Next to an unlit bin-fire Beatrice is nested in her sleeping bag amongst a collection of cardboard, milk-crates and old brooms. As Bertie and Bernadette move past looking for another spot to stop for the night she calls out to them.
Beatrice: Oi, love.
Bernadette: Yeah, what you want Grandma?
Beatrice: I’m no ones grandmother anymore Alberta Rotherham.
Bertie: It’s Bertie!
Beatrice: I thought as much.
Bernadette: Who are you?
Beatrice: That is my name.
Bertie: Well, maybe we’ll stop a while Bernadette, eh? Have a cup of tea.
Beatrice: Tea? Are you in the habit of carrying around a thermos?
Bertie: No, but Beatrice by name, Beatrice by nature.
Bernadette: Tea? Who is –
Bertie: – Hush. I thought you were dead.
Beatrice: I’ve come back to die.
Beatrice pulls out a thermos and prepares to share out hot tea.
Bertie: I’d thought you left.
Beatrice: I’ve come back.
Bernadette takes her mug and sits.
Bernadette: Thank you.
Bertie follows suit.
Bertie: Ta. Pause. If you’re not staying, why did you call out then?
Beatrice: Why are you still on the streets?
Bertie: Old habits.
Beatrice: Rude questions.
Bertie: What do you want?
Beatrice: Have you seen the old bloke?
Beatrice: You know.
Bertie: I don’t.
Beatrice: The Sweeper.
Bernadette: The little man who clears up the streets driving that funny machine?
Beatrice: I don’t understand.
Bertie: You wouldn’t.
Beatrice gets to her feet.
Bernadette: Right, listen here Bertie, the deal was that we stick it out together. If you’re just gonna bail on me and go buddying up with another granny then I’m leaving. Thank you for the tea, Beatrice, or whoever you are.
Beatrice: She’s right.
Beatrice: You two have got to stick together. Safety in numbers, like we had. Sit back down girl. I’ll tell you a story. Let’s have a last story round the fire.
Bernadette: The fire isn’t lit.
Beatrice: It’s a dream fire. Keeps you warm inside.
Bernadette: Is she –
Bertie: – Hush.
As she sings Beatrice becomes more and more animated, as do Bertie and Bernadette, joining in with the song and the dance.
Beatrice: If there was a time without wreckage
Before the cracked soul
We wouldn’t know
Yet we could still sleep
All through the those years
Into our dreams he always comes
Away from our dorm he leaves
Sweeping away without a thought
Echoes of our lost dreams
He hates people but we weren’t people
We were the rats, the dogs and pigs.
On the cusp of our thoughts
He waited with his broom
The sweeper of our dreams
Bertie: And then we escaped!
Those smudges in the corner
And the shadows down the hall
Beatrice: But that is not all!
Beatrice throws off her sleeping bag and leaps to her feet, suddenly nimble she grabs at a broom, throwing it at Bernadette who catches it and also gets to her feet. Beatrice starts to dance with another broom as does Bertie who claims another with Bernadette hesitating.
Dreams, oh yes then there were dreams
Of warmth in the dark
Of comfort in the cold
Beatrice pauses, there is a shift in tempo and Bernadette finds she can join in this dance.
And there between the cobbles
He danced with us all night
Safe in the assurance that we
Would forever forget
Bertie: Forever forget. Need to forget.
Beatrice: For when you fall from the sky
Or your feet spurt out blood
And vines they twist and they turn
You must not remember
Bernadette: You need to sleep
Bertie: We all need to sleep.
Beatrice: And dream.
Bertie: His hand-rolled cigarettes
Beatrice: The hand-rolled cigarettes
Bertie: And the dragon tattoo
Beatrice: It was a boat, I’m sure.
Bertie: We can agree on the broom.
Bernadette: I’d assume.
Beatrice: This older gentleman, you wouldn’t pass an eye on
Respect him and he’ll sweep in
Mention the weather and the late spring
And he will –
Bertie: – Rattle off the League statistics and the form for the week ahead. Before and after they happen he’ll know.
Bernadette: I can see him now!
Bertie: Of course you’ve met him too. Somewhere once.
Beatrice: But you didn’t dance.
But then we had no more to offer
We became just people, everyone
Who couldn’t see into the corners
Or the under the sleep
And he just swept away
To find new dreams
Beatrice stops dancing, suddenly tired and the other two help her to sit back down in her nest.
Bernadette: What happened?
Beatrice: We grew up.
Bertie: Went away.
Bernadette: Got old.
Beatrice: No more dreams. We lost them all, didn’t we Bertie. Well all but him in the end. All but him. But now that I’m here I once again need myself a sweeper. I’m not going to be left behind this time.
Beatrice drifts off to sleep as the other two finish their tea.
Bernadette: She’s actually gone to sleep. Bless, what an old dear!
Bertie: Nothing dear about her. We were thrown out together and we had to survive. And we did thanks to her. And her stories.
Bernadette: She’s fast asleep. Even in this cold.
Bertie: And dreaming. Goodnight Beatrice.
Bertie kisses Beatrice on the forehead and she and Bernadette exit.
The Sweeper enters, with his broom. He calmly collects all of the scattered items around Beatrice, puts them into the bin and then sets it on fire: her sleeping bag, the brooms, her thermos, the crates and the cardboard. He then waits as she wakes up and as she does he offers her the broom. She accepts and he slow-dances her offstage.
Bertie and Bernadette hurry back in to the warmth of the glowing fire but nothing else.
Bernadette comforts Bertie as they settle down for the night next to the embers of Beatrice’s dream fire.
This is a 'Mini Opera' based on The Sweeper of Dreams story by Neil Gaiman for the ENO. Details can be found about it here. Please excuse the slightly strange formatting - blogger isn't receptive to copying carefully tabbed MSword files.