Cinder Rocks

[StoryADay May Prompt: “Cinderella Story Structure“]

She stepped off the tour bus into the eastern Oregon heat and looked down at the King’s Ball & Bands Tavern. Of course. The cute pool cue and balls and drum sticks really emphasized the penis of it all.

“Really, Gus?”

“Sorry, Cindy. Wasn’t being picky.”

Obviously. Cindy pulled her sunglasses down off her red hair and didn’t find the view any nicer. Dust and dirt, the waves heat likes to make over the ground at distance, the roar of semis at the truck stop across the lot, and bare mountains waiting until maybe 5 p.m. to put it all under lengthening shadows. She already wanted to dab at her arm pits.

She walked over to the guys in her band and reached down to pick up a speaker.

“S’alright, Cindy.” Mouse said. “We’ll take care of it.”

“I’m happy to help.”

“Thanks. Why don’t you rest? Maybe check out the green room? We’ve got hours to go yet. No rush.”

It was irritating. The last couple stops, the same thing. She hadn’t really had a breakdown in the middle of a show. She’d just yelled at someone to shut the fuck up or get the hell out. The bar had cheered her. The guys thought it meant something worse. She grabbed her clothes for the show, a bag of makeup, and a few too many other items and made a point of walking past them and down the hill to the bar.

Inside, it took her a few seconds to adjust to the darkness. She nodded at the bartender and the owner and went down the hallway in the back leading to what really was a storage room with a love seat on one end and a sink and mirror on the other. In between, wire racks full of bar paraphernalia. She dropped her bags inside near the door and hooked the wire hanger of her dress onto a rack. A couple bare bulbs lit the room and a dirty window high above the couch let in a little more light. Most inexplicable were two white mannequins leaning against their respective corners on either side of the couch. The one on the left was posed arms up as if excited about whatever it’s featureless and eyeless face had spotted on the cinder block wall, and the one on the left was missing both arms and a leg. Not missing them, it turned out. The limbs were stacked on the floor beneath it.

Cindy dropped onto the couch on the one cushion not stacked with boxes and newspapers crammed between the boxes and arm. It was a little too warm. She thought about asking for a drink, but now that she was here, she didn’t want to move. Maybe she could stay here up until she heard the band start jamming.

She looked to either side of her again. Creepy. “Hey, sisters,” she called out. “Guess I’m stuck here with you.”

It was a great place to end up. Five years ago, she thought they would be playing stadiums by now. Cindy’s Trust started online, her and her boyfriend Roger and his buddy Harold uploading covers to YouTube. Roger wanted to write their own songs, she wanted to get their online presence started before their own songs were ready. They kept at it until they finished college, found a better drummer, added another guitarist, and then recorded and put up a video for their first original song, “Put Your Hands Around Me.” It crossed over almost immediately, finding its way to radio, the charts. They recorded a quick EP that sold lots of copies. Signed with a studio. Started touring.

The fans didn’t stick around long. Long enough to convince Cindy’s Trust to work on a full album, let the studio have it, and experience the studio release it without any marketing. It vanished, and so did their fans. Now they were playing the same EP songs, a couple of the album songs, and covers, in shrinking venues long after they had peaked.

It was time to call it. Roger was gone, almost two year now, leaving her, Gus the bassist, Hari on lead guitar, Harold back on drums, and Mouse their manager/assistant/groupie who left most management to Gus. When the green rooms were storage closets complete with plastic sisters, boxes of nuts, toilet paper, and whatever that bad smell was, then maybe it was time to give up the dream.

The next few hours seemed to pass like a montage, the bar owner and her bandmates coming in to check on her occasionally, them moving in fast motion while she sat motionless and staring at nothing. A couple stiff drinks (“why would I want a beer, Gus?”) and french fries and some cut vegetables prepared on a black plastic tray from the grocery store. Finally she went into the bathroom to change, sat at the mirror in the green room to apply her face for the night, and then ended up back on the couch, listening to the band tuning on stage.

She didn’t know if she was going to make it onstage to join them. She had put on her nude-colored dress over fishnet stalkings, wrapped a black sash around her waist, stepped into black high heels that buckled around her ankles, put her hair up in the back and tied it with a black ribbon, and left her bangs hanging over her mascara-edged eyes. She hadn’t worn the dress in months. She had no idea why she had it on now. She had lost weight over the past several months, maybe too much weight, but she wasn’t worried about how she looked. Not in a long time. Happy even. She wasn’t sure how she felt tonight.

She needed to use the bathroom again. She wanted to get up and walk. Cindy didn’t move.

Gus poked his head in. “Five minutes?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, sure.”

He poked even more of himself through the door. He was a stocky guy, weight around his waist and a lot of energy on stage. A little older than everyone else, already knocking on thirty. Great head of long blonde hair. A happy face. He really did make her feel better a lot of the time. Just not tonight. “Look, I’m going to get us better gigs.” He lowered his voice. “I’m not sure why I agreed to this place.”

Gus liked researching bars, making cold calls, checking their online platform for any leads and inquiries. Making updates to social media. Keeping track of finances. Making sure they were frugal. Five years of touring, a few months break here and there. He was good at the job. And a great bassist.

“It’s fine, Gus.”

“No it’s not. I’m slacking off.”

“Mouse is supposed to be the manager.”

“And wasn’t he great? Don’t know what happened.” It was an old complaint. When they were overnight famous, Mouse was the man with the connections. Now he just tagged along. No one minded.

“Well, we’ll do the show tonight and then we can talk about what’s next. You sure you’re okay?”

Cindy smiled and nodded. It took all of her effort. She sighed with relief when Gus shut the door.

“So what about it, sisters,” she asked the mannequins. “Am I going out there tonight? Or is it you and me, stored away forever?” God, they were ugly. Not even creepy anymore, just dust covered and ugly and useless in a bar. One of them wouldn’t even look at her. And what would it see if it did? The pretty sister? She was 27, in fine shape, pulling off this dress, and she felt as plastic and unreal as her new stepsisters. Maybe she should dress up one of them in her clothes and prop it outside the door. Might put on a better show.

Five minutes came and went. Twenty minutes after that, Mouse knocked on the door, followed closely by the tavern owner. Nice guy, Victor if she remembered correctly, but he looked a little worried now. Not angry yet. What he’s thinking, she thought, is that I’m just like any other celebrity. Temperamental. Maybe he expected to catch me doing lines of coke. Finishing a bottle of whiskey I stole from the bar. For now, though, he held back, asked her if she needed anything. Again she smiled and again she nodded. He backed out.

“What’s up, hon?”

“What’s up, Mouse?”

“You mad about something?”

She shook her head.

“Sick?”

“Nope. Just need a moment.”

“It’s fine. It’s all good. No one’s getting restless.”

“Anyone out there?”

He smiled. “You’ll be surprised. A pretty good crowd tonight. The King himself is pretty damn happy.”

He shut the door and walked closer to her. Squatted down on his knees.

“This sucks, doesn’t it. King’s Ball and Bands Tavern? Jesus. Not Gus’s fault. I should be doing a better job.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I do. I am worried about it. I got lazy. Just felt like we were doing this for a long time, and would be doing it for a long time, and took my eyes off the prize.”

She snorted. “What prize?”

“Any place other than this. We’ve just got to record more new music. You guys sound great, you know? I mean, really good. Better than ever. I’m not bullshitting you! And the sounds and lyrics you and Hari have been working on sound fucking fantastic. Just got to get through one more night, maybe a few more nights and then I’ll make it right, make sure you guys have the time you need to record. Okay?”

He looked so earnest. So thin. Cindy wanted to offer him a celery stick. His hair was receding and she realized with a start all of them were aging. Still in their twenties and yet when weren’t they aging? When wasn’t the road wearing them down? Five years was a longer time than she remembered, and it had gone by so quickly. “Recording,” she said. “I actually do miss it. Okay, Mouse. Okay.”

Then he was out the door, she was alone again, and this time she stood up. I can do this. I do it all the time. Nothing has changed. I’m still me. We’re still great. And someday we’ll hit it big.

She didn’t remember sitting down again. Cindy listened to the band jam, scattered applause, the silence of her lonely room. No light coming through the window for hours. Stark light staring down at her.

Another knock on the door. Who would it be this time? Probably Hari. Her creative partner. Picked him up only two years ago and it was true: the music he and she were coming up with was incredible. Nepalese-American, tall and energetic onstage, played a mean guitar, especially handsome, and as hardcore as any rocker could get, complete with the drinking and drugs and women. Managed it really well. Really seemed to love the road, the lifestyle, the creative process. Made all of them feel the energy. Reminded them where they had begun was not where they were now, because he was a part of the band, and the change was good. He was a force of nature. Even if he burned out eventually—and Cindy really doubted he would have any problems at all—he had already brought so much to the band.

Certainly not Harold at the door. He would wait until last. She and Harold seemed to be starting a thing. She liked it. Mostly. Harold. There almost from the beginning. Roger’s friend. When Roger left the band, left her, Harold practically disowned him. Stayed. It made her feel like the band would make it, even though she was especially emotional back then, dealing with the fallout. The media attention, just one year after their failed album, happy to shine a spotlight on them again, now that there was chaos. Not interested in their music. She gained weight, the tabloids weren’t nice about it, and Harold was good to her. Better than Roger had ever been. She had no idea Harold had feelings for her. Not even when he was helping the band keep it together, giving Gus the go ahead to take care of logistics, letting Mouse stay on and help out but not as manager, searching for a new guitarist and eventually coming up with Hari. A great year on tour after that, even if they weren’t that popular anymore. Enough people recognized their one hit song. Enough to keep them going month after month. Traveling and living together and not driving each other crazy. She liked that the most about the band. We all basically like each other. Don’t really get on each others nerves. Maybe I’m getting on their nerves tonight. I have to get out there!

She made it to the door. She turned to the mirror. Took a moment to reapply dark purple lipstick. She saw herself. She saw that she looked fine. She saw that she was appealing. Sexy. It made her feel like a fraud. She was a mannequin, playing dress up. Pulling it off, but what for? The lead singer, the sexy siren, and she thought she would look better in rags. She went back to the couch and sat down. She felt sick to her stomach. This had never happened to her before. Nerves, yes, and frequently. But waiting so long? Way too long. She thought the thin sound of the crowd sounded angry all of a sudden. They had come for the show and she was making them wait. Cindy, she thought frantically, get to work! Get out there! What are you doing?

Another knock. She had forgotten. “Come in.”

No one she expected. She had never seen the woman before, but it was obviously someone who worked here, a bartender or waitress. The woman wore a T-shirt heralding the King’s bar, tied off around her waist with a maroon apron, over blue jeans and boots. She looked pretty young. Maybe younger than Cindy. And she wouldn’t stop apologizing.

“I’m really sorry. I have to grab something from the shelves. Do you need anything? So sorry. Victor told me not to come back here, but we really need to stock. I’ll be out of here in just a moment. I’m sorry.”

Cindy shook her head, kept shaking it, and then finally raised her voice and said it wasn’t a problem. “It’s not a problem!” It sounded like she was hysterical.

The woman hung her head. “Well, this is awful. I shouldn’t have come in.”

Cindy stood up. “You’re fine. You really are. I shouldn’t even be in here. I’m holding you up.”

“No, not at all!”

“Seriously, if you apologize one more time…” Cindy added a smile, a sincere one. “Really, I should be apologizing to you. I’m being inconsiderate. Oh, I’m Cindy.” She reached out a hand.

The woman suddenly seemed even more flustered. “Cindy, yes. I know. I love you and your band. Seriously. Wow, I sound so lame. I need to let you get to the stage. I’m looking forward to the show.”

“What’s your name?”

“Oh, right. Tammy. I’m one of the waitresses. Got to get back out there and start taking orders. You sure you don’t need anything?”

“No, really, I’m good. Embarrassed.”

“By the way, you look really nice!”

“Thanks, Tammy.”

“I was actually playing your album today.”

“‘Hold Me’?” The EP. Most people who knew their music had that one.

“Oh, I have that one, too. I mean your full length album. ‘Grab and Gotcha.’ Just love it. Me and my daughter were dancing to it.”

Cindy smiled. “Oh, that’s sweet. Does it still hold up?”

Tammy laughed. “Well, I think so.”

“How old is your daughter?”

“Turns six in a couple months. I told her you were going to be here. She stays at my friend’s house while I work. I’m still talking.”

“It’s fine. It’s nice to talk to a fan. I’ve been sitting in here all night.”

“Are you all right?”

Cindy didn’t know what to say. She went back to the couch. “I guess not. I’ve never had stage fright before. I mean, nothing like this. Not stage fright.” She glanced up. “God, I cannot believe how I’m acting. So not me.”

Tammy looked concerned. “Are you actually afraid to go out there? Or is it something else?”

“That’s the thing. I’m not really afraid to go in front of the crowd. I just don’t know what I’ll be doing.”

“Singing.”

Cindy laughed at that. “Well, yeah, but what for?”

“Don’t you like it? Don’t you like being in a band?”

“Actually, I do. You hear the horror stories, but it’s been pretty great.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be happy singing in a small place like this. I mean, I’m happy you’re here, but I never thought I’d hear Cindy’s Trust out here in the boondocks.”

“Oh, your bar is fine.”

“No it isn’t. Not for a band like you.” Tammy eyes bugged. “Not that I’m trying to say anything one way or the other. You can play wherever you want. I just mean, I think you should be playing stadiums in big cities, and I think all your songs should be on the radio.”

“Thanks! Really, thank you. I guess I’d like to be doing that, too, if I’m being honest. And sorry to disappoint you, but I’m so ready for new material.”

“Are you working on anything.”

“Happily, yes, but there just hasn’t been time to record it.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll do it.”

It wasn’t that Tammy was a fan, or that she was saying all the right things. Cindy watched the woman pull items off the shelf with efficiency and get ready to walk back out. “Are you happy here, Tammy?”

Tammy paused. “Well, no. Who would be?” She smiled. “I guess I’m happy about being here tonight, though! Anyway, I’ve saved up money. Me and Rachel—that’s my daughter—we’ll get out of here soon. I’m going to move closer to my parents, up in The Dalles. That’s by the Columbia River if you don’t know. On the way to Portland”

“You’re okay here until then?”

“Oh, really, I’m fine. Just fine. Got rid of a loser husband a couple years back. Slowly but surely taking the next steps.”

The “really” kind of said it all. “Can I help you in any way?”

“Oh, God, I didn’t mean to complain.”

“No, I’m serious. Me and my band have it pretty good. If you need anything?”

“How about a vote of confidence?” Tammy had a dazzling, self-effacing kind of smile. Maybe she really was planning on getting out of town someday. Cindy thought it was weird to think that she could actually do anything to help this woman, or that she wanted to try. It made her improving mood suddenly falter. Right. A has-been rock singer acting like a would-be savior. Martyr. Be nice to the fans, bask in their adulation, pretend to arrive from on-high to help lift them up…

“You know, there is another thing you can do.”

“What’s that?”

“Get out there and kick ass.”

Cindy laughed. It felt really good. “You know what? That’s just the kick in the pants I need.”

“Glad to do it! Break a leg!”

“Thanks, Tammy.”

“A pleasure to meet you. I mean, really. Wait until I tell my daughter!”

“Bring her by in the morning if you want. We’re not heading out until about 10 a.m. Later if the guys in the band have a good night in your bar.”

Tammy beamed. “Oh, that would be great! I mean, I’m the real fan, but I think she likes your music just fine. Thanks! She’ll love it!”

Then Tammy left. Cindy ignored the mirror, stood by the door, and then looked back at her mannequin sisters.

“God, you two are ugly,” she laughed. “But thanks for hanging out with me. Now I’ve got a show to do.”

This time she made it out the door and to the stage. They opened as usual with “Put Your Hands Around Me” but she sang “get your hands off me” instead with a growl she had never mustered before. The show she and the band put on that night was well worth recording. And putting up on YouTube. And reminding people that Cindy’s Trust still had a long road ahead of them.

StoryADay May 2016 Day 8

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.