Deafening hands roar thunder as we prolong the final beat of our second encore. Jeff, our lead singer, has both tattoo-stained arms waving frantically. This is the part of the night where we absorb all their energy, letting it fuel our exhausted souls.
I look into the crowd. Stares prick me attempting to unravel my simple confidentiality. A sea of eyes with waves of clear blues, earthy browns, and affectionate hazels leaves me exhilarated and overwhelmed. What’s behind these eyes? What made them become our fans? What do they want out of life? The questions could flow infinitely…
As my fingers hold the final chord, I spot a pair of orbs, as dark and healthy as a thriving pine tree in the midst of autumn, in the third row. I quickly look away as if staring into those eyes is a bad thing—a voyeur in the window of her soul.
The clapping diminishes to echoes. I hand my guitar to one of the techs and disappear backstage. My fingers ache and my ears are strained, but the fans’ energy shoots through me like strayed electricity.
Incessant chatter and laughter fills the plush room filled with all the forbidden pleasures of life. Members of the crew and lucky fans with all-access passes cram together to celebrate a show well done.
It’s easy to socialize at this time of night. Everyone always wants to talk—as if we have some kind of lofty wisdom to share. I have nothing profound to say—it’s rare that I do. Still, anyone in this room can be mine; that is, if I want.
A woman stares at me with radiant powder blue eyes. Although I’m attracted to her, I sense she has nothing worthwhile to offer. She wants to use me as much as I want to use her. There’s no conquest, just another nick on our mental bedposts. I’m sure, at best, she’s only familiar with our overplayed songs on the radio. I turn away and forget about her.
Wandering about the room, compliments set a sickening bulge of invincibility through my stomach. Staying humble is difficult, especially after doing this for five years.
I find a comfortable couch and grab one of my guitars. I blankly strum a couple chords as eyes focus on me. The attention dissipates some of my loneliness.
“Let’s do a song,” Jeff calls from the other side of the room.
I don’t respond. Jeff’s holding a bottle of vodka in one hand and a cute blond with curious lavender eyes in the other. He stumbles across the room bumping into anyone in his shaky path. Bursts of excitement and encouragement bounce about the room.
I strum a couple minor chords and wonder about the future.
Jeff almost falls on me as he plops on the couch. His eyelids droop over bloodshot eyes. “Let’s do ‘Anybody’s Girl,'” he says.
I nod and play the opening bars. Everyone stares, at least those that still have the ability to focus their vision. A dark-eyed woman, one I’d consider ending the evening with, claps with the thrill of a high school cheerleader on speed. I couldn’t do anything with her—she’s too much a fan and not enough groupie.
Jeff comes in a couple beats too late, but I compensate for his mistake. He’s not this sloppy onstage, but after the first bottle is finished his counting ability rarely exceeds two.
Chad, the bass player, watches neutrally. The drummer, Bernie, is nowhere to be found, although we have pretty safe assumptions where he is and what he’s doing.
We struggle through the song and our manager, hiding behind sunglasses, beseeches everyone to cheer. He wears those ugly, hip sunglasses so often I wonder if he even has eyes.
I put down the guitar and light a cigarette. Eyes shift elsewhere. Jeff finds a small group of fans and makes himself the center of attention. Chad is getting cozy next to an ordinary-eyed girl with a couple extra pounds showing through her tight, crimson top. Chad loves those barely legal, heavier girls. We joke about it quite often.
A couple guys with shaggy hair and dull eyes approach me. They start a conversation about guitars and I respond politely, but remain uninterested. I scan the room while they talk gibberish about guitar effects and amplifiers. There’s a girl I’ve been casually observing with owlish eyes for an hour or so. I spot her snorting a line of coke near the barren deli trays. I stay away from girls who do coke; they’re usually trouble.
I excuse myself from the conversation; the guys hardly notice. They’re too busy arguing about tweaking knobs and adding reverb. I honestly couldn’t care less. Jeff is at the other end of the room ranting about the supposed symbolic meaning of our second album. Chad and the girl with the crimson top are gone. I swallow a couple shots of whiskey and embrace loneliness.
I make it a point never to look at the clock—I don’t want to think about all the sleep I’m missing. We’ve been touring for over a year and these constant late nights are taking a toll on my well being.
Bored with the shallow interactions rattling about the room, I follow a minor labyrinth to the outdoors. A couple bouncers nod at me as I excuse myself into the night.
The dark air blankets me. Above, a million tiny specks of light glow onto the desolate parking lot. I try to remember what city we’re in tonight. Wichita, I think. It’s so easy to lose track.
I light a cigarette and absorb silence while the whiskey massages my brain. Silence is becoming my favorite sound. No more loud music, no more people screaming. I could walk now–only turning back to see our bus getting smaller and smaller. This is all I’ve known, though. I can’t fathom becoming a civilian again.
There are only a few people left when I find my way back to the party. The remaining eyes are surrounded by bags of exhaustion and uselessness. A make up-saturated face with puffy eyes is staring at me as though I’m a precious stone. To her, I might be. I dismiss her courting winks feeling like I’m Fool’s Gold.
Jeff’s sitting on the couch staring at nothing—the alcohol’s finally caught up with him—while a sleazy green-eyed woman gazes lovingly at the rock star treasure she won for the night.
I sip a beer as the bouncers clear everyone out. Jeff’s green-eyed groupie leads him from the room into the thresholds of pleasure while I sign a couple autographs with illegible scribble and thank people for coming to the show.
Back on the bus, I find a small shaving mirror. I place it on the bed thinking about the show we played six hours ago and the sea of orbs consuming our every move. My hand disappears under the silk cloth of my underwear. I look into my eyes as the physical pleasure becomes more intense. This is what they see when I bring them here. These are my eyes presented to the world.
Kevin Gruzewski has had short works of fiction published in The Muse Apprentice Guild, The Green Tricycle, and The First Line. When not writing he is working with individuals with mental retardation and finding the most effective ways to tie his shoes. Kevin currently resides in the south suburbs of Chicago. E-mail: kgruz77[at]sbcglobal.net