Once upon a time, years ago, I was stuck on a scene for a play. It was supposed to be a snappy exchange between two characters, one fearing for his life, and quite mad at the other for not getting the full import of the situation… As we are constantly told that good theatre (or narrative) dialogue must do, it was supposed to advance the plot and add to each character…
Except, it didn’t. No matter how I rewrote, and rewrote again, as soon as I tried to read it aloud it sounded stiff, off-key, downright wrong. I was fit to tear my hair out when my friend Flavia called to ask about something entirely unrelated. But Flavia knew me well enough that, by that small conversation about, say, rubber ducks, she could tell I wasn’t at my happiest. She asked what was wrong, and I said nothing – oh, nothing much. She pressed, and I spilled it all out.
“Come, come,” she said. “It will turn out beautifully. You know it always does. Have a cup of tea.”
Which was solid advice – the part about the tea, at least. So I was fixing myself a cup, and brooding, when the bell rang. It was Flavia herself, come to the rescue.
“I’ll have a cup too, and you can read that scene to me,” she said.
My heart floated up from the bottom of my stomach where it had sunk. Only…
“It’s in English,” I objected. In spite of our combined – if a little erratic- efforts, Flavia’s English was still a little limited…
“So what?” she said with a shrug. “Translate! How many characters?”
And by the time tea was ready, she’d folded two pieces of paper into crude finger-puppets, so that I could hold up the one that was speaking at the moment.
“So you won’t have to stop and tell me who says what all the time,” she explained.
And I laughed, but took the puppets, and played out the scene, translating as I went.
And Flavia told me what she thought was wrong, and what she liked, and I made changes, and we tried again, and drank tea, and ate biscuits, and laughed, and… and a couple of hours later, the scene was in a much better shape, I no longer thought I should give up writing in favour of cross-stitching.
Flavia waved away my thanks, patted my head, called me a goose, and floated away – like some kind of red-haired, Desigual-wearing Mary Poppins of despairing playwrights.
Because that’s Flavia: always ready to run to the rescue, to lend a hand, thoroughly no-nonsense, never letting you wallow in self-pity. She’d run, and shake you out of it. and help. And show you that you most definitely could do it – no matter what. We can do it, was what she always said.
That was Flavia. She’d been battling cancer these past twelve years, and her battle has ended last night. I have no words enough to say how terribly I’m going to miss her. And I suppose that the best thing I can do to remember her, is to always keep thinking that, whatever happens, I can do it – no matter what.