He looked like a buoy floating darkly in his own stale ocean.Two reflecting lenses under a white cap and bill, bobbing subtly, anchored to a glass at the elbow of the bar. I never saw The Captain’s eyes because he never took off his aviator glasses.
The Captain was the mostly silent partner to Dolly’s toxic, soda-pop stream of consciousness. He perched by her side with a closed-mouth grin. The smile was a chemical effect.
Dolly, the Captain, and my dad had no special bond beyond the circumstantial. Dolly and the Captain were drunk at a geometrically faux-Asian bar, and my dad was playing music to drunks at a geometrically faux-Asian bar. Their puzzle pieces fit, but I didn’t.
I stood out from the arrangement, and when I stood on stage, the oddity became stark. Most patrons appreciated the novelty of a kid singing, a break from the usual. One did not.
When we played, The Captain felt the chains in his chest grow heavy. He heard them jangle and remembered he was still alive. He hated to remember that. The Captain felt the liquor dripping off the pages of his mind, bringing back the warped type-face he’d tried to stain, to wash out.
From the stage, The Captain melded with the crowd, a permanent installation, putrefying in the corner. I paid him no special attention when I was singing. Maybe he noticed that. Maybe he never noticed me at all, until one night the toxins and the harmony created just the dissonance to roll the sallow of his eyes towards me.
Most of them clapped and talked and drank. One of them got up from his stool.
One of them swayed like maritime tools, loosely in the hands of fools, willowing like weeds of sickly green dementing in the saline.
One of them limped as if pegged and docked down at my table leg. He beached himself against my chair and venomed hot into my hair.
“They don’t want to hear you sing.”
I didn’t know what to do. I had just gotten off stage, and I was 4 feet from my dad who was mid-song. I white-knuckled the screwdriver I had in my lap.
He was so close, right up on me, heaving with the buzz-saw timbre of angry stupidity.
“They don’t want to hear you.” “No, you’re wrong.” I had no idea what to say. I should say something, right? No, I should ignore him. I can’t ignore him. I’m leaning further and further to the left and his weight is following me.
“You…they don’t wanna…they don’t wanna see you…” “Get away from me.”
This was the sharpened point of despair. This was the only weapon he had, and he held the blade to me.
I was frightened, but I was outraged too. I was too small to physically resist him, but I wouldn’t submit to his rasp - he was cutting too deeply for me to ignore. He was digging into the heart of an artist’s fear: that “nobody wants to hear you sing.” He knew that. I wonder if he’d been an artist himself a long time ago.
30 seconds of rancid invective felt like an hour of torment.
Finally, Dolly, on a gust of red and perfume grabbed his shoulder from behind. The Captain seethed and hissed as the toxic goddess pulled him back into the sea of shadowed drinkers.
I moved to the table at the edge of the stage. The next time I looked back he was gone. I never saw the Captain’s eyes, and I never knew his name. I never exchanged another word with him, and I doubt he remembered anything.