The Last Ever Karaoke Night

Lanny Durbin

Photo Credit: (CC-by-nc)

Teddy is perched upon his barstool, mumbling quiet words of encouragement to himself. His lips and tongue go dry again, as they always do when his name is next to be called. He watches the young girl dance in front of the projector, fumbling with verses of “Slide” by the Goo Goo Dolls and singing off key. She doesn’t even have the lyrics memorized, so she’s hamming it up for her two drunken friends cheering her on from the next table. Teddy is irked by these displays and there’s at least three each week. Some of us take this seriously, he thinks, at least pick a song you know for Christ’s sake. Now isn’t the time to get frustrated, so Teddy dismisses the disrespect for now.

Teddy comes to karaoke night here at Boo’s Bar—Boo’s is the tiny sports bar sequestered in the corner of the Strike N’ Spare Lanes bowling alley—every Thursday. Between songs, he listens through the thin glass windows to the soothing thud of bowling balls on the hardwood and the satisfying clash of the pins. He’s not much of a bowler himself, but he appreciates the resolve in picking up a spare. A strike is all skill; a spare is a determination. He feels that’s what he’s doing here. He knows a strike is out of the question, but a spare would do just as well.

He’s soaking it in, as this may be the last time he steps foot into this place.

He saw Jeanie for the first time almost a year ago. He passed her on the front steps of the bowling alley as she was shivering in the cold, having a smoke. He noticed her pale blond hair pulled back into a ponytail and her thin lips around her cigarette. She let out a good-humored chuckle as Teddy pushed the door instead of pulled, bumping into the glass. He shrugged at her and rolled his eyes at himself. Their first and only interaction. He only knows her name is Jeanie because it’s stitched on the lapel of her purple bowling league shirt.

He watches her through the glass of the bar as she rolls with her team of similarly dressed and aged women—cleverly named The Rolling Wallendas—who lack the glow of Jeanie. He’s put together that she’s something of a middling bowler, likely playing for the love of the game. When she gutter balls wide right or when she fails to clean her plate on a spare, she shrugs and playfully blames it on her ill-fitting shoes or a loose board on the lane. When she does roll a good frame or pick up the rare strike, she lets out a whoop and punches the air three times. He feels true love swell up in his throat when she does her dopey little victory dance.

He’s witnessed on more than one occasion, random alley bums—their guts always hanging over their belts in tucked in T-shirts—trying to pick up on Jeanie. He’s appalled by the audacity. He watched a campy action movie recently in which the villain sewed explosives into his victim’s torso. The look on the poor boy’s face just as he realized he was about to blow is similar to the one on his face when he watches these troglodytes hit on Jeanie.

His method is different, bubbling over with his idea of romanticism. He sings to her every week.

She doesn’t know he’s singing to her, but he’s sure it will work. If he keeps trying it’s going to work. When the timing is right it’s going to work. On that perfect night when it’s his turn at the microphone, when those damn buffoons out in the alley have stopped playing on the jukebox, and the rumbling thunder of lanes dies down, it’s going to work. Jeanie will happen to be close enough, or better still, be at the beer window between the bar and the lanes proper buying another pitcher of Coors Light.

He’s tried Springsteen, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac. All the great, classic songs of love and yearning. None of them seemed to do the trick. There have been times when Teddy was sure he should hang up his karaoke hat and get over it. The last three weeks have been particularly low. Jeanie appears to have gotten friendly with a tall, bearded man from one of the other teams. Teddy thought of the poor exploding boy’s face from the action movie and said to himself on the dark car ride home last week that tonight would be the night.

In his final try, he’s fittingly chosen Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night.” Teddy has the lyrics down by heart, so he stands in front of the useless projector screen, the words written across his pale, bony cheeks and skinny neck. He adopts an admirably close approximation of Rod’s smoky rasp. His heart and his desire and everything he’s hurting to offer to Jeanie soars out of him with the words and floats through the thick, stale beer air of the bar and drifts out into the lanes.

Teddy’s eyes are closed as the song reaches its end. When he opens them, to scattered applause from the bar’s audience, he glances through the glass to find Jeanie standing with her bowling shoes in her hands.

She’s standing there, her socked feet on the neon-speckled carpet. He’s stared at her through the window on many nights, but this time, she’s staring back at him.



Lanny Durbin lives in Springfield, Illinois, plays in a few bands and drives a Buick. His work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, The Fiction Pool and Every Day Fiction. He can be found on Twitter @LannyDurbin. Email: lannyadurbin[at]