“You want them packed to archiving standards?”
“No. Put them in an envelope. No more. I’ll let you know how to proceed.” I hung up.
I was sure it was Kevin. He’d been at the funeral and could have planted cameras then. Video of Monica entering and exiting the house would be perfect for an installation, especially with her music over it. Another homage to a breakup. He knew her well enough to know that once he presented her with the footage in the completed work, she’d buckle and let it happen for the sake of art and her career. Or he’d neglect to mention it until the show was installed. She’d be even less likely to gripe since her name would be on the thing already. A humiliating stab in the back. If there were cameras inside the house, I would have to kill him.
I felt as if every cell in my body needed to be near Monica. To protect her from whoever watched her and to soothe her anger at me. I just had to brave the traffic and the ridiculous synchronization of the lights on Santa Monica Boulevard.
With Gabby gone and the promotional machine at a standstill, the room’s body count went back to normal. It was the same-sized crowd as the first night we’d played: just tables and a few people waiting at the bar. Any buzz we’d had about our shows died with Gabby. Basically, I was starting from scratch, which was fine. I didn’t think I could take much more than that without her to lean on.
The table by the warm speaker had a RESERVED sign. Jerry and Eddie were meant to sit there, if they came at all. I said hello to some lovely couples by the front and asked if they had any requests, which I’d play if I knew. A group of frat boys had heard about me and come for dinner. They were half drunk already, and their appetizers hadn’t even arrived, so I didn’t linger. I made a last visual sweep around the room and cast my eyes to Rhee. She was leading two women to a table in the corner. I recognized both of them. One was Jonathan’s sister Deirdre. One was his ex-wife.
My skin burst into tingles and my throat closed. I couldn’t feel my fingertips. Then I remembered I was playing that song. Jonathan’s song. I hadn’t shown it to him or told him about it yet. Jessica would hear it. And she would know.
She would know.
I wasn’t ashamed of what I was doing with Jonathan, but letting her hear my fears as if I’d whispered them in her ear was sickeningly intimate. A cold trickle of regret ran down my back. I should never have made the thing, never written it down, never set it to Gabby’s music. Though I wasn’t hiding it from Jonathan, at the very least, I should have shown it to him before playing it publicly. I hadn’t even thought of that.
I sat down at the piano and touched the keys. No, I’d skip it. Play something else. Jerry wasn’t there, so no one would be the wiser. Rhee didn’t really care. I started playing. Yes, I’d hide behind Irving Berlin, then Cole Porter. I’d stay safe. I’d still paint them the colors of Jonathan. I’d still feed them his lust, his touch, his voice. But Jessica would never hear it because I was protected by dead men’s lyrics.
I was coming off “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the middle of my set, when I saw Jerry with two men at the bar. He tipped his glass to me. They weren’t sitting at the table. Stopping by, maybe? Well, shit. I’d have to play it.
With the lights in my face, blinding me to half the room, Jessica didn’t loom as large. After warming up with the standards I knew so well and hiding behind that shiny, black baby grand, I didn’t feel as vulnerable. I could play that song.
I could do it. I could belt it out. Fuck her. Fuck her to Sunday. Fuck her with the lights on. Fuck her f**k her f**k her. It was my room. My song. My audience. My rules.
Rule number one? Fuck her.
I hit the keys, owning them, and I launched into Jonathan’s song as though he was naked and I was jumping him.
We wove words under Popsicle trees,
The ceiling open to the sky,
And you want to own me
With your fatal grace and charmed words.
All I own is a handful of stars
Tethered to a bag of marbles that turns
Oh, her ears would burn off at the mention of Popsicle trees and a ceiling open to the stars but guess what?
My questions and fears were pregnant with heated longing, a desire for encouraging answers, begging for appeasement. My list of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors became a list of exciting possibilities.
Will you call me whore?
Make me lick the floor,
Twist me in knots,
Turn me into an animal?
Will I be a vessel for you?
Slice open our lying box
Through a low doorway for our
Shoulds and oughts.
Choose the things I don’t need,
No careless moments, no mystery.
And you need nothing.
My backward bend doesn’t feed.
And just to call to her, just because she’d hurt me, and just because I could, I changed the last chorus on the fly, turning questions into statements.
I will own you.
I will collar you
Hold you, and take you.
You will be a vessel for me.
For all my inner ferocity, the song had to complement the rest of the set, so I didn’t scream or wail. I didn’t hit the top of my range, but the ragged emotion was there as I hit the last note at low, dinnertime volume. A whisper even. I moved right into “Stormy Weather.” The lights blacked out for half a second. Jerry and his buddies were leaving, blocking the spots. I felt a core of relief. I didn’t think I could deal with managing them and Jessica.
I finished my set, thanked my audience, looked humbled for the applause, and strode back to the dressing room with my chin up. I didn’t start shaking until I got the door closed and locked. My breath became ragged and my eyes filled. Jesus, f**k, what was she doing there? With Deirdre? Who was going for gold in the family Olympics, for f**k’s sake? God damn it. Which lie was incoming? Which bomb would she drop? I would stay in the dressing room. I’d tell Rhee I was too upset about Gabby to do the good-byes, and I’d stay in there until the bar closed.
That actually seemed like a viable plan, but when I scrolled through my contacts so I could text Rhee an apology, I slid past Debbie’s number. Her words came back to me as if whispered in my ear.
Be a woman of grace.
Maybe it was time to grow up. Maybe if I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong and if I stood by my right to be with any man I liked, I didn’t have a reason to hide in a filthy dressing room.
I texted Rhee.