by Angela Kempe
Jillian tugged at the large case, leaning her full body weight into the direction of the door, cheap high heals scraping against the asphalt. The heavy case became dislodged, rolling clumsily over the parking lot curb. She tugged at her black crop top with her free hand quickly, making sure the top had not unwittingly exposed her small breasts while she was getting the cumbersome bag out of her 1988 Ford. Taking a deep breath, she fixed her hair and pulled the door open, long black tassels dancing passed her belly button as she stuck one heal in the door jam and hefted the large case behind her.
The bartender was standing in the center of the room. A fair number of casual drinkers were sitting at the square bar around him. Jillian thought this was a good sign. A sign that maybe someone would finally discover her there. But the place was musty and dirty, defying her Hollywood fantasies. She approached the bar anyway, propping her keyboard up against her black slacks. The bartender looked her up and down, licking his lips as he handed someone their beer.
“May I get you anything?”
“Um, no. I’m performing tonight?”
She looked around for the stage. Although she heard music, it was faint, like some radio playing in the background.
“Uh, where’s the stage?”
The bartender pointed callously to an old wooden doorway. She rolled her keyboard over to the door and stood in the door frame, peering into the small brick room. A young guy was finishing his set. He had brought a few friends with him, who were sitting in the dim light watching him. They were clapping and laughing, but compared to the main part of the bar, it looked like they were holding a small private party.
When he was done, his friends cleared away, leaving a mostly empty space. Jillian set up her keyboard and mic stand. She could hear people shouting and drinking in the main bar and decided to sing loud. Maybe she’d draw them in with her good looks. Maybe they’d hear her songs and come in, she thought.
She flaunted herself a little. She was always uncomfortable using her body to attract a crowd, but she was playing to the dirty brick walls, so she had nothing left to lose. Still, she imagined someone important might come in at any moment. Even though she had invited no one. It was after all her dream to be discovered. And everyone had to come from somewhere.
But, halfway through her set a strange blonde entered in an beige overcoat. She didn’t say a word and she didn’t move from the wall. She only stared at Jillian, listening attentively. Jillian thought her to be at least ten-years older. But her look was less organic than Jillian’s. Her blonde hair thickened by extensions. Her lips, blood red and glossy, like the waxiness of a store shined apple.
As she played, she wondered who this woman was. Was she a fan looming over her every move so that she could buy a signed CD after the set? Was she an A&R rep? Because they come when you don’t think so, or so she heard. But it did seem strange, Jillian pondered between long silky vocal lines. Shaky hands tickling the plastic keys of that cold familiar keyboard.
Jillian’s set ended, and before she could search for the woman in the beige overcoat, she was told to hurry off the stage for the next act. Jillian zipped her keyboard back into its case disappointedly and folded up her metal stand. But before she left, the next act had started and it wasn’t all that bad. She turned back to listen to the stranger.
The mysterious woman had popped a CD into a CD player and taken off her long overcoat. She was wearing nothing but a men’s button up shirt and some high heals underneath. She looked at me, but overlooked me at the same time. The mark of a polished performer playing her empty room. Still holding onto dreams. Still hoping that an A&R rep would come through the doors of that empty bar room and realize that she was different.
Jillian turned away from the woman. A sick knot settled in the pit of her stomach. She had been looking at her own reflection.
Prostitute, she thought, and left her in the dark.