The action takes place in a Polling station. The ensemble moves to the back of the stage leaving Annabel and Joan to tell their separate stories about different aspects of their previous lives. Joan has dementia and is reminiscing about her youth when she went travelling. When Joan returned from travelling she became a still life model for an art class in this same space. Annabel is recalling her abusive relationship.
Is it safe here?
Safe, of course, I was going to be safe. People travel on their own all the time! That’s what I told my mum. In truth, I hadn’t given it much thought. Stay on the path, near well-lit areas, don’t make eye contact? How difficult could it be!
I tried to leave him, several times. But he always found me. Not straight away, I’d get a few nights of peace, just start to feel safe. He did it on purpose, he waited until I started to relax and then he would turn up. He would be all smiles, flowers, gifts for everyone. Plan a big night out, or in, depending on how flush he was. My mum would be all giggly and excited; he had that effect on women. Inside I’d be terrified pleading to her with my eyes, but she couldn’t see past the wad of cash he pressed into her hand.
It was a poor country, no doubt about that. But the people were lovely. They were willing to share and include me into their lives; their shows, their parties. Just walking down the street it was all so different; the architecture, oh my god the old cars, the noise and then there was Julio. Julio was an artist. His English was bad, my Spanish was worse; together we were as mad as a box of frogs. But for three glorious months, he was my world and I was his.
The first time it happened…I must have passed out. When I came to I was in bed. I heard the doctor talking, my head was woozy from the medication I think …or maybe where I…where he banged it. I had a concussion and two broken ribs.
They were talking about mending the rail. I was still in shock and confused what rail…It was the paint. It all started because…because of the paint, I chose for the chair.
As I recovered he couldn’t have been nicer or more apologetic. He was so persuasive, even I started talking about how clumsy I was, the way I slipped and fell down the stairs… like it actually happened that way.
Julio and I, me and Julio we did everything…I mean everything! I felt free and beautiful and adored. He was so completely uninhibited, I was floating on a cloud, and it was the best time of my life.
I think that’s why I did it, the first time anyway. It was such a nice space to be in; the wooden shelves, the old book smell…
The smell of paint.
(Joan starts taking some of her clothes off)
Getting naked…I only needed to think of Julio and the rest was easy.
(Joan throws a piece of clothing behind her)
Are you sure it’s safe here and nobody knows where we are?
It was worse when he started drinking. I used to hide in the cupboard under the stairs. It was dark, cramped and smelled of shoe polish. I would be sitting crouched in the corner squashed between the vacuum cleaner and the clothes horse. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was safe. When I heard his key in the lock I would slowly draw the bolt across the small door and close my eyes. I could hear him stumbling about in the hallway, slamming the front door behind him and cursing as he dropped his keys. I held my breath, careful not to move or make any noise. His hand banged against the wall as he tried to find the light switch. I opened my eyes and stared at the small beam of light in the crack under the cupboard door. I could hear his footsteps. He started shouting for me. I put my hands over my ears.
The neighbours didn’t approve, but I didn’t care. I thought Brian’s eyes were going to pop out of his head the first time he saw me in class. He didn’t know where to look; he soon got the hang of it though. I don’t think his wife knew where he was. She’d have had a fit. Brian was a good artist; shy at first but came alive after a few weeks. That’s how it was. At the first session, everyone would be nervous, everyone except me. By the end of the course, we were like a family.
Something was wrong. He was looking for something. Oh my god, did I forget to leave the plate out! His speech was slurred, but still loud and abusive nothing I hadn’t heard before. I was breathing really hard. He came lumbering to the cupboard door and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. He started kicking the door and throwing his weight against it. I was shaking it would only be a matter of time before he broke through. I…I… he…
(She puts her hand over her mouth to stifle the sobs building inside. She is breathing heavily)
The young girl at the hostel moves over to Annabel and puts her arm around her.
It’s okay, you’re safe now. We’re safe now.