It’s Saturday night and the small club is packed. She peers around the small curtain and looks out at the crowd. She knows it’ll be a good night based on the thickness of the smoke cloud floating around the heads of the patrons like a fog. The small circular tables are filled with small glasses containing amber colored liquids in ice.
She lights a cigarette and listens to the conversation booming above the lazy jazz saxophone and piano. The newcomers are excited to be here, feeling as though they’ve been initiated into an underworld society of the true music lovers. They feel accomplished for having found the tiny basement tucked away in a nothing alley of the big city where the only landmarks are the steam vents and bags of garbage marking businesses. Some are working hard to lay the ground work for a late night lay afterward. Some sit quietly and sip their liquor, perfectly happy to be sitting alone in their own misery.
There are some regulars that she knows have come to see her. They talk excitedly about The Blue lady, the cheesy title she’s been given. They call her music soulful, feel captured by the deep echo of the sound she produces. Music critics call her voice “meaty” as if her vocals cords produced something real enough to bite into. They tout her lyrics as heartbreaking, frighteningly real, haunting. They say that the goosebumps linger long after a show has ended.
The piano grows louder, signaling her time to enter. She pushes her cigarette into the ash tray, straightens her black dress. She looks into the tiny broken mirror and gives her face a moment of attention then instantly wishes she hadn’t. Her dark curly hair swells around her head like a chinchilla, drowning out her large hoop earrings in the mass of fluff. The scar on her cheek seems to stand out against the pallor of her skin. Her lack of sleep is all too evident under her eyes. She is lifeless, corpse- like. Fitting that her image would match her disposition, perhaps now the illusion will be complete.
She pushes past the curtains and ignores the applause greeting her. They have come to see her, to hear The Blue Lady Sing. They have come to be kidnapped by the emotion of her voice, to lose themselves in her words. They have come with the delusion of connection, the false belief that they are all joined together by their pain. But she knows better.
She seats herself on the stool, waits for the piano to quiet. All talking stops. Even the bartender stops the clinking of his glasses and liquor slinging. The room itself seems to hold it’s breath. She closes her eyes tight and waits for the breath to fill her. Then she opens her mouth and lets out one long note building in volume and intensity. She leans back, letting her lungs stretch to their full capacity, lets her body be an instrument to be played.
For a moment, just one moment, she is queen. Queen of a realm that no one would want to rule, but ruler she is. For a moment all eyes, all ears, all thoughts are hers to command. But she will never know. She keeps her eyes shut tight and lets the piano join her.
There are already eyes fixated on her throat as the notes come out and form words, phrases, thoughts. Some people lose track of the club around them, purposefully dive into the sound of her voice. Emotions stir as she sings of her demons, people feel that false connection to her world and settle into the feelings that overcome them. To them, she is a goddess. Her voice fills their ears and they are transfixed.
But in her world she is an untouchable. A pariah. Every note is evaluated, measured, found lacking. A better singer, a better voice would carry this song effortlessly as she lumbers through it with imperfect timing and a stiffness that prevents real flow. She stabs herself with a thousand daggers as she sings, not only for lacking quality in her craft but for the thousand mistakes she has made to sing about. The men she has loved and been tossed away by. The world she cannot be a part of. The inability to connect to anyone outside of her own childish short comings.
Tears swell underneath her eyelids but she does not dare to open them. She focuses on the air coming into her instrument, tries to deepen the notes she belts. The deeper the audience falls into her trance the farther from them, and from any human connection she becomes. She fades, allows the piano and saxophone to play their part. Her brethren play their instruments so much more deftly than she ever could. She feels guilty for sharing the stage with them. The saxophone holds one long last note and then diminishes.
When the thunderous applause echoes off the walls and people kick over their chairs to stand and cheer she dares to open her eyes. She sees them down a long, empty corridor. Their cheers sound far away. She smiles weekly for them and then bows to her more talented comrades.
As she walks home that night she shivers in her coat. Snow is falling, but nothing sticks to the streets here. She ignores the wind whipping down her back, focuses on keeping one foot in front of the other. Her energy is waning, the 12 hour shift she did earlier taking its toll.
When she turns the key to her small walk up she finds her neighbor asleep on the couch. She puts her keys on the small table, the one wobbly leg threatening to topple the whole thing.
“Hey, I’m back” she whispers, giving the old woman a nudge.
Large, dark eyes open behind thick glasses and focus on her. She is embarrassed that she fell asleep, she straightens herself with blushed cheeks and pulls her knit sweater closer around her shoulders.
“Thanks so much,” she says, handing her a $50. The old woman makes the usual protest, gently pushing the green bill back towards her. She gives her a gentle smile and puts the bill in her palm, then closes her fingers around it. Sweet eyes give her a goodbye better than she deserves and she quietly closes the door behind the soft retreating form.
She tiptoes to the bedroom, finds the baby fast asleep. She doesn’t want to wake her but she can’t help sweeping the wispy hair back from her smooth forehead. She listens to the gentle breath coming in and out, watches the small back rise and fall. A tear drop lands silently on the blue pattern print of cartoonish puppy dogs and she wipes a hand across her face. She knows she must be stronger for her, must be better for her. Knows she deserves so much more than what she is, what she is giving. But then again, that’s all she has. She tells herself that’s enough for now.