ON THE EDGE • by Susan Down

I’m hanging with the roadies in the wings when James gets in my face.

“What are you doing here? You’re on in 20 minutes,” he hisses.

He must have been scared I’d skipped out or passed out. “Just catching the warm-up band for a minute,” I say.

James takes my arm, politely of course, considering who I am, but I still feel like a kid hauled to the principal’s office. I shrug him off and we walk together.

“Let’s go back to the dressing room,” he says. “The band is already there.”

I don’t blame him for worrying. He’s taking a risk as a promoter. There are bad-boy stories still swirling about me. True of course, but that was long ago, before getting wrung out at rehab the final time. “You’re a legend, they will love you,” James says. “Tonight’s a sell-out.”

A week ago, my world changed again, just when I was seeing all my mistakes clearly. There I was at the eye doctor’s, leaning my forehead on his scope, so close to his face I could smell his aftershave.

While he ran through the exam, I thought of lyrics for my next song. I could call it Losing My Eyesight Blues. Eyes. Guys. Sunrise. Lies. Realize. Sighs. Cries. Dies. I have come to my senses, and now I’m losing a sense. Yep, the universe is laughing. A surefire hit, at least with the boomers.

“What’s your family history?” The doc meant who else had eye problems in my family.

“No family eye problems that I know of,” was all I said. “My parents didn’t live a long time.”  He wasn’t asking to hear the sorry tale of my immediate kin, but it made me think about them all the same.

What I didn’t say was that Dad’s pickled liver lasted until he was 52. Mom died of cancer about five years later, spitting angry at where her choices left her. I had left home by then, quitting school early to join a band. 

When it was my turn to be a parent, I chose to skip the messy puke and poop stage. I did hire my first son as a roadie for one tour. The crew liked his jokes, his work ethic. Now he’s got a commerce degree. Imagine that.

The doc recommended wearing sunglasses. “I’m a musician. I always wear sunglasses,” I joked. And don’t drive, he said. “I haven’t in years,” I said. In the early days, I was always the driver for my first band, a trio. We had a van that burned as much oil as gas.

He asked about drugs.

“Let’s just say it’s nothing new for me to have fuzzy vision,” I laughed again. “I’m sober now.”

He nodded and swung the machinery out of the way so we could talk.

“It’s macular degeneration,” he said, pointing to the computer screen. My retina looks like a big orange planet, like Saturn. “You won’t go blind, but you’ll lose your central vision.”

At a rehab check-up they once told me I had exceptional peripheral vision, like kung fu masters and great hockey players. “I thought I was just paranoid,” I joked.

Back in the dressing room I change into a fresh t-shirt and put on the performance bling: a shiny jacket with military braid and brass buttons.

I take a final swig of the fancy water they stocked in the bar fridge. It’s been years since I made my big career stumble and let people down bigtime. The band, the fans, the label. Time for the confessional. “I couldn’t see what was right in front of me, even before my eyes gave out,” I said, going on about what an awesome band they are. “I haven’t been onstage completely sober — ever.”

The bandmates, lounging in swivel chairs, let those remarks hang. When it’s time, we bump fists together like we’re a football team. We walk onstage Abbey Road style, sling on our guitars and launch into an old hit. My new family is in the audience, and even my ex-wife.

When I was young, I wanted to be a star. These days, I see stars. And a big grey blot in the center. Regular sight was a distraction — curvy women, men in flashy suits making promises. Now I spend more time listening to the truth behind the smiles and separating the clinging flattery from the real support.

From the stage, I can’t see the people’s faces, but I can hear them roar.


Susan Down is a writer living on Vancouver Island.


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Every Day Fiction