She (with audio)

Fresh from her big win for  the Brindabelters, Heidramatic requested some of my favourite memories from Canberra, both old and new:

Canberra Roller Derby League + Great Australian Ice Creamery + the Castle Playground at Commonwealth Park

ice-creamcastle playgroundroller derby

Podcast Version

Text Version

‘So, what are we going to do boss?’ Jim asked expectantly, staring at her.

Yes, Ellipsis, what are you going to do? She thought to herself.

Shit, another voice in her head retaliated, three hours to go and already you’re thinking about yourself by your stage name.

More like your alter-ego, the other voice responded.

Were these the voices of her better angel or the demon on her shoulder?

Or, more to the point, was one of these the voice of Ellipsis?

‘Jim, we have to act quickly, whatever we do,’ she responded, trying to focus on the issue at hand. ‘If we don’t, people will start drawing their own conclusions.’

However, she realised that while she was speaking to Jim, her mind on another level was comparing the tenure and tone of her actual voice to the voices in her head. That last internal monologue had spoken with a deeper, potentially darker tone. Yes, that was definitely the voice of Ellipsis; whatever or whoever she was: stage name, alter-ego or split personality.

As she returned to reality, she realised Jim was nodding

‘It could be a matter of life and death, boss.’

They spent the next hour debating the pros and cons of action and inaction; all the while, she tried to stay focussed on the decision, rather than  longing to be amongst the sweat and skates of her team mates; to feel the anticipation of the crowd, the impact of contact against an opponent. When she imagined such hits, the ones where she completely cleaned out another girl, they were always wearing green. She hated those Surly Griffins.

Round and round the table they went, each one seated having their say. At last, she made her decision.

It gnawed at her for a moment; and then she moved on.

Now there was resolution; what was done was done. She could already feel some of the tension in her body releasing as she left the room and made her way to the car; from there it was a twenty minute drive to Tuggeranong, via the toilet block near Yarramundi Reach for a costume change.

As she climbed into the car, she realised it wasn’t just making the decision that was relaxing her; the thought of the bout was already working its magic. She could feel her mind clearing, her shoulders relaxing; at the same time other muscles were tensing; good muscles, like her calves and thighs. Muscles that you didn’t tighten when you were contemplating saving a life, but that engage when you hip check someone rolling past you with all the intent of taking theirs.

The voice of Ellipsis again. Soon it would be the only voice. She would take over for the next few hours.

She turned the stereo up in her car as high as ears could tolerate, and picked her pre-game playlist from her phone; it was a meticulously developed collection of songs; all bass, drums and distortion. The perfect way to prepare for a bout. Her mind was mercifully blank for the duration of the trip; the decision had already descending into the recesses of her mind. She was so relaxed in fact, that she nearly missed the turnoff for Yarramundi.

As she skated into the arena, costume and mask in place, she felt the pre-game calmness descend. Other girls felt nervous around her, but this was her ‘zen’ moment. At last she was just another girl, amongst a group of equals; not even her teammates knew who she was; she had worn the mask since her ‘fresh meat’ days. She supposed some might have guessed, but if they had, they didn’t let on.

‘Lipssy,’ a girl in Brindabella purple said, as she skated past, tapping her on the arm affectionately as she did so.

Heidramatic,’ she replied in return, her voice unmistakably deeper than usual even through her Guy Fawkes mask.

Ellipsis was in the house.

It had been Heidramatic who had come originally come up with the nickname, but it had stuck and now all her teammates used the term; a few had done so tentatively at first, afraid of what response they might get from the strange, quiet woman, who never removed her mask; and left immediately after every bout.

The demands of work and travel meant she couldn’t even train anymore; she had hardly done so since her Boot Camp days. That had been a different time, when teams practiced and screened new players in empty car parks around town. She didn’t miss falling over on bitumen. It made falling on the wooden floorboards of the Tuggeranong stadium or the AIS almost pleasant in comparison.

Although, she hadn’t fallen for a while.

She already knew she would at least miss one Brindabelters bout because of work; although she rearranged some other commitments to ensure she was in Brisbane for the Vice City Rollers game; she had already been told she was on the team.

After a few laps warming up, trying to get herself acclimatised to the music and the floor, it was time for Betty to introduce the teams. They lined up in their custom positions as Betty read out each girls name. The girls around her all had a routine they would do – a pirouette, bow or some other acknowledgement to the crowd as their name was called. At last it was her turn:

‘And last, but in no means least, we have the mystery woman, who spins her opponents into a dizzy frenzy…not even I know who it is under that mask….she’s as cool as an iceberg….it’s Ellipsis.’

The crowd noise rose to a new crescendo as Betty read out her name.

Ellipsis simply stood motionless and waited for it to stop.

At last it did. Heidramatic handed her the star and they were ready to begin.

She already knew she would be the starting jammer, and would likely spend the entire night playing that position. That meant less hitting Surlys and more weaving and ducking, but that was okay. She would determine their winning margin.

As she waited for the zebras to start the jam, she savoured the complete calmness that had come over her. At these moments she could shut everything out; the decision, the rest of her work, her personal life – even the crowd became a distant din. All that mattered was getting through that pack and skating.

These were the happiest moments of her life; not a leader, just doing her job.A trickle of sweat fell into her eye, and she winced in pain, trying to refocus her vision. Sweat was a perennial issue in the mask; she hadn’t even started skating yet. She knew from bitter experience she would be drenched underneath by the end.

At last the zebras started the bout.

The rest of the jam, and the ones after, were a blur; a non-stop rush of adrenalin where she mostly reacted on instinct, only stopping when the jam ended; usually because of her decision. As she lay in bed that night, a few key moments would flash back into her mind: a near fall at the start of the second jam when she nearly tripped over Axe Elle Rose; a frenetic opening jam when she managed to pile on points lapping the Surly Griffins’ pack repeatedly, and an unfair penalty when a zebra ruled she had back blocked.

‘More like Unfair as Beuller,’ she hissed at him as she sat down.

The time in the penalty box at least allowed her to take stock of the score.

They were up 50-10; good, she hated those Surlys.

She became aware of Betty saying something about her name. She tuned in just to pick up the end of her questions to the crowd.

‘Who is under that mask Canberra…is she a politician; a doctor; a plumber or a nurse? Your guess is as good as mine.’

She smiled under her mask at that.

Half-time arrived before she had time to get back on the rink, and she paced nervously around the dressing room for the entire break.

‘You hot under there Lispssy?’ Freudian Slit asked, sensing her frustration.

She nodded in reply.  She was starting to think about work again. That’s why she was here, so she didn’t have to do that.

At last they were back on the rink, and the blur of skates, sweat and female bodies returned. The second half went more smoothly, with no return trips to the penalty box. She did however misjudge a bump on one of the Surly Griffin girls, as she attempted to make her way through the pack. As she spun out of control and worked to restore equilibrium, she realised that she had misjudged the girls’ centre of gravity. Regaining her poise, she hit her again, this time properly. She was out the other side and lead jammer once again.

She felt a sense of déjà vu during the next jam, as she prepared to once again break through, when the zebras ended the bout.

Shame, I was just starting to enjoy myself.

She glanced up the scoreboard. 200-30.

Wow, big score, came that deep voice in her mind once again.

‘And that’s a record individual score for Ellipsis, breaking her own record…’ Betty began from the commentary box.

Double wow, the voice retorted sarcastically.

She tuned out of Betty’s words and began taking off her pads.

She was always torn at the end of bouts; whether to stay and high five some of the young girls who had screamed their support throughout the bout, or make a fast getaway before someone started asking too many questions, or worse, tried to unmask her. One girl had tried it after her first bout.

She still remembered the poor girl, lying on the rink, trying to get her ‘wind back’.

Despite the disgusting feel of the sticky mask and pouring sweat, she decided to stay and sign a few autographs; but soon regretted it. She didn’t notice a man in a short sleeved shirt and jeans approach her until he was standing right next to her.

‘Hey Ellipsis, I’m from The Canberra Times. My name is Ben. That was some performance.’

‘Thanks,’ she replied, in a muffled voice from under her mask. She wasn’t sure if it was her normal voice or that of Ellipsis. In the minutes and hours after a bout, it tended to be a battle for her return. The bitch didn’t always leave happily.

‘I wonder if I might ask you some questions?’

‘I don’t think so,’ she replied, turning to leave.

‘People are very curious to know who you are,’ he said, following her.

Great, he’s a persistent one.

She skated out of the arena and towards the change rooms, gently pushing past some fans and teammates as she did so.

Heidramatic noticed what was going on, and deliberately skated backwards into the man.

‘Oh, sorry mate,’ she offered, slightly sarcastically.

He pushed past her, appearing not to notice and ran to catch up to Ellipsis, who had reached the change room door. She had no intention of getting changed here, but hoped it might throw him off.

‘Some people say you’re a man?’ he said, panting as he reached her.

‘Honey, I’m not a man,’ Ellipsis said. ‘But you are, which means I can go in here, and you can’t.’

And with that, she entered the doorway, pushing the door back aggressively lest he try to follow her in.

Heidramatic had caught up to him, and she could hear her through the doorway.

‘You know, I said she should call herself Vagina Woolf, but she thought it was too crude. Still, it would have been appropriate at times like this.’

‘And why is that?’ Ben asked.

‘Because you should be afraid; very afraid; particularly if you don’t fuck off from outside our change room.’

Thanks Heidramatic, Ellipsis thought, smiling on the other side of the door.

Hours later, as she lay down in bed, she wondered if the nightmare would come tonight. She liked to believe that she slept better after a bout; perhaps because Ellipsis was still in control.

I am, came her deep voice, as she fell asleep.

She slept in, and was awoken by the sound of her phone.

‘Hey sis, can you bring some extra bread to the party? We might not have enough.’

‘Sure,’ she replied, trying not to sound sleepy.

‘Did I wake you?’

‘Nah, been awake for hours.’

Her sister laughed.

‘Sure you have. Remember, Castle Playground at one.’

‘I’ll be there.’

When was the last time she had slept in; probably after a bout?

She was in such a rush after her long sleep, that she actually arrived at the party early. She searched for her sister and nephew, but instead recognised a man playing with a small girl nearby. It took her a moment to place him; to see him with Ellipsis’ eyes.  Then she realised, and a shudder of fear went up her spine. Was he following her?

It was Ben, the journalist from last night.

Don’t be stupid, the deeper toned voice of Ellipsis responded, you don’t have your mask on and he hasn’t seen you with it off; he has no idea.

It was the first time Ellipsis had spoken that morning.

As she wrested herself away from the internal dialogue, she realised he was walking towards her.

‘Hi, I’m Ben, I think we’ve spoken?’ he said, smiling.

Shit, the ‘normal’ voice in her head thought, with the slightest shrill to it.

She narrowed her eyes, pretending not to recognise him.

‘We have?’ she responded.

He nodded, smiling.

‘You probably don’t remember. It was last year, over the phone. I was working for the Chronicle and I chatted to you about bringing back the Great Australian Ice Creamery campaign to Canberra.

Ben trailed off, suddenly embarrassed.

She let out a sigh of relief.

‘Oh yeah, that was a great campaign. Shame it didn’t get off the ground.’

Ben nodded.

‘Yeah, shame.’

There was an awkward silence as the two stood, shuffling the dirt, Ben occasionally looking up to check on the girl playing around the castle ramparts. The girl would disappear for long periods before sticking her head up from a different vantage point and yelling ‘Boo’.

Why doesn’t he get the message and leave? Go and stop his kid cracking her head open.

‘So, are you meeting someone?’ he asked at last.

‘Ahh yeah,’ she replied, sighing slightly. ‘It’s my nephew’s birthday.’

Ben nodded.

‘Yeah, great place for kids. She loves it,’ he said, motioning towards the direction where the girl had last been seen.

‘She is the cat’s mother…’

‘Sorry,’ Ben asked, turning to face her.

Shit, I said that out loud, she thought.

‘I said…that’s what all the mother’s say.’

‘Yeah,’ he said smiling.

Mercifully, her sister arrived with a troupe of young children in tow.

‘Well, here’s my family, see you later.’

‘Bye,’ Ben said.

Well you fucked that up.

‘Shut up Ellipsis,’ she whispered out loud, turning to greet her sister.

It would be weeks before her next bout, and the tension in her mind and body grew tighter and heavier. The nightmare returned; on a regular basis. The worst night was when she away, lying in her motel bed, eating room service and watching reality shite, when she wanted to be j-blocking someone. She had fallen asleep late, the television still on, and awoken with a start, covered in sweat. The faces and voices of the telemarketers on the television appeared to taunt her.

She turned off the television and tried to forget the nightmare; she left the light on.

At last, the night of her next bout arrived.  A double-header at the AIS. The larger venue also drew a bigger crowd, and Ellipsis fed off the crowd all night long.

You’re actually getting okay at this roller derby thing, Ellipsis’ voice rang out in her mind, as she exited the Yarramundi toilets, mask safely tucked away in her bag.

And there he was; leaning against his car, his face clear in the dwindling twilight.

Fucking Ben, the journalist.

He was smiling and shaking his head.

‘I had my theories, but I never would have guessed it was you.’

Play it cool.

‘Sorry, what are you talking about?’ she replied.

He seemed not to hear her.

‘But I just needed to know,’ he said. ‘So I followed you.’

Her stomach tightened and she held back the urge to retch; she took a tentative step forward.

‘I suppose it makes sense now I think about it. The bouts you missed…you were away.’

This can’t be happening, she thought.

The game isn’t up yet, came Ellipsis’ voice, you can still deny it.

‘I don’t know what you’re saying,’ she whispered, her voice unconvincing even to her ears.

He stared at her before responding.

‘But why do it? Someone like you. Why put your body on the line….why risk it all?’

She took another step towards him, meeting his gaze for the first time.

Don’t do it. Let me take over.

It was the voice of Ellipsis.

Not this time, retorted her voice.

‘You can’t tell anyone about this Ben. This is off the record…’

He stared at her, as if considering her offer.

‘Ben?’

‘Fine, off the record.’

She hesitated for a moment. Was she ready to do this; ready to admit this to someone?

‘I… I need roller derby…the adrenalin, the speed…to be completely swept up in the moment; no time to think, just to act.  But for it to work, I need it to stay a secret.’

She sighed and stared at the ground.

At last, Ben spoke again.

‘Okay, I won’t tell,’ he said, trying to make contact with her downcast eyes. ‘My readers don’t need to know who you are. In fact, I think I like the idea of them creating their own Ellipsis.’

‘Let them decide who it is behind that mask.’

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