The hours in Admiral’s before Scarlett’s set are pretty boring. The bodies just sit and drink and smoke and then drink some more until the hand on the clock circles ‘round enough times to make their heads spin, and then they go home. And if the belated hour doesn’t force their return to their impatient spouses, then Scarlett does. Whenever she starts singing the bodies race towards the door as if the entire building has gone up in flames. It costs the bar massive business, but I guess the manager owes Scarlett’s father a favor so he lets her sing in the later hours when she can’t do too much damage.
She’s been performing here for years – singing on this old, beat up stage that stands at the back of Admiral’s. I think it was made for karaoke, but from the first time Scarlett stepped into that dim spot light the stage became her’s, and no one has sung karaoke on it since. The wood’s been all scratched up, partially from dragging equipment around on it and partially from Scarlett’s stiletto heels taking their toll on the black paint.
She’s a real sight to see, especially on that stage with the lights bouncing off her red hair and sequin dress. The time that she has on me only shows around her eyes. Those give away her years – it looks like she hasn’t slept a single night of them. But still, with that cherry red hair that falls in curls over her pale, freckled face, she’s absolutely stunning.
Yet by far the most beautiful thing about her is her voice. That sad vibrato that echoes through Admiral’s like a crying bird. There’s something exquisite in the deep sorrow that accompanies the sound. The first time I ever heard her sing I asked her to marry me. She just grinned and told me that she was already married, swinging the rhinestone cross necklace that’d been resting on her cleavage in front of me.
I’ve asked her to marry me three times since then, but on each occasion she has simply chuckled and responded with a new and each time more extravagant reason for why the answer was no. So I had to take up a job bartending, and that sound I’d fallen in love with rang in my ears night after night as I wiped the used glasses clean of lipstick stains and cigar ash.
Of course, many disagree with me about the beauty of Scarlett’s voice, not that I’m surprised. People nowadays, they just don’t get it. They don’t like to see anything even remotely real anymore. They prefer a repetitive chorus accompanied by two or three verses, so dry of meaning the ear hears nothing more profound than breathing. They like to hide behind the crystal clear voices of the artists, if one can even call them that, that sing the songs the same way they’ve sung them the past hundred times, disappointing the audience when there is even the slightest alteration.
But not Scarlett. She’s the most real thing anyone’s seen in years, and it scares them. I watch it every night, the confusion and discomfort that floods the business men’s’ faces when they hear her beautifully sad voice. I’ve watched them run in terror out of the bar, trying in vain to escape the flames as that haunting soprano burns out into the streets.
Everything about her troubles them. The way her high pitched laugh can disappear so easily. How she can yell and scream the way a lady never should. The feeling of hope and horror that follows her, the way it used to every man and his end. The feeling of love and loss. The feeling of emotion.
Some nights I’m the only one left in the bar, and she’s singing to me and only me. Every so often she’ll stay after a little while, if I ask her to and she’s in the mood for talking. The few occasions that those two presidents aligned gave me the false assumption that I knew her.
One of the nights she stayed late she was lying on the bar trying to catch maraschino cherries in her mouth. She’d wasted maybe fifteen cherries to finally get one to drop. The misses were scattered across bar and along the floor. I accidentally crushed one with my shoe as I stacked the last chair.
I decided I’d clean it up later – Scarlett’s attention span is fleeting and once it’s gone you can’t get it back. I sat down in a stool next to her. Failing to acknowledge me, she tossed another cherry in the air. It didn’t land even close to her mouth but rather on the ground a couple of feet away. She stared at it for a moment, the electric crimson surrounded by the worn carpet that lined the bar. I thought the dark rug framed it well, enhanced the vibrant color it possessed. But Scarlett had this look on her face that told me she disagreed. It bothered me, the way she looked at that cherry. She watched it like she was waiting for something to happen. I wasn’t sure what. Maybe waiting for the lively color to run, escape the dull uninspired reality. Or imaginably waiting for the inevitable rotting the cherry would face if left out; waiting for it to mush and blend with the rug.
“What do you want to be when you grow up, darling?” she asked, softly, her immense blue eyes still on the cherry.
“How old do you think I am?” I chuckled.
“I want to be a singer,” She said, ignoring my comment. “I want to be a singer on a big stage, with lights and speakers. I want a beautiful dress, one that you can see all the way from the back row even though the stadium’s too large to actually see anything from there. I want a whole band playing but with the spotlight shining directly on me. And I want people to want to pay their precious money to come and hear my voice.”
“I’d pay,” I offered. Scarlett just shook her head.
“No you wouldn’t,” she answered quietly. “That’s okay, though.”
“Of course I would!” I argued.
She turned her eyes towards me, “Not if everyone else was going. Once everyone loved my voice there’d be no point for you to.” She sighed. “You’re just another person who’s just dying to be interesting.”
She turned her eyes back to the cherry like it was more appealing than our conversation.
I started to say something but stopped. Scarlett had a way of doing that, silencing you with just a few words. And God, those words could hurt. She told me once that only liars say they want the truth. She’d said it like it was a joke. Like she’d just hit the punchline. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh or cry.
One night before her set Scarlett came into Admiral’s sobbing and drunk. I’d never seen her cry before and was suddenly glad that I hadn’t. I tried to hide my disgust as I looked at her with snot and tears streaming down her face, her body shaking and wet. What she did in the hours before she performed was somewhat of a mystery to me and to learn that this was part of them wasn’t something I wanted to know. I’d tried not to romanticize it, but in my head her time outside of Admiral’s was nothing but a non-stop rollercoaster of gigs and drinks and leisure. Escapades of dancing and laughing with men at her heels and women staring enviously from afar. I suppose I’d thought perhaps the sadness that accompanied her voice, the emotion that I claimed to love, was simply a show, one performed well and fitting for the audience.
I turned away, suddenly embarrassed by the crying girl in front of me. She was very upset and honestly I’d have done anything to stop hearing her sniffle up the snot running down her nose or the unsteadiness of her breathing. She said that she had to get out of there. I didn’t ask her where she wanted to go. I’m not even sure I looked her in the eye before handing her my keys and telling her just to give me the car back in the morning.
So Scarlett didn’t perform that night. And she didn’t perform the night after or the night after that. And I never got my car back because it was totalled at the bottom of the East River along with the scarlett that Scarlett had turned the water underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
And deep down I know that her set won’t begin when the stars come out like it used to years ago. So I simply sit, another body, listening to a girl with a crystal clear voice singing a song we’ve all heard too many times, pretending to enjoy myself.