Set Fire To Your Birthday

Birthdays are only as good as the last Adele song you’ve listened to recently. Eating crispy skin chicken with vegetables (perfect ketones dinner) a week before I declare my last year over and done with, I ponder my journey from my home town to now over a Sav Blanc, served in a cheap glass at the China Bar on Brunswick street, comforted by the fact that the chicken is bloody tasty.

The last decade has gone fast, just like a good pop song I decide, over in 3 minutes.  Adele’s voice on radio fills the Chinese kitchen, smoke billowing towards the ceiling, spilling into the restaurant. If this is to be, I think to myself, my last birthday before I set fire to it, would I be happy with the songs I’ve sung? Would I be satisfied with those I have loved ? And the art I’ve left behind? No I would not be happy, or fulfilled I believe, tugging the crispy skin clean off the chicken leg with my teeth just as Adele finishes Rolling in the Deep. This realisation of my scars draws my attention to two young hipsters seated on the table beside me, the boy wearing a Nervo T-Shirt and the girl wearing a flowered jacket. Seated together in total silence, they finish off a large plate of sizzling beef just as the waitress snatches my bones away…chicken bones that is, removing my plate from the table.

As I leave, pulling my hoodie over my head, I notice all the people in the restaurant on Friday at 9.30pm are… coupled. I am the only one alone? How’d that happen? But, is this what I want? Silence over sizzling beef, coupledom over cheap Chinese chop sticks? Is this what I dream of? Nervo, flower power jackets served up on a hot bed of white boiled rice? I decide there and then it’s too early in night to answer my eternal questioning, so I cowardly push all thoughts aside. I pay my bill and I leave, thankful for the cheap wine, Adele songs, tasty meal and full tummy.

‘Baby don’t let the lights go out’

Outside in the fresh winter air, I walk by crowded music joints, nightclubs, and more young hipsters. I examine my fading smile, reflected back at me in a book shop window, I could have had it all, I think? Looking up I notice the street peppered with large black and white posters that announce with drum roll – ‘You Are All The Same.’

Am I the same as everyone else? Are we all the same as each other?

I pray this is not true and turn the corner, making my way to a drag club on Johnston Street just as it starts to rain. Inside I order a skinny bitch in a short glass and sit watching the 10.30pm show. ‘It’s a week before your next birthday’ pops-up in my head, much like a TV news flash or a storm warning. Hurricane Andy! Who stole my time? Where’s it gone? It won’t be coming back anytime soon I conclude and quickly down my drink and order another. Hurricane Skinny Bitch!

My thoughts are interrupted by someone who knows me, a crew member who worked on a play I wrote and directed for Midsumma called ‘Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes of Fame’ back in 2013.

Hello. It’s me?” I didn’t recognise her, she’d changed.

Noel? Is that you?” she asked, her voice breaking my constant internal dialogue. “How are you?”

Is it me? I must wake up.

“How is your mother?” I ask her.

I am the sum of the songs I’ve sung, parts I’ve played. The damage I’ve caused.

“Mum is well” she answered, adjusting her blonde hair.

I am my losses. My loves. My doubts. My past, not perfect. But, it’s mine? I am not the same. Let it burn I think.

Back to reality, I chatted for a bit to my friend, watched the next show, downed my final skinny bitch and left the club, comfortable in my hoodie and the damp cold air.

As birthdays go, I’m not sure yet if this next one will be memorable but it is a good time to put the house in order I realise, rearrange old values, toss out those old clothes and set fresh challenges.

As I pass Naked for Satan I hear Adele singing somewhere in the distance, her English accent reminding me of when I was young. Album 19, 21, 25 … then, 27, 32, 42, 47, the years I recall as memorable… to me. Turning points, turning tables, songs and albums, tracks of unequalled pain and bittersweet romance. Somewhere, someday, I know there will be a new fire starting in my heart. I have at least one album left inside of me, I think, maybe two?…I am not counting.

Adele singing Skyfall fades away as I turn into Smith Street, make my way along the road, chasing pavements. I button up my jacket and I disappear under the glow of the street lights, neon signs and boutique beer. Nothing matters, old friends and rumours lost in the dance of life, memories like lovers, ‘water under the bridge.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Noel has directed over 50 theatrical productions and worked in film and TV. He completed NIDA’s Playwright Studio in 1996. Noel’s written work includes the play Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame and the musical Audrey Hepburn and I Consider Our Assets. Learn more: Noel Anderson Website

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