Last year Jem told me a story while we were sitting together in the kitchen. It came out of the blue. It was astonishing. It was as if he was channeling what happens when we die, but also what life is, and how we make art, and love, and, and, and…
I wrote it down and performed it at the Harehole a couple of times. It ended up being one of the pieces that won me the Grand Slam there last year. The delightful John Jacobs, a producer and sound engineer at Radio National happened to be at one of those slams, and asked if I’d like to perform it for a show called Bedtime Stories. He and Julie Shapiro turned it into a sound-filled, special thing, and it aired there last month, and I thought that was its moment, and it was done.
But now it’s been picked up by the Third Coast International Audio Festival, so there are two places on the internet you can hear it.
And from that, it’s jumped to LitHop at the Melbourne Writers Festival in an event called Your Words Not Mine. So if you’d like to perform The Golden Room as literary karaoke to a dreamy soundscape back up track, come to The Loop Bar between 4 and 5pm on the 31st of August and you can pick it from the menu.
For my Deaf friends, and those who prefer to read rather than listen, here’s the story:
The Golden Room
This is a story about Jem’s waking dream. We are sitting together at the yellow kitchen table eating toast. One of his legs touches mine under the table. He chews with his mouth open, and I am in love with him, with the way he eats, with his dear little hand resting on the table top, with his foot on my leg, with the lilt of his nearly five year old voice. And then, from nowhere, he says this:
Mama, there is neverending hole. And it just goes and goes and goes forever and you fall and fall and fall and fall. And you just keep falling until you die. And there is food and you have a little bag that you hold so you can catch the food and eat it on the way down. But at the bottom there are all these boxes and there are bodies, the dead bodies, down there and some of them are in the boxes and some of them are under the boxes but they are all dead. And you fall and fall and fall forever, until you die and then you get to the bottom and sometimes you get your own box but sometimes you just have to lie next to someone else’s box and then that’s the end.
And just when I am almost crying from the bleakness of his waking dream he says this:
But, there is this special door, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can fall into it on the way down. And the special door leads to a golden room and it’s all just gold and when you get in there you have everything you need all the time and you never go to sleep and you’re always awake and you never sleep. And when you get in there you have to look for gold, which is fine, because it’s really easy to find. And when you find it, then you turn into gold. And it’s a very special kind of gold that’s really really strong, so it makes you really really strong. And then you can sleep if you want to, but you don’t have to. And you can jump back down to our world whenever you feel like it, but you can go back to the golden room whenever you feel like it too. And you’re just strong, and awake. And that’s the end, really. That’s how it happens.
He takes a bite of his banana toast. My elbows are on the yellow kitchen table. He chews with his mouth open. There are crumbs on both of his cheeks, and a small blob of banana on his chin. I am holding my cup of tea in both hands. I sip. He chews. Soli comes in from the backyard where he’s been dropping pegs into a bucket of water and dirt to make soup. He is grainy with mud. I sip. Soli climbs onto my lap and tells me he’s being careful not to spill my tea. Jem chews, and asks for a washer so he can clean off the crumbs. Caren comes through the back door carrying a basket of washing that smells like the sun. Dirt. Tea. Banana. Sun. Toast. A golden room.
That’s how it happens. You fall/fly. You fall/fly and if you’re lucky, you find the golden room.