Three women with completely different strengths, each out to survive in a harsh world, but which one will you relate to. Prepare to follow their story through seven countries on three continents to find out.
Rachael ignores the struggle for equality and prefers total superiority over, as she sees it, the weaker male sex. “Equality got me a raised pension age but one of my two jobs sees me looking down on degraded men.” She’s lived alone but rich since her rock star parents were reported killed in a small plane crash in Africa. Her secret and hidden government-sponsored life is about to be revealed to her old school friend Jen.
Sue is Rachael’s mother and has used her femininity all her adult life to pull herself out of the squalor of her youth. She’s used her body to get to the top of the rock world as a joint singer in her husband’s world-famous band. Sue is soon to find herself at rock bottom again with a huge struggle to even keep herself alive.
Jen is Ms. Average and since school has worked in a supermarket as a shelf stacker. She knows she should be angry to see men jump over her head in promotion but isn’t sure how that anger should manifest itself. Then she bumps into her old school friend, Rachael, who suggests an adventure in Africa which is way out of Jen’s comfort zone but also a way out of her miserable existence.
Danny had written both the words and the music to the number they were doing on stage, Karenza had made the words darker, more deathlike and it was going through Danny’s mind that maybe her dying would solve a number of his problems. His adrenaline levels had built up throughout the evening from fronting his band and blasting out guitar solos while singing in front of thousands of adoring fans. That adrenaline had reached the top of the closed tank again, unable to overflow and in danger of affecting his health. The opulent stage set, transported carefully between venues and with the features that the fans loved so much, helped push those adrenaline levels up but after the pre-planned encores, everything came to a sudden halt. The walk down the cold concrete steps to the always-too-small dressing rooms with their musty below ground odour was a complete contrast to what had gone before but failed to spike a hole in that adrenaline store. The adrenaline remained, he remained wired. The ‘continuation buzz’ that Danny had felt in the early days, the ‘let’s party all night’ buzz had disappeared some years ago. He’d grown lazy. He felt old and tired but allowed the rest of the band to act as if they were younger than their years. He was no longer jealous of their post-show antics, he’d had his days of burning the candle at both ends.
He knew that things were coming to an end, he knew it would soon be time to disappear himself. His big decision, that he could only make alone, was going to be whether to disappear with the comfort of a wife beside him to keep him company through his old age or whether to ‘disappear’ her before leaving. He thought she may be becoming a liability, this wife who had earlier that day returned, yet again, from her agreed me-time with the metaphoric blood on her hands. Her ventures were becoming more traceable, leading back to the band, they were involving him where he didn’t want to be involved and, worst of all she seemed to be enjoying what she was doing away from her rock singer life.
The other band members spilled out onto the town to sample the local French delicacies - local French food and wine and more specifically local French women, but Danny escaped, along with his wife, towards their hotel room, looking to find a smaller space than the auditorium that they’d just played and to find some sort of normality coupled with the luxury of room service. They sat in silence in the back of the hired car. Danny would never mention it out loud but he half blamed Sue, his wife, for making him feel as ancient as he did but half thanked her as well for teaching him to grow old gracefully.
Sue was Karenza on stage, a name that she’d chosen herself having seen it as a dedication on a park bench while she’d been on holiday. She taught herself from an early age to be an expert in the psychology of men and how their heads worked and Danny had been, and still was, quite easy to manipulate. She knew he was the leader of his band and he made all the band decisions and he liked to think that the same went for his marriage. She was the boss, of course, but was well aware that she had to navigate the marriage in a subtle way. One of those little ways was to say nothing after a gig and wait for Danny to speak so that she could judge his mood and tonight that was probably a solemn mood because he wore unneeded sunglasses in the darkness of the car and stayed silent until they reached the safety of the hotel room and had locked the door behind them.
Sue’s mind was clear, her mind was sharp and for some reason she was able to cope more easily with the transition from the danger that came with her me-time with its uncaring attitude for life, the excitement of the stage-pretence and her sexy role in the band and then the sudden change back to quiet normality. But then, her whole life had been one long act, jumping from scene to scene and from character to character, changing herself to suit what others had expected of her, what others had wanted from her.
Danny had been deep in thought as he sat behind their driver during the ride back to the hotel and now that they were alone in their room he expressed those thoughts privately to her as if she’d been part of the conversation that had been going on in his head. “Do you realise that if we walked together down the main market street in any city or town in Zimbabwe, we could do it with no fuss, no autographs, no press, just acting like normal people?” He said it as if it was part of normal, everyday conversation, an observation that any husband might have made while chatting to his wife as he casually took two bottled beers from the room’s fridge and opened them on the striker attached to the side of the cupboard unit that supported the unused, French-channel-only television.
Sue, not only his wife but also joint lead singer in the band had become accustomed to his post-show moods. She knew to be agreeable, to say little and to be careful not to start an argument. She took the beer offered to her and thought about an answer while she swigged down the cold liquid, her hand and throat cooling at the same rate. “Are you pissed off about Zimbabwean album sales?” She seemed confused but often was. Her thoughts, when the two of them had first entered the room and she’d opened the curtains to make the room feel bigger had been more to do with whether to pack and then shower, shower and then pack or just climb into bed sweaty and pack in the morning. She’d been unsure of her husband’s mood and his obscure question hadn’t helped.
Danny looked at her strangely from the other side of the double bed that dominated the room, the small hotel being the best in this minor town.
He’d almost split the band up by taking what was at first a general groupie shared out among the band, stopping her being passed around and turning her into his regular post-show-lay, hiring her as a backing singer and then promoting her from backing singer to joint lead vocals, to co-writer, then to wife. Nobody was sure at what point in those promotions that Sue had become the exclusive property of Danny, least of all Sue who had always hedged her bets in life from an early age.
Sometimes Danny wondered if they were on the same wavelength in their marriage. “No, didn’t mean that.” He jumped onto the bed, his stacked heel, crocodile skin boots still on his feet as he stretched out flat, feet crossed, his hands behind his head, still wearing the sunglasses. “Years ago, when we were advised to invest in all kinds of things to avoid paying so much tax, we bought a ranch in Zimbabwe. When I say we, I don’t mean ‘we’ the band, I mean that I did it personally and therefore us now, me and you, wifey who owns half of me. The actual land is leased to someone who knows about ranching, cattle I think but I could be wrong. There’s a small house on the land with a recording studio attached which is where the tax angle came in. The band recorded there once, pre-Sue, I just think it would be a nice place to retire to.”
She stopped throwing random clothes into the open cases on the floor and getting a head start on their move the following day. She’d originally thought that packing could be done while talking but now Danny wanted to talk on a subject that stopped her. The talking had just got serious. The packing was abandoned. The decision had been made for her and she’d have to complete the packing tomorrow before they left to catch up with the equipment lorries that were probably already on the road. There were more important issues to be dealt with. Her head swirled as she thought about her possessions, her home, the collected items in it. Those possessions had been accumulated over years and Danny seemed to be suggesting leaving them and starting all over again in a foreign country. Hadn’t they just paid Gay Bob three quarters of a million for the series of six paintings that she’d fallen in love with but Danny had hated? There was no way that the paintings would fit into a farmhouse, no matter how large the rooms were.
No way Danny will ever know about my childhood and how I slept my way up to a position where I could sleep my way into his band. I’m rich now with expensive possessions in a big house and he’s talking as if he wants to give it all away, knocking me back down to the first rung on the ladder.
The walk to his side of the bed was a short one for her, the room being so small. Stepping out of her dress and removing her skimpy, stage-sweated underwear she revealed, what she over-confidently knew, was a stunningly shaped body that she worked hard on every day and which had no white suntan marks. She’d checked on arrival that their room wasn’t overlooked so she wasn’t worried that the curtains were open to possible press photographers unless they happened to be flying in a helicopter at night. Danny hadn’t said ‘for me and you to retire to’ and he hadn’t said ‘for our family to retire to.’ She needed to get into his thoughts; thoughts that were obviously deep and distant to the point where he was totally oblivious of her naked, glisteningly, sweaty body or its attempted sexy walk towards him. Looking down at herself she found she was right in her guess that her perfection was flawed by those horrible red marks from over tight underwear elastic and she tried to remember the name of that famous gallery painting that had been knife slashed by a protester years ago because she felt like that canvas.
She reasoned that Danny’s thoughts were projected onto the ceiling above him so she loaded up her questions as she moved, ready to fire later. She pulled his tight, crocodile skin boots off together with the socks because they both hated only-socks-left-on nakedness. She pulled at the waist of his leather trousers and he made a minimal effort and obliged her by slightly lifting his bum off the bed without seeming to think about it. The tight leathers came off but inside out with the underpants still attached and were thrown in the direction of the case without reaching their target. Sliding under the sheets to hide her underwear marks she allowed him her unseen shapeliness; restoration would have the elastic marks gone by the morning as if they were never there.
Sue’s arm wrapped around his shirted body that was still lying on top of the duvet, claiming him as her own, upset that she was still being ignored physically. She avoided his sweaty armpits – it was one of her pet hates. Deciding that conversation was the only thing on offer her pre-loaded question was fired. “What would Rachael do about school though?” There, that simple question didn’t involve her, only involved their daughter, didn’t involve their relationship and really meant ‘so am I in your plans?’ but without being in the slightest bit provocative.
Danny hadn’t taken his eyes away from the white ceiling where, presumably, he could see a picture of the ranch and a calmer way of living, among cattle that he had no responsibility for. He seemed uncaring or oblivious of the fact that his shirt buttons were being undone as he thought out an answer and, taking off his sunglasses, replied. “Rachael? She’s just started high school I think, hasn’t she? She has a friend or two or says she has, doesn’t see us anyway while we are on world tours, very little of us during rehearsals. She knows the au pair better than she knows us. I guess we’d let her finish school, maybe pay for her to go to Uni if she wanted to go, then join us in Zimbabwe, but again, up to her. She’s pretty independent.”
He’d used the words ‘us’ and ‘we’ and remembered their daughter’s name so Sue was contented that she was involved and that Rachael didn’t have to be thought about until later. She had to show him that she thought it was a good plan even though he hadn’t mentioned the important timings and she knew she couldn’t disagree with him even if she wanted to when it came to breaking up his band. For a variety of reasons Sue knew as well as Danny did that they had to get out of the system they’d found themselves in, it was just a case of when it would happen. Whichever direction Danny decided to take them would now include her, so to seal the deal, when he did a sit-up, lifting his back off the bed, and he pulled his unbuttoned shirt off, he climbed under the duvet, she climbed on top of him to let him know that when they left for Zimbabwe, it would be together, as a couple glued together.
“Night Watch.” She said under her breath, near his ear. The name of the painting had returned to her. Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’ slashed by someone with a grievance. Sue became Karenza again, a beautiful Rembrandt, her elastic slashes slowly restoring. She pumped out the adrenaline from her husband’s tank and as she pumped she wondered whether she would miss the thrill and the power of killing and whether she would miss being on stage adored by boys half her age.
The couple watched over each other all night, each wondering what Zimbabwe would be like. Neither of them worried about Rachael their daughter, neither of them worried about any loyalty to their fans.
Danny decided that they would disappear together without anyone knowing, without even his daughter knowing.