"No shirt, no shoes, no service," says the thirtysomething man behind the bar. "It is entirely legal in this state for you to be topless and I can't say I'd object, but the owner has rules."
There is no sign to that effect. Anyway, I'm wearing a shirt, pale blue with silver embroidery, the color in sharp contrast to my skin, and from the way he's staring he can see it just fine. "Can't you see I'm wearing shoes?" I ask. I stomp a foot so the bells on my anklet jingle. I'm not wearing shoes, but my anklets with their toe-loop tails should make it look as though I am.
"Sweetheart, take your lovely feet outside and trade the barefoot sandals for real shoes."
Points for observant. Points off for white-dude attitude. "I will not," I say. "I won't be removing my shirt, either. Feel free to stop trying to see through it. If you're the owner, I'm leaving," I add. "I'm the eleven-thirty appointment."
"Pleased to meet you, Miz Glass," says another voice. This one's attached to an older man, also white, coming out of an office. "I'm Jack Chandler." That's the right name. He holds out a hand.
"Sir," I say, shaking his hand once firmly. Potential employers get respect, and he looks to be treating me with the same. "I'm not budging on the shoes."
"Ma'am, this is a bar," Mister Chandler says. "People spill drinks and overturn plates and puke."
"And you have people with mops," I answer.
He laughs. "Very good! Now, you said in your application that you're a singer?"
"I am," I say. It's the only talent, bar scrubbing floors, that I have, and I won't scrub any floor but my own again. I take a proper deep breath and begin:
Don't need a man who can hand me diamonds and pearls
Takes more than that to satisfy this kind of girl
If it's not from the heart, I'll do without it
Let me tell you what I'm talking about, it's—
Mister Chandler holds up a hand, and I stop. "Talent," he says. "Can you sing blues?"
I almost walk out the door then and there, but—
Doesn't it always come down to money?
"Got a piano?" I ask.
Jack leads me over. "Nazli's our pianist," he says. "She'll be here at four." He'd suggested four-thirty for the interview.
"I can play well enough," I say. There's no piano bench, so I lean over to pick out the introduction to the song I want.
Gee, but it's hard to love someone
When that someone don't love you
I'm so disgusted, heartbroken too
I've got those downhearted blues
"Avril Lavigne," says Mister Chandler.
I stop playing; I don't know the music, just the lyrics and their tune.
You were everything, everything that I wanted
We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it
"Enough," says Mister Chandler
I freeze. This isn't quite my last chance, but it's close—
"You and Nazli will get on excellently, I think," says Mister Chandler. "Call me Jack. Let's talk salary."
I wait till I'm sitting in my car, scheduled to return in six hours to be the evening's entertainment, before heaving a sigh of relief. His parting words ring in my ears: "I don't expect you to tell the truth," he said, "and it's all right to tell stories, but—" He nods at the shoes I'm not wearing. "—don't ever lie to me again."
I grab lunch, trying to look like the fifty-six thirty-two left in my purse afterwards isn't all the money I have in the world. Employees eat free, Jack said, but only while on shift, so I'm set for food tonight. That's good, because if my test shift goes badly, I'll need fifty dollars of gas to get out west to Rampion, and hope that's enough.
The evening bartender, just clocking in as I arrive, is a slight white woman, vividly blonde. I introduce myself, and she nods. "That's just right, Jack said to expect you," she says. "I'm Goldie. Hey, Kaguya," she calls to the afternoon bartender, "cover me a few minutes? I need to introduce Cindy to her accompaniment." She waits for Kaguya's nod before guiding me over to the piano. The person playing a bouncy rendition of an Irish folk song—isn't "Wild Mountain Thyme" usually slow?—is another white woman, this one dark-haired and sitting in a wheelchair, an open laptop in sleep mode beside her music stand. Goldie waits till she closes the song to say, "Nazli, this is Cindy, our new singer. Cindy, Nazli."
"It's a pleasure," I say. 'Nazli' isn't a white-girl name, I note. Hebrew, maybe? Arabic?
Nazli taps an arrow key on her laptop, bringing the screen to life with a text editor open, and types You too. Always good to have another woman around.
"Sing it, sister," I say, then "oh damn, I'm sorry."
She smiles, strained. You'll just have to sing for me.
"What song do you want us to do first?" I ask. We do a quick run-through of the song she chooses, and I turn to Goldie, who steers me to the back room that leads onstage. I smooth down my blue jeans nervously, but Jack did say casual was acceptable as long as I don't look sloppy. "I don't look sloppy, do I?" I ask Goldie.
She dusts sparkly gold powder in my hair. "There, you look just right," she says. "Go on, out on stage, you'll do fine."
I won't do fine. The only time in my life I performed before a crowd—well, it went well, but the aftermath sucked.
I step into the spotlight.
Nazli begins to play.
Eye of eel and sea frog's feet
Make me now a potion sweet
Spider's teeth and slime of snail
Cleave in two the mermaid's tail
When the song's done, I take another look at Nazli. Her dress is aqua and white and sparkly, and I didn't look closely at the embroidery but it reminded me of waves—
I sing two songs of my own choosing, then take a request, and predictably it's Beyoncé, you could be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare, somebody pinch me, your love's too good to be true. A fifth song, a sixth, a second request, and Nazli waves me over. "I'll be back momentarily," I say, and there's a round of applause.
Applause. I must have done good.
Ten-minute break says Nazli's text editor when I get over there. I grin, and she takes the laptop and wheels herself over to the bar.
"What would you like?" Goldie asks me, already mixing Nazli something with three kinds of rum.
"Just water is fine," I say. "I don't like to drink on the job."
"Sparkling water?" Goldie asks, and I agree. She pours me a glass and puts a little blue umbrella in it. "So what brings you here?"
"I couldn't stay where I was," I say, "and my sister told me Mister Chandler—understands, about people who come from where I come from."
Nazli's keyboard makes clackity sounds: Let me guess. If Jack hadn't hired you, you'd be off to see Rapunzel at Rampion.
"Rapunzel is probably on the phone with Jack already, yelling at him for stealing another of her talented refugees," Goldie says. "You're not the only person who ran away from your fairytale ending."