THURSDAY: Desperado


Copyright is held by the author.

THE POSTER just inside the main entrance features four middle-aged guys decked out in jeans and cowboy hats: The Desperadoes, an Eagles Tribute Band. One Night Only! says the hand-lettered sign plastered across a corner of the billboard. Tickets $8 in advance, $10 at the door.

I’m not sure what I’m doing here, to be honest; I don’t even like the Eagles that much. I probably should have just stayed home tonight, but the house felt too empty and I needed to get away from the quiet.

I move past the poster and towards the woman at the gate. She lowers her magazine at the sound of my approach and I find myself face to face with my mother’s best friend, Annie. So much for my plan to re-enter the single life without Mom finding out.

“Kimberly! I wasn’t expecting to see you here,” Annie says, as she none-too-subtly studies my appearance. I feel next to naked in my skinny jeans and low-cut tank top, and fight the urge to turn and run from Annie’s disapproving gaze. I’m suddenly very conscious of what I look like and I feel pretty foolish. But at least Annie doesn’t know that, for the first time in years, my bra and panties actually match. So I guess it could be worse.

“I’m meeting up with Sheila,” I reply. “Joe has the kids tonight.”

At the mention of my soon to be ex-husband, Annie tut-tuts and shakes her head. I sense the conversation is heading in an unwelcome direction so I hold out two wrinkled five-dollar bills, rescued from the depths of my purse. “Ten dollars to get in, right?”

“Of course,” she says, as she takes my money. “Have fun, dear.”

Annie stamps my hand and waves me along; I pull the next set of doors open and the thrumming drone of the crowd within rises up and washes over me. I don’t really want to go forward, but the weight of Annie’s stare is enough to push me through, and I let the door swing shut behind me.

The dim lighting inside does little to disguise the fact that this is only the community centre, nowhere special. I’ve been to countless PTA banquets in this very room, and bring Mom here to play bingo almost every Tuesday. One Night Only for The Desperadoes, maybe. But just one of many for me.

A few steps into the room, I hesitate, still not sure if I’m ready. Why did I let Sheila talk me into this?

I dry my damp palms on my thighs and will my heart to slow down. My new push-up bra feels way too tight and I struggle to take a deep, restorative breath. Coming here was a big mistake. But before I can make my escape, a large group surges into the room and blocks the exit. Several pairs of 40-something marrieds, by the look of them. I can’t face their comfortably worn-in romance, the linked hands and matching rings, so I flee in the other direction, moving further into the room.

Committed now, I scan the crowd. The room is almost at capacity, and with the lights turned down low, all I can make out is a sea of teased hair and too much cleavage. After a panicked moment where I worry I’ve been stood up, I finally spot Sheila’s white-blonde hair. She’s sitting at a table near the stage.

“Hey, Kim,” she says as I collapse into the chair beside hers.

“I thought we were meeting at the door,” I say.

“Well, you were late, and I was thirsty. No big deal, right?”

Before I can reply, a tall, almost-handsome man wearing a tight, white tee shirt and faded blue jeans takes a seat at our table. He carries two beers, and passes one to Sheila.

“Kim, this is Vic,” she says, smiling up at him. “He’s with the band.”

Vic nods in my direction and takes a swig of his beer.  He launches into a story about the band’s last gig, headlining at a county fair. He doesn’t say, and neither does Sheila, but I’m pretty sure he must be the singer. There’s something about the way she leans towards him, smiling and nodding as he speaks, that gives it away. A mere bass player would never get that sort of attention.

When Vic’s phone rings and his attention is momentarily turned elsewhere, Sheila leans over and whispers in my ear: “He has a brother.”

She tips her head towards the awkward looking guy who is sitting by himself at the next table and gives me a knowing look. I roll my eyes.

“I’ve been single for, like, five minutes. And already, it’s high school all over again,” I say, remembering how Sheila’s dates always had a brother, or a cousin, or a friend.

But Sheila isn’t listening. Vic’s finished his phone call and is playing with a lock of her hair. I twist the strap of my purse into tight knots, watching as Sheila shifts in her seat until her leg brushes up against his. I sigh. Same old Sheila.

I mumble something about getting a drink, but they barely notice when I stand up and stalk off to the bar.

I order a screwdriver. I hadn’t asked for a double, at least not out loud, but the sharp bite of the vodka completely overpowers the OJ, and I almost choke on my first mouthful. The second sip is better; I’m ready for it. A warm glow springs up in my belly and soon radiates outward. My shoulders loosen and my hands steady. Maybe I can do this, after all.

Just as I drain my glass, the band takes the stage and heads for their waiting instruments. Vic straps on an acoustic guitar, grabs the mic at centre stage, and greets the audience.

The singer. I knew it.

Jangling guitars drown out the sound of ice cubes rattling around in my empty cup. Vic’s crooning “Take it Easy,” and that seems like some pretty good advice. I head back to the bar to get another drink.

With a fresh beverage in hand, I find a piece of wall to lean against in the darkest corner of the room. The band starts into “Victim of Love” and I snort as I raise the cup to my lips. When they follow that one with “Lyin’ Eyes,” I actually laugh out loud. Vic’s brother, a skinny guy with a receding hair line, had been circling in on me, but abruptly changes direction.

A third drink. My last, I promise myself. Then I’ll go find Sheila, tell her I’m heading home. The band breaks into “Dirty Laundry.” And skinny guy is back.

“That’s not even an Eagles song,” I yell into his ear. “Don Henley did that one solo, way after they broke up.”

I sway to the music, feeling the beat in the pit of my stomach and the bass in the soles of my feet. Stage lights flash and bodies writhe on the dance floor.

“What the hell,” I say, to no one in particular. I push out into the crowd and throw myself into the song.

Skinny guy follows a few minutes later, carrying a drink in each hand. He smiles and hands one to me. I hold it up — Cheers! — and toss it back.

I move my feet, my hips, my arms. For a few songs, I am beautiful.

“We’re gonna slow things down a little,” Vic drawls. He winks at Sheila, who is leaning against the stage right in front of him. She glows like a candle and I can feel the heat from across the room.

Skinny guy pulls me close, his whiskey-breath whistling in my ear. I melt into his embrace; it’s somehow inevitable. It feels good to have arms wrapped tight around me; it feels good to be the one someone wants. I rest my head on his shoulder and we move together, all through “The Sad Cafe.”

The band ends the night with their signature song, “Desperado.” Skinny guy sings along, humming when he doesn’t know the words.

As Vic bows and calls out his thank-yous and goodnights, the final line of the song echoes in my ears. I pull free from skinny guy’s arms, slip through the crowd and out the door, alone. The damp autumn air cools my flushed cheeks as I walk the three blocks home.

Maybe I do need to let somebody love me before it’s too late. But not like this.

  1. “I hadn’t asked for a double, at least not out loud….” So many subtle pleasures here! Very satisfying. Usually I’m not a big fan of present-tense writing but I got right into this story.

  2. Love the last line. Believe in yourself Kim. 🙂

  3. This story flows smoothly, from scene to scene, like a movie in which a wounded woman struggles to put back the pieces of her shattered self. The song titles speak volumes and the story title says it all. No one has to worry about Kim. This girl is going to be just fine. Loved the story!

  4. I very much enjoyed this story. I’m a fan of present tense, told as things happen. Good story, good writing.

  5. Thanks to you all for taking the time to read and comment. I truly appreciate your kind words. 🙂

  6. So vivid I think perhaps I remember it. Nice going.

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