All Things Considered
She pulled open the door, stepped into the heady warmth of the Malthouse Theatre foyer and made her way across to the table where the rest of the circus performers were seated. ‘Hello, Ashleigh,’ she was greeted, ‘Pull up a chair and sit down. You look exhausted.’
‘Tell me about it,’ she put her backpack on the floor and took off her coat, glancing at the menu board to see what she could afford to eat.
‘How did it go today?’ someone asked.
‘It went well. We were up on our stilts being the Bitches From Hell for about an hour. The football crowd seemed to enjoy it from what I could make out.’
However, they’d all decided that the Dog’s heads needed to be made lighter in some way. It was too much of a strain holding their necks bent with the heavy heads on like that for so long. Was it any wonder she was tired? Wearily rubbing her neck she went to order some pumpkin soup and salad.
Maybe if she just sat quietly for awhile and relaxed she’d be okay. The first act wasn’t so bad. Apart from the group balances, which weren’t really all that strenuous, the ritual she did in the foyer and the lantern routine were quite straightforward. It was the finale she was most worried about. Or more specifically the bit where the other woman manoeuvred herself onto Ashleigh’s shoulders from a handstand position.
Not an easy balance to do at the best of times let alone in her present condition. What if she stumbled at the crucial moment and catapulted the other woman into the audience? Not a good look.
Then again, worrying about it wasn’t going to get her anywhere. Ignoring the conversations going on around her she sipped her soup and concentrated on restoring her much depleted energy levels.
‘Hello Mum. Just leaving you a message to let you know that our flight is due out of Tullamarine on the Wednesday after next at seven forty-five and that we’ll be at your place at about six-thirty on Friday. See you then. Bye.’
‘Congratulations! I hear you’re one of the lucky ones chosen to go Beijing and that you all raised enough money to send thirteen woman altogether. That’s fantastic!’ the other woman raised her glass in salute.
Having repeated this same story to several woman at the party already Ashleigh was pleased to hear that someone else had been there before her this time. ‘The fundraising concerts were even more successful than we expected,’ she agreed, and the money from the government had made all the difference. After all the traumas of the past few weeks with woman on and off the list again depending on their projected finances it was a relief to have made the final selection at last.
‘I really enjoyed the concert at the Malthouse too, by the way. I thought you all did a magnificent job of pulling such a diverse range of performers and circus acts together like that. And Joan excelled herself, of course. A pity she’s not still the Premier, when you think about it.’
In more ways than one, ‘Mind you, I think she’s a lot more on-side nowadays than she ever was as a politician. I wouldn’t wish those sorts of compromises and double dealings on anyone, especially a woman. She’s better off out of it, if you ask me.’ How anyone in their right mind could support such a parliamentary system, recalling to mind the bits of Order in the House she’d seen on telly recently, was utterly beyond her.
Ashleigh was sitting at one of the tables at the recently opened women’s pub reading the latest copies of the Melbourne Star Observer and Brother/Sister. She’d skimmed through them once and was halfway through reading the reviews in SpinOut before anyone else bothered to arrive for the meeting.
‘I was just about to give up and go home,’ she said as she closed the paper. That there was little or no interest in Melbourne in supporting a lesbian specific presence at the Beijing Forum had surprised her initially a few months ago. Now she expected it. At least this way they got through the agenda items for discussion fairly quickly.
Ashleigh eased the muscles in her shoulders. She’d been in front of the computer for hours and the tension in her neck and upper back was bordering on chronic at this late stage of the afternoon but she didn’t want to stop now. And if she hurried she’d still be able to be at the woman’s pub half an hour early, as she’d promised.
Shit, the pain shooting across her shoulder blade and down her arm didn’t augur well for the circus training workshop in the morning. With Beijing coming up she certainly didn’t want any kind of injury at this point in time. She’d have considered giving the workshop a miss altogether except she had the publicity interview with the media straight after it and was then relying on a lift after that to get out to where they were keying in the remainder of the circus book they hoped to have on the publisher’s desk by the end of the month.
It had surprised her somewhat while researching this article just how long, involved and energy consuming their processes in getting to Beijing had actually been. In hindsight, of course, it appeared they could have managed a whole lot better than they had to avoid all the grief nearly everyone had gone through in one way and another. But that was often the way of it, she supposed, muddling along in the best way they knew how and hoping it would all work out eventually.
‘What’s your opinion about the girlcott?’ Ashleigh was asked as she was being driven to the nearest convenient tram stop on the way home. It was almost ten o’clock and after several hours in front of the computer at the circus book meeting the pain in her neck and across her shoulders was worse than ever. Not too surprisingly.
A good question. Did she mean apart from the fact that Ashleigh’s lover worked there, Ashleigh wondered? ‘It’s all very well calling a girlcott but who calls them off, that’s what I’d like to know?’ The query had surprised her. She was under the impression that the industrial relations issues had been resolved. Obviously not.
Say what you like about the lesbian community, Ashleigh mused, as she waited for the tram, it was nothing if not particularly critical when it came to any of its members fucking up in any way. In fact, the way the woman’s pub had been going lately it perhaps showed the not inconsiderable power the lesbian community had for ruining a business when they put their minds to it. Why they had to do it to each other though when there were any number of patriarchal businesses out there doing far worse things to woman was the pity of it, in Ashleigh’s opinion.
‘Hello, my darling, how are you? What sort of a day have you had?’
‘I went to see Whoopi Goldberg playing a dyke in Boys On the Side this afternoon, because it suddenly struck me today that my daughter is leaving the country in less than two week’s time and the thought of not being able to see her for another three years at least is depressing the hell out of me at the moment.’
‘I thought that might be the case. Can I do anything? Do you want me to come over tonight?’
‘No, I’d rather be miserable on my own but thanks for offering anyway.’ Not only that, her glasses has broken that morning. Not a good beginning to the day.
The table was just big enough for all six of them (a long time since she’d had six people to dinner) to sit around comfortably. The conversation inevitably turned to the circus.
‘How come the circus accepted money from the Liberal government anyway?’ her son wanted to know, ‘What sort of a compromise is that, may I ask?’
‘Look on it as your taxes at work on something you approve of, for a change,’ Ashleigh replied, ‘Besides, it was the difference between only a few of us going or twice that number.’ But he was right. It was much simpler hating the Liberals than having to thank them, ‘The more money we can get the easier it will be.’ With another couple of fundraisers still to go and still a hell of a lot of T-shirts to sell, ‘That’s why we also agreed to do the paid gig for the footy club.’
‘That’s the other thing. I never thought I’d live to see the day when my mother was entertaining a crowd at the football. Wonders will never cease.’
‘As a Dog too,’ her daughter added.
‘I wasn’t going to mention that,’ said her son with a grin.
It was the circus information day and they’d broken into small groups to discuss relevant matters of interest to report back to the gathering as a whole.
‘I’m sorry but I can’t perform at the women’s pub,’ one of the woman was saying. The girlcott was still on and with good reason as far as she was concerned.
Within minutes it was scrapped as the venue for the fundraiser in August as other, supposedly ideologically sounder venues were mooted as possibilities.
That’d be right, thought Ashleigh, as she sat there stunned and unprotesting, letting it all wash over and around her. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. Given she’d been the one to book the venue in the first place it was as if she’d just been accused of having stepped over a picket line.
Having just spent a frustrating hour arguing the case for including the article written by a Koori friend about racism in the forthcoming lesbian journal, it wasn’t till she’d left the editorial meeting and was rushing off to catch the bus so she could be out at the airport to see her daughter off on the plane, (not something she was looking forward to, by any means), that Ashleigh recalled that it was the National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Observance Committee week. To add insult to injury.
‘’I know the group is closeted,’ it was after the pre-Beijing circus meeting and Ashleigh had rung the woman’s pub to speak to her lover who had continued to work behind the bar, despite everything, ‘but I do find it rather ironical that we will be at an International Forum to talk about the fact that woman’s rights are human rights and we’re not allowed to say that we’re lesbians. Or at least most of us are. Which point didn’t go down all that well when I mentioned it tonight, I don’t suppose I need tell you. Why do I bother to push the point when I know the lesbophobic attitudes that many lesbians have as far as being out in public is concerned, that’s what I’d like to know?’ In fact, she’d argued the case for being out so many times with other lesbians over the years she was tired of it.
‘Because, my darling, that’s who you are and that’s how it is, and it’s no use getting upset about it. Just concentrate on what you need to do for yourself and work through the group dynamics as best you can as you go along, okay?’
All Ashleigh could hope for, she decided, at this exhausted stage of her life was that all this running herself ragged, in more ways than one, in order to get to the biggest gathering of women the world had ever seen, was bound to be worth it.
© Jean Taylor 2015