A rich smear of first light autumn sun pushed past the big gum on the eastern ridge, poured across the lambing paddock, swept aside the half-closed curtains, and rudely made itself known through Natalie Giancoli’s defiant, drawn eyelids. Too early. The gig wasn’t for hours. Six o’clock, Main Concert Stage, Port Fairy Folk Festival. Six o’clock, Main Stage! She turns away from the window, “Get back to sleep, you goose…”, But the air is loaded, silent. She can’t sleep. Something is - missing.
Eyes still closed, she realises, “Where’s the morning magpie chorus? My alarm never fails…” Uneasy, she opens one eye, two… John is sleeping sweetly, soundly - and… Silently? He doesn’t have his chainsaw snore roaring. “And I can’t even sleep in celebration… That’d be right!”
She pads down the carpeted hall, and feels strangely claustrophobic, like the walls are pushing in. “Kids are quiet too… And no bawling from Sally and her calf yet. Maybe I will get the fiddle out after all.” She knows that cramming isn’t much use for anything but settling the nerves. But this is a big one. At twenty-seven, this fiddler-come-farmer has finally cracked her local festival. Her four-piece band is hot, and after twenty years, her fiddle - John calls it her third arm - is finally feeling like a dear friend. The repertoire is a fierce challenge though… Arrangements she has crafted with her trademark - stratospherically high expectations. “Yep… Time to practice.”
Walking into the kitchen, she notices an unfamiliar whine through her foggy morning head, and blames the dodgy fridge. She kicks the kettle into gear, and reaches for her favourite mug… Life is a song. It is only when she sits the mug on the counter does she realise. She bangs it down harder, and her heart falls into her feet. She can barely hear a sound. That miserable little sniffle that she was passing off as hay fever… “I can’t hear”, she says aloud, loud in her head.
Natalie turns and walks over to her fiddle, still sitting on the dining table after last night’s session - shoulders it, and flicks her left fingers across the strings. It’s a movement natural as breathing, but this breath holds no oxygen. She looks down the neck - the four heart-strings - and watches an infinite array of nuanced notes fade away, falling like leaves into a bleak murky scrub. She cries. She sends five identical texts - the band, and the festival director - turns her phone off, and hides it in the desk drawer. She throws on her coat and boots at the back door, and heads out to milk… “Welcome to my nightmare Sal.”