There were no two ways about it. This situation was the worst thing that could have happened. Fired from the tour, gear stolen, and with less than two dollars to her name.
“I should have got the bus ticket… Went home.”
That was all Victoria Ash could think to herself. With the benefit of hindsight, that course was obvious. After she was unceremoniously tossed from the band she founded, Victoria should have just gone home. Bought the bus ticket, went home to Omaha, and regrouped.
Instead, she spent two days fighting to get back in the band, another three following them around. Victoria spent her little savings and lost any dignity and self respect she had gathered. On top of that, she lost her axe. On the second night of begging, in Philadelphia, Victoria left her Gibson on stage while she tried one last time to plead her case back into the band. During that conversation, her guitar grew legs and walked away. There were no cameras. No leads. Nothing.
“So this is it?” Victoria asked herself as she walked into a bar in the heart of Baltimore. “If I just had my axe… If I just had that, then…”
Victoria shook her head as she sat down at the bar. Opening a tab, she didn’t have the intention or means to pay. If Victoria was good at one thing, it was not dwelling on the past. Despite how shitty the past few days had been, she had to move on.
“Rum and Coke.”
The bartender obliged with a sad smile. A constant you receive anywhere in the country when you show up to day drink.
“First one is on the house…” the bartender said as she delivered the drink.
“And so will the second one.”
An unfamiliar voice rushed up to the counter. A heavy thud sounding as a girl sat down.
“Thank you, but I can hardly acce-”
“-Are you Victoria Ash?” the girl interrupted.
“Then it is the least I can do. And I will just have a coffee if you have it. Thanks.”
Victoria wasn’t one to accept drinks. In her experience, they came with expectations. Victoria wasn’t in the mood to sleep with this little perky thing. Even worse, if the girl’s star-struck, doe eyed stare was anything to go on, Victoria didn’t want to become a mentor.
The girl who sat down, who bought the second drink, couldn’t be older than 19. Innocent, with straight black hair, and that almost skeletally thin body of youth. Probably a runner or just blessed with a good metabolism. By most standards, this young girl was beautiful. Victoria saw a girl too young for the world. Awe-struck, as she joined one of her idols for a drink. There was always the off chance she was a debt collector.
“While I appreciate this, aren’t you a little young to be in here?”
“I know the owner.”
The answer was quick and nervous. Apparently ordering Victoria a drink had taken all the courage the girl could muster. Silence fell as the girl stared, stirring her ice.
“Look, I appreciate it, but I don’t know-”
“-You are Victoria Ash right?” The girl interrupted.
“I am and you are what 18? Thanks for the drink but I’m not-”
“-I want to play you a song.”
The girl jumped off her stool, opened the case that had thudded, and pulled out the guitar before Victoria could stop her. The case was expensive, protecting a guitar that was pretty much worthless. Guitar in hand, the girl did quite the balancing act as she resettled herself on the stool.
I should just go. Victoria thought as she downed the first drink while the girl tuned. Truth was Victoria knew she wouldn’t leave. This wasn’t the first time she had met a fan. It wouldn’t be the first time one had played her a song. Like every time before she would listen and smile. It wasn’t like Victoria had a better place to be.
Deft hands strummed the guitar with a touch Victoria didn’t expect from the girl’s handling of the guitar so far. Sweet somber chords mirrored the mood of the establishment’s patrons as it filled the space. Time stood still as the girl strummed. And it reminded Victoria why she got into music. The mystique that gets rubbed away, the magic you forget, when you do something for a living. Music was food, medicine, and guidance for the weary soul.
“That was beautiful,” Victoria said as the strumming stopped. With a real acoustic it could be transformative. “It has been a long time since I listened to an acoustic song.”
“It’s not acoustic,” the girl corrected her. “It has words. I don’t sing.”
“Neither do I,” Victoria chuckled as the girl’s eyes pierced her. “So what are the words then?”
To Victoria’s surprise, the girl pulled up a recording on her phone and hit play. The somber chords played through the crackly speaker. Accompanied by a voice Victoria knew well.
“You said you didn’t sing.”
“You clearly do.”
“What do you think of the song?” The girl said, ignoring the question.
Victoria wasn’t one to heap on praise. Or give a false impression. She didn’t encourage people to get into the industry. It was a fool’s errand to encourage that. The business was too hard for that. The only people who should be musicians are those who can’t live without it. Those who are idealistic enough to dream big. And those without enough sense to think that dreams actually come true.
“It’s nice. On real equipment, it could sound like something. But I’m not the person to ask. It’s not like I could really help.”
“I didn’t ask for that. I just asked what you thought. So what do you think?”
There was something about the way she stared that left Victoria on edge. Piercing. Intent. Constant.
“-Because you helped me thorough a lot. Your work-”
“-You mean Dominions work.”
“No… I mean yours.”
Victoria was truly shocked when the girl pulled up Victoria’s solo project. The stupid thing she had done at 27 when she was done with the band. Victoria made her own music. Her voice found a sound. Thankfully, the band hadn’t imploded, because streaming wise her album had less than 500 plays. The actual album sales were in the teens. The project was a failure.
“That is a blast from the past. I can honestly say you are one of the few people on Earth to have actually bought that.”
When Victoria released that album she thought it would do better. While Dominions wasn’t a huge band, they had their following. Followers on her own accounts were respectable enough to be repeated in company and not be embarrassed. However, that didn’t matter. That was why she didn’t put out a cry for help after they fired her. When Victoria released her album she discovered how lonely the world was. Even with thousands of followers, reality stung. Only a handful could be bothered to listen to a song. Of thousands, only a dozen actually bought the album. Despite years of practice and dedication, sound came second to looks. Words came second to support. Post a picture on the beach and thousands of people would comment. Bare her soul in song and the world turned away.
“You probably want a picture and an autograph?” Victoria said breaking the silence.
“Don’t need it.”
“Really. In fact…” The girl jumped off her stool, put the guitar away and offered it to Victoria. “Take it.”
“I can’t.” Victoria backed away, trying to avoid the gift.
“No, really… Please… I don’t have a use for it.”
Victoria shook her head. Hands waving in front of her face to avoid taking the guitar.
“I know I didn’t heap praise, but you shouldn’t give up. You are young, your voice is good…”
Victoria trailed off. The girl not only sat back down, but the soul piercing stare was gone. Replaced by confusion.
“What did you say?” The girl asked politely. “With your hands waving I couldn’t read your lips. What were you saying?”
Victoria was dumbstruck.
“Yes. I have Meniere’s disease. I lost my hearing over a two-year stretch. It was a dark time, but your solo stuff was the only thing that spoke to me. When I lost my hearing, I promised myself I would meet and thank you. Thank you for giving me one final gift.”
The girl held up the guitar again.
“Please take it. That song was the last thing I wrote and this guitar will be better in your hands.”
A buzz broke the moment’s purity. The girl grabbed her phone and then set the guitar down beside Victoria.
“I got to go. Thank you for listening. Thank you for everything. Take good care of her.”
The girl was gone.
“Like a candle in the wind,” Victoria whispered as the girl left.
She would punish herself for that one later. Victoria was alone again. And if there wasn’t a guitar by her feet and two glasses in front of her, she would have said it had been a dream.
“I guess you're my new axe,” Victoria said, standing from her stool and slapping her last two dollars on the bar. She didn’t need to drown her sorrows or indulge this pity party anymore. All Victoria had actually needed was a little perspective and some music to heal her soul.