the singer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic



THE SINGER
-
The singer showed up to the bar at fifteen minutes to nine, pulling the door shut behind her with some difficulty as the winter winds tried to tug it from her hands.
Reese was ostensibly working the door, as he did most nights, really just standing at the small podium to be away from the old-going-on-ancient bartender, an old bastard by the name of Sams.
He wore several other hats in the bar, as did most people in a town as small as Moose, Wyoming (population: not much, elevation: too high), and he was working out a discrepancy in the bar's financial ledger when she came in, lowering her hood and shaking snow out of her multicolored hair.
The few regulars looked up as she entered, giving her looks ranging from stern disapproval at her platform heels to drunken interest in her generous curves.
She seemed to feel the weight of their eyes on her and looked up from the zipper of her coat, offering a thin lipped smile to the room at large before shrugging out of it and hanging it on one of the few empty racks beside the door, between a camouflage jacket somebody's daddy had worn to die in some far off land and a red overcoat that had been hanging there for going on three months.
Reese glanced irritably at the small puddle collecting around her feet, annoyed as always at the inability of city folk to ever clean their fucking shoes.
"You must be her," He said, not unkindly.
"That I am, when it suits me." She replied, quick as a whip.
Reese felt himself beginning to smile in spite of himself, then gestured to the heavy guitar case beside her feet.
"Need any help with that?"
"Nah," She said, easily lifting the case to hip height. "Just point me to the stage."
Reese started to point, then lowered his hand.
"You know there ain't anybody here, right?" He asked, not bothering to lower his voice.
"I don't know what you plan on getting out of this, but I can promise no one here has much in the way of excess funds."
She shrugged, smiling good naturedly.
"I have my reasons," The singer said, waving one hand in a movement that reminded Reese of a magic show.
Presto, change-o, and the bunny or bird or snot nose kid was gone into the wind.
"I hope you know what you're in for," He tried again. "Some of these men ain't too friendly."
The singer laughed, tossing her hair.
"In my experience, people ain't too friendly."
Reese nodded, then pointed towards the small stage, which was actually a glorified pile of wood set on some cinderblocks.
"Have at 'er," He said.

-
The singer set up her gear with practiced fluidity, opening the battered case to reveal a gorgeous guitar, a sunburst Gibson Hummingbird.
He recognized the instrument from his younger days, mainly spent studying various music magazines and lusting after the rock star career he felt certain he would one day have.
He smiled ruefully, thinking back to when he'd been as young as the singer clearly was.
He hadn't known his ass from a hole in the ground, and the world had quickly informed him of that, but he couldn't find it in himself to resent the girl.
Onstage, she plugged in her guitar and strummed experimentally, the guitar sounding bright and clean in the dirty and dark room.
None of the men seated at the bar looked up at the sound.
They'd come to this place for a purpose, and they were seeing to it.
Reese closed his ledger thoughtfully, watching her show.

"I'm a highway shooter," She sang, strumming the guitar in a staccato rhythm that reminded Reese of movies set in the old west.
"Went down to North Dakota,"
A man at the bar whooped sardonically at the mention of his home state, and she carried on.
"Found myself another name,"
Her voice was pitched low, a tinge of smoke on each word as she introduced herself in song, telling a story of love and loss and moving on to do it again.
Reese surprised himself by feeling annoyed by the backs at the bar who refused to take in the singer's performance, but he shrugged it off.
These were men who were used to a hard way of living, and he doubted most of them had ever taken time to listen to anything besides old country music, the guys who were singing about murder and love back when the genre was still called C&W.
The singer seemed unbothered by their lack of interest, carrying on with her music as though performing to an audience of hundreds instead of a dozen or so dirty workmen, the wide section of floor that had been set out as a dance floor in more optimistic times remaining empty.
She sang on, telling several stories and at points even seeming to improvise new lyrics on the spot, playing out her emotions on the six string in her arms.
Her shining bracelets and a few studs set in her nose caught the light as she moved, gleaming outward as though to say here she was, taking up all the space she deserved and more.
She played on for two hours or so, taking short breaks to impart a few personal stories surrounding the songs she had written.
Toward the end, she played a soft and broken lost-love ballad that brought itching to the corner of Reese's eye, singing gently about someone she'd known who she'd never got to keep.
He took in her music until she stopped playing, and Reese still wanted more.

-
By the time she finished up, only one or two of the regulars were left at the bar, and Sams the old bartender was beginning to wipe down what few tables there were.
Reese had once been to a big city bar that had stayed open to the undiscovered depths of four in the morning, but there was no place for that in Moose.
Even eleven o'clock was pushing it.
When she finally left the stage, Reese brought her an unopened water bottle, getting a nasty, knowing grin from Sams as he reached behind the bar for it.
Fuck that old man, he thought to himself. That ain't what I'm after. Only reason he's still here is because anybody with any skill gets as far from this town as they can.
Still, Reese wasn't quite sure what he expected from speaking to the singer again.
She took the water and drank off half of it at once, then burped loudly, looking around as though expecting to be kicked out for it.
"I think we might have heard a few of those from time to time," Reese pointed out, his tone dry.
She laughed, but he could see old insecurity in her eyes.
Old? Hell, she couldn't be much more than twenty five, especially once you got up close and looked past the makeup and fancy clothing.
She had worn black leggings and an artfully frayed top that was far too light for the weather, and Reese could see her regretting it as the night went on and the true cold of the dark began to set in.
"I wasn't expecting a huge crowd, but the one I got was..." She trailed off.
"Drunk?" He suggested, and she laughed and nodded.
"Yeah, but I had to do it. I only get a few of these a year."
She dug in her pocket and pulled out a small white business card, stamped with the location and time of the night's performance.
Reese took it and read it, taking in the plain black type set on the thick, almost creamy paper.
It felt something like the oldest books his father had collected before he passed, the ancient ones at the back of the house that young Reese simply couldn't resist running his hands over the edges.
"Parchment," The singer said.
"Ayuh," Reese agreed, startled out of a memory. "So you didn't book yourself here?"
"Nope, I just show up where the cards say." She replied, bending down to replace her guitar in its snug case.
He caught a glimpse of her name, stenciled on top in vibrant colors.
"So that's really your name?" He asked.
"Yeah, my parents kinda set me up with a stage name from the beginning."
"How many of those cards have you gotten?"
"About... six?" She said, turning her answer into a question. "They were all small towns too. Just random drips and drops of people on this great road we call life."
Reese contemplated that.
"Why bother going to these places?"
"Why not?" She asked, her voice teasing while her eyes remained serious. "Maybe somebody here needed to hear what i had to say. Maybe I'm playing to the ghosts who died here and want a good show every once in a while. Maybe all of it, maybe none of it. But it's an adventure every time, and I wouldn't trade what I do for the world."
"Somebody could be leading you somewhere to kill ya."
"Then they'll finish up a job i started with my first breath, mister. I'm just living in a world I don't understand, here."
Reese walked away, frustrated.

-
The singer waited until everyone else had left before she gathered her things to leave.
Probably making sure no one follows her to wherever she's sleepin', Reese thought, knocking on the wooden podium without being consciously aware of it.
She was almost past him before Reese managed to get the word out.
"Hey,"
She turned, her face curious but not annoyed.
"Will you play something else? Anythin', I'm not picky."
She looked him in the face until he glanced away, then turned back and walked up onto the stage, pulling out her guitar again but not bothering to plug it in and amplify it.
At this point, there was only the two of them.
"This one's for you, stranger," She said, and began to sing.
Reese took in her music with his eyes closed.
He listened in the present while his mind was in the past, thinking back to late nights reading about guitars he'd never own and places he'd never go,
and further back to the feeling of soft, ragged edges of parchment beneath his young hands, with so many years ahead of him.
-


Submitted: March 18, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Ruben Hernandez. All rights reserved.

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