She watched the trees as they danced. She could watch them for hours, the sway and sudden shaking as if restless spirits had crawled inside them to express their need for movement, for release. She turned back from the window, her breath coming out in a rush as she surveyed her tools:
Slinky, yet classy, evening dress with split for running: check
Black stilettos with removable heels: check
Infuriatingly small purse with added fold-up universe: check
She turned back to the trees, the branches waving to her, wishing her luck. Ok, this was it, time to go. No time like the present, time waits for no man, or woman for that matter. One last look then, just to check they were still there. They were. Right.
She stepped out the front door, threaded her way between the recycling bins and Tim’s bike, then out the front gate. The heels were horrible, like balancing on match sticks. Her legs looked good though, there was no denying that. She tottered carefully onto the high street and flagged down a cab, slipping into the back without flashing anything, which counted as a good start to the evening. Her stomach was in knots, twisting and turning and threatening at any second to spill her lunch over the taxi floor. She slipped a small mirror from her bag, sure that her intentions for the evening would be written all over her face, but was relieved to see the poker face was intact. She sniffed as she caught sight of her hair, blond and cropped short. Some things she would never get used to.
She gazed from the window as they crawled through the late evening traffic, entranced as ever by the lights and sounds, the roar of the night city waking up. The cab pulled up against the pavement and she stepped out, looking up at the sign that swing gently in the evening breeze. There was movement everywhere and for a second she became dizzy, her mind rushing with the evening commuters, the pigeons that flocked around the over-flowing rubbish bin, even the wind, which seemed insistent as it brushed by her and whipped her dress around. She took a deep breath and focused, her hands coming together to clutch the purse as she turned to the door and stepped in.
The entrance was well-done, classy but understated, dim lighting hiding any cracks that might be showing in the décor. The door man was suited and smart, his eyes staying on her face as they talked. He ushered her through and she walked down the corridor, the bustle of the kitchen growing then fading as she passed the door; a wave of heat hitting her back as it swung open, spitting out a pair of waiters who flew by her. Backstage was much as any backstage would be, she supposed, dingy and drab, filled with boxes of kitchen supplies and a mangy sofa. Refusing to sit anywhere, particularly in a dress as nice as this one, she kept moving and found the side of the stage.
Peeking out, she could see the entire restaurant. Circular tables filled the centre of the room, lit individually by low lamps and candles. Down one side ran a set of booths, dark and inviting; down the other ran the bar, mirror-backed and hosted by three servers, each handling cocktail shakers and credit-card machines. The place was full, every table heaving with well-dressed men and women, and the volume was high, the chatter of voices bouncing off the glass and ricocheting around the room. She hadn’t thought about that for a second. What if they didn’t listen to her? Her face grew warm and her palms, hot and prickly. This had to work, it just had to. She put her hand to her hair, only realising she was doing it when she noticed its absence. It had to work.
A hand touched her arm and she jumped, they pulled back and turned. It was Jack, the man she had been introduced to when she had asked about the gig. She gave him a warm smile, the butterflies ceasing their frantic flapping for a moment.
“Luna, so lovely to see you.”
He reached out, taking her hand and pumping it vigorously for all of a second. She smiled again, the churning in her stomach returning as she hunted for something to say. He spared her the trouble.
“The band have your set, they’re ready to go. We’ll start in about fifteen minutes, ok?”
She nodded, opening her mouth when he spoke again.
“Must rush now, plenty to do. It’s a busy night, great for your debut, eh?”
Then he was gone, vanishing into the gloom of backstage. She stood, bemused for a moment, then turned and looked back out over the club. So many people…
Another touch on the arm and he was saying, “great, it’s that time Luna, let’s go,” and nudging her onstage. She gulped, her face getting hotter and she fanned herself with her teeny tiny bag, then took a deep breath, and stepped onto the stage. A few faces turned to stare at her, then went back to their conversations, the rest ignored her completely. To her left, a short barrier divided her from the house band, and she walked hurriedly over, relieved to have someone else there with her.
They all gave her a friendly smile, the keys player waving some sheets at her and nodding. He stood and lent against the wall.
“Everything as you sent us, yeah?”
She nodded, then, as if it were just an after-thought.
“Oh, I thought I might start with something a-cappela, if that’s ok?”
“Hey, whatever you want, it’s all good.”
She gave him a smile and walked back over to the mic, acutely aware of how entirely ridiculous the shoes were, but also seeing that a few people were now watching her, most of them men. She blushed and stepped up to the mic, clearing her throat, then opening her mouth. Nothing. She closed it again, cleared her throat once more, then stepped back. This time, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. The words sprung into her mind and she began.
The sound was soft and warm, like bed on a lazy morning. It felt like home when home was what you craved for and dreamt of, when you’d been driving for hours and stepping through the door was the most amazing thing in the world. The notes came effortlessly, leaving her throat and filling the room with dreams and memories. The conversations stopped, every face turning to stare at the woman on stage as she told them all the secrets they’d kept hidden away, brought into the light all the things they’d hidden from view and threw them away, no longer to be feared or fretted over.
As they watched, hypnotised, she slowly opened her purse, one hand slipping inside. She carefully opened the fold-away, holding the bag facing away from her. With a snort, the stag pushed free, first its head and antlers, then forelegs, then the rest, until it stood on the stage, head swaying slowly, steam rising from its fur in the warm glow of the lights. Putting her hand back in, she drew out a long gleaming blade, and knelt, pressing her other hand against the shaggy chest of the beast. As her voice rose in volume, she silently thanked it, one tear escaping her eye and running down her cheek.
They stood that way for a while, the song gaining in intensity and volume, swelling and growing until the room was humming. The faces hadn’t changed, all rapt and focused on her, despite the presence of the stag. She paused, took a breath, and hit the high note. With a quick movement, she thrust the blade through the great beast’s side and deep into its heart. Pulling it swiftly back out, she let the blood run over her hand, the song beginning to subside and die, a gentle refrain that looped and curled.
As she finished, she let her head drop, and stood in the glare of the lights, waiting.
There was no sound, no movement. Every person in the place was frozen; glasses raised to open mouths, cocktail shaker paused mid-spin. She let out a huge breath, still not quite believing it had worked, then raised her right foot and pulled the heel off. Repeating it for the other foot, she shoved them both into her bag, along with the bloody sword, and jumped off the stage. The hard part was done, now came the fun. She walked quickly amongst the eaters, lifting a purse here, a wallet there as she went, but the target, she knew, was to be found in one of the booths.
The one she was looking for was in the second, a huge woman, dressed in what looked like a badly made tablecloth, hair made into a beehive using a catastrophic quantity of what could only be goose fat. Her bag lay on the table in front of her, discreetly attached to her wrist with a chain, and it was this she went for. Opening the clasp, she emptied it on the table, working hard not to gag at some of the contents, but grabbing the thing she needed, a fierce smile of glee on her face. Mission, incredibly, was successful, now to get out of here.
She walked to the door, glancing back as she rested one hand on the glass. The stag lay on the stage, blood dripping slowly onto the floor. Her heart felt suddenly heavy, but she clenched her jaw and pushed the door open. It was a sacrifice she hated, but in this one instance, it had been worth it. Or at least, it would be.
She stepped out onto the street, the glare of headlights putting her back on stage again and she found that she was shaking, the adrenaline finally kicking in. She leaned against a wall, taking deep breaths, and feeling her heart thumping in her chest. A group of lads came past, leering and staring at her. She shook her head, waving the strange shoe that she held in her hand at them, and they passed on.
A car pulled up to the pavement, a huge, sleek Mercedes with blacked-out windows. The door opened and a slim hand beckoned her in. She sat in the car and twisted on the seat to face the woman sat next to the opposite window. She was stunning, long blonde hair flowing around her perfect, heart-shaped face. She had one hand held out, an expectant look on her face, and she placed the shoe in it. The woman’s face lit up, a little bit of greed mixed with the pleasure.
“Thank you. Every time we throw a party she bloody pinches it. You’d think she’d have realised it was too late by now.”
She nodded, not sure how to answer that, or if she even wanted to. What she wanted to do was ask, but instead she sat, and waited. After inspecting every inch of the shoe, wiping imaginary specks of dirt from it, she set it on the seat next to her and lifted a bag that had been tucked down the back of the front seat. Passing it across, she shook her head.
“I cannot imagine what you could want with some mouldy old hair extensions. And they’re so long, completely out of fashion now.”
She took the bag eagerly, her spirit lifting as the contents spoke to her. She decided not to ask what the woman could want with one old shoe made of glass and instead said simply.
“They aren’t extensions.”
Pushing the door open, she nodded to her and climbed back out and onto the street. As she walked through the evening crowds, she opened her mouth, the faintest tune rising up into the night sky.