Clare Archibald is a Scottish writer interested in working across forms and in the potential of collaboration. She has recently been longlisted for the international Lifted Brow/RMIT prize for experimental nonfiction.
A dangerous woman is one who whispers in the ears of others, blowing the wind of change from places that have yet to fully be, spaces that loll around inside waiting for muscles of wanting, ligaments of believing in the possible to pull taut with action and words. Even before the tightening there is an alert nature. Alive to danger, to ridicule, to the predictable reaction of even the unknown. A dangerous woman is one waiting with knowing to be in her moment of all that is after. A dangerous woman is one who crosses paths with other dangerous women.
You met her because they had a craving for Chinese take away. They left her flat which he now shared with her and her two young children, and headed out for food. On the way they heard the jolt of drunken decibels coming from the pub and decided to stop in for just the one.
The rituals of you and one of your good friends from way before you are the you of now spiral around the small city where you both found your compasses of possibility, as women, as friends. You are there to celebrate her 40 years by circling your past with punctures of memories in the map you share.
You spend the day listening to the early footsteps of your burgeoning lives and interests. You scour the streets to find the old buildings that you would walk to accidentally find and take pictures of. You climb the hill and count the rhythm of your older, but unsmoking breath. You hear whispers of the Silvery Tay wrap around your minds and hold your memories in foil. You eat pizza and drink Guinness in a pub that has changed less than you. You laugh and remember and word out the decades of your lives. You want to go to the pub with the jukebox and regulars who drink half and halfs and feel like life is on hold for a night. You do.
There has been a refurb. A page of the map has been crumpled although not ripped out entirely. The jukebox is off; the karaoke is on, the older you surprisingly game for this. You have less shyness, less snobbery, less fear of what people think. Less worry about the worry of what kind of woman you are in eyes other than your own. You add your name to the list. You choose the Wichita Lineman. The Master of Ceremonies tells you that it’s a man’s song. You tell him you understand the lineage and take the microphone. You are aware that you are being watched by a woman who is now sitting next to a man and your friend at the table. You sing your song. You are informed authoritatively by the Master that you did it pretty well for a woman. You sit down, say hello and ask if she’s going to sing anything. He doesn’t say hello and says she won’t be.
More people sing and you watch her watch them. She asks why you are there; you say nostalgia and happy memories carried into the future with your friend from university. She says she began studying at the same university last year but left after months because she struggled to make her life match with the words that came out of the other women’s mouths. She has two children with lives to give shape to and could mouth no faked lines of peer unknowing. She has decided she will stay home and study online where her world will not jar with people’s sense of who she should be. This is not retreat or defeat. This is not distance. It is a dangerous woman practising the range of her vocal chords, beating out her own rhythm of learning.
Traces of smoke
You wonder about the scars around her throat, you notice the unhiding of them. You are strangers in the familiarity of unknowing so say nothing. He sees you look. He challenges your look with words about people who come into places knowing nothing of their past. You tell him that you are interested in all tenses. He stares. You prepare to hear the word feisty yet again. You do. A dangerous woman is one who does not let the throw of the word feisty act as an unwanted fire blanket. A dangerous woman is the woman with him who laughs with your words of derision.
He is flustered and talks about the music of the city. You surprise him with your knowledge. He attempts to trump you with his alleged friendship with Billy Mackenzie. You tell him that women like music for music’s sake just like men. He tells you it’s not the same. He tells you that you are not the same, that you are different from other women. You are a dangerous woman because you tell him he is wrong, you are in fact like other women. You watch him become alert to the potential of similarly dangerous women. You hear the imagined sounds of the Associates dangle in the air, the suicide of Billy fogging the now smokeless room with male harm.
Ballad of the unsaid
She defies him. She sings. It is not a song that you like but you sing along silently. Her volume is now` set high and the buzz of her reaches the table. You feel the force field build. She returns to the table with pleasure and pride but a discernible yearning to be wrong. He proves her right and throws scorn on her. You watch it seep through her newly opened pores, deep into her bones. You hear her whisper. You consider the potential consequences of words that do not dart and seek holes to hide selves in. You question the right to create possible real danger for this woman with these words. You do not have the right answer and think you probably never will as the question is unfairly loaded against your gender. You tell her she was great. He tells her she made a fool of herself. You tell him he should support her. He should want her to rise above a whisper. You tell him to stop shouting her down. You hope that you are not clamping her mouth in a different guise.
He moves towards you as if to head-butt you. You refuse to flinch and ask him why you should be scared when he is the one that is afraid. He goes quiet and you all stare at him together. She gets up silently and asks to sing again.
The applause sounds louder in everyone’s ears this time as you listen for his reaction. He is crying. He tells her she was great. You are all suspicious of this and can tell that he knows it. He apologises. He cries through five more songs and talks of the violence he was brought up with. You tell him that you are interested in all tenses and where they meet as whispers and shouts but only value the silence of true apology.
They only came in for one. You only came in for the jukebox. She hugs you before leaving and tells you that one day she will speak like you. This leaves you speechless. You feel the danger of women who whisper yet hear and the women who speak when they hear danger. Dangerous women are women who cross paths and sway in unknowing together. You hear her whispers and know that she will sing her words for other women in her own way.