08 October 2011

The Singer

The skirling whirl of a traditional Irish band greeted me as I stood outside Dick O'Dow's Irish Pub. I handed the burly bouncer my ID and replaced it, entering through the propped-open green doors and into the darkened interior. The contrast between the mellow amber glow of sunset and the perpetual midnight of the pub was jarring; heavy chandeliers depended from the low ceilings, dim, orange-glowing bulbs made to look like candle flames were the only illumination besides half-a-dozen flat-screen TVs tuned to Sports Center. Thick, scratched, scarred wooden tables ran the length of the room opposite the bar; the tables resembled hunks of driftwood from a shipwreck that had been retrieved and polished. The floors looked ancient, scuffed, weathered gray wood that seemed to have centuries of stories to tell. I remembered one of the bartenders telling me that the floor planks were from an 18th century Irish hospital, and this made me think of the ghosts that must reside silent in the whorls of the wood grain. 

The band was the pièce de résistance of the pub, permeating the atmosphere with the lilting, jigging music. The band is a four-piece: a tall, thin man with angular features, round, gold-rimmed spectacles, and graying hair receding in a U-shaped cul-de-sac played the penny whistle with thin, deft fingers; the fiddler was the diametric opposite, short, portly, red-bearded and long-haired, sheened with sweat as he sawed his battered, well-loved fiddle; next to the fiddler was the bodhran player, a man with fine silver hair neatly parted, an iron-gray beard closely-trimmed framing patrician features, thumping his hand-held drum and stomping his polished leather boots on the stage to the rhythm; last was the singer and guitar-player, an elegant woman, tall and willowy, thick black hair shimmering in the dim light like raven wings.
It was her I had come her to see. Her eyes were the color of moss furring a tree-trunk in the afternoon sun, and she sang flawless Gaelic in a dulcet, haunting voice. I stood at the bar and ordered a whiskey, sipped it as I watched her sway with the music. She scanned the crowd absently, strumming her guitar with red-painted fingernails. Her gaze swept across me, but didn't see me. This was reassuring. I wasn't ready to be seen, just yet.

The bartender, who had just moments ago handed me my drink with a smile, passed by me without a glance, without even a flicker of recognition. Moments slid past, slow like sunset, and my anticipation mounted. I was growing restless, my palms damp and warm, my feet tapping a too-fast rhythm. Slow down, I told myself. Not yet.

Another whiskey, another greeting from the same bartender, as if he'd never seen me before. The set must have just started when I arrived. Damn. Impatience scoured through me; I gouged patterns in the bar-top with my fingernail, deep runic shapes incised in the hard wood.

A third whiskey, and I was feeling fine now, if burning with restless, hungry vexation. The set had to be almost over. Ah yes, now they were thanking the crowd, setting down instruments and filing out to the alley for a breath of fresh air.

I followed them out, lit a smoke, approached her with a broad smile that I hoped seemed genuine and friendly. She smiled back, shook my hand. Her palm was cool and dry, sending bolts of electric excitement through me. I caught her up in conversation, droll, mundane chit-chat. Her band-mates went back in, and I could sense her desire to end this conversation, to go with them.

It's not that easy, the fun hasn't begun yet, my lovely. Your fair, pale skin is far too perfect. I stroked the hilt of the knife in my pocket; yes, now it was time. Now.

 She never saw it coming, the poor, beautiful, doomed thing.

Oh, what fun.

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