Rae of Light

Originally posted 2012-08-17. That's right. Five years ago. :) {Highlight to read note}

Another nightclub in another city...

Rae of Light

by Erin Halfelven


Rae gave them a novelty number, fingers flying on a peculiar seven-string guitar, belting out several celebrity impressions. The first was Katherine Hepburn, in a cracking contralto, singing:

How mu-uch is tha-at do-oggie in the wi-indow-w
The o-one with the wa-ag-gil-ly ta-il?
How mu-uch is tha-at do-oggie in the wi-indow-w
I do-oo ho-ope tha-at do-oggie’s fo-or sa-ale

Then John Wayne in a baritone drawl:

How long is that doggie in the windah?
I mean from his nose to his tail
I need me a long little doggie
Just for comp’ny onna trail!

Judy Garland in a piercing alto:

How much are those bennies in the window
The ones that are yellow and black?
I need me a few of those b-bombs
Before I get Mickey in the sack!

Then as Groucho Marx in a growly tenor:

How much is that book in the window
Outside of a dog, it’s a friend in need!
How much is that book in the window?
Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read!

The crowd ate it up, laughing in all the right places. Then Rae dazzled them with pure music, a complicated set of variations on a Russian folktune that had a melodic kinship with the doggie song. They smiled and clapped when the piece ended and Rae sat the seven-string wonder into its cradle on the tiny stage. "Five minutes folks, I need to use the little guitarist's room."

The lights came back up to full as Rae picked a careful path through the tables in the one-time warehouse, now trendy night-club faked up to look like someone might be using a warehouse as a set for filming a movie about a trendy night-club. Several people made comments but the noise level had risen so high that Rae couldn't tell if they were backpats or brickbats. Everyone smiled though, so they couldn't all be bad.

A bartender lifted the serving gate in the bar so that Rae could disappear through the mirrored door into the storeroom behind the bar where a unisex employee's bathroom occupied a corner near the big roll-up doors from the place's genuine warehouse past.

A red "Occupied" flag showed in the windshield-shaped opening above the door handle so Rae paused a moment to look at the reflection in the mirror hanging beside the bathroom door. Wavy brown hair in a loose shag hung almost to shoulder length around a narrow olive-skinned face. Deep-set gray eyes looked out from under brows that just missed being too delicate for a man's, or too heavy for a woman's.

Rae's full lips widened in a smile showing white, almost perfect teeth, the top incisors being just a bit too far apart. The smile stretched wider, showing prominent canines and turning into a wolfish grin. Rae tried a couple more expressions that might be useful in front of a crowd before the bathroom door opened.

The curvy waitress coming out self-consciously patted her hair with one hand and scrubbed the hell out of the other against her uniformed hip. Rae semaphored appreciation of her looks with an eyebrow and squeezed past her to take care of things inside. "You look good, darling," the singer whispered in her ear.

"How did you know my name?" she asked, smiling.

Rae laughed and closed the door.

* * *

Working a small crowd with a simple act like Rae's takes effort and concentration but it can be a pleasure people in a larger group in front a a big audience never get to feel. It's not the high wire excitement of a stadium performance, a lounge gig is intimate and can be deep. Rae's music touched their souls and their minds and in some cases, their pocketbooks. The violin case left open on the edge of the tiny stage filled with ones and fives and an occasional ten or twenty.

The last set ended with a cold-as-ice rendition of one of Rae's own compositions, "Ain't Coming Home to You." Sung in a blue hillbilly drawl, it told a lover's story. Rae picked the tune out on a Dobrow for the first verse and broke into a driving rhythm strum on the chorus. The silver resonator hummed and Rae angled the body of the guitar to flash lights in the audience's eyes.

I've been on the road a while, now, moving from place to place,
Seen the foamy North Atlantic like a green tablecloth trimmed with lace.

Clumb the Rocky Mountains in springtime, sang my song on Bourbon Street,
Surfed the Big Island North Shore, darling, you know I'm beat!

Don't know where I'm going, don't know what I'll do,
One thing that I am knowing, ain't coming home to you!
Ain't coming home to you.

For the second verse, Rae continued strumming, wilder and faster, through the bridge, breaking back into picking for the chorus this time.

We lived our lives wide and large, we loved hard and fast and free.
Ain't known no one like you, love, you know, you ain't known no one like me.

Been to see the pyramids, I rode me a camel there,
Ain't been to a satellite yet, ain't too sure I care!

Don't know where I'm going, don't know what I'll do,
One thing that I am knowing, ain't coming home to you!
Ain't coming home to you.

Third verse, Rae hit the switch on the floor to dim the lights and shifted the key to D minor, turning the melody on its head. Voice lifted to catch the higher pitches, Rae sang sweet and soft.

Gotta see what's o'er the next mountain, gotta taste what's in the next glass,
Doesn't make me some kind of hero, or any less of an ass.

I'll die some day without you in some godforsaken place.
And when you die you know you'll not see my forgotten face.

Rippling and stunting on the bridge, Rae strummed an entire chorus without words before breaking back into the original picking rhythm.

Don't know where I'm going, don't know what I'll do,
One thing that I am knowing, ain't coming home to you.
Ain't coming home to you.

Back to a major key with the last verse, first stanza, and another key change to minor for the second.

So I'm off to Borneo, to meet an o-rang-yu-tan
Or maybe I'll slide down to Rio to see who's on the sand.

It ain't that you done me wrong or that you would've someday,
But staying with one lover... it just ain't my way.

Another flick of Rae's toe and the lights went out on the stage entirely. No bridge this time, going directly to the chorus, Rae played soft and slow, sad and sweet, lonely in the dark.

Ain't coming home to you, love. You know I can't give a damn.
It ain't none of your fault, darling. It's me and the way I am.
Ain't coming home to you.

When the lights came up, the stage was empty, the silver-topped guitar standing alone against the performer's stool. The audience clapped, wanting an encore but the bartender rippled the lights, announcing last call.

* * *

Afterwards, the lush, naked waitress who really was named Darling, Julie Darling, whispered from the bed, "When you sang you weren't coming home to me, I thought you might've meant it."

"I didn't say I wouldn't come home with you," Rae pointed out, sliding in beside her.

They giggled together and made love in the dark. "I've never known anyone like you, Rae," she said. "I didn't think I was...that you were..."

Rae's lips stopped her explanations. "Ain't known no one like you, neither, love..."

"I'm just one more girl working in one more lounge in another city, ain't I?" she asked.

"The difference is you're you and no one else," said Rae.

"What does that matter? Tomorrow you'll be gone and I'll still be here."

They kissed. "It matters," Rae assured her. "Reach out, touch the core of who you are. No one else is here in bed with me and we're both here because we chose to be."

They kissed again. "I'm twenty-six," she said.

Rae laughed. "I'm a lot older than that."

"Don't tell me. Just hold me for a while longer."

Rae held her until they both fell asleep near dawn. When she woke up mid-morning, the other side of the bed was empty.

She got up and made coffee, toast and one egg. She sat on a slick vinyl kitchen chair, smiling while tears ran down her face. "Ain't coming home to you," she whispered.

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