Hot Desk Extract: Icebreaker

As part of the Wheeler Centre's Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Christian Taylor worked on a piece of speculative theatre, Icebreaker, that follows the meeting of two strangers – a raging mother and a reclusive teenager – on board an Antarctic icebreaker bound for the last glacier in existence.

The excerpt below comes from the full work, where neither of the characters are quite sure how to live their lives in a new and nonsensical world of last-chance tourism and unflinching optimism. Because what are you supposed to do when you don’t feel like you’ve inherited a future?

Photograph of ice in Antarctica

Image: Scott Limbrick (modified from a photo by Eli Duke, CC-BY-SA 2.0)

The aft deck of a Antarctic icebreaker. It is permanent twilight. Two women stand on the deck. The older of the two, JULIA, is smoking.

JULIA: I’ve forgotten your name. 

NOAH: I haven’t told you my name.

JULIA: I know you. 

NOAH: No.

JULIA: I’ve asked you that already too.

NOAH: Sorry.

JULIA: Are you sure?

NOAH: I did karaoke on the first night. 

JULIA: God no.

NOAH: You missed out.

JULIA: I’ve barely left my room since Hobart.

NOAH: Got a standing ovation. 

JULIA: What did you sing?

NOAH: Bruce Springsteen.

JULIA: Dancing in the Dark?

NOAH: Yeah.

JULIA: Banger.

NOAH: Yeah.

… 

NOAH: You haven’t left your room in three days? 

JULIA: Addiction. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it. You really do remind me of someone.

NOAH: Someone you’re with?

JULIA: No, you just feel familiar.

NOAH: So why would you think you knew me? 

JULIA: You remind me of someone. And not in a good way.

NOAH: Sorry. 

JULIA: You’re strange.

NOAH: You’re drunk.

JULIA: No, I’m not.

NOAH: Your lips are red. 

JULIA: It’s lipstick. 

NOAH: Your teeth too.

JULIA: I’m not drunk.

NOAH: What’s in the flask? Tea? Coffee? 

JULIA: Look kid, I’m –

NOAH: Drunk?

JULIA: Not in the mood for the Spanish Inquisition. 

NOAH: Would you mind if I had some?

JULIA: Some what?

NOAH: Of what’s in your flask.  

JULIA: It’s not bloody booze.

NOAH: No, I know. I’m just cold.

JULIA: Put your fucking gloves back on.

JULIA: Sorry. 

NOAH: …

JULIA: I’m just… all this… it’s putting me on edge.

… 

JULIA: I just get the feeling we’re not supposed to be here.

JULIA: It’s probably just the wine, but I keep seeing things. Semi-seeing things. Just out of the corner of my eye. Out there … these shapes …

NOAH: …

JULIA: Figures. 

NOAH: Aren’t we close to where that ship sunk? That British explorer.

JULIA: Ernest Shackleton?

NOAH: Yeah, Shackleton. Did they die?

JULIA: Can’t remember.

JULIA: It’s so quiet. 

NOAH: Yes. 

JULIA: It wasn’t supposed to be this quiet. 

NOAH: What do you mean?

JULIA: There should be noise.

NOAH: …

JULIA: It’s a paradox isn’t it? This is harshest environment humans can experience without going into outer space, but it’s the most fertile, bio-diverse patch of ocean anywhere in the world. We’re only ten miles off the coast. But no birds. No animals. And yet here we are. 

NOAH: Orca orcinus.

JULIA: Sorry? 

NOAH: Nothing.

… 

NOAH: Orca Orcinus. Orcas. Maybe that’s what you saw.

JULIA: I think I’d know a whale if I saw one.

NOAH: It’s dark. If you just saw the white bit, their / underbelly

JULIA: It wasn’t an orca. 

NOAH: - like a lot of sailors mistook their white bellies for mermaids, and people who’d fallen overboard, and according to First Peoples of North America, orcas took on human form when submerged, and people who drowned at sea went to live with them, so like I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an orca 

JULIA: It wasn’t an orca. 

NOAH: - or a ghost.   

JULIA: You don’t believe in ghosts.  

NOAH: And they have been following us for the last two days. 

JULIA: I’ve never seen any.

NOAH: You can hear them.

JULIA: How?

NOAH: Sometimes. 

JULIA: That doesn’t make sense.

NOAH: You can. Clicks and whistles and … They sound like birds, except like all echoey, like they’re trapped in a cave, or like when one of those sparrows would fly into a supermarket and couldn’t find its way back out.

JULIA: It’s physically impossible. Sound can’t transfer between water and air. And we’re fifteen metres above water level. 

NOAH: I know what I heard. 

JULIA: It must’ve been the engine.

NOAH: No. 

JULIA: Yes. 

NOAH: I heard an orca. You saw some person floating out in the middle of the fucking ocean. 

JULIA: I’m not the crazy one.

NOAH: … Neither am I.

JULIA: Okay.

NOAH: And I’m definitely not the drunk one.

JULIA: There’s nothing else here. Nothing. Why the fuck would they be following us?

NOAH: I don’t know okay! Maybe they’re waiting for you to finally jump overboard.

NOAH: Noah.

JULIA: … 

NOAH: My name.

JULIA: …

NOAH: Nice to meet you.

JULIA: Yeah.

JULIA: I should go inside.

NOAH: I’m sorry.

JULIA: We’re saying that a lot aren’t we?

NOAH: I didn’t mean to offend /

JULIA: Don’t flatter yourself. I just need to find a phone.

NOAH: No. 

JULIA: No?

NOAH: …

JULIA: …

NOAH exits. JULIA waits a few moments before turning to leave. Just as she is about to reach the door, there is the sound of a pulse followed by a quick chirp. She freezes. She listens. Nothing but water. Confused, she peers over the railing, searching for something. Still nothing. She begins to roll another cigarette. NOAH re-enters. NOAH hands JULIA her phone.

NOAH: It's unlocked.

JULIA: …

NOAH: Well?

JULIA: What?

NOAH: Call him. 

JULIA: Who?

NOAH: Nathan.

JULIA: Now?

NOAH: I thought it was urgent.

JULIA: …

JULIA takes a few steps away. NOAH stares intently. JULIA stares back until NOAH gets the message and moves away to give her privacy. JULIA dials.

JULIA: It’s ringing.

It goes to voicemail. JULIA listens to the message and smiles. But then her eyes widen. She hangs up quickly.

JULIA: Fuck. 

NOAH: What?

JULIA: I … I forgot what …

NOAH: Ring again.

JULIA: No, I shouldn’t.

NOAH: It’s fine.

JULIA dials again. It goes to voicemail.

JULIA: …

JULIA: Hi. It’s me. Sorry about …  my finger slipped. Um …

JULIA turns away completely from NOAH.

JULIA: I am … uh … Just calling to say hear your voice … you know. And let you know I’m okay. I’ve only vomited once … It’s exactly like the brochure. You would love it … But um … maybe I’ll catch you next time.

NOAH: Where does he live now? 

JULIA: Who?

NOAH: Your husband. 

JULIA: Um.

NOAH: You called your husband right? 

JULIA: No. Yes. Ex-husband. 

NOAH: Shit.

JULIA: It’s fine.

NOAH: I assumed. 

JULIA: Tasmania. He lives in Tasmania.

NOAH: Wow.

JULIA: Yes.

NOAH: Have you been? 

JULIA: Yes. / 

NOAH: The big Huon Pines? Have you seen them?

JULIA: Yes. / 

NOAH: They’re fucking huge. These like, ancient, primordial monsters. And the smell. You feel high. Because you can smell it, you know? The time. You can smell the time. Like a hallucinogenic pool. And then the ones that have fallen over, you see their rings and there’s hundreds and you realise they've been alive since before any kind of global-scale conflict, any kind of mass-produced anything, any kind of institutionalised religion…

JULIA: …

NOAH: What happened? 

JULIA: He ran away. Shit happened and he ran away. 

NOAH: From what? 

JULIA: He bought a plot of land somewhere in the the highlands. Built his own place. Got his little self-sustaining farm going. But he refuses to call it what it is. He calls it his ‘summer house’. But it’s off the grid. It has its own water supply. Half of it is underground for fuck’s sake. 

NOAH: He’s a doomsdayer.

JULIA: You mean one of those defeatist nutjobs? Yes. 

NOAH: …

JULIA: What? 

NOAH: Nothing.

Portrait of Christian Taylor

Christian is a Melbourne-based actor, writer and theatremaker. He graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Practice (2014). His theatre investigates the nature of grief, physical ritual, the limitations of language, and phenomenological performance, and he is fascinated (perhaps morbidly so) by speculative environmental literature.

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