There wasn't a mad rush to the food tables, more of a casual shift of attention that gathered steam as people started loading up their plates. When we meandered our way there, we had to wait in a queue. Tracy made a show of publically giving me a card from Martha. I guess I had my invitation.
I was curious as to how come Martha ended up running things so I asked Tracy.
She laughed and said “This community has been doing this for years. I joined accidentally when I wanted to be close to Steph but incognito, so bought the houseboat and moved here. I met Martha when I was volunteering at 23 (23 was the nickname for the Home). I brought her here because I enjoyed it so much. She had a great time but the disorganisation was driving her crazy. There was no set time and even the day varied, sometimes is was a Friday or Saturday. No one checked the weather, food and drink was sometimes available. If enough dead wood could not be found locally it had to end early. She started a very subtle campaign. I swear, that woman could end up Prime Minister and no one would quite work out how she did it, it would just be a natural progression. She chatted, made friends and worked out what everybody could offer. Slowly, it became what it is today. Everybody contributes, but what they give, fits with what they are happy to. Whether it is finding enough firewood, making the torches” she gestured to these sort of candles on a stick that were set out in a wider circle but hadn't been lit yet, “serving or cooking the food, providing entertainment. It all fits, like a clever puzzle that just needed her hands to put it all together.”
The drinks were provided by someone who worked at a local drink company and could get the rejects cheap. You had to pick up a can and sort of weigh it to see if it had enough to be worth opening. Still, I wasn't complaining, the food was filling, the drink nice and the company and atmosphere, great.
As it became dark, the fire and torches were lit and the entertainment began. There were about 30 people there with about 7 children of various ages and they started it. They were telling jokes. Some were better than others, but we clapped for all of them and the kids were beaming. Then a young man tried to tell some. His were better although he struggled with the pressure of the audience. I was enjoying it until I started to remember that I had agreed to sing and the anticipation of that was ramping up my anxiety. I closed my eyes and went back to imagery of my bath and found I could find my calm place without too much trouble, so I tried to let my worries go and just enjoy myself.
Next up were a pair of jugglers. They started on their own and then tossed between themselves. It was hardly cirque du soleil, not that I had seen them, but good amateurs who were having fun. The cutest thing was a 5 year old girl, in a ballerina costume, doing the hula hoop, whilst everyone clapped. I thought her grin was going to split her head in half.
Then the musicians started. An old man on a harmonica doing a blues tune, then a young man with a guitar singing his own songs. Some adults were dragged by their daughters to have someone to dance with. He did 3 songs and got lots of applause.
Tracy tapped me on my shoulder. “Is it OK if we go next?”
“Umm, can I close my eyes and you tap me when you want me to start?”
“I'll start and then pause to let you in, is that alright?”
“That would be great.”
Tracy started off loudly, I think to grab everyone's attention, then more mellow and then really soft, so you had to strain to hear. This really quietened the background murmur to almost nothing. It also helped me find my peaceful place. Still with my eyes closed, I waited for her pause and then began Fields of Gold. Whilst I was singing, to me, there was no audience, my eyes were closed and I was back with my father as a child playing in a field of sunflowers. It was one of the reasons I loved the song so much, it was sort of bittersweet. Sad, but in a good way, reminding me of happy times.
At the end, I was still in my zone, but aware enough to realise there was none of the usual cheering. I didn't have a chance to think about it. Tracy quickly led the way to Songbird and I was back in my serene space. I used to sing Songbird to my father after we knew, that he was going. He didn't stop fighting. We never admitted it, but he was only getting worse, so there came a point that we knew, there would be no happy ending. I could feel tears running down my face as I was singing. I finished to absolute silence.
Before I opened my eyes I heard Steph next to me. “I can't follow that.” Then she lifted me out of the chair and hugged me. Then people started clapping and just got louder and louder. I felt all embarrassed so I stayed with my head buried in Steph until the noise quietened down. “Please Steph, I would like to hear you.”
Steph started warming up with a few scales, before starting some classical music. I have no idea what it was, but it was peaceful and calming. It helped me relax again. I know I was getting a lot of stares. I didn't meet anybodies eyes and tried to concentrate on Steph and her music, which was beautiful. While she was playing, the five year old ballerina, Ellie, came to me. She just walked up to me with her arms open. I held her in my lap and cuddled her, or more accurately, she cuddled me. She fell asleep at some point so I just stayed still, enjoying her presence. Her parents checked up on her, but when I said I didn't mind, left her with me until it was time to go.
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