The Last Line (Beth McMullen : Obstinate Little Tart)

“Excuse me.”
I look up. I’m zero words into a five hundred word short story, which means…any interruption is perfectly welcome.

“Do you know you look like David Marr?”

I’m laughing now. At the woman waving her debit card. She was about to buy a coffee and has mistaken me.  For David. 

Not David my twin brother. But David Marr. The journalist and author. 

“You’re the second person that’s said that to me,” I reply. “Although I can’t hold pen or quill or keyboard to him (or something).” Well that last was what I meant to say. 

You see I was meant to be writing. At Writers Bloc, 107 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW. 5th September, 2019.

And I’m telling Beth McMullen, she with the identikit eye about the first time. In Canberra, where a random man accosted and accused me of being David Marr. 

And I said he was happier than me. For he had left News Limited, for the Guardian, I think.

Unlike me. I was doing the gig from hell. Well one of them. I make sure that I leave that bit out. You see I don’t want to say much about me. 

After introducing herself Beth says she’s doing a show. Here. Tonight.

“That’s me in the poster over there,” she says.”The Crying Girl.”

I don’t say anything. Yes that’s her alright. But her show isn’t called the Crying Girl. It’s called something else which I can’t read.

“What it’s about?” I ask.

Always get other people talking about themselves, I remember. Then they won’t find anything about you. Yeah Nah. 

“Tragedy and Comedy.”

“Dramedy perhaps?” I think. But like the sixth sentence, I only thought of that later.

I write my five hundred words. Quite an odd assortment of words as it turns out. One on a canine career change. The other on how to defuse a Hollywood bomb!

And I think why not?

The last time anything like this happened was in Brisbane. A random told me about the Laramie Project. “Sort of like an oral history?” I asked at the time. “Go and see for yourself,” was the reply.

I did and was completely emotionally numbstruck. And probably was the only straight person there. But no one disowned me… And maybe something might happen. Thought dismissed, I say to myself. Nothing ever does. 

So I break open my debit card…$15.00, one ticket, Beth McMullen in Obstinate Little Tart. And that thought is still scratching at me. All the way in on the train. 

I arrive after 8:30 and before 8:45. Almost the only one there. Until everyone turns up ten minutes before. Now I can hide in the crowd.

9:00pm now and a little after that, we all file in. I chose a chair down the back. I want to stay unobtrusive.

Beth McMullen appears. With her backers : the three highlighters : pink, white and yellow.

She starts off almost unobtrusively. She describes how she was named Beth. And from that she fashions her journey.

And for forty minutes, she proceeds to tell us of the bumps, bruises and her nearly broken heart. Usually preceded by a word or two written on the wall.

“You obstinate little tart,” she says. I’d never say that but I felt it. For they’re hardly the words you’ expect from a loving parent. More like one who sees the child as a threat. But that’s my take at the time. 

And I listen as it all unravels. And listen as it all becomes clear.

And I’m numbstruck again. Not homosexuality and hate crimes in Laramie Wyoming. But patriarchy and its emotional price line played out in northern NSW. And Beth’s journey back. Similar to mine but different too.

Let me put it this way. If you’re a man, and you see Obstinate Little Tart, it will make you uncomfortable. And you know what? You should be. As I said to someone afterwards.

Which should have been the easy post script.

Show’s end I’m out. I’ve left. I’m about to go. I’m heading one way and I see Beth. Heading the other way. Towards me.

I think this would be a great time to become unobtrusive.
But remember. I look like David Marr. Still. And I’m recognised.

“Courage…vulnerability,” I think I said to her.

I continue, “The hardest part is not to pass on what happens to you to others…” So much for being unobtrusive. So much for saying nothing about yourself.

Beth nods. I haven’t said what I meant. Then it happens, unbidden, uncalled for and unforced. 

“The curse stops with me.”

And Beth McMullen wordless now thanks to me, is just staring at me.  

“Oh no. I’ve done it now. I’ve said the wrong thing.” Or the other thought appears…perhaps I’ve happened on the perfect set of words.

And Beth answers, “That was the last line.”

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