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The Amateurs

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Well-Known Member
May 5, 2014
~BHM, ~FFA, Romance - Hester gives up her vacation to help out an amateur musical theatre group, and finds some inspiration of her own.

Author's Note: I’ve been writing this in short installments and posting them on tumblr here, under the original title, Silenus: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/blessmybuttons -- this thread post collects the first four tumblr chapters.

The Amateurs
by Bayone


Hester had crossed the Atlantic Ocean to house-sit for a week; or at least that was the excuse her friends had made, in order to get her to take a much-needed vacation. They’d welcomed her the night before, and had left for Heathrow early that morning, and she’d looked forward to a quiet week of puttering around until she’d stumbled into this beleaguered production of Sitwell and
Walton’s Façade being put on by — was this a community theatre group? A university club? Well, she’d find out soon enough.

Right now she was busy laying down coats of latex paint, working from darker to lighter tones, assisted by members of the company who all seemed to have accepted her with the same any-port-in-a-storm cheerfulness. Luckily there was a sizeable supply of old paint-stained clothes for her new army of helpers.

A wiry young man (someone had addressed him a few minutes earlier as Dennis, and the purple-dreadlocked director was Sophie) tapped her on the shoulder and she straightened her back, stretching gratefully. At forty-two, Hester was in good shape for her age, but a college student no longer. Thinking she might have to pull an all-nighter to get this backdrop done on time, she made a mental note to ask the location of the nearest coffee shop. Even the UK had to have been invaded by Starbucks by now.

“We’re breaking for lunch at the pub across the street,” Dennis said.

“Come with us? Or we can bring you a sandwich,” he added diffidently. Hester stood up and surveyed her work.

“All right. I guess I’d better meet you all properly; I seem to have skipped over that part.”

Dennis grinned in delight, and worry crossed Hester’s mind. She was aware that many men still found her attractive — though as soon as she tried to engage them in conversation most of them backed off. This, she suspected, was less likely to happen in what seemed to be a pretty arty circle, and Dennis had already volunteered to pose, but he was too young and too thin to interest her in anything but an artistic sense. She hoped he wasn’t getting up hopes that she’d need to throw some cold water upon.

“Just give me a moment to clean up and I’ll join you all.”

“I thought Americans pronounced it y’all.”

“Only in the South. I’m from Michigan.”

Five minutes later, as she bent to pick up her sketchbook — she planned to make some thumbnails over lunch, once she knew which of the company, besides Dennis, would be modeling — a shape loomed into her peripheral vision, and she glanced over at the gentleman whose embonpoint was, at present, filling the doorway.

He was older than most of the other people she’d met so far, and more formally dressed in a neat dark suit. He might have been sixty, though his plump rosy features were difficult to pin an age upon. Certainly his silver hair proclaimed him a man of full years. He was studying the sketch after Rubens that she’d pulled out to show Sophie and the others, but as she looked at him he raised his eyes, which, in terms of the pull that they held, very much resembled a pair of dwarf stars. He stepped forward, and she raised a warning hand.

“Stop! No, sorry — it’s just that there’s a lot of wet paint in here, and I’d hate for you to ruin your clothes.”

“Rather a lot of nudes to this new backdrop design,” he observed, with a twinkle, as he held up the sketch. Though she couldn’t place it, his voice had a slightly more regional quality to it than the public-school accents of the rest of the cast.

“Thought they’d go with all the playful mythological references in the poetry. Besides, nudes are easy,” said Hester. “Asking people to undress for you is hard.”

The fat gentleman compressed his lips very slightly in amusement. "Well, for certain no one’s ever asked me to pose.”

“Would you like to?” Hester asked, with the same shock at her own audacity that she’d been feeling since she had first volunteered to paint an old-fashioned theatre curtain in the absence of the official set designer (who’d run off, with forty-eight hours to go before the dress rehearsal.)

The fat gentleman’s face grew a shade pinker. “Not sure there’d be room for me in a Classical scene.”

“It’s going to be more of a Baroque sort of thing,” she countered, “and it’s going to be a Bacchanal.”

His shiny round apple of a face creased in a wry smile:

“Ah. You need a Silenus,” he guessed.

“Exactly!” Hester beamed. “Thanks for getting that right off the bat — you just saved me a lot of explanation.”

“Ever hear of flattery?” he asked, in a slightly acid tone, but Hester could tell he wasn’t really displeased at being cast as the old, drunk and very wise satyr who’d raised the God of Wine from a divine baby.

“Yes, but I’ve never been any good at it. Besides,” she added slyly, “I’m thinking you would have seen through it.”

Before he could give answer to Hester, Sophie came up behind him.

“Oh, hullo Tom,” she said.

Tom turned around.

“You’ve arrived in the nick of time,” he announced. “This mad woman —” (here he gestured majestically toward Hester) “has been trying to persuade me to doff my kit.”

Sophie raised an eyebrow at Hester.

“This is Tom Watts. He organizes everything. He’s very good at it. Tom, this is — I’m sorry, I just realized I never asked your name or how you heard we needed a set designer.”

“Hester Tacoma. And I didn’t actually, I just wandered in off the street and people started handing me paintbrushes.”

Tom gave a shout of laughter at this. Hester turned to him: “So, would you like to be my Silenus?”

“Yes,” the fat gentleman groaned in mock dismay, “you persistent woman, yes.”

Sophie took him by the arm. “Thanks. And thanks for popping by on your lunch hour to help us.”

She turned to Hester. “ I’ll meet you at the pub as soon as we’re done here — I just need Tom to reserve some stage lights for the show. We’re the Enfield Amateur Musical Society, by the way.”

Hester nodded assent, turned to go, then a thought struck her: “Wait — Tom, if this is your lunch, what time’s good for you to come and pose?”

“Half-past three? I’ve got some work back at my office but it’ll be quick to finish.”

Hester’s mind did some figuring. A quick lunch during which to recruit a few more models, then back here to set up a space by the north-facing window for them to pose. She’d ask Dennis and the other models to come by at four-thirty, giving her an hour to make sure her Silenus was comfortable with posing nude.

And besides, she admitted to herself, I wouldn’t mind being alone with him again for a little while.

Over lunch, Hester decided Dennis would be a young satyr; selected a cheery, good-looking fellow to be Bacchus, persuaded one of the cellists — a dark, curvy young woman with striking cheekbones who would make a perfect Ariadne — to come by at four-thirty with the others; and recruited an assortment of nymphs and maenads. Everyone seemed rather gleefully excited at the prospect of being seen larger-than-life on canvas. She only hoped they wouldn’t change their minds before opening night, but then, with the exception of Tom, she planned to idealize them all just a little. She needed, however, to start from a grounding in reality.

With a nearby coffee bar scouted and the beginnings of a composition in her sketchbook, Hester returned to what had become her studio, and began setting up some chairs near the window, draping them with unused dropcloths (old bedsheets, really), grateful that the window was high enough on the wall for privacy, and that it was summer and she would not need to worry about the sunlight lasting or the room being warm enough for her models. She tore another sheet into wide strips, figuring that she might need to put a few draperies on her nudes, not just for modesty, but to provide some fabric that artistic license might subsequently depict as dramatically billowing swathes of gauze.

The image of billowing curves brought her thoughts back to Tom. Hester had always adored fat men, and in her brief meeting the older gent had impressed her with his substantial charms as well as his wit. He was an extra-large helping of everything that fascinated her, all tied up in a snug bow.

A light rap on the door frame woke her from her reverie. There was Tom, looming (in a somehow gracious fashion) in the entrance again.

“Right on time. You did get some lunch since I saw you last, I hope?”

Tom narrowed his bright eyes briefly until he realized she was sincerely concerned that he’d gone hungry, and then he chuckled appreciatively: “Finished up early and had a bite across the way before coming in. I’d have had a couple of pints to get into character, but I wasn’t sure whether you approved of method acting.”

He looked about him uncertainly. “Do you want me undressed now?”

“Take your time, I’m still setting up. I’ve worked out some possible poses — they’re in the sketchbook over on the chairs. You might want to have a look and tell me which ones look comfortable enough to hold for a sitting.”

With his hands on his splayed, sturdy thighs (briefly reminding her of Ingres’ Portrait of Monsieur Bertin), Tom lowered his bulk to the two draped chairs, and took out his reading glasses to examine the thumbnail sketches. Hester watched him with discreet admiration as he turned slightly to rest one arm on the chair back, his other hand resting lightly and unconsciously upon his great round belly. The thought occurred to her that she’d like to draw him clothed if they could find time, for the taut fabric only emphasised the man’s ample form. She noted the lowest button of his waistcoat was, in classic fashion, undone; the one above it probably should have been, for it strained a little — but only a little; Tom’s suit was well-cut to accommodate his full, weighty contours, and it pleased her to see he was in no denial of his girth. He looked up now and smiled to see her watching him.

“Silenus — he’s supposed to be on a donkey, ain’t he? Not that we’ve actually got a donkey, I know, but I think there might be an ass’s head in the back room from when we did Midsummer Night’s Dream last year.”

“That’s a thought. Funny, I never thought of Bottom as a Silenus analogy but I suppose he is—” Hester hesitated. This was usually the sort of thing that usually caused people’s eyes to glaze with boredom or confusion, but Tom only gave a nod of agreement that caused his lower chin to wobble:

“Comedic, beloved of gods, forever caught between the supernatural and the flesh? Oh yes indeed.” He raised his eyes to her: “Sorry, I do go on. Why don’t I just go fetch the damn thing while I’m still decent?”

“I’ll wait here.” Hester pulled an old shirt over her blouse and got out her box of chalks and conte crayons. Tom returned triumphantly bearing a large, slightly dusty ass’s-head mask and hung it on the back of one of the chairs.

“Stay there, you stupid old thing,” he told it, and removing his jacket, began to unbutton his waistcoat. He undressed methodically and swiftly without any thought of seduction. Hester suspected he was a bit nervous after all, and kept her gaze fixed on the blank page of her sketchbook.

“There’s extra fabric,” she told him, “You can wrap a bit about yourself if you prefer.”

He grunted an acknowledgement and a little later she heard him plump himself down again on the pair of chairs. Looking up from her sketchbook, Hester found him semi-reclining with the sheet over one shoulder like some Roman senator in an old Hollywood epic, one arm draped over the ass’s ears. She got up, walked over, and adjusted the “toga” slightly on his shoulder, trying to remain detached and professional as her fingertips brushed the soft nape of his neck.

She stepped back, surveyed him again, and said: “Turn your head a little more to the left? Good. Let’s try this pose first. You can talk if you feel like it, and I can get a bit lost in my work, so let me know if you get tired.”

She sat down and began rapidly limning Tom’s image on the page, occasionally taking up the white chalk to add highlights that emphasized the florid three-dimensionality of his body.

“Ought I to be looking at you? I mean, looking out of the painting?”

“Sure. After all, you know the audience is there,” Hester mused. “Silenus has the gift of prophecy, that’s your problem — you know everything, but still can’t keep from toppling off that donkey. Hold that grin.”

She caught it on the paper in a horizontal slash of white chalk. “The others should be here shortly.”

Sure enough, there soon came a babble of younger voices from the hallway, and the little group of actors and musicians entered chatting among themselves. “Ariadne” set down her cello case carefully by the door and approached. Hester set her sketchbook down and Tom turned his head.

“You take a break, Tom, I think I’ll do a few warm-up sketches before I try grouping everybody together.” Tom sat upright and modestly pulled his bedsheet more tightly around himself, though it could not completely cover his broad, softly-mounded chest (delicately furred with hairs as silvery as the ones on his head) as he greeted the other volunteers. Finally he settled for girding his loins and his thick midsection, and retired to a corner with a book, while Hester arranged and sketched her various models. Though none gave her quite as much delight to work with as Tom had, they were all attractive and cooperative sitters, if a trifle giggly. She felt glad that none of them had shown any shock or distaste at the older man’s presence, or his unclothed body, for she wanted to like them.

At last she felt ready to place them all in the composition she planned for the final work. Arranging Tom on his donkey (the chairs and the mask) she seated Bacchus and Ariadne (Mike and Ornella) together, just above him and perched upon the chair backs; having checked the furniture for sturdiness and knowing the chairs would never tip backwards with Tom’s weight anchoring them.

Dennis she placed beside him as a satyr steadying him so he wouldn’t topple in his “inebriation.” The youth looked a trifle disappointed to have his arm around a fat old man instead of a nymph, but took his pose with good humour, as did Tom, who stage-whispered “If you do feel me starting to fall, lad, get out of the way and save yourself.”

Filling in the gaps with maenads, Hester seated herself before them and began roughing out the figures, impressionistically, on a fresh page.

Though she did not wish to overtax her models (who were not, after all, professionals used to holding long poses), it was awareness of her own hunger that finally made Hester blink and ask the time. One of the nymphs went and got her mobile phone.

“A quarter to seven, almost,” she called across the room. “Goodness, I’m surprised none of you have raised rebellion by now.”

“None of us dared,” Tom said, straightening his posture and rubbing his back ruefully. “The gleam in your eye as you worked was downright fanatical.”

“Well, everyone get dressed and let’s break for dinner. I’m starving.”

In the general hubbub of everyone putting their clothes back on, people kept coming up, peering at Hester’s sketches and exclaiming in delight.

“Even I don’t look half-bad,” one young woman said. Hester was about to tell her she was perfectly lovely in real life, too, but remembering her own youth, decided there’d be no convincing her of the truth.

“You coming with us?” she asked Tom, who’d been the last to step up and admire her work, perhaps because his clothes had more buttons to fasten than everyone else’s t-shirts, jeans and casual summer dresses.

He nodded, adding: “There’s been a suggestion going around that we all go for Italian food, if that’s alright with you — I imagine you must be a little tired of the pub across the way.”

“Fine by me,” said Hester, “as long as it’s not too far. I might come back here afterwards to start scaling up the picture onto the curtain.”

Tom gave her a look of kindly concern.

“You’ve done so much for us today, and under very unexpected circumstances. I don’t want you exhausting yourself just for an amateur theatrical society you hadn’t heard of until a few hours ago.” Hester patted his arm.

“I ought to be thanking all of you. It’s been at least twenty years since I’ve done something for the theatre, and I’d forgotten how much I missed it.”

Tom’s eyes widened slightly, and a slight surprise crept across his round face. He gave her a look of reassessment and smiled.

“Well,” he said, changing the subject back to supper, “the Italian place is but a block from here.”

The lot of them (for they’d been joined by Sophie and the rest of the cast) had all crowded into the little neighbourhood restaurant, placed orders, and were sharing a couple of bottles of wine while they waited for the food to arrive. Hester found herself ensconced between Dennis and Tom, the latter having somehow eased himself into the tight corner seat. Dennis, she was pleased to see, was busy flirting with the young woman who’d looked at the sketch book and been surprised to find herself beautiful. At the next table Sophie was chatting with Ornella the cellist, and Hester noticed, holding her hand. Turning to Tom she found him watching her with the new expression she had noticed earlier. He blinked, embarrassed, and she smiled reassuringly.

“It’s nice to see everyone having fun,” she whispered, with a slight nod towards the rest of the room.

“That’s always been my reason for coming out with the E.A.M.S.”

“Are you one of the reciters? Sophie said there was more than one.”

“Oh no, I’m more what you’d call a behind-the-scenes type. Box office, stage managing, that sort of thing.”

“But you’ve got such a nice voice,” Hester protested, showing more surprise than she could have wished. It had never occurred to her that Tom would not be utterly at home in front of an audience, but he shook his head wistfully.

“I get awful stage fright — know that must sound odd coming from someone you’ve just seen lolling about without a stitch on, but that’s how it is.”

Talk died down for the moment as plates began to arrive. Hester had decided on a small pizza, reasoning that if, despite her hunger, it turned out to be more than she could eat, it would be a lot easier to ask the waiter to box a few slices of pizza than half a plate of spaghetti. Then she’d wondered whether restaurants would let her do that over here.

Upon the pizza’s arrival, however, she found that outside of the US, “small” on a restaurant menu really did mean small, and that the pizza was just enough for one woman. She might even want dessert afterwards. On one side of her, Dennis was devouring his linguini alfredo with the appetite of a skinny young man with a fast metabolism, and on the other, Tom, having tucked his napkin into his collar, was eating his spaghetti bolognese at a more leisurely pace, though with enjoyment.

Though it was not an outrageously large serving, he was evidently not seeking to grow smaller, Hester noted; and smiling, she turned her attentions to her own plate. The pizza was quite good, with a thin crisp base, and she poured herself a glass of the wine she’d hadn’t dared drink earlier due to the emptiness of her stomach. Refueled, and seeing that her companions had finished the bulk of their own meals, she resumed conversation.

“So what part does everyone play in the show?” she asked. “I’ve been hanging around with and drawing you lot all day, but I’m not fool enough to think I know people just because I’ve seen them naked.”

There was laughter at this.

“I’m beginning to think none of us know Tom so well as we thought,” quipped Sophie. “Or else you have remarkable powers of persuasion, Hester.”

Dennis shook Hester’s hand across the table.

“I dance the tango with Melinda,” he said, indicating a teenaged girl who Hester recalled as one of the people who’d helped her rag and spatter on paint that morning. It felt like years ago now.

“I also do a dance with Mike,” he grinned toward the young man who’d posed as Bacchus, who blew him a kiss.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have cast him and Ornella as a couple,” Hazel observed.

“It’s alright,” Ornella squeezed her girlfriend’s hand. “I have to make Sophie jealous now and then or she might take me for granted.”

“Our reciters,” said Tom, pointing out a handsome Black man, an older red-haired woman in a rather flamboyant hat , and a young Asian punk girl. “David, Vanessa and Susan. Our conductor, Wilf; you’ve met Sophie our director; and I think we have about half the orchestra here. Most of the tech crew are off working another show tonight.”

Despite the E.A.M.S.’s entreaties, Hester paid her bill and walked back to the theatre workshop once she’d finished her dessert and coffee.

“Need to strike while the iron is hot,” she’d said. “It’s only half-past eight, and I’d like to at least draw the grid for the curtain before I crash for the night.”

Dennis, Melissa and Tom had then insisted on coming with her, Tom pointing out that he was the one with the keys to the place, and the two young people adding that she’d get the grid done faster with assistants to hold rulers or whatever it was she might need them to do.

The hardest part turned out to be finding the string that Hester had thought would be the simplest way to mark off the curtain as it lay tacked to the floor. They searched closets, drawers, and a narrow cupboard that Tom could hardly squeeze his large body into, and from which he returned with horizontal bars of dust streaked across his waistcoat from the edges of shelves, but no string.

“Quartermaster’s all out,” he reported, brushing himself off.

“I’m just glad you didn’t get stuck,” said Dennis.

“Just for that, you can be the one to go try the corner shop.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Melissa. “I want to pick up some chewing gum.”

“She fancies him,” Tom observed after they’d gone, “and well, you saw him chatting up Kate tonight. I think he might have been making a play for you as well.”

“Between the three of us and Mike, I kind of lost track.” Hester smiled at the stage manager. “I think I remember being his age, but I don’t believe I ever had that much —”


“I was more the shrinking violet type.”

Tom laughed at this — not loudly, but the outlines of his face and body shook with suppressed mirth.

“Glad to see you outgrew that fault,” he said, wiping his eyes. He settled himself on the pair of chairs from earlier, and Hester came over and sat down beside him, close enough to just brush against his side as if by accident. Of course, since Tom spread out in all directions when he sat, it really might have been by accident.

“I should be marking off where to put the tacks,” she murmured, “But you were right about it having been a long day.”

It occurred to her how nice it would be to just lean into his well-upholstered shoulder and go to sleep, but she was still determined to remain professional, at least until the curtain was finished.

(Continued in post 4 of this thread)

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