Not scared, no. Not David Broughton. He dodges alarms, and shimmies down three floors from the top dorm window, wedged shoulder to heel ‘tween the brick columns - risking dorm-master’s wrath, and more. Three months at Catholic boarding school, and David has already worn a pre-dawn pilgrim’s path to the music room. No key… Crack the fly-screen, jemmy the window, pull it all in behind - and play guitar. After two years of make-do on the farm, this critical instrument mass generates gravitational waves, dragging him in - from two hundred miles away… No fear.
He had enrolled in HSC music, but then ran to chemistry in fear of weekly performance. Now, his driven delusions - “I must be mad” - have brought him back to music - and today, he plays. He will perform for the whole class… For Sally Carberry. “Yes - I may have given her the impression that I could play… That when I hit these damned strings, that something approaching music would come out. I mean - it won’t be her beautiful Baroque flute pieces. What - does she think I had a guitar teacher hiding up the back paddocks? Now - If only I knew what to play… How to play. Not that I’m scared… ” Not half.
There are limitations to these off-the-record solo sessions in the music room. A perambulating ghost-robed Brother is likely to emerge from the mist - so it’s no lights, no heat. The infinite dark is no problem - if the drum-kit is where it should be. But river-flat frost flows both sides the room’s fibro shell, and David’s fingers are icy sharp. Today, his gut is colder still at the thought of playing in front of his mate, Sal. Fingers push painfully at performance pieces, while the creeping dawn offers only teasing warmth. Frozen moments. And of course - there can be no sound above the unplugged Ibanez solid-body, and fingers searching for coherence. He is driven to play, beyond reason… “So, how the fuck does it come as such a shock that people will hear me? That Sally - will hear me?” Bound, and gagged.
Time is still… Still the sun inches higher. First light through river-bend gums - in the back window, illuminating a sheared-sharp beam of dancing alien dust-beings - his jitter-flitting audience. He stops for their applause, and time starts… “Missed breakfast again” - his iceberg gut growls, hungry in response. Shaking his head… Every note is sour, muffed. He shapes his hand on neck, on strings - but - nothing. Now HE is frozen. Time ticks towards music class at nine. He is looking vacantly at Sally’s empty chair, not six feet away - and shrivelling to a dust mote, as the shadow guitar grows up the wall, a giant gnarly River Gum.
The faintest shake of the door…
Key scrape - metallic click - and the reluctant stiff-lock slow grind… Loud.
“What the… !”
No time to run, nowhere to hide… It’s bluff time. He steals himself, and hits down hard on the guitar, no longer worried about noise. He falls into a chugging honky-blues riff, and the door cracks. “Suspension? Expulsion? And his folks scraping pennies to finish his education.” The riff takes a swagger and growl. “That’d be right… Busted, just as I mine music gold.”
“What the… Davo?” Sally Carberry, flute under arm - freshly showered, rugged in winter uniform - soft sun haloed…
David breathes again, “Oh - you’re kidding! Hey, Sal.”
“What the fuck are you doing in here?”
Eyes to the flute, “Same as you, reckon.”
“Yes, Davo… “ She flicks the switch, sending him flouro-blind - he throws his forearm across his eyes. “But I have one of these.” She swings the key around on it’s loop of wool, and slides it at him across the desk. “Now - WE have it.”
He’s relieved, “Yeah, well - thanks… But - you know - where there’s a will…”
“I don’t want to know.” Sally likes David. He blew into school like a southerly change on a cracking hot day. But he’s loaded, dangerous. “So - bit nervous about the performance, are we?”
“Nah - WE - are just jamming - you know… “
“Cool. So, what are you going to play this morning?” She sits on the drum stool.
“I dunno… Something will come.”
Provoking now. “Come on - let’s hear it.”
David is backed into a corner, and comes out swinging, “Well, I won’t be doing a cover of some dude, a thousand years dead - that’s for sure.”
Sally now catches his insecurity. She’s stung, and throws a counter-punch, “So, what WILL you be playing?”
“I told you… Something will happen. I’ll…“, he shapes the academic word, “…IMPROVISE - man.” Smirking weak, staggering.
She’s landing blows, “So - IMPROVISE - now”, a tidy, sharp straight left. But she is not unkind, and is burning curiosity.
David leans the guitar against the still-quiet amp. “Nah - nah - I’m done… “, standing now, “All yours.”
“What? David Broughton - chicken?” Right cross to the jaw… Jelly legs and standing count. He starts swinging haymakers…
“Well, at least I don’t sound like some pale fuckin’ imitation…”
“…throwback to some wiggier time…”
“I’ll hear it in class.”
“…with my head up some HandelBachBrahms sonata-arse.”
She ends his misery, “You’ve got nothing, hey?”
He’s bleeding on canvas, no ideas - but one…
“I’ve got nothing.” David picks up the guitar, and recovers enough front to flick the amp switch - CLICK - and crackle-hum swells… “Well…“ He hits a low A, it feeds back in a groan, “I’ve got this…“, and he winds into his honky-tonk blues shuffle.
Sally laughs, “What - the hell - is that?” It’s filthy, funky - and fierce.
Stung by the laugh, David’s only option is to keep playing. “Just - a mongrel little riff… “ And he finds a laugh. He’s off the canvas. Somewhere behind this riff is his new awareness of deep dark delta blues. Sally shivers, nervous at the naked expression of despair. Unable to look straight at that feeling, they are running under cover of laughter - teens in a boxer’s clinch. “Just a mongrel black dog, walkin’ on down the road… “ Over blues changes, he strings rhyme-crimes pulled from childhood Lawson, and his ‘Loaded Dog’. Sal laughs, and puts the drum kit exactly where it should be… KICK, SNARE, KICK KICK, SNARE. David is flying now - off, and running. They don’t notice the small blue-uniformed crowd gathering, dancing on the music room verandah. “Well the mongrel black dog ain’t got no soul at all.” The Ibanez howls on “soul”, Sally and David howl laughs, and the verandah-mosh yodels. “Well, the mongrel black dog got hit by a fuckin’ great truck!” BANG - stop… Crying with laughter, verandah cheering - and the school bell - RING RING. They walk to assembly.
“Yeah - too bad you can’t sing THAT in class.”
“I bet I can, Sal.”