When she steps up there she forgets all about them — the audience, the nay-sayers, her father, her ex-husband — all she sees are the microphone and the lights. All she feels or thinks about is the music. And then, when she finds her voice, it’s like the music owns her. She pours her whole soul into the song, the whole strength of her voice, all her emotions, every lesson her past has ever taught her.
As if no-one else is there. As if she sings directly to heaven, and heaven answers: a warm place inside her, a sense of glittering, a sense of burning brightly and walking on air.
It’s only when the music stops, when she has to come down from this, that she can see the room in all its dingy glory. Without the spotlight it’s medium dark, the wallpaper’s stained and faded, the lounge seems small and unremarkable. There are people there in the audience, but she can count them on her fingers, drinking and talking, perhaps not even noticing her up here. Suddenly she can see herself, lost and middle-aged. She remembers the respectable heights from which she’s fallen — in truth, from which she’s jumped — the family she’s disappointed; the man she once loved but who’d been quite indifferent to her, maybe for longer than she knew. And Tara — the woman he’d not been indifferent to at all.
Only Jacob leaves as late as she does. He shuffles his bucket along, his mop swishing over the beer-sticky floors. His back is stooped, and his hair is pale; grey outnumbers the once-dark auburn that must have made him exquisite in his youth.
Well, we’re none of us exquisite now.
“Liked to hear you tonight, Em’ry.”
And she likes to hear him call her that – kinda short for Emily, and him the only one who uses it. “You’re only saying that, Jacob.”
“Nah, never say what I don’t mean. You were a goddess up there on stage.”
“I don’t know if anyone was listening.”
“Reckon they were. I keep watch on them, don’t I?”
“But they don’t really see me, you know?”
“Em’ry, I see you. You look gorgeous tonight, really pretty.”
They’re walking out together, once the floors are done. They walk into late night, bright street-lights, the faint sounds of music – if you can call it that – from across the road.
“There, you see, you’re a thousand times better than the likes of that.”
“But you can’t dance to me – not that kind of dancing.”
“They can take that kind of dancing and shove it where it won’t feel comfortable. I’d slow-dance with you to a proper song any day.”
“Jacob…” But she can’t help smiling, he has that effect on her.
“Where you going to go tonight, Em’ry?”
“Home, I guess. To bed.”
“But I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Of course.” Where else have I got to go? Who else in this world would miss me?
“You have a good night, now.”
She walks away. She knows this by now: she’ll never be a star. All the nay-sayers were right. She left a comfortable and knowable life for this: this raw, hard-edged honesty; for loneliness, a small flat two storeys high that overlooks a busy street.
She knows she could have stayed married to Alan; turning one blind eye after another to his philandering ways, to her own unhappiness. She could have continued to style herself ‘Mrs Silverton’, to wake up each morning to a big modern house; soft, thick carpets; a pristine neighbourhood.
A cushioned, cultivated, soulless life.
And there are days when she wishes she still had that.
But there are more days when she knows – absolutely and on faith – that she’s done the right thing, if not the only thing. Whatever else her life is now, it’s hers.
And one good friend: well, that’s not such a bad way to start a new life.
Rosalie Kempthorne has no idea what it takes to write a good Writer Profile, and all her previous attempts have so far come to nothing. She has much better luck writing stories. You can read more of her short stories on 365 Tomorrows, Flash Frontier, ABC Tales, or on her website: www.RosalieKempthorne.name.