The skinny blonde bitch on stage is singing my song. It’s not really my song — I think it might have been written by John Denver — but it’s what I sing every Friday night at Pinkie’s; I mean every Friday night for like the past year. Everybody knows that it’s my song; people have said they wait all week to hear me sing it. Gretchen always tells me when she hears it come on the radio she thinks of me. It’s my song, God damn it.
Whoops, Blondie messed up. I never mess up, I know the song so well. Sometimes I add some words or repeat them, you know, put my own spin on it. Sometimes I’ll do it in another style. I know Rich, the guy who runs the karaoke machine, so he can speed it up or slow it down, make it louder or quieter, add some techno beats or something, whatever I want.
Everybody at the table is looking at me. Yari just mouthed “What the fuck?” Tammy’s black-lipsticked mouth is slightly open, making her look even more dim-witted. I glance at Jasper. He looks mad. Jesus, his shirts keep getting tighter; his nipple rings are practically poking through the mesh. I see Gretchen coming back to our table from the bathroom. God bless her, she’s giving Blondie the stink-eye.
“What the hell, Jess?” she says when she sits down.
“I know,” I reply.
Jasper leans forward. “Does she know that’s your song?”
“Apparently she does not,” Yari says before I can say anything.
“So what should we do?” Jasper asks. “Should we kill her?”
I roll my eyes; my friends can be so over-dramatic sometimes.
“No, it’s fine, I can sing something else.”
“You can?” Tammy asks.
“Of course I can.”
“Uh, Jess,” Gretchen says. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sing anything else. I mean, that’s your song.”
I glance up at the stage again. Blondie is wrapping it up.
All week I think about coming here and singing that song, the long days at the Coffee Corral don’t seem as bad knowing what happens on Friday night. It all started when Yari got dumped yet again by another one of her loser boyfriends. I went up to sing as kind of a joke to try and cheer her up and, after I added her name into the lyrics a few times, it worked. I don’t remember why I sang it the next week but ever since then it’s been a tradition. After I’m done singing we all go out and have a great time. The song has become like the official start to the weekend; it’s like, okay, now the weekend can begin.
I even wore some new clothes tonight: a short purple dress with ruffled sleeves — it was once probably somebody’s prom dress — with black fishnets, more excellent thrift-store finds. My friends always complement me on my unique style. I do have my own style; I like to find unusual things and put them together in one outfit, like a sweater vest with snow pants, or take existing clothes and alter them, like the time I cut all the sleeves off of my long-sleeve shirts and sewed them onto my short-sleeved shirts. I put my own spin on my wardrobe, just like I do with the song.
I’m kind of the trendsetter of our group. We’ve known each other since high school, and sure Tammy was the first to lose her virginity and Jasper’s gay, but I’m the real innovator. I was the first to experiment with hair dyes. I was the first to get a nose-ring. And I was the first to really get into tattoos. My Mom flipped when she saw the black heart I got near my ankle in 10th grade. She’d probably die if she knew about all the others.
My latest, and arguably my best, covers almost my entire back. Most people ask me where I come up with the ideas. I don’t just go into the tattoo place and pick one out from the wall — okay, I did that once — but mine really mean something, they have real significance, like the butterfly and dreamcatcher. So it was a conscious chose to put my absolute favorite author on my back. How could I not? Dr. Seuss really means a lot to me.
Blondie gets a smattering of applause — none from us of course — and she smiles and goes back to her table.
“Do you want to just leave?” Gretchen whispers to me.
After this big guy with the beard — is he really going to sing Air Supply? Jesus — it’s my turn.
“No, it’s fine, I’ll just sing something else.”
I have sung other things before, it’s just been a while. I can’t even remember what else they have, there was never any reason to look through the song book, I always knew what I was singing.
As Beardo announces to everyone that he’s all out of love, I start getting nervous.
“Jesus, would you look at them?”
I follow Tammy’s glance to a table in the corner. Blondie’s table. There’s another girl and two guys and they’re all very neatly dressed. Too neat, like they’re catalog models or something.
“Oh my God,” Yari says. “It’s like they just stepped out of a J. Crew catalog.”
“Yeah, from like 1998 maybe,” Jasper says with a smirk.
One of the guys says something and the whole table laughs.
“Looks like somebody used their whitening strips before coming out tonight,” Yari says.
“Are they drinking wine?” Tammy asks.
“They are,” I say. “I didn’t even know Pinkie’s had wine. What are they even doing here?”
“Oh, you’re up, Jess,” Gretchen says, as Beardo lumbers off the stage. “What are you singing?”
They’re all staring at me.
“Ooh, why don’t we do a duet?” Jasper squeals. “We could do that one they sing at the end of Grease! You know, when Sandy becomes the bad girl? I’ll even let you be Sandy.”
I roll my eyes and slide my chair out. Normally I rush up to the stage bursting with confidence, no nerves or anything. But this time it’s different. I walk slowly. I’m starting to sweat a little, I can feel Dr. Seuss getting moist.
“Hey, Babydoll,” Rich says from the side of the stage where he works the machine. “The usual tonight or…?” With his head he motions to Blondie’s table. I glance over there; everybody’s still smiling and laughing. Suddenly I have an idea.
“Yeah, Rich, the usual. But let’s do something a little different tonight.” I whisper my instructions to him and he smiles and nods.
When the opening notes begin, I see people perk their heads up in a “didn’t we just hear this one?” gesture.
I sing the first couple lines and then point to Rich who immediately speeds it up and adds some metal guitar — it might be AC/DC — under it. There’s a noticeable jolt from the audience and I begin jumping around the stage and wailing into the mike.
After a minute I look over at Rich; he nods and takes out the guitar and slows it back down, but only for a few seconds. Then a funky rap beat — maybe Run DMC — surges from the speakers and I start rapping the song! I’ve never rapped in my life but here I am up on stage at Pinkie’s rapping my ass off.
I peek at Blondie’s table. No more smiles, I’m happy to see, just a combination of confusion and annoyance.
After another chorus, Rich cuts the rap beat and it’s back to the original song; I immediately adapt, it’s like he and I rehearsed it. When the loud, electric fiddle comes in — The Devil Went Down to Georgia? — I see Blondie and friends get up to leave. I begin playing an imaginary fiddle then do a kind of hop-step to their side of the stage and stare them all down as the song comes to an end. Rich throws in some accordion, tuba, and what might have been a didgeridoo just as the door closes behind them.
When it’s over, I peer out into the crowd and try to catch my breath. Everyone is staring at me. A middle-aged couple at the bar looks stunned. After a moment, Gretchen starts clapping, then Yari and Tammy. Jasper jumps up and howls. A few other people clap and I curtsy. I smile at Rich, who smiles back, and return to the table.
“That was awesome,” Jasper says.
“Yeah, Jess,” Gretchen says. “Where did that come from?”
I grin and shrug.
“Nobody sings it like that, that’s for sure,” Tammy says.
“Damn right,” I say as we all head for the door. That’s because it’s my song and I’ll be back next Friday to sing it again.
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Portland Fiction Project
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