Who Knew

4 min
Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story

The sun is just starting to set as he pulls my case out of the van. Behind him, a banner above the door to the bar proclaims “KARAOKE TONIGHT!” for all who drive by to see.

“Great,” I think to myself. “Another night of drunk sorority girls screeching Taylor Swift ballads and middle-aged gamer dudes trying to be Elvis. Can’t wait for this to start.”

I hate karaoke night. When I first hit the music scene, I had dreams of being the one to project the powerful tones of the next Whitney Houston to everyone watching. Unfortunately, I was purchased by a karaoke DJ about a year ago instead. Ever since, I have been amplifying what can only be described as the sounds of strangled cats to tipsy bar-goers all over the metro area. No one gets discovered at karaoke night. No one is going to achieve their dreams and remember me as the first microphone they used. I’ll be lucky if half the people I meet tonight can even remember the words to the songs they select.

As the DJ sets up his other equipment, I stay in my case and stew over my fate. By the time he puts me in the stand, I am in no mood to do my job. But there are people expecting me to turn them into rock stars tonight, so I give myself a pep talk. “It’s from 7:00 to 11:00. Only four hours. Not that long. You can do it.”

By the time 9:00 p.m. rolls around, I realize I’ve made it through the worst of the night. There are only four people in the bar including the bartender and the DJ, who’s too focused on the music video playing on the big screen to care that no one is singing. I relax. No one else will come in tonight. I made it.

The door to the bar opens and a young woman walks in with a well-dressed, middle-aged man. For some reason, the woman intrigues me, so I focus on her as I wait for the night to end. The pair sits down at a table in the middle of the room and she looks around. I watch her take in the lack of people there and she seems to relax slightly, but she spies me on stage and I sense her discomfort. I wonder what’s wrong and try to eavesdrop on their conversation, but the music video playing now is so loud I can’t hear anything.

The bartender brings them their drinks and I notice the young woman ordered a glass of ice water. “Weird,” I think to myself. “She’s not drinking.” I mull on this while I wait for the gamer-looking dude who just sat down with the book of available songs to choose the one he’ll torture me with. The man with the young woman gets up and grabs the other book, then takes it back to their table. Is he going to sing? At least he won’t sound like a strangled cat if he does.

No, wait. He hands the book to the young woman. As I watch her peruse the list, I notice she’s shaking. It is cold in here, but something tells me that’s not the whole reason behind her tremors. Gamer Dude steps up to me and starts his off-key singing, but I stay focused on the young woman. She looks like she wants to be anywhere but here. Me too.

It’s almost 10:00 p.m., so I focus on that fact as Gamer Dude hits his final note – too high for the song – and returns to his drink. The young woman and the man clap politely, and the DJ reminds everyone there’s still time to sing.

Suddenly, the young woman nods and the man strolls up to the stage to hand the DJ a piece of paper. To my surprise, the DJ announces a female-sounding name and the young woman comes up to me. She’s still shaking and looks really pale. She’s too short to sing into me while I’m in the stand, so the DJ takes me out and hands me to her. She mumbles something about her terrible singing to the DJ, who replies, “No worries. It’s all in good fun.”

“Yeah, fun for you,” I think. My dread intensifies as the DJ cues up the song and she stares at the big screen. The first notes play through the speakers and the young woman grips me for dear life while tapping her free hand against her thigh. A wave of compassion hits me as I realize – she’s scared!

“Come on, girl. You can do it!” I think as I channel good vibes her way.

I can tell a lot about people from the songs they choose during karaoke night. Most of the time, the singers are drunk and looking for their Beyonce moment. Not this young woman. As she tentatively sings the first words of her song, I can tell she’s afraid of the sound of her own voice. That’s why she picked a song with special meaning for her. This is her karaoke song, though her apparent trepidation leads me to believe this is her first time actually singing karaoke. As the song progresses, the young woman becomes more confident. In this moment, I realize she’s singing this song to someone she once knew, who she cared about but knows she needs to let go. This young woman knows her voice isn’t the greatest, but she’s genuinely trying her best.

As the final verse of her song starts, something else dawns on me. She’s living a dream – not to be the next American Idol, but a simpler one. She finally found enough courage to sing this song in public without caring what others think. Most people need some liquid courage to sing karaoke. Not her. I admire her bravery and her drive to achieve a dream. I think she senses my admiration because she belts out the final refrain like she’s on a Vegas stage. Her song ends and the DJ places me back in the stand as she hops off stage. The man cheers and claps. She seems more relaxed now. I guess facing your fears will do that to you

The pair finishes their drinks and pays the tab. As they walk out the front door, she glances at me one last time. It dawns on me that I just lived my dream, too. That young woman might not be the next Whitney Houston, but she had her rock star moment tonight and I was a part of it. Somehow, I just know she won’t forget this night and how it felt to face her fears by singing into me. No, I won’t be forgotten, and I won’t forget her.

I wish this Gamer Dude would forget about me, though. He’s back for his fourth song tonight. It’s a Frank Sinatra selection. No. Just no. I don’t have patience for this. Isn’t it past 11:00? What do you mean, it’s only 10:15? Ugh.


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