~ A short story ~
I slam my apron on the bar counter and leave as the printer vomits paper after paper of orders: beer, mojito, whiskey, cosmopolitan, tequila shots, and vodka orange. The night is young and the swelling crowd is vivacious. Gerard looks at me as I storm out the counter and head to the stage. He must think I am crazy to leave him as he sweats profusely with the number of drinks he needs to serve. But I really don’t care. I’ve had enough of life compromising my dreams.
Sandra and her shiny, wiggly, skimpy dress that makes her look like a Tina Turner impersonator leaves the stage for her set break after a medley of Taylor Swift and Adele’s songs. She must have had a lot of heartbreaks recently. I take the acoustic guitar from the stand and sit on the high stool in front of the mic stand. I can see Gerard’s eyes on me amidst the dimly lit bar counter. The manager has not come out yet; he must be sleeping as always like a hibernating polar bear inside his cold office.
Mic test. I say as I strum the guitar. The sound electrifies my body. I feel the current on my arms and legs. My palms are icy cold yet my face is on fire. I feel my body disintegrate but the music seems to keep it whole. The small organ that pumps blood to my veins pounds like a drum. It completes the one-man band.
I play the intro of the first song. The crowd goes about their drinks and chatters. A group of youngsters gathers around the pool table at the far end of the bar. Couples flirt on the couches. Friends laugh and dig in calamari, nachos, and buffalo wings. Ladies indulge in cosmopolitans. Middle-aged men and their lagers sit on bar stools in front of the counter to watch football from the TV hanging on the corner wall of the bar. The printer keeps spitting out orders.
The rotating spotlight blinds me every time it hits my face. I sing the first stanza and try to find my voice from all the noise around. I listen closely and check if I am in tune with the guitar. I close my eyes and find my voice, raspy in nature.
Feels like I’m knocking on heaven’s door.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door was my childhood anthem. It woke me up on summer school holidays as my father played the full Guns N Roses album at eight in the morning on the maximum volume of his Pioneer car speakers as he fixed trucks in his machine shop beside our garage. I often wondered if our neighbors never complained.
Whenever I moaned about the volume, he would say ‘I’m waking you up sleepy head. Don’t be lazy. The sun is already high in the sky.’ He usually whistled the tunes along with the song. Sometimes I ask myself, why was he whistling when he can just sing along?
Imagine a young girl of eight, rubbing her sleepy eyes, eating her coco pops with milk, listening to Guns N Roses instead of watching Dora and her monkey. What do you get from that?
When I turned thirteen, I asked my father to buy me a guitar.
‘No way!’ He already made his mind before I even had the chance to explain.
‘But why?’ I protested.
‘Learning and playing the guitar takes up a lot of your time. Spend your time on your studies. Guitars are for lazy people.’
I never understood how he loved music and didn’t like the idea of me, playing a musical instrument. Why play these songs in the first place, every morning, like drilling the songs in my head?
I went to my mother to try my luck even though I knew she won’t help me convince father like she never tried to convince him to play the classical music that she liked. She was good with compromising and my father wasn’t.
Like me, she kept listening to Guns N Roses. But unlike her, I wasn’t good at compromising.
I saved my allowance even though it meant sacrificing some meals in school and by the age of fifteen, I got my own guitar. I sneaked it home although I knew that nobody won’t hear it if I start playing. On the first night that I played, my father stormed into my room. He almost broke my door. He glared at me and didn’t say anything.
I instantly fell in love with my guitar and its sexy traditional western body, spruce top, and tabbacco brown sunburst color. I carried it to school, spent late nights with it along with the families of Gs and Cs and As, slept beside it, and called it Amber. We became inseparable.
He waited for a reason to get rid of my guitar and the reason he got when I failed a subject for the very first time. He smashed Amber into the floor. Along with its broken pieces was my heart and I didn’t get it back until I moved out of the house. It hurt more me than he knew. It was worse than seeing my crush flirt with a girl. Or seeing my beloved puppy, die before my eyes. It was my first real heartbreak.
I keep playing my chords and as I hit the G and sing the chorus, I could not hear myself again for the crowd’s voice is louder than mine.
Knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door!
The drunk and half sober crowd sings the chorus. I remember watching an old Guns N Roses concert video. Axel Rose and his long blond hair caught inside a red bandana tied around his head, holds his mic towards the crowd as they sing the chorus for him. Slash in his shiny, tight, black pants, and his face that I couldn’t see because of his thick hair slides his hands onto the frets as he does the solo of the song.
This isn’t a Guns N Roses concert but this is the closest to a dream that a frustrated musician like me can ever get.
My song gets to a close. I strum the final chord and stay still until the sound fades. I look at the packed bar and hear loud applause. The polar bear is out from its hibernation and glares at me. His long sleeves are folded until his elbows and he serves a pint to a chubby man sitting in front of the bar, with a round tummy sticking out of him. Sandra stands beside the bar counter and stares at me, arms folded.
I don’t know if I’ll get fired tonight but I really don’t care anymore. I’ve been wanting to this all my life but never had the chance and never had anyone believe in me. This could also be my first and last performance, who knows. So, for now, I start another song and smash this gig of a lifetime.
The crowd sings the chorus for me once again, this time with the anthem of my teenage years. As I said, I wasn’t good at compromising. As I grew up, my father got a competitor in playing loud music. His was Guns N Roses. Mine was Green Day. My compromising mom has memorized all their songs by heart whether she liked it or not.
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end, it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life
Everyone knows the lyrics by heart and they sing together like we are in a mass karaoke. The bar explodes in music and laughter as the polar bear sweats as if all the ice melted due to climate change and the North Pole transformed into the Sahara Desert. Gerard still keeps his eyes on me as he bathes in sweat inside the counter but this time with a saucy smile. Sandra is nowhere to be seen.
I look around the bar brimming with life although its air reeks with cancer-inducing elements. The rotating lights make everything look like a dream. I see a man looking at me. He sits two tables away from the stage. His graying hair shines under the light and his well-built arm raises a glass to me.
I think I have my number one fan now – the same man who shattered my heart into pieces for the very first time.
If you are still here, thanks for reading. This short story is written for the theme Ready, Set Go! and the prompt is Write about a character who makes a dramatic life change to pursue a goal they’ve secretly always wanted.
I hope I didn’t bore you. I’m not sure if I like the outcome of the story but I wrote it, it’s my product so I’m gonna post it anyway.
Featured image by Jack Sharp