Author: TazRaven (Sara)
I waited outside the entrance, silently debating whether or not I should do this again. The night held a cloudless sky, and the moon was nowhere to be seen. The streetlamps outside of the building cast a pale yellow glow upon the sidewalk, illuminating the passersby briefly before they moved from the light on their way to some other destination. I blew out a breath, watching as the cold air made it visible before it dissipated into the night. Deciding I'd already come too far to leave without doing what I had come for, I straightened my hat and pushed open the heavy wooden door. My senses were immediately assaulted by a foul blend of scents. The room was dark and smelled of liquor and smoke and unwashed men. I was not a fan of any of these, especially the latter, but that didn't matter. I was not there for the accoutrements that came with the gentlemen's club.
Walking through the space, taking careful mind not to brush any of the men in the club more than was necessary to weave through, I found a table near the back and pulled out a seat. I straightened my pants, then took off the heavy wool coat that had been shielding me from the cold and draped it over the table, making sure that all of the extra space was taken to prevent unwanted company. The leather on the seat of the wooden chair was soft and a welcome comfort. As soon as I took my seat, a woman with a tray walked over to me, a fake smile plastered on her face to ensure a large tip. I returned it with an equally false grin and ordered a glass of scotch. She nodded her head and smiled once more before scampering off to retrieve my order. Prohibition was in full swing, but the clubs seemed to find a way around it. I tried not to think about the fact that I was in a speakeasy, an establishment that boasted liquor, women, and frequent police raids.
I sat there idly for a few minutes, trying to look as disinterested as possible by letting my eyes roam around the room until the waitress came back to my table. She placed the drink in front of me, and after asking if there was anything else I needed, left without another word. I looked at my drink, a small and dirty shot glass filled with light brown liquid. Hardly the most appetizing looking refreshment in the world, but it would help calm my frantic nerves slightly. I downed the entire drink in one gulp and coughed at the burning sensation in my throat. The liquid went down like fire, and my eyes watered slightly at the feeling. Taking a few sputtering breaths to relieve my aching gullet, I put the glass back down. The waitress appeared immediately, fresh drink in hand. She silently picked up the empty glass and placed another full one on the table, not waiting for me to utter my thanks.
Before I could raise the next glass to my lips, the lights, placed periodically along the walls, dimmed. The chatter of the other patrons lessened to a soft whisper. Knowing it was time, I turned my head, as the whispers that had replaced the loud chatter disappeared. An eerie silence filled the club, punctuated by the sound of a light cymbal being played in a slow beat. My drink forgotten, I let my eyes rest upon the stage, knowing exactly what was to come, yet still nervous beyond all rational thought. The lights dimmed completely, encasing the club in pitch black darkness, and still I kept my eyes trained on the stage in front of me, determined not to miss a moment.
There she was. The spotlight shone upon her, as if she were an angel. Her hair almost luminescent, the white gown she wore accentuating every curve completely, her skin alabaster, and her eyes the most striking blue I'd ever seen in my life. From her perfectly sculpted nose to her full and luscious lips, she was absolutely beautiful; my idea of perfection. And yet, all of her beauty, all of her radiance, seemed to pale in comparison to her voice. Please, don't mistake me. I'm not saying that she wasn't beautiful; only that her voice seemed to eclipse everything else.
From the instant the light shone on her, the club disappeared. I was no longer in a dank and crowded gentleman's establishment, no longer concerned with the trials and tribulations of ordinary life. I was an audience of one, there only to watch her and listen. She was the premiere blues singer in the uptown of Chicago, and only destined for greater things. When she sang, the entire club was silent. She was an enchanting siren, and I her thoroughly captivated listener.
Her performance, accompanied by a jazz trio made up of a percussionist, an upright bass player, and a pianist, began with "Someone to Watch over Me." She stood in the crook of the piano, leaning slightly against it as she sang, and if it was possible, I became even more transfixed.
Her repertoire continued with "I Cried for You," and "Me and the Man in the Moon," along with a few others I wasn't as familiar with. Forty-five minutes later, even though it only seemed as though forty-five seconds had passed, her performance ended. She graciously accepted the standing ovation and left the stage amidst the deafening applause. Every night of her engagements I'd come here to listen, and every night I'd left feeling utterly enthralled.
I had never found the courage to talk to her, especially considering the state in which I had to attend her show. Besides, what would I have ever said to her? 'Hello, I've come here every night to listen to you and I think you're an angel.' Right, she probably heard it all the time, or at least, she deserved to. I stood up from my chair on shaky legs and grabbed my coat quickly. The club would only become more boisterous now that the patrons would have to make their own entertainment, and I didn't want to be around for that. I shoved my way through the crowd as best I could and hastily pulled on my coat. The air was biting, and I made it a point to button up the wool coat as far as it would go to protect me from the cold. I walked home in silence, my mind replaying every second of the performance, every nuance, every movement.
Almost an hour later, I reached my part of town, a section of apartment blocks in the grit of downtown Chicago. I was a student and worked as an employee in a book store to pay for tuition, rent, and food. While I was not living in the lap of luxury, I was better off than some. I pulled the key from my pocket and jammed it into the rusty lock, gritting my teeth as the gears squeaked. Any sound that was not her voice was an affront to my ears.
The door to my apartment swung open with a push, and I just as quickly shut it to keep in what little warmth there was. I threw my hat on the bed along with my coat and kicked off my shoes. The jacket and vest were next, followed by the tie, white button down shirt, and grey slacks. I stopped as everything but the final article was removed, and looked into the mirror beside the closet.
The binding was wrapped tightly around my chest, carefully hiding the fact that I was not what I appeared to be. While this era was more accepting than any before it, I would not have been able to go to the gentleman's club in my normal attire, making hiding my sex the only option. Taking one last look at the image in the mirror, I carefully unwrapped the binding around my chest and just as carefully wrapped it into a ball, stowing it in the back of my closet for another night.
I pulled the rubber band from my shoulder-length red hair, then slipped on a night gown and crawled into my bed, hugging the covers around my body to cling to any warmth I could. Winters in Illinois were very cold, and the heater tended to break when I needed it most. As my head hit the pillow, my eyes closed, and sleep overtook my mind almost immediately. My last thought before I fell into slumber was of Tara Maclay.
It wasn't until a year later that I saw her again.