There was no one left in the club, except Duncan. A stink of stale sweat and spilt cider. Crushed plastic cups, puddles and heel marks. There was a bright light outside, leaking in the narrow window under the green glowing exit sign; it was dark in the club, but for the spotlight.
Duncan put down his drumsticks and looked up into the spotlight than pinpointed him as the star in the gloom.
But he was no star. Charlotte was the star. Legs, sequins and a voice like…well, there was no contest. She had it all.
She believed in herself, which Duncan had always thought suspect. Okay, so she was pretty perfect, but he always thought that kind of self-belief was naive. I mean, if he believed in himself, it didn’t mean he could sing like she could. He could drum perfectly well, of course. But he couldn’t sing – and no matter what he chose to believe about his singing ability wouldn’t have the least bearing on the reality of his singing. The club would be sure to empty, table by table, until there would be one corner of loyal friends to buy him a drink after the gig and encourage him with well-intended lies.
There was that one time, back in ’97 when he had taken the mic. A surplus of drummers had forced him out of the safety of his low stool at the back of the stage. A Christmas special. They needed some male voices for a touch of Slade. Luckily it wasn’t for Cliff.
The gig had gone well enough – although this was before Charlotte’s time – but it had perhaps been helped along by the festive atmosphere and the fact that all the songs were so well known that the punters were slurring along with the band, bearing vacant beatific grins.
But back behind the drums he could drive the music. He could build it from emptiness through noise to fullness. He could fall away and highlight or expose the singer. He could switch to double time and feel the floor bounce beneath the stage as the crowd responded, usually unaware of why they felt how they felt – or gazed up at Charlotte and figured it was all down to her.
She was captivating.
He wondered how she really felt. All this ‘perfection’ must be a bit wearing. Every time he saw her she just looked great. She sounded great. She was wearing something that managed to shine without outshining herself.
Duncan lifted one of the discarded drumsticks and hit a cymbal with a crash that he silenced immediately, feeling the vibrations dampen through his hand.
At this point, the writer has a decision to make. She has three options:
He can look up, and Charlotte is there, looking uncharacteristically lacklustre. She has been crying, and is approaching the stage, nervously playing with her hands. Duncan stands and steps out from behind the drum-kit, his face pinched with concern…
Duncan steps out from behind the drum-kit and reaches for the mic that is still live. He thinks for a minute and breaks into song. A ballad. A shadow blots our the light at the exit. Someone is listening…
The writer can decide that Duncan and Charlotte are not meant to be together. He is, for one thing, not that it necessarily matters, is far older than she is. Charlotte is a real star who has played her last gig in that club. A decent drummer and a mediocre singer, Duncan, as a result of a chronic lack of self-belief, will never play another venue. But in truth, he is the better musician, technically.
The writer has made her decision.
The writer does not believe in the value of self-belief, or the magic of music and can’t decide whether to be be relieved or sad.