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Romance Fiction

I am laughing because I finally know that I am dying. I didn’t realise until tonight. The beauty of her solo voice splits my face into a child’s smile, the chorus makes me start laughing with joy and the song’s end is the death of something more beloved than I will ever be. My cheeks are wet with tears and I don’t care. The air in the room holds the last note like a match holds a flame, but then it’s gone. The song is gone and we are floating in the vacuum it has carved in the atmosphere. Our souls have been sucked up into the space that the notes have hewn above us, and we all understand now, if we didn’t already, that our lives are only short songs. The audience explodes into the silence and we cheer and applaud the death of something beautiful.  

I am overcome. I look around and see none of my friends. I have worked my way to the front of the crowd and I am alone with a thousand people. The security barrier is hard against my stomach. Another song (track four from her third album - Positive Blood) has already started, but I am exhausted. I need space to gather myself, which I will not be able to do while pressed against the hot skin of a tangle of entranced strangers. I get elbowed in the ribs for the third time in a minute and decide to escape to the bar. I need a drink.

I bounce on the bass through the shifting bodies and work my way towards the back of the room. I move away from the rainforest in front of the stage where condensed sweat drips back down from the club’s low ceiling on to the hot bodies of the battery-fans. I reach a thinner stratum of crowd and have enough space to notice that my t-shirt, bearing an image of the singer’s first-album-face, is pasted to my sweaty body. Her voice is now clothed in a rattling drum-guitar shift with keyboard accessories. No longer nakedly solo, it has lost a little of its power over me, but it’s still part of the sound that literally moves the floor beneath me, entering through the soles of my feet and vibrating up through every inch of my heat-swollen body. I really need a drink.  

Around the bar a few other refugees from the front gulp plastic cups of water. There are a few older fans, veterans of the front, retired to the civilisation of the support trenches. Some may be reservists who could still be called back into action by the declaration of a favourite song, but for now they are happy to watch and drink in t-shirts older than the front row security barrier fodder.

From the vantage point of the bar at the back of the basement club she is action figure sized. A figurine from a dream at a distance which requires her studded leather and stage moves to do some of the work on the crowd that she can do with her eyes alone if you’re close enough. Up close, earlier tonight, she’d looked at me. I don’t think she recognised me, but she definitely looked at me. She was as untouchable on the stage as she had been when I first met her.

It was my uni. friend Dan who had been going out with her. She had not attended our university, but lived in the overlap between the student union and the local music scene. I was just an occasional accessory to some of their nights out and a couple of summer days. The days were more precious than the nights. Dressed down and unmade-up she was more beautiful and fractionally less unattainable. Dressed, well, the same, and unintoxicated I was even more shy, but less inclined to hide it by shouting and dancing badly. On one of the days, a spontaneous group trip to a beach overlooked by a power station, she’d taken my hand as we walked together towards the sea. I have no idea where Dan was.

I’ve lost touch with Dan, but I’ve stayed in touch with her through four albums and their streamed singles, six live shows which never lost their power over me, an amount of online watching which is hopefully not capable of being creepy in a hyper-transparent social media age, and three worn-to-fading t-shirts. I look down at her upside-down face on the shirt I am in the process of ruining tonight.  My stomach throbs under her mouth and I lift up the shirt to see a purple, security barrier shaped stripe across my stomach.

I couldn’t even resent Dan. He had been every bit as faithful and kind to her as I hoped I would have been, but with more confidence and charisma than I had to share. It was her, not him that had eventually driven them apart and robbed me of the opportunity to be around her. She had begun to get successful and her monetised time was packaged by an agent and sold off to a record company. She appeared less and less in her dressed-down unmade-up mode and began to unironically wear shades indoors and go about with a perpetually carried rat of a dog with a box-cutter yap. I couldn’t resent her, I didn’t resent Dan, but I hated that fucking dog.  

My moment comes at the bar and I buy an overpriced pint in a plastic glass. I stoop to slurp the first foamy inch down as it still sits on the bar, before the soft plastic has a chance to be squashed by my grip into a gaping spout and christen me a mug. Not my first rodeo. Rising with a foam moustache I see a girl watching me, laughing at my technique. I give her a foamy grin and wipe my mouth on the back of a sweaty arm with a shrug. She is still looking at me after I have shrugged. I expected that to be the end of our exchange. I don’t know what else to do so I take a few steps from the bar and turn my attention back to the stage. The band are doing the album version of Gene Machine, the second single from The Right to Be Forgotten. I’ve got the picture disc. It’s a fast track and even at the back by the bar people are dancing as much as their plastic glasses full of lager will allow. An elbow clips my ribs and I turn to see the girl dancing next to me. She is all joy and no rhythm, but there’s a happy aggression in her moves that makes her body as loud as the music. I restrict myself to a head bobbing shuffle as I gulp the cold pint down. As the track ends she sees me watching her and grins, feathers of dark hair plastered to her forehead. Once again, the look lasts a beat longer than it needs to, long enough to demand a response. The band launches into a decent but missable B side before I have a chance to say anything. Voiceless in the volume I point at my almost-finished pint with raised eyebrows. She takes the pint off me, downs what is left and raises two fingers with a smile.

The B side has driven a few more people to the bar and as I queue, I realise that I feel like I am walking towards the sea on a beach in the shadow of a power station. I go back to her with the drinks and she accepts one with a mouthed word which might be her name. It is definitely a reason to bend in closer.

“RACHEL,” she yells into my ear, hot beer breath and a hand on my neck.

“MAX,” I yell into her ear.

“SAW YOU DOWN THE FRONT!” Her eyes are bright with approval.

“YEAH!” I raise my t-shirt and show her the bruise on my stomach. She laughs hard enough to spill a bit of her pint and then covers her mouth to hide her obvious amusement at my injury. She bites her lip and forces a frown of belated sympathy, then reaches out to stroke the sweaty bruise with a warm hand. The music had stopped and I am still vibrating. I take another drink of my beer and her hand is still there. I look at her and she isn’t laughing any more. I look at the stage and the band start playing their biggest hit, Half-life Beach. Happy beyond laughter I take her hand. The singer puts us on the beach, beauty is alive and well, but there is no time to waste.

May 21, 2023 19:10

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26 comments

15:18 May 23, 2023

The sweat dripping back from the ceiling and the description of the veterans out from the front made me so glad that I’m old and do this kind of stuff to myself anymore…but also miss when music was this moving. Your phrasing, as always, is just magnetic.

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Chris Miller
19:13 May 23, 2023

Thanks, Anne. Your comments are always so encouraging. And, yes, I'm more likely to be found closer to the bar than the front these days. The music still gets me, but no longer to the extent that I feel it's acceptable to be covered in someone else's sweat.

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Michelle Oliver
22:55 May 22, 2023

Hi Chris, a great story. You have captured the spirit of the event so beautifully with such great selections of phrases. I really liked the way you described her voice l like clothing. A woman’s clothing choices often reflect her personality and in this way we get a sense that her images is her music. “Her voice is now clothed in a rattling drum-guitar shift with keyboard accessories. No longer nakedly solo” The way you describe the patrons as if they were in an active war zone is a brilliant choice. It links with the battle wound of the...

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Chris Miller
07:04 May 23, 2023

Hi Michelle, Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave your kind comments. I wasn't sure what to do with the more obviously romantic prompts so I went for the concert one and it ended up turning into a soppy little romance anyway!

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07:00 May 22, 2023

'Hot beer breath and a hand on my neck... ' you def capture the vibe of underground dive bars with that line. Party/bar scenes are hard, yours really works with the back story about longing over his more popular friends gf. A fun story!

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Chris Miller
07:29 May 22, 2023

Thanks, Scott. Bit of an unusual one for me. Always interesting to see which lines people pick out. Thanks for reading.

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07:41 May 22, 2023

Np. A few of those trashy lines about beer foam,etc made the bar come to life. I saw some fiction writing advice last year, if you're going to say something, say it 10x stronger. You def did that in this one.

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Chris Miller
07:56 May 22, 2023

Ha! Thanks. Got to distil it in a short one! Out of interest, it hasn't been approved yet. Where did you find it?

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Chris Miller
07:59 May 22, 2023

Nevermind, just realised the approval is specifically for the contest, not just appearing on the site.

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08:01 May 22, 2023

I clicked on your profile after reading your comment on mine. Otherwise, yes most people don't see it except for your "Followers" if they check Stories/Activity feed. Stories are usually all accepted by Wednesday.

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Chris Miller
08:19 May 22, 2023

Thanks Scott. Good luck with whatever you are working on. Chris

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Russell Mickler
14:58 May 28, 2023

Hey Chris! Loved the opening line - very gripping! A very abstract writing style; reminds me of what I’m getting out of contemporary fiction lately, and lends itself to the experience of dancing. A spiraling stream of consciousness. Gritty. Euphoric. Dazed. Max’s connection with Rachel - touching Max’s bruise - was electric :) Well done! R

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Chris Miller
21:42 May 28, 2023

Hi Russell, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hope the opening line wasn't too much. I didn't really know what to do with a romance based prompt. I think it came out quite sweet. Glad you appreciated the moment of connection. Your Shanghai epiphany was sexier, but I think we were reaching for the same thing. Chris.

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Katy B
17:54 May 26, 2023

This is very well-written. I love the idea that music is meaningful because of our mortality; the first line and the line "The audience explodes into the silence and we cheer and applaud the death of something beautiful" are fantastic! Thank you for sharing.

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Chris Miller
18:36 May 26, 2023

Hi Katy. Thank you for reading and commenting. I like the idea that it's the brevity of life that makes it beautiful and that maybe we learn about that by loving brief, beautiful things like songs, (or short stories?!) and experiencing their ends thousands, maybe millions of times in our lives.

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Mike Panasitti
21:03 May 23, 2023

The affective triangle in this story is intriguing. The story is unique in the sense that I've yet to see one here where the main character is a former romantic fling of a musical icon. You've captured the MC's futile longing for the past and then ambivalently resolved it: through her music the singer has brought Max and Rachel together. Something I was left wanting to know: If the encounter between the adoring fans becomes romantic, will Max ever disclose to Rachel that the diva was formerly an object of affection, and what sort of c...

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Chris Miller
21:41 May 23, 2023

Hi Mike. Interesting thought; would he tell her? What/how much would he tell her? Now I am imagining he keeps his secret but they get together and Dan comes to the wedding (full of festering resentment because he always new Max loved his girlfriend) and it all blows up! To be continued.... Maybe. Enjoy the gig! Chris

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Anna W
18:36 May 31, 2023

What a great depiction of the pain of an old loss and the hope of a potential new love! Great descriptions of the crowd and the way it feels to be in this kind of environment. Really enjoyed this story!

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Chris Miller
18:57 May 31, 2023

Thank you. Really pleased you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment.

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Michał Przywara
20:54 May 29, 2023

Great take on the prompt. It's not the idea itself - indeed, this is a pretty literal take on the prompt - but it's the execution. There's a million ways to say "I saw a band play live and I liked it", but this narrator really makes us feel it. The opening paragraphs especially are quite poetic, and they cover some interesting dualites. Life and death, being alone in a crowd, sound and silence, and so on. There's a feeling of rapture to the beginning. Loneliness is a deeper theme here, as the narrator is infatuated with the singer. Perha...

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Chris Miller
22:10 May 29, 2023

Hi Michal, Thanks for reading, glad you found it interesting. I hoped the poetic language would create a kind of spiritual feeling. Good point about the loneliness of a one-way relationship. I think she does remember him. For all her success she's still singing about the day on the beach, but Max is moving on from unrequited worship to something better. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Chris

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J. D. Lair
04:57 May 29, 2023

This was really well written! I felt like I was there and it made me miss concerts I used to frequent. Looking forward to my next one now. :)

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Chris Miller
08:18 May 29, 2023

Hi J.D. Live music just has a special kind of magic doesn't it? Glad you enjoyed my story. Thank you for reading and commenting. Enjoy your next gig!

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J. D. Lair
15:24 May 29, 2023

It really does! Something about a shared experience makes it awesome

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Aeris Walker
00:26 May 24, 2023

Chris, your writing has such a cadence to it: "I bounce on the bass through the shifting bodies and work my way towards the back of the room." "Her voice is now clothed in a rattling drum-guitar shift with keyboard accessories. No longer nakedly solo, it has lost a little of its power over me, but it’s still part of the sound that literally moves the floor beneath me, entering through the soles of my feet and vibrating up through every inch of my heat-swollen body." I thought this was such a fresh take on a romance story. Really enjoyed it :)

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Chris Miller
06:57 May 24, 2023

Hello Aeris. Thank you for reading and commenting. I was just going to have Max in the crowd watching the Singer with their past and present relationship contrasted, but then Rachel showed up and it got all cute! Glad you enjoyed it.

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