The guest room is done up in peaches and cream, a large bed in the center dominates the room, the diva on stage surrounded by other furniture, supporting actors in this grand performance. The concierge opens the door and ushers me into this beautiful room, which will be mine now for three whole days. The concierge asks me when my other guest would arrive, and I tell him it's just me. He smiles and I tip him, just to get him to go away.
Later, I sit at the bar sipping red wine and absently making circle after circle on the wet surface of the wood. I would have pulled out my notebook to draw but it’s in my bag, back at the hotel and I am feeling too lazy to go all the way back to get it.
The bar is practically empty at 7 pm on a Sunday night, but I’d read that it's open mic night, and I’m guessing it will fill up soon, for now it’s just the bartender and I and he looked busy. I sigh, check my phone. Still no messages.
Asshole, I think as I push it back into my pocket with disgust. I hate it when I’m in this state. Waiting, but trying not to wait. He forgot about me, again and now I was the one thinking about him.
When the people arrive, I tell myself, you will smile, make jokes, be charming. What better way to distract yourself, while your heart sits broken inside you, railing against the bars of its bone prison.
The open mic host walks in and I wave to him. recognizable by his armload of equipment. I smile and introduce myself. He smiles back at me and asks if I would perform tonight. I nod and he tells me to come see him when he is all set up. I go back to the bar, order another drink. My second.
Hours drag slowly by, people arrive, people leave. People go on stage, play music, dance, sing. I watch from a distance. There are days when I can talk to anyone, charm anyone, and then there are days when I sit behind a frozen wall, cold and unapproachable. Tonight, I am feeling depressed and not hiding it well, it makes people avoid me, for that I can’t blame them. Then I hear my name and my heart seizes up.
“After a short little breather, we have Hazel, who will be performing some comedy for us tonight. So, grab a drink and we will see you back here in 10 minutes.” I get up from the bar, my stomach in knots. My palms are sweaty, my skin buzzing. I take a deep breath. Why do I do this? I ask myself but my legs keep carrying me to the back of the bar, to the little stage, the microphone. As I pass the host I stop and out of my mouth come the unbidden words, “I changed my mind, tonight I’m going to sing. I can’t think of anything funny right now, but I have a song I can sing if it's ok. “oh god I think, oh god what did I just do?
“Sure, anything you want.” He says, beaming at me “That’s the beauty of open mike. I’ll announce it after the break.”
I nod, face white, shaking. Sometimes I wonder if I do this as a kind of punishment. A penance for making stupid choice when it comes to love. He ignores me, I blame myself and so I do this, enforced humiliation. I lose myself in these ponderings and time speeds up around me like in one of those movies where someone travels through time. Everything happens so quickly that I barely notice anything at all. Someone calls my name, I am walking, light is shining on my face, and I open my mouth to sing.
It is rare for me to sing, rarer still, for me to sing something I had written myself. I know that if I was not so far from home, I would have never had the guts, but I’m not at home and I am essentially alone here. The words pour out of me. I close my eyes, lose myself to the lyrics that had written themselves so long ago. My broken heart takes this moment to shine for all the world, showing off its scars and edges. Just a melody and a poem. People sit silent, listening.
Suddenly it’s over, and everyone is clapping. In a rush of adrenaline, I flee from the stage, out the back door and onto the smoker’s patio. I fumble for my smoke pack, manage to pull one out before the lighter falls from my shaking hands and disappears through the cracks of the wooden slats.
“typical” I mutter to myself and sit down at one of the tables. My heart is beating fast, and I feel high on what had just happened. The back door swings open and a group of three girls stumble out into the chilly night. They laugh and joke, obviously a little drunk. I long to join them, but it’s one of those nights. If they don’t come to me, I am powerless, unable to work up the courage to break the ice. So I just sit and wait, somewhere between hoping they would see me and praying they do not. I listen to their conversation, there is not much else for me to do.
“So did you try it?” asked the blond girl, leaning against the wall, as she searched her pockets.
“Not yet,” said the purple haired girl. She squatted on the ground as she rummaged through her purse.
“What’s stopping you?” asked the blond, eyeing her friend, “you can’t keep complaining you’re lonely when you have the answer at your fingertips.”
“It’s just…doesn’t it seem just a little creepy to you? I mean how is this thing supposed to know you well enough to predict when your true love will appear. How does it know? Also, the fact that they have to scan your blood really freaks me out.”
“First of all,” came the reply “you don’t have to send in the blood, that is for like the top rung of service. Like if you want kids and stuff, it will make a difference who they pair you with. It's supposed to be your perfect partner so ya there is going to be some unpleasantness, besides it's no worse than meeting a stranger and then taking a gamble, this way you are chemically suited. It's pretty badass actually.”
“I guess so,” replied the girl dubiously. “Still, I think I prefer the old-fashioned way.”
“Which is why you are still single. It just works, that’s all. My mom found her true love, I found mine. Danny found hers,” she said, gesturing at the third girl who had yet to utter anything at all. The girl nodded enthusiastically and the purple haired girl sighed before replying.
“Cal and Steve are awesome, sure, but I still think it's weird. Leaving it up to an App. Something about it is just not right.” I heard the snick of a lighter being struck and my body went on autopilot.
“Can I borrow a light?” I asked. It slipped out before I could stop myself and all three turned to look at me.
“Uh ya, here” the blond handed me her sunshine yellow lighter and I lit my cigarette. I sucked back the smoke. Then with a smile, hand it back. She looked at me for a second, recognizing me.
“I liked your song” she tells me, and I smile sheepishly back at her. How to explain that it wasn’t really my choice, that sometimes, my body takes over and I just sit at the back of my head and watch as it humiliates me.
“Thanks” I say, wanting to flee the attention. I feel awkward, the alcohol making my head spin. It's time to go, I decide. I finish my cigarette in a hurry, drop the butt into the ashtray and make a quick escape. Down the ally to the right then out onto the street. My hotel is only three blocks away and I walk the distance, numb and cold and empty.
Back in my peaches and cream room, I strip down and climb between the crisp cold sheets. I swim between the covers, the bed so large I can stretch out completely and still not reach the edge.
In the distance I hear my phone ding for attention. A text message from him, I’m sure and I ignore it, gleefully. He can wait, I think as I smile, feeling comfortable and safe. Its not so bad being alone, I decide.