Short Story: “The Small Window”


A Rett Bonneville Short Story

By Anne M. Freeman


The open low E-string reverberated through the body of my acoustic guitar and over the quiet audience.  It was the end of my signature song and the night’s performance.  Anyone who had been fighting their cache of sad memories had finally lost the battle.  Sniffles were audible as I held my position, head down, eyes to the floor, right arm outstretched, pick in hand.  But that’s why they come – to get their melancholy on.  There would be good CD sales tonight.

A few years back I performed my signature song at Midem, the international music business conference in Cannes.  That was prior to the smoking ban in restaurants in France.  By the end of my set that night, I’d lost my voice due to the white shroud created by a room full of smoking record and radio execs.  In desperation, I revamped my power ballad because I knew I would sound like a squeaking frog on the high notes – and everyone expected me to perform it.  So instead of ending with big notes and wide open vowels, I spoke and whispered the ending with a “French chanteuse” allusion.   It went over well.  They liked the “surprise” ending.

The surprise ending became the talk of Folk forums afterwards, my “brave new expression” as it was dubbed by web critics.  Not one to turn my back on serendipity, I went with it.  Now, pre-show debates bubble up about how my perceived moods, my previous shows, the weather, and my blog posts and tweets might telegraph the choice I’d make next.   Someone once tried to work out a correlation between my choices and the stock market volatility index.   Tonight, I performed a wispy spoken version, somewhat in response to the fan of snow that was unfolding on the slate floor in front of the entrance, spreading wider and whiter as the night progressed, and somewhat in response to my mood.  Tomorrow, a report would be posted on my choice, and the debate would rage anew.

When the clapping died down, I set my guitar in the stand and worked my way around the tables, ending at the bar for a root beer and to sell some CDs.  There was a rush to buy, as people wanted to get home and get out of the weather.  Once the sales and small talk were completed, the room pretty much cleared out.  A few men remained at the bar, glancing my way, looking for an opening.  They would hang around until the bartender kicked them out.  A lone woman was hanging on, too, watching me with large, dark eyes from her table by the stage, clinging to her empty wine glass.

There was a time when I loved having this effect on people.  The thought of connecting with them through my music – of drawing out their emotions with my songs, painting canvases of lyrics and melody upon which they could find their truth … that was my singer/songwriter dream.  But now I know it’s mostly projection, not truth that they seek from the stage, and I’m just a blank canvas for those projections.  Having tangled with enough egos and obsessions to fill a Bob Dylan songbook, I’ve long since disabused myself of any such flowers-in-my-hair notions.   Now, my interactions with the audience are mostly about maintaining control.

Back on stage, I began packing up my gear and CDs, keeping my back to the lingerers.  I have two end-of-night rules: I make no eye contact and I keep moving.  The moment I stop or catch someone’s eye, I’m target practice for the mournful and the Lotharios.  Some people harbor a notion that if they stare at me on stage for a few hours while slowly getting sloshed, I’ll either want to have sex with them or invite them to cry on my shoulder all night, or both.

The bartender was clinking glasses noisily, which meant he was ready to get these people out of here.  Good.  With a guitar, a mike, a couple of stands and small speakers, a small mixing board and a few cords, I only needed about twenty minutes to finish packing up and then we’d settle the night’s take.  He turned on the outside light at the rear exit next to the stage, which led to a staff parking lot where I was parked.  Once I cleaned the car off, I’d pull up to the door and load my equipment, the heater blasting.  The thought of it tired me.  I didn’t feel up to the chore ahead.  I was almost tempted to let one of the guys at the bar help me.  But then, there would be the aftermath to deal with.  No, my wits returned.  Despite my tiredness, I’d deal with the snow.

The snow.  A small window tucked between the door and stage was now illuminated by the strong outside light.  Changeling gusts threw large white flakes to and fro in beautiful spirals and crisscrossing planes.  Mesmerized, I broke my end-of-night rules for a moment to watch the frantic ballet:  fouetté jeté, pirouettes, soutenu en tournant, and grand jeté … a whirling, spinning Nutcracker suite.  Had a snow storm been Tchaikovsky’s muse?  I suddenly felt the heavy extension cord hanging in my left hand, which I’d unconsciously coiled while staring at the window.  What would it feel like to dance with the snowflakes, surrendering to the wind?  Or to float ever so lightly on a zephyr?  I closed my eyes for a moment, imagining the luxury of it….

I head the screech of a bar stool sliding on the floor, and them footsteps walking towards me from behind.  I’d paused too long at the window.

Copyright Anne M. Freeman 2011

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