creative nonfiction by Lauren Napier
It’s a new venue. A new audience. She scans the crowd for a familiar smile or a recognizable leather jacket, but other than the band she has come to see and the two friends entering the building behind, everyone here is a stranger. The band members are acquaintances, close acquaintances even, but not friends. They are some of the tattooed men that she holds dear to her heart and far from her emotions. They sing her songs and hand her whiskey, but the secrets are never told and serious conversations are avoided. At this point she has probably inhaled more of the hairspray from their perfectly coiffed, but eventually sweaty, manes than ingested private details about their lives.
None of this stops her from traipsing up the stairs and ordering a Jack Daniels and cola. She snags her fishnets on a splinter sticking out from the bar stool. The first sip of whiskey goes down smoothly and so do the following. She orders another before finding a seat at the tables along the mirrored walls. Her friends sit on either side of her and small talk ensues: discussing what the set list might be, possible bars to go to after the show, which boy is attractive, and what classes they have at university in the morning. She twirls her cameo ring around her finger over and over again as she surveys her surroundings: red lights and floors sticky with old alcohol. The band has disappeared and she assumes that they shall begin their set soon allowing her to reminiscence on days with less responsibilities and fake IDs. Those were the days when doormen knew her by the moniker “Trouble” and shots of whiskey were waiting for her before her hand was even finished being stamped. A few years have passed and she has almost finished with her degree; she wonders what happened to that part of her personality and if those days of apparent freedom are gone, drowned in the alcohol and sweat that she has consumed and regurgitated.
The first riffs are sounded. The house lights are dimmed. And the stage lights are so bright that the lead singer has to squint. His red blazer is highlighted among the black walls and crowd that is mostly clad in black. He has always been one for showing off. She remembers her first time meeting this particular crew of musicians. They had practically forced her into their white unmarked van and announced their plans to party. A story that would make any mother cringe, but she knew her mother may not understand her chosen lifestyle, but she did support her decisions. As long as she was intelligent and (mostly) safe about her choices, her mother would not bat an eye...at least in plain sight. She hopped in the van and did not waste energy on regrets or overthinking. Here she is now, on another continent with the same band and different friends. Hopping off her bar stool she takes her freshly filled Jack Daniels on ice and wanders to the dance floor. Her head is a bit dizzy with whiskey and a certain passion-filled peacefulness. This is her comfort zone: dancing amongst strangers, cowboy boots pounding the venue floor, and beer being sloshed down her back.
Song after song. Note after note. Swig after swig. The set comes to an end. There is a collective sigh of relief that no more energy need be expended and one of disappointment that the night is coming to a conclusion. She feels the liquor coursing through her veins, perhaps more so than her own blood. She nods at the boy that has come with her, for she can’t find the girl that had tagged along; she had been flitting from man to man and wound up in a lap against the wall. “I’m a little drunk. I’m going to leave.” She says to the boy. He agrees that it is time to depart the scene and grabs their coats. He helps her wiggle into her cheetah print coat and asks after the other friend. They look around, attempting to find their curly headed companion and finally see her sprawling upon the lap of a bearded man who is probably twice her age. Eye contact is made and she rises from his lap to join the others. Leaving is not as easy as simply deciding it is time. There are goodbyes to be said and pictures to be taken. Celebratory shots to consume and last cigarettes to smoke.
She swigs a bit of the saxophone player’s wine and rum concoction that he has mixed in a rather large jug. Perhaps bands put that into their tour riders. Another swig from the lead singer’s beer bottle. They wrap their arms around the small of her back and kiss her on the cheek. Finally out the door and into the street, the cool air reawakens her and sloughs off some of the alcohol’s affects. Walking with two friends in a misting rain: one boy and one girl. The guy is a bit more than a friend and she mentions to him that she feels ill. The friend of the girl overhears and starts to stick bobby pins into her hair aggressively.
“I’ll get it. Let me pull your hair back.” The curly haired companion sticks in yet another intrusive bobby pin, but what she doesn’t see is that every time she turns around, the girl removes the bobby pin and stashes it safely in her jacket pocket.
“I was going to hold her hair back. It’s not like I haven’t done this before,” the boy says in a proprietary tone. The two argue leaving the girl a few steps behind them.
When the girl can focus on nothing but the cobblestones under her feet and the lamplights above her, the arguing fading into the background, she turns around. She walks back to the bar where the only drinks they serve are doubles; she shows the doorwoman her hand stamp and returns to the red lights - to a room of guitars and no responsibilities. She takes the beer from the lead singer and leans her head on his shoulder. She realizes that she has been breathing shallowly ever since she left the club. She takes a deep breath. And then another. The singer pats her thigh and sets another beer on the table in front of her.