When I arrived at the theatre Dougie Flank was already there, of course. He looked just the same as when I had him for English. He was sitting at a long, old, schoolteachers desk, sucking on a pencil. His legs stuck out the other side of the table, still in the same shitty brown corduroy trousers. In little piles in front of him was a clip board, the script, his notebook, his pile of barley sugars in case he has a hypo, and a neat row of sharpened coloured pencils.
‘Close the doors after you, that’s the way mate’, he said when he saw me standing there.
I pulled and pushed with the two old theatre doors, trying to make them connect. When I closed one, the other popped open and kept crashing against
the theatre wall.
Dougie just sat and watched, and sucked on his pencil some more, then finally said ‘Just pull that thingummy up, Craig mate. Just there, see that bar thing, that’s the way.’
I pulled up the bar, then pulled the doors together, and of course they click into place.
‘Great, great’ said Dougie, holding up the clip board and waving it in the air, his big white teeth sparkling through his fuzzy beard.
‘You get their numbers and addresses before they leave OK. That’s your job. My right-hand man, so to speak. OK?’
‘Great great. I’m glad you can do it. Man, I need an assistant. Last night I had eighteen women. Eighteen. Can you imagine? Ef-ing chaos. Only me and Mrs Double to keep them in order. D’you know Mrs. Double?’
He nodded in the direction of the piano and the huge woman sitting at it. I knew her.
‘Hello Mrs Double.’
‘Who are you?’ she said, peering at me through her tiny red plastic rimmed glasses. ‘Oh… I know. You were in my music class in ‘92, weren’t you, eh?’
‘Yeah, I think so.’
‘What? Can’t you remember? Aren’t you sure? Didn’t I make a big enough impression?’ said Mrs Double as rudely as she could, and Dougie laughed.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I can remember.’
‘What are you doing now? You working?’
‘His mum suggested he help out for us, Mrs Double. Keep him off the streets, eh?’ Dougie laughed again.
‘Mm.’ Mrs Double grunted at Dougie and turned away.
‘You sit over there’, said Dougie, pointing at a school seat next to his table, ‘Take this other clip board. We’ve got the men tonight. Apart from one extra girl. She’s up first. A special. A last minute call. You’ll see.’ He winked. ‘She should be here soon. You ready Mrs Double?
Mrs Double grunted at the piano.
She should be on the national heritage list, my mum always says, she’s been around that long.
I sat in my chair, and we all waited.
Suddenly the old black back theatre doors swung wide once more.
‘Right on time!’ said Dougie, looking at his watch, ‘Look at that. Right on time. Come in. Come in.’
A woman stood at the door, squinting into the darkness. I turned in my chair to see her properly. She was a very beautiful woman, you couldn’t get rid of that. Tall. Not too tall. And thin, but not too thin. Blonde. Big bright blue eyes, nice mouth. A really good-looking woman. Dougie thought so too. He leapt off his seat, scattering his pencils across the floor, and came practically running at her, arm outstretched, hand out ready to shake, white teeth nearly bursting out of his split-up beard.
‘Right on time.’ he said again.
‘Hello, Mr Flank.’, she said, smiling back at him.
Dougie looked over at me.
‘Quick, boy. Get your list. Annie Print’s her name. Write it down. Check it off, do what you have to do.’
I jumped up quickly and skidded on one of his pencils.
‘Look out, mate!’ said Dougie, laughing. Annie Print let out a little laugh too. Soft and slippery. Dougie closed the double doors quietly behind her.
‘Come in, love.’, he said, giving me a wink. ‘Pick up those pencils first would you, Craig. You can get all her details later. Well now, Annie, you look all set to go.’
‘I am thanks, Mr. Flank.’, she said.
‘All ready to go.’, said Dougie again, and licked his lips quickly, like a lizard.
Annie Print wore a soft pink tracksuit, and a scarf around her hair. A white scarf. At first you wouldn’t see it for the whiteness of her hair. She had some music with her, held it tight in her hands.
‘What have you got for us tonight, Annie?’ asked Dougie.
‘A song and a dance.’
‘Good-o. Pass your music to Mrs Double, d’you know Mrs. Double? Mrs Double, this is Annie Print.’
Annie marched towards the piano and handed her music to Mrs Double.
‘I remember.’ said Mrs. Double, ‘You used to be Annie Bragge, eh?’
I remembered her then, too. Annie Bragge left school early to get married or something. She was only a little bit older than me, really. She had changed a lot, though.
Mrs Double practically leered at her. ‘You played the recorder. Badly.’
‘It wasn’t my instrument.’, said Annie.
Mrs Double snorted at her and turned back to the piano.
‘My first piece will be a dance piece.’ Annie said, and right there, she dropped her tracksuit pants, took off her top and walked onto stage in a little pink leotard and leggings.
‘Thank-you please Mrs Double.’ she said.
Mrs Double smashed away at the piano and Annie danced. She did a tap routine set to a Kylie song. Her legs flashed, she tapped and twirled and swirled.
Mrs Double could hardly keep up with her. Annie Print had her own internal rhythm that had nothing to do with Mrs Double’s.
I watched her. She looked so pretty. Dougie thought so too. He turned to me half way through the routine, winked again and said,
‘I think we’ve found our leading lady, eh?’
After the dance routine, Annie was covered in a light shimmer of sweat that she wiped from her forehead with a hand towel she’d bought.
‘That was fabulous Mrs. Print’, said Dougie, ‘Just truly fabulous. Do you need a rest before your song?’
‘Oh no, no. I want to go on to my song now.’, she said, ‘Mrs Double, if you could…’
Mrs Double sniffed up and put the next sheet of music on the piano.
‘I’ll need a moment to look at this one.’, she said. ‘It’s been a while since I’ve had to play this tune. It’s out of date.’
Annie laughed lightly, ‘Oh Mrs Double,’ she said, ‘Old classics never date.’
Despite Mrs Double, you could tell that Annie had a really pretty voice. With a bit of training, I thought, she’d have a really great voice. Dougie winked at me again.
‘I think we have our Carmen.’, he whispered.
After Annie had finished her song, Dougie marched up to her, scraping away at his beard with the top of his clip board. She smiled at him, and sat on the edge of the stage, wiping herself again with her towel.
‘Well well Mrs Print. Well well. I don’t think we need to look any further. This is a little out of place for me to do this, we did have a few other ladies we’d called back for tomorrow night but, hey, well you know, I don’t think you have much competition, if you know what I mean.’
‘No. What do you mean?’ said Annie. She was confused, I thought.
‘How would you like to be our Carmen?’
‘Wow! That’d be great, Doug.’, said Annie. She was thrilled. Really thrilled.
Mrs Double sputtered by the piano. She banged down the lid.
‘What?’ she said and hauled herself off the stool. ‘What!?’
‘Now Mrs Double,’ said Dougie, ‘This is my decision to make…’
‘You can’t have her as Carmen. You can’t have a blonde haired, blued eyed bimbo with a voice like a sparrow playing Carmen. And a tap dancer! A tap dancer as Carmen! You’ve lost the plot, Dougie.’
‘She can dye her hair, Mrs Double.’
‘I can do other routines, Mrs Double, I’m not just a tap dancer.’
But Mrs Double was off.
‘Carmen is passion. She’s fire, all up fire.’ and she raised up her hands like a bull fighter with a cape. ‘Carmen is saucy, sexy, she’s strong. With dark flashing eyes.
Bright teeth. Dark hands.’
‘Mrs Double,’ said Dougie, drawing himself up nice and tight. ‘Mrs Double, I have made my decision. You are not the director. You are our pianist. You must make a decision whether you wish to remain our pianist and remain quiet on this issue. Or, if you choose, you may leave. I have no hold over you.’ He pointed a red pencil in the air and waved it dismissively like a King.
‘That’s true enough.’, said Mrs Double, ‘Anyway I’ll stay. Of course, I’ll stay. But I think you’re an idiot.’
‘Thank you, Mrs Double.’ said Dougie. ‘We still have a few male leads to look at tonight.’
I could tell Annie Print was hurt, and embarrassed. She climbed off the stage and collected up her clothes. Then she stood by the piano, waiting.
‘Excuse me, Mrs Double.’ She said eventually.
Mrs Double turned and stared at her.
‘Could you pass me my music back, please.’
Mrs Double handed over her music, then turned away again, shaking her head from side to side.
‘Thank you.’ said Annie, and she walked back down the aisle with her tracksuit in a bundle, and her chin stuck up in the air.
She walked to where I sat on my little school chair.
She dropped her bundle and changed back into her tracksuit, pulling on the leggings roughly. Dougie went over to Mrs Double at the piano. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Only Mrs Double’s voice rose through the theatre, ‘You’re a bloody idiot, Doug…’
‘She’s such a bat.’ Annie hissed under her breath.
‘My Mum says she’s been doing this for years. She’s the secretary or something, they can’t get rid of her.’
‘Someone should just say something to her. Someone should put her in her place. She’s a bloody bat. Can you smoke in here?’
‘In the foyer, I think.’
I don’t smoke, but I followed her out. As Annie went out, Grahame Smith came in for his audition. He was picked to be Carmen’s soldier. He swung open the double doors and strode in.
‘Grahame mate!’ said Dougie. ‘How you doing?’
‘Very well indeed Douglas. Madam Double, my music awaits.’ He handed her his music. ‘Hit it, Mrs Double.’
Annie and I watched Mrs Double through the open doors, hunched up over the little upright piano, slamming down on the keys, thrashing her way through a rendition of Music of the Night with Grahame Smith and his golden Baritone trying to keep up with her.
Next week, Mrs Double would start rehearsal with her orchestra, a group of boys and old men from the Municipal marching band. They always did these shows, and Australia Day, stuff like that. Propped up in the park, next to the Anzac statue, dressing in their green uniforms with Mrs Double waving her baton randomly in front of them. Mum always tries to get me to join.
‘Give it a go, love,’ she says, ‘You’re so good on the clarinet.’
‘He’s very good, isn’t he.’ said Annie Print to the back of my neck. ‘Look at old Doubley would you. What did that piano ever do to her?’
I laughed a bit. But I liked Mrs Double in a way. I didn’t want to pick on her. ‘She’s alright really. She’s just a bit grumpy sometimes. She puts a lot of work into things. No one else I know would put so much work into things.’
‘Old people always have heaps of time,’ said Annie. ‘They’re always fussing around doing things. My oldies are always fussing around doing things, building sheds and things in the back yard. I can’t stand it, one day I’ll move out.’
‘Do you still live with your parents?’
She looked embarrassed all of a sudden, ‘Me and Brian split up’, she said. ‘It’s just temporary.’
Annie looked even more embarrassed and we both watched Grahame doing a one man tango to Hernando’s Hideaway.
Eventually she said, ‘I’m glad I got the role. I’m not doing anything at the moment. It’ll be good, to get out a bit.’
‘We only meet once a week.’
‘I know. It’s better than nothing. Some of my girlfriends play volleyball. I don’t.’
She hesitated, as if she’d startled herself. ‘I should go.’ she said. ‘I’ll see you soon, next Tuesday, yeah?’
She smiled. I smiled back. Grahame Smith was in the final throes of his routine. She went in and walked past Dougie who sat at his desk, still pushing his beard around with a pencil. Annie mouthed bye-bye to him and wiggled her fingers in a wave. He leapt up to escort her out, taking her by the elbow.
‘Bye-bye Mrs Print. See you on Tuesday.’
‘Thanks Dougie. Really, thanks.’
Dougie and I watched her as she walked away, her pink tracksuit disappearing into the dark carpark. Then he turned to me, his ginger beard split into a smile and he gave me a big wink.
‘Yes sir. That’s our Carmen alright.’ he said.