Monday, 14 November 2016

Karaoke

by Janet Follett Janson


The plane was scheduled to land at 7:55 p.m.   Due to thunder storms somewhere in the middle of the country, the flight was late. Too late to make the three-hour drive back to Silver City.

Carry-on dropped in the room, face quickly washed, and downstairs to the bar. A drink and pretzels would be dinner.

The bartender stood under palm fringe grayed by a veil of dust, his Hawaiian shirt at odds with the desert outside.   It was a Saturday night, but this place had no draw. Just another hotel bar along Tucson Boulevard.  I pulled myself onto a tall stool, ordered a Manhattan, and picked through the pretzels until I found a whole one.

In the corner of the too-large room was a group of three tables pushed together and around them sat maybe a dozen people, over-dressed and local. All had a distinct '70s, pre-disco look. Women: big hair. Men: Tom Jones sideburns.

So it was no surprise that a man in a wine dark velour shirt – top 5 buttons undone – and wearing a medallion the size of Olympic Gold, was standing, microphone in hand, singing “What’s New Pussycat” in a key ever-so-slightly lower than the accompaniment.

His moves were deliberate, studied. His whole body leaned into the chorus, right arm outstretched, hand opening then closing to draw the audience in.  At the end of the song, Tom dropped the mike to his side. He shook himself from the shoulders in a loosening up sort of way. He humbly raised his hand to the audience to deflect applause.

“Thank you. No. Please. Thank you.”

The audience – the others around the three tables – began to clap. Their applause was slow.  Heads nodded. One fellow closed his eyes, brought his pinched fingers to his lips in a kiss indicating perfection.

Beautiful.

The evening’s emcee took the microphone, quieted the crowd, then “Let’s hear it once again for …” The name blurred by applause. Gratitude moved around the tables a second time as the singer’s upturned palm fended off pride.

Suddenly it felt late. It seemed as though the bar should have already shut down for the night. But something was going on here. And I was looking in.

Tom left the stage after a few deep bows, his medallion catching the lights. At the tables another pitcher of beer was ordered.  

The emcee turned to the audience. “Please help me welcome, our very own Darly Dolores.” A sweeping gesture lifted Darly from her table to the microphone. She stood, first with her back to the crowd. Then, head bowed and a deep breath, she turned slowly as she raised her voice to “We’ve Only Just Begun”.

One by one each took a turn at the microphone. The screen was angled so that only the singer could see the words. But no one needed to look. Each performer was someone special up there. An entertainer. The still point of a turning world. Complete.

I pressed the last salty crumbs onto the tip of my finger and licked them off. I was tired.     I wanted to go to my room, to sleep. I wanted to dream of myself under the lights, applauded, the center of a circle, forgiven. I ordered another drink.

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Copyright © 2012 Jane Follett Janson. All rights reserved.
"Karaoke" appeared in Green River Anthology in 2012.