This is a piece I wrote during my first year of uni. I remember receiving a mark of about 60% and feeling disappointed – I thought I had done such a good job, and my writing had improved drastically since the end of last year. Looking back, now with a degree under my belt and having completed honours, I can absolutely see how I received the mark I did.
In the future, I would like to go back and re-write most of my uni assignments to see the difference. I will start with this piece.
The day that the music was cancelled, I was working at the bar. The final message of the day was broadcasted at about seven that night. I had just finished pouring a beer and set it on the counter for a woman when I looked up and saw a face. This wouldn’t have alarmed me, had it not been on every screen in the bar. He was on the big screen, the KENO screens, and the racing screens. I stared at them with mild horror and fascination, and the woman in front of me stared up at the screen behind the bar. Everyone was silent as we watched the man talk, even though we had seen it several times prior.
‘The Government of your country, in association with the General Assembly of the United Nations, and with the co-operation of the United States of America, The European Union, The Republic of Russia, The People’s Republic of China, The League of African Nations, the Association of South East Asian Nations, and the Federal Governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand announces that, as of midnight, Friday March 6, 2015, music in all forms and expressions is henceforth illegal, and persons caught engaging in any form of musical activity or expression will be deemed seditious and dealt with accordingly. We thank you for your co-operation in this matter.’
My first thought was, ‘How will this affect business? What’ll happen if the bar closes?’
We were forced to close the bar at ten that night. Government officials came in and told us we had to close. They said they had to make some changes.
The manager, Aaron, sent me home.
“Janet,” he said, running his fingers through his hair. “Go home. I’ll look after it.”
The next night, I came to work to find Aaron standing behind the bar with a small, forced smile planted on his face. He glanced around at the patrons and looked down at his hands.
I put my bag away and signed in. As I walked over to Aaron, I cast a smile at a regular who glanced over at me.
The smile still stuck on my face, I spoke to Aaron.
“What are the changes?” I asked.
We both knew I needn’t have asked. The pokies were silent, the music wasn’t playing, and the jukebox in the corner was missing. Most of the screens were missing, save the betting screens which were on mute. The patrons sat, talking in hushed tones. He looked over at the cash register and pointed at a button under the till.
“If anyone so much as whistles or hums, we have to press that button.” His eyes swept the bar, watching the patrons, and he rubbed his chin. “They have microphones rigged up as well. If someone reports it and that we didn’t take action, they check it out.”
I heard what was happening around the world – musicians injured or killed. I knew it was happening to Australians as well. One of my friends had messaged me shortly after the announcements and told me he had decided to,“Fuck it, Janet, I’m busking tomorrow.” I haven’t heard from him since.
When I got into the car after my shift, the only noise from the radio was static. I flicked through the stations I knew and found they were all playing the same tune.
I got home and found my laptop and iPod both unresponsive. I walked into the lounge room and turned on the TV. The news was on so I watched clips of what was happening around the world. Most of it revolved around the Silence and how it was affecting people around the world. As it turns out, Apple had gone out of business. iTunes was deleted, their computers were wiped, and they had nothing left. It was also revealed that they had access to every device in the world. Every device was wiped and made unresponsive.
It had been nearly three weeks since the silence around the world. At work, less and less people were coming in. The patrons spoke in hushed voices – no-one wanted to break the silence.
There were one group of men that came in, though, with high spirits and a lot of money in their wallets. They ordered three bourbon and cokes and sat in a corner table near the pool room, where the jukebox used to be. One round turned to three, and three to six. Their laughter radiated through the bar, spreading some noise and breaking the uncomfortable silence that settled at every table. The several other patrons had started to make some noise as well.
“Nah, man. You can’t sing for shit!” one of the three laughed.
Grinning, a second stood up and came to get another round. He looked over at his friends and gave me a hesitant smile.
I made the drinks and set them on the counter. He glanced over his shoulder again and his smile started to slide off a bit.
“Wh… what happens if, ya know, they sing?” he asked as I rung him up.
I glanced over at Aaron who was counting the money in one of the tills. I looked back at the man and shrugged.
“I dunno,” I said with a sigh, “but it won’t end well.”
The man nodded, a small, forced smile on his face. “Alright.”
He turned around and began walking back to his friends who were still arguing.
“You’re so bad,” the first one said, “that they banned music.”
“Bullshit!” the accused laughed. He cleared his throat and smirked. Then, he stood and began to sing. Badly. “Carry on my wayward son! There’ll be peace when you are done!”
His friend sitting opposite jumped up, his eyes wide and his mouth dropped. “I was kidding. Shut up!”
The bar fell silent and all eyes fell on them. The man with the tray dropped it and ran towards his friends, yelling, “No! Stop!”
I looked over at the manager and he slammed his hand against the red button under the till.
“Lay your weary head to rest!”
I looked down at the beer I was pouring and found it overflowing.
“Don’t you cry no more! Bow bah dum dah-”
His friends tackled him to the ground as he sang the instrumental and pressed their hands to his mouth.
“SHUT UP!” they yelled in unison.
The man wiggled free and stood up. He laughed and threw his arms in the air. I heard the sound of boots running up the stairs.
“It doesn’t matter! It’s just words! What’s it gonna do? What’s gonna happen? Nothin’!”
Four police officers burst into the bar and walked over to them. At first, I didn’t know how they knew it was him, but then I looked around and realised everyone was staring at the man. His friend took a few steps away from him. He looked at the newcomers with alarm and took a few hurried steps backwards.
Two of the officers grabbed the man and dragged him towards the door.
“Hey! Lemme go!” he cried, wiggling in their arms.
The other two officers watched the bar as the patrons ducked their heads and looked down at their drinks. The officers left with the man and I glanced at the guys near the pool room. They stood in silence, staring at the exit. We could still hear his screams as he was escorted away.
The two men came in again about a month later. They bought two bourbons and cokes and sat at the same table. This time, there was no laughter and fun. Other than myself, they were the only ones in the bar.
One of them came back to the bar after they finished the first round and he asked for two glasses of coke – no ice, no bourbon. I wanted to ask about the friend but I didn’t know how to without sounding insensitive.
As I swiped his member card and opened the till, the man sighed.
“We haven’t seen him since…” he trailed off, speaking as though he had read my mind.
I looked up at him and frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that. He seemed like a nice guy.”
The man nodded and pocketed the change before walking back to the table and handing over the drink.
Since the silence began, we lost most of our regulars. They could have better, more private conversations at their own home with the same beers at a cheaper price.
However, we had gotten some new regulars. They were not like the old regulars. They used to come in, sit with their mates, have a few drinks, and have a good time.
The new regulars were sexually creepy men who leered at the female bartenders and sat facing the bar. They called me sweetie, gorgeous, beautiful, and the new regular punters told me they’d jackpot one day and take me out to dinner.
They made me feel sick.
It was three months since music was banned. Since then, I’ve only changed one keg. One of the new regulars requested a beer.
I started to pour it when the line cut off. I groaned and forced an apologetic frown at the man.
“Looks like it’s out. I’ll go change the keg and it should be right in about five minutes.”
He nodded and walked away. Being the only one on the shift, I had to go down and be quick.
Kegs weren’t changed often these days. But let me tell you something about it: you knew it had to be changed when you were pouring a beer and the line just cut off.
When it cuts out mid drink, you let the customer know and tell another employee.
Then, I have to go to the basement.
While that doesn’t seem all that bad, it is. Behind the bar, behind the fridge with ‘Ready To Drink’ bottles, theres a small corridor. There’s a flight of stairs on the left. As soon as you go down, the paint cuts off and you’re stuck in a concrete corridor. A few meters from the bottom of the stairs is the first corner. Ten meters from that is another. Then, you enter the basement. Most of it is just a large room with a washer, dryer, and a few things being stored.
In the far corner on the right is a cool room filled with wine and spirits. Next to that is the fridge where all the kegs are kept, the drinks that need to be refrigerated, and the keg line. I have to go in there and do my thing.
Before music died, I would hum to myself. I hate the cold, quiet, disconnected basement and going down. I always feel that someone is going to be standing there, waiting with a weapon. In the basement, no-one can hear you scream.
I was already feeling a bit sick. There was a man waiting upstairs for me and I was in a creepy room. The cool basement added to my discomfort. I walked into the fridge, found the keg that had to be changed, and started to talk to myself.
Before the man appeared on every screen around the world, I would hum a classic song to myself, such as “What’s New, Pussycat?” by Tom Jones, to myself as I changed the keg, trying to take my mind of the creepy space.
“Just breathe, Janet. Take a deep breath in.” I paused and followed my instructions. “And breathe out.”
I continued this as a bit of a chant as I changed the keg and raced out of the room. When I got back to the bar, the man was waiting for me. I forced a smiled, poured the beer and rung him up. He grinned at me (more like ‘bared his teeth’) and his eyes raked my torso.
God, I missed the music.