel companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health‘.

If you would like to connect with Jeremiah, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.