Kate Ennals – The Puppeteer

kate 001Kate Ennals has just completed the MA in Writing in NUI Galway. She has lived in Ireland (Dublin, Cavan, Galway) for the last 20 years. Kate Ennals was highly commended in the Desmond O’Grady Poetry competition in 2012. She was published in the first edition in January 2013 of the new poetry magazine, Skylight 47, published by the Galway group, The Skylight Poets, and has had a story and poems published in an anthology, ‘From Ballyjamesduff to Belleek’, published by the International Fund for Ireland. She was also published in March 2013 in Crannog, the Galway arts magazine. Kate won 3rd Prize in the Dead Good Poetry Competition, run by Over the Edge and the Galway Rape Crisis Centre in May 2013. Kate also writes under the name of Cait K Morris.

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The Puppeteer

By Kate Ennals

Janet stood by her older brother’s side. She looked at the paraphernalia scattered across the dining table: cardboard boxes, bits of wood, tracing and coloured paper, rulers, pencils, glue, scissors, scalpels, bits of velvet, red woolly tassels, bottles of paints, dolls clothes and bits of dolls house furniture.

“What are you doing?”, she asked.

Janet was seven years old. Her favourite colour was brown. She had brown eyes, straight brown hair, cut in a bob. She was dressed in a woolly twinset: a brown pleated skirt and a white and brown striped jumper. She looked like a little brown bug. Janet was a little on the roly poly side. In the bath, she would count the rolls of tummy she had when she sat up in the water. There were four.

“Making a puppet theatre,” answered John, puffing up with self importance. There was a family resemblance, but he was thinner, short hair, intelligent eyes. John was 12, and like all older brothers, bossy.

“What for?”

“To put on a puppet show, dummy.”

“I am not a dummy!”

John had planned the project meticulously. He sketched out his design of the puppet theatre on squared graph paper. He had gathered his materials together. He had a sheaf of notes in his hand.

“What’s the puppet show about?” asked Janet, excitedly.

“I don’t know yet. I want to make the theatre first.”

“Can I help?

“Maybe later.”

Janet watched him. He was measuring the boxes. There were mathematical equations over his sheet of paper. The girl picked up a pencil and began to draw.

“I’ll do a drawing for it.”

John screeched.

“Not that paper. That’s for scenery. Go away, Janet.”

“I’m sorry,” Janet said, “I just wanted to help.”

“Not now!”

John’s construction of the puppet theatre went on all weekend. John wouldn’t let Janet in the room. He locked it when he was inside and locked it when he was not. He ostensibly put the key in his pocket. He had stuck up a sign on the door. KEEP OUT.  Janet felt a combination of excitement and disappointment. She knew the production of the theatre would lead to an event and she wanted to be a part of it.

“Can I help?” she pleaded from the other side of the shut dining room door.

“You’ll just mess it up. I’ll finish soon,” he called back.

Janet went to her room and wrote a story for the puppet show. She liked to write stories. Janet told John about it that night at supper. Janet, John and their mother were eating fish fingers, fried eggs and peas at the kitchen table.

“I wrote a story for your theatre, John. It’s about a talking dog in South Africa that gets kidnapped by a circus. So the family join the circus and became acrobats and lion tamers. Lots of action!”

John laughed.

“That sounds far too complicated. Anyway, I think I already have one.”

“Oh,” said Janet, disappointed.

“What’s it about, John?” asked their mother.

“A simple family scene. I’ve nearly finished the construction of the theatre. It’s looking good. I am just doing the invitations for the show. We’ll invite the neighbours. You can help me deliver them, if you like, Janet.”

“Ok.”

By the way, John, could you change the light bulb in the shower?” asked his mother. “It’s gone again.”

“Ok.”

“I forgot to ask your dad before he went away. I think it may be one of new modern ones. A screw in one.”

“Ok.”

The next day John emerged from the dining room with the puppet theatre. It was beautiful. The cardboard box was painted silver and blue and carved with scalloped edges. A window was cut out at the side of the box. If you peeked in, the scene was set as a living room. The stage curtains were made from strips of red velvet material and were pulled to the side and tied with yellow wool. He had borrowed dolls house furniture from one of the children for whom he babysat. The stage was set: there was a small blue arm chair by the window, a rug made from a square of hessian, a small wooden table and a bed. He had even painted a picture of a beautiful sunset on the back wall.

“It’s lovely, John!” exclaimed Janet. She felt simultaneously proud of her brother and sad at not having been a part of it all.

“It’s excellent, John,” said his mother. “Well done. Thank God there’s someone in the family who is good with their hands.”

The puppets were made from pipe sticks, glued with cotton wool and covered in black and purple felt material. John had dressed them in Barbie and Ken doll clothes and attached a fine twine to the arms, head and feet to which he attached to a piece of wood  in the shape of a cross. Janet hadn’t realised he would control them from above. Like a God! There were two puppets. The boy puppet wore dark trousers and a white top and the girl puppet wore a  green dress.

“They are amazing,” said Janet with awe, “Can I have go?”

“They are very delicate, be careful.”

Janet picked up the girl puppet.  She jiggled the wood but puppet wouldn’t move. Janet tried again with two hands. She wanted to make the legs dance.

“Be careful!” said John, taking the puppet from her. “You have to use your fingers.”

In John’s hands the girl puppet danced away, mid air. The boy puppet lay lifeless on the table.

“He looks sad. Make him dance like her.”

“I can’t do the two at the same time yet. I have to practice.”

“They are wonderful, John. Very good,” said mother. “When are you planning the show?”

“Next Saturday afternoon. I need to get good at manipulating them.”

“Won’t you teach me?” asked Janet.

“No. But we’ll find something for you to do.”

“Hurray! Can I invite some of my friends?”

“Yep,” John smiled, “you can.”

“I could be a voice, even if I can’t do the puppet.”

“Probably not.”

“What will my job be?”

“You can collect the tickets at the door.”

“John, it’s Tuesday,” interrupted mother, “will you put out the bins tonight? The dustbin men come tomorrow.”

“Ok, mum,” he answered.

On Saturday afternoon friends and neighbours began to arrive for the show. John handed out tickets at the front gate and let Janet collect them at the sitting room door. There were about twenty people wedged in the room, ten adults and ten children. The room glowed in a golden haze as the sun tried to blaze its way through the closed white cotton curtains. Janet and her two friends were sitting, cross legged,  on the floor with lit up, expectant faces. The theatre sat in the centre of the long coffee table, strategically placed in front of the drawn curtains. Its red stage curtains were also drawn.

“What’s behind the red curtains?” asked Mandy, Janet’s best friend,  looking at the handmade theatre.

”Wait and see”, said Janet. “Isn’t it beautiful? John made it all himself.”

“Great craftsmanship!” remarked Paul Kavanagh, one of the neighbours, as he leaned against the wall, with a beer.

“I see you found a use for the velvet I gave you,” said Leticia Hughes from no. 6 as John made his way to the front of the room.

Standing before the closed curtains, his shadow falling on the sitting girls, John took a bow. The audience gave an appreciative applause. Janet looked up at him, wrapped in sisterly pride.

“Welcome to the Terrace Puppet Theatre Show. I want to thank everyone for all their help.”

Janet frowned slightly. Who had helped him, she wondered. He hadn’t allowed her.

“Today, we will we see the first production of The Family Scene

John stepped behind the white cotton curtains. You could see his bulky person silhouetted against the sun. Vivadi’s Spring for Flute came on. His hand darted out and expertly, he pulled back the velvet stage curtains. Janet’s old rag doll, grey woolly hair, wearing a blue jacket and black trousers was sitting slumped in the blue chair.

“That’s my rag doll,” she whispered loudly and proudly to her friend.

After a minute, the two handmade puppets plopped down, jiggling up and down on the theatre stage. Janet clapped her hands enthusiastically.

The puppet show was a story about two children visiting granny for tea. Granny, who was the rag doll, turned out to be a wicked witch in disguise who wanted the children as slaves. At the last minute the boy puppet plunged a knife into the rag doll, killing her.

“That’s my rag doll!” Janet shouted, upset to see her rag doll knifed so brutally.

John stepped out from behind the curtain and bowed. The music stopped.

“Encore, encore. More, more,” shouted the audience appreciatively.

Janet jumped up.

“John, you killed my rag doll!”

John smiled.

“Ssshhh. I’ll mend it for you later. I didn’t want to tell you. I knew you’d make a fuss.”

John turned back to the audience and formally announced:

“After show refreshments will take place in the garden.”

Janet turned away, sadly. She called her friends.

“Come on. There are tea cakes and chocolate biscuits!”

Janet led her friends downstairs.

“Writing tragedies already, young man?” said Paul Kavanagh as he approached John. “The music was a very nice touch.”

“Yes,” said Letitia, “very dramatic. The set was brilliant, John. I loved the detail. Would you be interested in building my girls a dolls house?”

John smiled with pride.

“Yes. I was more interested in the design and the building of the theatre. The story wasn’t anything really.”

John’s mother came up to them.

“Very good, John.” She turned to the neighbour, “Doesn’t he have great skills? A real project manager! He’s a God send. John, you better go downstairs and check on the guests. They probably need help.”

His mother wouldn’t remember the theatre show fifty years later as she sat in her basement room in John’s house in East London. The old lady sat in her blue chair, wearing a faded turquoise fleece. She reminded John of that old rag doll of Janet’s in his puppet production many moons ago.  John took the small ladder from the cupboard to change his mother’s light bulb. He rolled up the hessian floor rug so the ladder wouldn’t slip and propped it next to the sunset painting on the wall. He unscrewed the bulb and replaced it.

“Janet rang,” said his mother. “Apparently, it’s lovely sunshine in Cape Town. Oh, by the way, John, I left the shopping list on the wooden table for tomorrow.”

“Ok,” John answered “I’ve changed the light bulb now, mum. I’ll cook dinner. I brought down my kitchen knife from upstairs. It’s sharper than yours.”

His mother didn’t respond. She sat in the blue chair, waiting.

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