Open Mike Night
Everyone here is a loser and I could be one of them, but I haven't paid for a single beer all night so I feel like some kind of a success. The air carries the stink of all the people around me scarfing down oysters and various greasy brown fried things. A dusty fishing net droops from the ceiling. Fat plastic starfish, crabs and seahorses cling to the nylon mesh. Their paint has faded and chipped, knocking them all back from realistic to sad, kitschy decor.
Tyler arrives and slides in next to me on the bench. He rests his guitar case against the table. I pretend I don't feel his hairy arm brush against mine, forcing him to nudge me, to make a tiny effort to earn my attention.
"Hey, beautiful." He leans in for a kiss. The stench of gasoline and cinnamon makes the back of my tongue twitch. I take a sip of beer to kill my gag reflex. He settles for a hand on my thigh.
"You're late. You said you'd be here an hour ago."
"Yeah. Sorry 'bout that. That goddamn transmission is still giving me problems. Leon says he might have a job or two for me, so I should be able to get it fixed next week." He holds up two fingers to the waitress, then nods toward the stage. "So, what'd I miss?"
"Not much. Some weird Cheech and Chong looking dude played a couple of hey-let's-love-everyone hippy songs. Then a sad, boring kid played some tune I've never heard before about getting a blow job at the Chelsea Hotel." I checked the room, trying to remember who else had taken a turn at the mike. "Oh, yeah. And that Randy guy played one of his own songs."
"Yeah, I guess so."
To me, they all sounded more or less the same. Every week, Tyler subjected us to this pathetic acoustic carnival with the same dismal crowd as the week before. I keep thinking there's something else I'd rather be doing, but can never figure out what it is, so I'm stuck here.
"Hang on." His hand pats my thigh. "I need to talk to Carl about what time I'll go up and do my set. Watch my guitar."
The waitress sets two mugs in front of me and rushes off. Foam sloshes over the sides of the glass as someone sits down at the other end of the table. The first thing I notice is the battered black leather hat hanging over his eyes, like something he'd dug out from the rubble of a crumbled S&M shop. He teeters and I think he's going topple off the edge of his seat, but somehow his ass stays fixed to the wooden bench.
This time, I don't notice when Tyler sits down next to me. Not until he says, "It looks like I'm going up after Harold."
"Who the fuck is Harold?"
"That guy." I look in the direction indicated by Tyler's pointing finger and see that ridiculous hat and a bare elbow poking through a tear in his dingy green army jacket. One hand on an empty shot glass, the other propping his head up.
"He seems too young to be a Harold," I say. "Who names their kid something like that these days?"
"Yeah, um... I dunno." Tyler's eyes linger on Harold, giving him the up-and-down full scan. He frowns, blinks slowly and turns away. He clears his throat. "Anyway. I picked up my business cards today."
I wipe the spilled beer foam from my mug and the table with the tiny bar napkin. "Business cards? For what business?"
"Handyman. Check it out." He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans. He slaps the card down in front of me.
What I'm looking at is an amateurish drawing of a pipe wrench next to Tyler's name and cell phone number.
"Awesome." I plan on saying more, but I'm distracted when the table is jostled again as Harold lifts his thick frame from his seat. For a moment, I feel like I'm the only person paying attention to his lazy amble up to the plywood platform serving as a cheap imitation of a stage. I elbow Tyler. "Hey, doesn't he kind of remind you of a curly-haired John Belushi?"
"He reminds me of a loser." Tyler sticks his business card back in his pocket.
Harold says something to Carl. Carl squints and Harold pulls a CD from inside his ratty jacket. Carl rolls his eyes, then nods.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Tyler says. "This isn't karaoke night at the Holiday Inn."
It's all sounds of chatter and drunken laughter with no music while Harold waits for his music to start, but he keeps his chin pointed at his chest and his gaze on his feet like he doesn't even notice.
The opening bars of "Roadhouse Blues" crash through Carl's Oyster Shack. Harold wraps both hands around the mike, looks up, and for the first time, I can see his eyes, wide and wild, staring hard at something far beyond the room that only he can see. He growls, screams and stomps his feet on the stage.
I'm mesmerized, baffled at how he's staying upright. I'm sure that if he loosens his grasp on the mike stand, he'll fall over.
As soon as the song ends, that's exactly what happens.
"See? What'd I tell you?" Tyler takes a swig of his beer, sucks the foam from his top lip and grabs his guitar case. "A total fucking loser."
"I thought he was good." I shrug, empty my beer and wave at the waitress.
Tyler gives me his fake smile that says, "you don't know anything about music," then shakes his head and stands up. "Be right back."
Harold and Tyler pass each other as one steps up on the stage and the other gets to his feet again.
Harold staggers back to the table. This time, he sits with his back facing the stage. Tyler starts an acoustic version of a song by The National that no one else here has ever heard before and I slide down the bench until I'm sitting across from Harold.
Close enough to see the cracks and scuffs in the leather. To smell the whiskey and stale smoke.
"Hey. Nice job up there." He doesn't react, so I nudge the hand wrapped around his glass.
"Hey, man. I said–"
"Yeah. I heard you." He jerks his head to the left. "Isn't that your boyfriend up there right now?"
"What? Oh. Yeah. Sort of. I guess so."
He smirks, straightens himself out and cocks his head. "So you always talk to strange guys in bars while your boyfriend sings to you?"
"Whoa." I hold my hands up. Display the palms to show my innocent intentions. "Just being friendly."
"Right. How old are you? Thirty-five? Or something?" He's drunk enough by now that "something" comes out like "shumthin".
"I'm twenty-six. But, thanks."
"And you're hanging out here on a Friday night? What's that all about? Did you peak in high school or shumthin?"
"You're here on a Friday night."
He shrugs and picks up his glass. "I know what I am."
I move back down to my end of the table and stare at the joyless, faded decor dangling from the ceiling while Tyler sings a Nick Cave song. It's a terrible version of something beautiful. It's not an easy song to sing, but I know he's doing it for me, so it feels better than it sounds.
Each time I look around the room, Harold's eyes bore into mine from underneath the shadow of his stupid hat. Each time, I see the thing he carries inside him. A thing I have too, that I wear just beneath my skin. What I want is for him to identify that thing in me, as though our mutual identification would be the combination to the vault. The code to unlock the prize: to understand and be understood by another human being.
An hour after open mike night at Carl's Oyster Shack wraps up, I'm sitting in a dead car staring at the bait and tackle shop across the road while Tyler dicks around with the transmission.
He pokes his head in the window. "Just gimme like, another fifteen minutes or so. I've almost got it."
I look up. Past Tyler's head, over his shoulder at the sprawled-out body next to the dumpster. Tyler reads my face and turns around.
"Augh. Fucking Harold. Help me carry him to the car," he says.
"What? Are you serious?"
"We can't just leave him there to sleep it off. What kind of people do you think we are?"
"I dunno. Nice, decent people, I suppose."
"That's the spirit," Tyler says. "Now help me carry that piece of shit to the car."
Rasmenia Massoud is from Colorado, but has spent the past decade living in France, where she spends time confusing the natives by speaking French poorly and writing about what she struggles most to understand: human beings. She is the author of the short story collections, Human Detritus and Broken Abroad. Her writing has appeared in various places, including The Foundling Review, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Metazen, Full of Crow, and Underground Voices. You can visit her at: http://www.rasmenia.com/
Deep Water Literary Journal
2015 - Issue 2 - August
Elizabeth Bodien (USA)
Chanel Brenner (USA)
Claire Vogel Camargo (USA)
Saddiq Dzukogi (Nigeria)
S.E. Gale (Australia)
Gary Glauber (USA)
Clare Hepworth-Wain (England)
Strider Marcus Jones (England)
Robert S. King (USA)
Steve Klepetar (USA)
Ron. Lavalette (USA)
Sada Malumfashi (Nigeria)
Rasmenia Massoud (France)
Catfish McDaris (USA)
Pat J Mullan (Ireland)
Christine Murray (Ireland)
Heather Mydosh (USA)
Caleb J. Oakes (USA)
David O’Neill (Ireland)
Rachel C. Peters (USA)
Mark Antony Rossi (USA)
Walter Ruhlmann (France)
John Saunders (Ireland)
Terry Savoie (USA)
Larry Schug (USA)
Pepper Swell (USA)
The Man in the Black Pyjamas (Ireland)