Inside the trendy space, nobody listened to the music lofting from the dark corner near the entrance. The patrons chattered like teeth, clinked like glasses, laughed like the insane. Young men sprayed saliva as they drunkenly talked to young women showing too much cleavage. Folks seated around tables raised glasses of wine, tumblers of brandy, rolled out lines of self-promotion and praise while their partners feigned laughter and interest. You sat in the front, at a small table, alone. The buzz moved behind you like trapped fly, like rustling trees before the breeze presses against you.
You watched the young musician play his caramel guitar—each strum bottoming out at the base of the wine-red pick guard. He stood back in the dim recess adjacent to the entrance. Red and blue and yellow balloons flanked him on the right, bobbing every time a new face walked through the door. The young musician swayed, ever so slightly, back and forth, as he played, his clothes a breezy wave of indigo and charcoal.
The musician's voice slid, slightly husky, raspy, from a single PA speaker above his head. With every line he sang, he seemed to slip farther back into the corner, into the dim light, his face becoming more shadow than shine. Each time he briefly opened his eyes, you could see a full, deep green in them. When the songs ended, you clapped alone, as unnoticed as the lyrics, the melody, the mood.
"I'm glad to be here," the musician said between songs.
You laughed. A young woman came forward, bumped your elbow as she passed the table. She stood opposite the musician and stared forward. Soon, you realized she couldn't even see him. Her eyes gazed through the curtains of the window behind him. She waved her big hands at friends outside on the frozen street, waved through the musician's voice and songs. He didn't stop or pause, just sang about his home, about being alive.
A crowd of young people rushed through the doors and stumbled toward the bar. From a girl's expensive handbag, a cell-phone rang a digitized version of a chart-topping song before a young man with an open shirt collar and bare chest snatched it away. He hurried back toward the corner, the darkness of waving balloons, and held it up the microphone in mid-song. The bar's attention turned to him. They cheered and hollered. He bowed and grinned, satisfied, you thought, by the attention he received.
The musician played on, each song a bit softer; his voice moving toward a whisper. The balloons danced to the slow pace. You reached in your pockets, found some change you'd forgotten about. And you found yourself compelled to rise and walk toward the sound of the songs. You walked for a while, felt the temperature drop around you, felt the air filling with a chill. When you finally reached the open guitar case you knelt slightly to deposit the money, a bit ashamed by your small penance. Far away, it seemed, your glass of scotch rested at the empty table you longed to return to.
"I've got one more for you," he said as the hour neared one in the morning.
The people seemed to have expanded in the last hour. The bar felt swollen and you felt trapped, lost. More people swarmed in through the doors for last call, moving and speaking at such volumes that your scotch sloshed up the sides of the glass. A group at the bar sang their own songs, their mouths open wide like spigots expelling acrid water.
The musician raked down over the strings and the notes flew forward out of the quiet corner and hung, stuck, seemed to push back the ugly singing from the bar, the ringing cell-phones, the superficial conversations. He quieted the strings and smiled, leaned into the darkness and brought a glass of burgundy wine to his mouth. In the quiet you asked yourself if you'd forgotten how to feel, if you'd become desensitized? After a long swig, he strummed hard again—a different, deeper note. A strong vibration rang from the hole in his guitar. He strummed steadily and let the first syllables form on his lips. Sadness. A single hummingbird winged from the hole in his guitar. It shot out in a strict line—a blur of shiny green and blue and red. Countless more followed and flew out into the room while he sang on. Humility. The hummingbirds stuffed and lodged themselves in the chattering open mouths. The tiny bird bodies crunched in their sloppy mouths like precious hors d'oeuvres. And you worried, waited for a bird to pick you out, to force itself upon you. Soon the birds stuffed the mouths and through the silence came the smooth voice of the musician and the somber rhythms of his guitar. Feelings abandoned. A single hummingbird emerged from his guitar and flew toward your mouth, but stopped short, and hovered at the edge of your scotch before dipping its long beak.
You searched the faces in the room for any signs of accord, but unable to talk they turned the faces to the televisions in the back corners, studied reality on a small screen. The lyrics slipped through the air, the final note lingered, and you felt full. The hummingbirds slowly melted away in the mouths, leaving behind a slight blue-green sparkle on lips as the roar and chatter and gossip rose up again.
The musician packed his case, slipped your change into his pockets, and nudged his way through the crowd. Out the doors, snow swirled in a light breeze like moths circling a summer light. You walked home through it, letting it come to rest on your shoulders and eyelashes, wishing you could share that sentiment, that description of moths with anyone that would listen.