TAMMY: 16 – 18. Wearing the Captain Jester’s uniform: garish, bright and with a hat shaped like a burger on her head.
HANNAH: 14 – 16. Wearing the Captain Jester’s uniform: garish, bright and with a hat shaped like fries on her head.
NATE: 16 – 18. In high school uniform.
LUCAS: 16 – 18. In high school uniform.
CONRAD: An older man. Conrad always wears multiple, military medals. These are from different wars; he buys them from eBay or the local op-shop.
(Captain Jester’s, a fast food restaurant. Stage left: kitchen area and drive-through window. Centre stage: serving counter. Two doors lead out: to the car park, and to the outside eating area. Stage right: eat-in area, watched over by a beaten-up mannequin dressed in tacky sailor’s costume, minus the hat. A C.D player sits on a bench in the kitchen. On the walls of the eating area are torn and faded posters of food, and smiling families from the eighties. In the serving area, for the benefit of the staff, are posters with slogans such as, ‘A smile for everyone here and everyone leaves with a smile’, and ‘Families love an upgrade’. Tammy wears a headset which she speaks into, talking to drivers going through the drive-through. Hannah speaks to the audience as though they were the customers).
TAMMY / HANNAH: Welcome to Captain Jester’s, may I take your order?
HANNAH: That’s one Jester’s Special, one Captain Jester’s Times Two Burger Meal and one Captain Jester’s Joyful Lunch-box.
TAMMY: Sorry sir, could you repeat that?
HANNAH: Would you like Spud Snacks with that?
TAMMY: I’m sorry, one more time?
HANNAH: Here’s your change.
TAMMY: Three Captain Jester’s Joking Crazy Meals and four serves of Spud Snacks with Chirpy Chicken Salt. Would you like to upgrade for a large Captain Jester’s Cola for one dollar extra?
(Hannah has no more customers. She leans on the counter and looks at her nails).
TAMMY: Sorry sir, we don’t serve alcohol at this venue. (To Hannah). I wish.
TAMMY: We’re not BYO either. (To Hannah). Unless you’ve got something?
HANNAH: Yeah, six pack off Dad; he never knows.
TAMMY: That comes to fifteen dollars ninety-five. Thank you for coming to Captain Jester’s.
HANNAH / TAMMY: Enjoy your meal.
TAMMY: Hey, are those Spud Snacks ready?
HANNAH: Machine turned itself off again –
(Tammy flicks a switch on the deep-frier and empties a packet of cubed potatoes into it).
HANNAH: Last night was awesome.
HANNAH: I mean it was fine until Melissa’s parents came home and were all like, what the fuck is this? You should have come.
TAMMY: You said Pat spewed in the spa.
HANNAH: Yeah, he did, but before then it was alright. I drank, like, so much. It was crazy.
TAMMY: What, two vodka Cruisers? Such a hard-arse.
HANNAH: Shut up.
TAMMY / HANNAH: Welcome to Captain Jester’s, may I take your order?
TAMMY: Two Crazy Jester Joyful Feasts, One Captain Jester Cola, One Captain Jester’s Juice and eight Spud Snacks, coming right up.
HANNAH: One Captain Jester’s Joking Crazy Meal, no Chirpy Chicken Salt and an extra large Captain Jester’s Cola.
TAMMY: That’ll be thirteen ninety-five.
HANNAH: That comes to seven dollars fifty.
TAMMY: Thank you for eating at Captain Jester’s.
HANNAH: Enjoy your meal.
TAMMY: Two vodka Cruisers, and a shot? Total alcoholic.
HANNAH: If you’d’ve come, you’d’ve seen.
TAMMY: Um, no. I’m a total sympathy spewer. What did Melissa do?
HANNAH: She just, like, turned on the taps and let it all run down the drain. Which would have been totally fine until someone put the jets on.
HANNAH: Seriously though, I could have been at home just watching Netflix, but instead I was out there actually doing something, you know?
TAMMY: Cleaning up vomit?
HANNAH: Ew, no, gross. Melissa’s mum did that.
HANNAH: Wasn’t my spew.
TAMMY: (Into the headset). Welcome to Captain Jester’s, may I take your order?
HANNAH: You haven’t been out in ages. Boring.
TAMMY: One Spud Snack with Chirpy Chicken Salt … sorry sir? Hold the Spud Snack? You just want the Chicken Salt … that’ll still be two dollars … ? (Tammy makes a sign to Hannah which says, this person is high / drunk / crazy). Okay, thank you, please drive-through to the next window. Dick-head.
HANNAH: Mum’s all like, Tammy never goes out with you guys, why doesn’t Tammy ever go out with you? And I’m like, Mum, shut up, I don’t even know.
TAMMY: Cool story.
HANNAH: You will though, hey?
HANNAH: Come the fuck out.
TAMMY: Not if Patrick’s spewing all the time.
HANNAH: He won’t spew next time, he was on, like, antibiotics or something last night, so it actually wasn’t his fault.
HANNAH: (Calling). Pat! Pat, you won’t spew this time, yeah? He won’t spew.
TAMMY: Can you maybe stop saying spew? Or I will.
(Time passes. Customers have stopped coming through the door and drive-through. Both Hannah and Tammy take out their mobile phones and check Facebook, Snapchat, etc. A lighting change).
HANNAH: Have you seen Jennifer’s Snapchat story?
TAMMY: I actually don’t care, to be honest.
HANNAH: She thinks she’s so cool. She’s such a poser in, like, every photo. Seriously, I’m gonna unfollow her.
(Pause. Hannah continues to look at her phone).
HANNAH: She’s not even that cute.
(A moment passes. Conrad hovers at the door. His little dog, Mongrel, is with him).
HANNAH: Your boyfriend is here.
(Conrad carries Mongrel through the restaurant to the outside eating area, makes him sit, then comes back inside).
TAMMY: (Looking around). Good.
HANNAH: Good? You totes love him.
TAMMY: Ah, hello? Means we close in an hour. Always comes at the same time. Anyway, he loves you more.
HANNAH: Agh, old, wrinkly balls.
TAMMY: You’re thinking about his balls, you must love him.
HANNAH: He’s just kinda …
TAMMY: One day, all our balls will be old and wrinkly. Well, you know, not like, our balls, but our boobs. They’re gonna get all saggy and … my mum says gravity sucks.
(Conrad approaches the counter).
HANNAH: Welcome to Captain Jester’s, may I take your order?
CONRAD: You never ask for my I.D.
HANNAH: Can’t even buy alcohol –
CONRAD: Go on. Flatter me.
HANNAH: Can we see your I.D, sir?
(Conrad takes out his license).
CONRAD: Ouch, that word. Stabs a man in the guts.
HANNAH: (Looking at the I.D). Yup. It’s you. (Beat). Sir.
CONRAD: You can stop that now.
(Conrad places two old army jackets on the table).
CONRAD: These are for you.
HANNAH: Um …
CONRAD: Imagine, someone throwing them out.
(Hannah pushes the jackets back to Conrad).
HANNAH: I’m not really allowed to accept presents …
(Conrad pushes them back towards Hannah).
TAMMY: Found these at the op shop?
CONRAD: Ebay. Delivered right to my door.
(Tammy dumps the jackets into Hannah’s arms).
TAMMY: Thank you. Would you like a Captain Jester’s Joyful Lunch-box?
CONRAD: You won’t forget the …
TAMMY: Are you after a boy one, or a girl one today?
(Conrad fishes in his pockets and pulls out three toys. Two pink, one blue).
CONRAD: Better even things out, yes?
TAMMY: I’ll get you a boy one.
(Conrad sits inside, near the door and Mongrel. He lines his toys up in front of him: pink, blue, pink).
HANNAH: What the fuck are we even meant to do with these?
TAMMY: Just chuck them under the counter.
HANNAH: Does he ever buy real food?
TAMMY: This is food. Technically.
HANNAH: It’s probably all he has money for, on the dole.
TAMMY: He’s your sugar daddy.
TAMMY: You wanna have his babies.
HANNAH: (Blocking her ears). Ew.
TAMMY: His old, wrinkly ball babies.
HANNAH: They’ll match your old, saggy boobs then.
(Tammy pulls a blue toy from under the counter. It is distorted, broken and useless).
TAMMY: Oh bum.
HANNAH: Factory second. Ask Pat if there’s more.
TAMMY: There isn’t. It’s the last one –
(Hannah puts a Joyful Lunch-box on a tray, she takes the toy and puts that on too, but has to wait for the Spud Snacks).
HANNAH: Hey, do you still have my skirt?
TAMMY: Why would I even have your skirt?
HANNAH: I lent it to you, like, ages ago. You totally still have it, can you just check?
TAMMY: You’ve probably lost it.
HANNAH: It’s really cute. Makes my legs look so hot, like really long.
TAMMY: Hot dog legs.
HANNAH: What? Gross.
TAMMY: When you take a photo of your legs, bent, they look like hot dogs. See it on Instagram, it’s a hash-tag.
HANNAH: People are totally weird. I wore it to the Rihanna concert, when she held the microphone out.
TAMMY: What did you sing?
HANNAH: No, she held it out for this fat girl who, like, couldn’t even sing, but it was only a couple of rows away from me, and anyway I really want my skirt back.
TAMMY: I’ll look for it.
HANNAH: You took it after work, like, ages ago. I totally know you have it, because I saw your Facebook pics, and you were wearing it and sitting with this like, tall guy and you were in someone’s house or garage or something and you were so wearing my skirt.
TAMMY: Stop looking at my Facebook, stalker.
HANNAH: It’s white with this, like pink and reddish sequin pattern thing on the side. Like, it probably doesn’t even fit now.
TAMMY: It wasn’t a garage, it was the cricket club, and I didn’t borrow it that long ago.
HANNAH: I knew you had it! Bitch. Yeah, I know, but I’m so fat these days. I’ve got a food baby, like all the time.
TAMMY: Oh my god, stop it. You’re not even fat. I’ll find it later. It’s probably in the laundry. I like to soak things.
HANNAH: Ew, what did you do to my skirt?
TAMMY: Nothing, I’m being a grown-up and washing things; I’m adulting so hard.
TAMMY: Just come and get it.
HANNAH: Keep it, wear it next Friday. I wanna wear these new pants I got with, like, these studs on them. I had to hide them, because Mum reckons they cost too much. Bring your top, the one with the kitten on it, you’ll totally let me wear it, yeah? You coming next Friday?
TAMMY: I dunno. Maybe.
HANNAH: You’ll know everyone.
TAMMY: Maybe, whatever. (Into her headset). Welcome to Captain Jester’s, may I take your order? I’m sorry, can you repeat that? Oh my god, I don’t think this guy wound down his window. Can you say that one more time? Maybe the machine is fucked, I’ll check.
(Tammy exits. Hannah plays with her phone. Nate and Lucas enter the restaurant and start messing with the mannequin; they grab its crotch, turn its head around, etc., all while taking photos on their phones. Conrad watches them. Hannah sees them and ignores them).
LUCAS: You reckon he’s got a dick?
NATE: Tiny balls.
LUCAS: Nah, probably got a vag down there.
LUCAS: You look.
(Nate looks down the mannequin’s pants).
NATE: Someone cut the Jester’s dick off!
LUCAS: Still fuckin’ horny though. Look at him, he wants it. You fuckin’ horny, hey Captain? You want some of this?
(Lucas humps the mannequin).
NATE: That’s what your mum said.
LUCAS: Nah, fuck you, it’s what your mum begs for. (Humping the mannequin). Take it Captain Jester, take it, take it, take it!
NATE: Don’t leave a stain.
LUCAS: He loves it.
NATE: You fuckin’ gay?
LUCAS: You wish I was fuckin’ gay.
NATE: Piss off.
LUCAS: Tag your mum in those photos.
NATE: Tag your dick, dick-head. (Approaching the counter). Hey, Hannah. Hannah? (She ignores them). Come on, we want food. I’ll pay this time, seriously.
TAMMY: (Re-entering). So, there’s this woman out there, fully pissed, reckon she’s been at the pub, and she’s got this screaming baby in the car … Fuck’s sake. Seriously, it’s the Curse of Captain Jester. (Seeing Nate and Lucas). You serving them?
HANNAH: Maybe, in a minute, whatever.
TAMMY: (Into her head set). Thank you for waiting ma’am, may I take your order?
LUCAS: Oh, for fuck’s sake.
HANNAH: Ergh. (To Tammy). Wanna swap?
TAMMY: Wait. (Into her head set). Ma’am? Ma’am … ? Gone. Bitch. Hope she gets pulled over.
(Tammy gives Hannah the headset).
NATE: You can’t ignore me forever. C’mon, I’ll shout you something. You hungry?
HANNAH: (To Tammy). If you come next Friday, I’ll totally buy the drinks.
TAMMY: Ha, with your totally awesome I.D?
HANNAH: It so looks like me!
TAMMY: It’s got a photo of some Asian girl on it.
HANNAH: We could so be related!
NATE: What’s happening next Friday?
LUCAS: Your mum’s happening next Friday.
TAMMY: (To Hannah). I might be taking another shift.
HANNAH: What, why?
TAMMY: Ah, because money, that’s why.
NATE: Hannah –
HANNAH: In a minute!
TAMMY: Why are you even talking about this now, it’s ages away.
HANNAH: Can you have some fun for a change? Please?
LUCAS: You showing off ya bras or something?
HANNAH: She’s serving you!
(Hannah turns her back on Nate and Lucas).
TAMMY: (To Nate and Lucas). Welcome to Captain Jester’s, may I take your order?
NATE: Is Hannah pissed with me?
TAMMY: I dunno.
NATE: I’m her cousin.
CLEOPATRA: And I’m Cleopatra.
MAGGIE: Cleo …
CLEOPATRA: Cleopatra, yes. She was the last active Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt –
MAGGIE: I know who she was.
CLEOPATRA: – and said to be quite beautiful.
MAGGIE: Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
CLEOPATRA: I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?
MAGGIE: Margaret. But I go by Maggie.
CLEOPATRA: Maggie, that’s a lovely name. So … earthy.
MAGGIE: My parents named me after Dame Maggie Smith. The extremely talented and famous actress.
CLEOPATRA: Oh. Your parents were rather hopeful.
MAGGIE: She’s won multiple awards. Including two Oscars.
CLEOPATRA: Of course, awards don’t really matter in the end, do they? What matters is the craft (Quoting). ‘The craft must teach us to shine through, in every bit of acting, we ever are to do.’
MAGGIE: Just make that up did you?
CLEOPATRA: No, it’s what my private acting teacher always says.
MAGGIE: I thought you said you taught drama?
CLEOPATRA: I do.
MAGGIE: And yet you still study it?
CLEOPATRA: ‘The craft is an ever evolving beast; from wings to gills when you suspect it least.’ Again, another quote from my teacher.
CLEOPATRA: Meaning that there is always something new about the craft we can learn.
MAGGIE: I guess it can feel that way, until one has confidence.
CLEOPATRA: ‘Never be confident in the craft, for the craft is never confident in you.’
MAGGIE: That’s another one from your teacher, I suppose.
CLEOPATRA: Yes, that’s another of Mrs Papillon’s pearls of wisdom.
MAGGIE: I’m sorry, Mrs Papillon’s … ?
CLEOPATRA: (Smug). Oh, do excuse me for not explaining! Mrs Papillon is my teacher.
MAGGIE: (Unable to keep the awe from her voice). Mrs Papillon is your teacher?
CLEOPATRA: My private teacher, yes.
CLEOPATRA: (With a toss of her hair). Yes, but of course I wasn’t actually able to become her student until I had passed a series of auditions. It was like a fairytale! Each audition more rigorous than the last.
MAGGIE: (Amazed). What are her classes like?
CLEOPATRA: Excruciating, my dear. Positively torturous. You can never guess when you’re going to be pulled up in front of the rest of the class, shown a series of photographs of cute, dead animals and made to cry. Mrs Papillon works by the method method of acting, you see. I think I’ve lost about ten kilograms since the year began; we are forced to reach into the very cores of our being and terrify the little children who live within. I love every minute of Mrs Papillon’s classes. I have learned so much, I have grown so much. Not just as an actor but as a human being. I have been ripped to shreds, had my heart and emotions served up to me on silver platters, devoured by fellow actors in a degustation menu of raw feeling. My physical self and my very soul have been cut to pieces with harsh words, and then, then when I felt I could deal with no more, I have been built up, rebuilt in fact, to become what you see before you now. This perfect piece of clockwork mechanics, strong enough to become any character, but still fragile and beautiful as a butterfly.
MAGGIE: (A tad intimidated). That’s … that’s incredible.
CLEOPATRA: (Dreamy). Yes. True actors are natural masochists and the theatre is our cruel but loving master.
MAGGIE: (Still with awe). But Mrs Papillon is a hero to most actors. She’s famous.
CLEOPATRA: Famous? Mrs Papillon is legendary. No other school is quite like hers.
MAGGIE: It must be amazing to learn from such a skilled performer.
CLEOPATRA: The experience cannot be explained in words.
MAGGIE: And what’s she like? What’s Mrs Papillon like?
CLEOPATRA: (A slight falter). Mrs Papillon?
MAGGIE: Yes. I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be in her presence. Is it incredibly intimidating?
CLEOPATRA: Oh, intimidating, yes –
MAGGIE: I’ve heard the greatest ones are always terrifying, that they’ll throw things at you if they can see you acting. But to stand before them is to stand before a god. Is that what she’s like?
CLEOPATRA: Well …
MAGGIE: Is she sympathetic, is she kind? Does she ever perform in front of you and demonstrate her immense skill? What she like?
CLEOPATRA: (Small, nervous laugh). Oh, well, I’ve never exactly met her. As such.
MAGGIE: Never met her … ?
CLEOPATRA: Not exactly met her.
MAGGIE: You said she was your teacher.
CLEOPATRA: And so she is!
MAGGIE: But you haven’t met her.
CLEOPATRA: But of course she does! I attend one of her highly distinguished acting schools and am trained hour upon hour by a qualified member of her teaching staff.
MAGGIE: But you haven’t ever met her?
CLEOPATRA: I have!
CLEOPATRA: (As though it’s a stupid question). Emotionally! Through her brilliant acting programs!
MAGGIE: (Scoffing). Through a textbook.
CLEOPATRA: You can hardly expect a great woman like Mrs Papillon to instruct the lessons she conceives. Where on earth would she find the time?
In the darkness, we can hear the night noises of the bush. Indistinct crunching sounds as unseen creatures roam. The occasional owl calls. Cicadas buzz for long stretches of time. The lights slowly rise.
I bury myself in the bush.
Splashing colour wild flowers.
Sweet smells rotten smells many many many smells.
Smooth pale tree trunks.
Twigs leaves bones of dead things scratch my skin.
Cool dirt in my pores.
I am swallowed by the red brown orange sweat red brown orange dust leaves sky heat sweating dirt wild orange sweat sweat sweat brown red dust burning buzzbuzzbuzz leaves twigs brown orange no humans nearby
(Linda pants. Once. Twice. Slowly at first. Then fast. Then slowly).
Ate a picnic with flies on the chicken sunburned scalps flaking skin flies on the chicken legs
chew it up. Eat eat.
(Singing). Shoo fly, don’t bother me …
Creatures biting. (She slaps her arm). Biting. (Slap). Biting. (Slap).
Fuck off insects.
It’s dark. I climb. Reach grab the branch reach grab the branch step reach grab branch pull reach pull step step reach reach reach SLIP
Reach step step pull reach up climbing pulling up
high and mighty gum tree.
In the dark.
Hazy white moon glowing.
I can reach it I can reach it.
Reach step grab climb step slip pull reach grab
Squash a bug
What else is in my high and mighty gumtree?
See hazy blue light from the moon the higher I climb the bigger it grows
bright in the dry Summer heat.
Six-legged things buzzbuzzbuzz.
Used to be scared not scared anymore.
Poisonous stinging secret things
I’m one of them.
Buried vertically up up up cold tree trunk dry hiding in the branches hiding in the leaves sitting in the warm air really really still and it’s just me in the leafy tree and the hard smooth branch beneath me
and in the bush all around things call out.
Things scream and eat and explore and devour and all through the night the bush is alive and it ignores me because I’m not really part of it
the moon is high
leaves in the wind
the wind softens
the moon is low
the sun appears
In the morning I don’t climb down.
Scare some tourists.
They yell at me in Spanish.
Fuck off tourists!
They give me money.
I look homeless.
I buy a coffee and a muffin and walk to my girlfriend’s house.
I walk. Walk. Stroll.
My streets. My town. My trees.
She pulls some leaf bits from my hair and doesn’t want to know about my up-high far away hot and orange bush grave.
Sally and James are having coffee with friends.
SALLY: The question isn’t whether or not there is something out there for the residents to be fearful of –
JAMES: Aside from the obvious lack of, you know, civilisation.
SALLY: The question is what is out there to make them think they need to be afraid?
: I’d like you to clarify what you mean by ‘civilisation’.
: Taking into account, of course, the rare, more than often unsubstantiated claims of sightings.
SALLY: The DNA testing –
JAMES: Traffic lights, cinemas, theatres, running water –
: Gippsland has running water.
: How long does it run before it runs clear?
: But you’re actually hoping to find something out there, aren’t you?
SALLY: Something? Yes. Something physical? (Pause). I think I might find something along the lines of a mass hysteria. But that in itself will open up lots of writing opportunities.
: I thought you might say a mass hallucination.
SALLY: Would you like to read my funding application? It will tell you exactly what I’m hoping to find.
SALLY: Something vague. But creatively open to interpretation.
: (Singing). But the cat came back, the very next day, they thought it was a goner, but the kitty came back … cos it wouldn’t stay away …
: Thanks for that.
: You got funding?
JAMES: I know, right? You’ve really got to question who’s looking at these funding applications. Money, straight in the bank account, to go and have a look at some feral cat shit. Then write about it. Sorry honey, but you’re not a scientist. Not that I’d say anything against pseudo non-fiction. Makes for a good page-turner.
SALLY: Can I be really honest? I’m looking forward to a holiday.
: Looking forward to roughing it?
: They call that something … slum/ming.
: Who calls it that?
SALLY: I’m not sleeping with any cowboys.
: Slumming is sleeping with cowboys?
: It’s fucking rough trade. My mum told me.
SALLY: I plan on fucking no one.
: Poor James.
SALLY: Sans James.
: You could both have a little fling.
JAMES: I do not fling. I romance. I woo. I seduce. I do not fling.
: Naw, sweet.
SALLY: I suppose.
: That’s romantic.
: You’re both taking time off work?
JAMES: / No.
SALLY: James isn’t working.
JAMES: I’m not employed. I don’t see the point of working for idiots in an idiotic job. I work for myself. When I choose to.
: Doing … ?
SALLY: There’s plenty out there for James to do. Apart from me.
: You think the B & B lady will let you bring creepy-crawlies inside the house?
JAMES: Melittologist. Specifically. No, actually more of an apiarist.
: Me/litt … ?
JAMES: Bees. My hobby is bees.
SALLY: He makes his own honey. Not him, he doesn’t make it, but we’ve got a little hive in the backyard that –
: Interesting hobby.
: He was making honey before it was cool.
JAMES: They’re my own little production line, all those busy girls.
: The land of milk and honey.
JAMES: I only want the honey.
SALLY: James gardens. He’s a bit of a gardener now.
JAMES: Have to keep my girls well-fed. Different flowers make different nectars, and different nectars for …
: Different honeys. It’s chemistry.
: And are you looking at making this a serious business, or … ?
JAMES: Would I bother to study creative writing if I was interested in serious business?
: Your writing is serious.
JAMES: That’s true.
SALLY: Very serious.
JAMES: We can’t all write about fictional animals, Beatrix Potter.
: Fictional animals causing death, murder and mayhem.
JAMES: I get that every time I read the news and do my research. What I’m interested in is the suffering human beings – apparently with morals, ethics and consciences – willingly inflict upon one another.
: All while gassing little bees and pilfering their honey.
JAMES: Smoke. I use smoke on my girls. Get them relaxed, stoned. Then I claim their honey. (Beat). In between sessions on the PlayStation.
SALLY: Which you’ll miss while we’re away.
: (Singing). Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been?
: (Singing). I’ve been to Gippsland, such nightmares I’ve seen.
: It’s actually quite beautiful down there. You’ll love it.
SALLY: Yeah, I’ve been before.
: See anything out / of the ordinary?
: Go to the wineries?
SALLY: I was eight.
: So no wineries.
SALLY: Oh no, we went to the wineries. My parents drank. I ate cheese.
: And why do you want to write a thesis on this … big cat … thing?
JAMES: Good question.
SALLY: It’s called a Phantom Cat. And … human interest … modern fairy tale … a new twist on old myths? Pick a reason.
: When will you start talking / to the locals?
: Did you watch any of those YouTube videos I sent you? The interviews with the farmers?
JAMES: (Singing the Duelling Banjos tune from Deliverance). Ding-ding-ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding-ding.
SALLY: I spoke to the woman from the Bed and Breakfast.
: What did she say?
SALLY: Sorry for the ants in the spa.
SALLY: And that the pub does a good palma and chips.
: Nothing about, ‘meow, meow, purr REOW! RIP YOUR FACE OFF, KILL KILL KILL!’
SALLY: There’s a local museum. Historic centre. I’ve booked an appointment to talk to the curator.
JAMES: Bet the curator is old Mrs Brown the school canteen lady.
: Speaking of old ladies Sally, what does your mum think about this?
SALLY: Oh, she’s fine. Really, she’s happy we’re getting away. And James has been so good, he really deserves the break.
JAMES: You make it sound as though your mother is hard work or something.
SALLY: Well …
JAMES: She’s been sick. That’s not work.
: Excellent son-in-law material right there.
SALLY: Ha, don’t tell her that.
SALLY: You know, getting nagged to marry is the last thing on James’ mind.
JAMES: I like your mum’s nagging. Shows she cares.
SALLY: She cares because you care.
JAMES: Helps having someone there to ask the right questions. Sally’s Mum trusts me to ask.
SALLY: He’s practical.
JAMES: Sally can get emotional. Fair enough, hospitals are a bit scary. there’s a lot of pressure in / there with –
: It was a zoo, wasn’t it?
: I mean circus? That dumped the big cat?
SALLY: Or the American troops. But there are stories dating back from long before World War Two, which is why people like the circus theory.
: So not a Nazi conspiracy then?
SALLY: I said American troops.
: Yeah, but still.
: But we do know, for sure, that if they were brought in there was definitely more than one.
: How do we know that?
SALLY: These cats are supposed to be big, fit, healthy –
: – killers.
SALLY: If they were decades old, which I suppose is possible – if they weren’t fictional – they’d be sick, frail, decrepit –
SALLY: And it wouldn’t be possible that they’d still be alive after a hundred years or more –
: Tortoises can live for up to two hundred years, can’t they?
: Ah yes, the urban legend of the deadly Gippsland Tortoise.
: But why does all that mean that – from the start – there’d have to be more than one?
SALLY: Possibly more than three.
SALLY: Because if they are there, they’re young and fit predators.
: / Hello?
: / Oh my god.
: They’re supposed to have bred.
SALLY: Generations of pumas, cougars, panthers, whatever they are, living in the Australian bush.
: Bloody Americans! Over-paid, over-sexed and over here!
JAMES: (Singing the next phrase of the Duelling Banjos). Ding-ding, ding-ding-ding, ding-ding-diiiiing …
: I find your inference that small town folk are backwards to be quite insulting. Actually.
: (Southern accent). Grab your guns and tell ma to get the moonshine out, we gonna have us a pussy-cat barbecue!
: I found a cat once.
: Did you eat it?
: I gave it to the woman down the street. She had lots. I thought it was ’cause she liked cats, but now I’m thinking, ‘if you like them so much, why have so many that you don’t even know their names?’ you know?
: Actually, my dad made me give it to her. He said, ‘give it to someone else’, and that lady down the street … I literally just dropped it over her fence. She had a high fence. I relied on the fact that cats always land on their feet. Nine lives. (Pause). Anyway, after she was dead they found her before the cats did too much damage.
: James, if you’re interested in human suffering, it doesn’t get any more real than the outback.
JAMES: And thank you, Crocodile Dundee.
: Do you know how many people go missing in the bush every year? Or people wondering off into the desert and just never being found?
: Plenty of places to hide a body.
: It’s a serial killer’s wet dream.
SALLY: And nature doesn’t discriminate because we’re human. Nature looks at us and thinks, ‘fair game’. Wild animals aren’t going to stop before they eat us just because we have one hundred points of I.D and a witty Tinder profile. My mum is a point in case. She’s human, but it doesn’t stop nature from attacking her, albeit on a microscopic level. She’s still an animal, so nature is still …
(Beat. James holds Sally’s hand).
SALLY: I can only explain it poetically. James is good at the science side.
JAMES: Scientifically speaking, we’re fighting nature with nurture.
: That’s still poetic.
JAMES: Synthetics. Medicines. Some of those doctors have great bed-side manners, too.
: Illness is awkward.
: If there are big cats in Gippsland they’ve got an appetite for more than cows and sheep.
: How’s that?
SALLY: Oh, it’s gross, but sometimes … bodies have been found. Tourists mostly, or sometimes they’ve tested the blood-alcohol level of the corpse and it’s been high. So some locals say that the Phantom Cat had a little snack, but the SES argue that drunk people have just fallen into old gold mines –
: Gets pretty lonely in the country.
SALLY: And things do scavenge, in the bush. So if the bodies have evidence of … well, cadavers are carrion, aren’t they?
: That is gross.
: Little Red Riding Hood, wondering off the path.
JAMES: I thought we weren’t meant to victim blame.
JAMES: A woman has the right to walk wherever, yes? Through Melbourne at midnight, her local park early morning, the desert at high noon or the bush when the sun is setting. A woman has the right.
: God, James.
SALLY: Don’t rise. Don’t take the bait.
JAMES: And if she’s never found again, it’s not her fault.
: There’s a bit of a difference / between –
JAMES: I know, I know. I read the news. I know.
SALLY: Guilty secret? I’m actually hoping I do see some cats in the wild. It’ll be really interesting.
JAMES: Cats have been domesticated since Egyptian times, honey. Man is their rightful master. (Shrugs). Only natural.
SALLY: I’m looking forward to a holiday. You know, my fur has actually been falling out?
SALLY: Oh my god, hair. Fucking cat talk … and I can’t eat, my appetite / just seems to have –
: That’s normal. We all lose about ninety hairs a day, my hairdresser says.
SALLY: I can’t focus. I mean, I can’t sit still. Literally, I tried and it was physically impossible. Yeah, I’m looking forward to having some time away.
: And writing the thesis of course.
SALLY: Of course.
: Room in your suitcase?
SALLY: For what?
: For me?
JAMES: Can we maybe change the subject now? (Beat). No offence, honey.
SALLY: I think I prefer the story of the circus.
: (Reading off their phone). BuzzFeed. Eighty-two Astounding Facts About Cats. (As If We Needed More Reasons to Love Them).
A group of cats is called a clowder.
Cats have over twenty muscles that control their ears.
Cats sleep seventy percent of their lives.
A cat has been mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, for fifteen years. His name is Stubbs.
In the dark, we hear the noises of the bush. Cicadas and other insects, ticking, buzzing. The rustlings of hoppy things in the brush. As the sun slowly rises, the animals wake up, starting with the birds. Magpies and kookaburras call, cows low in the distance. The light is already warm and orange in the early hours of the day as James, Linda and Sally, enter. Linda shows Sally and James through the chalet of her Bed and Breakfast in Gippsland. A window is broken, glass all over the floor. There is silence for a minute, broken only by the sound of crunching glass beneath their shoes, and the intense sounds of the bush. Pause.
LINDA: This hasn’t happened before. Oh god, I’m sorry, that sounds like the ultimate cliché. ‘This hasn’t happened before.’ (Beat). But it hasn’t.
JAMES: Nothings been taken. It looks like. Has anything been taken?
LINDA: Am I using that word right. Cliché?
SALLY: Irony would fit too. I think.
JAMES: Nothing has, has it?
SALLY: Just looks a bit trashed.
LINDA: No, nothing. Nothing is actually gone. It’s more the invasion of … the trespassing. They don’t think, do they? How it might make you … but then, maybe they do and that’s why they do it. I can guess who it would be. I mean, I can hazard a guess who it would be.
JAMES: Is your place okay?
LINDA: Mine? Oh, it’s Fort Knox over there. That’s right, isn’t it? Fort Knox? The place where – oh, that’s not to say this chalet isn’t secure, but they’ve smashed the window, so …
SALLY: Don’t stress.
LINDA: There’s a glass place in town. Not an O’Brien’s. The alarm at the main house cost an arm and a leg.
JAMES: So. Vandalism.
LINDA: But it was the previous owner who – oh, yes. It usually just is vandalism. I haven’t made the beds in the other chalets.
SALLY: Who do you think it was?
LINDA: I’d move you to another chalet, but the plumbing – oh, I don’t like to say, in case I was wrong. Wouldn’t be fair. But I can hazard a guess. (Beat). Plumbing. It’s the bane. You know: ‘bane of one’s existence.’ I’d worry the flush wouldn’t work.
JAMES: The O’Brien’s?
LINDA: Not an – (Singing) – O, O, O … O’Brien’s! – god, advertising, don’t you hate it? Yes, the glass people can have it done. They’re very good. Took out an ad in the Local last month. Do cars, too.
(Sally is unpacking. Linda sees their wine bottles).
LINDA: Oh, we’ve got white but not red glasses.
SALLY: Tastes the same out of a mug, really.
LINDA: (Grabbing the glasses from the cupboard). They only ever smash windows. If it’s them.
SALLY: Maybe later. Thanks.
JAMES: Sounds like they’re trouble. Whoever they are.
LINDA: (Pouring wine). Bored teens. There’s a few of them who – but I’m just hazarding a guess.
JAMES: (Taking a wine). Little shits.
LINDA: They’re bored. (Beat). So, I printed off a list of the good places nearby to eat. I know a really nice vegetarian place. I’m trying to go vego. Just have so much guilt about the death.
SALLY: Kids get bored. Everywhere.
LINDA: Even so much in the city? With those skate parks, and things? Mind you, not that there’s absolutely nothing for them to do around here. I paint.
JAMES: You’re an artist?
LINDA: I paint. There are plenty of little clubs around for all sorts of things. Painting, theatre, hiking … but I suppose you have to be of a certain age to really enjoy any of it. (Beat. She looks at the pillows on the bed). Oh, would you believe it? They took the chocolate mints.