I was reminded of this great record from the 70s recently, which was the inspiration for today’s short story.
I had finally fled from an abusive relationship, and against my better judgement allowed some friends to drag me off to a New Year’s Eve party at a hotel. My self-confidence was at rock bottom and it was hard going to keep a smile plastered on my face.
All I wanted to do was go home and curl up with a good book and maybe a glass of wine, to welcome in the New Year with Jules Holland on TV. That was another thing; since my escape I had taken refuge in the bottle, and although everyone was entitled to the odd drink, the recycling box of empty bottles outside my house was becoming embarrassing.
I’d got so used to being told I was useless, stupid, couldn’t cook, was no good in bed and couldn’t even keep a house clean that I had lost all faith in myself. The one thing I still had was my singing voice, but if I hadn’t been tipsy I wouldn’t have had the courage to get up on stage. The hired band hadn’t turned up for their final set and my friends pushed me into it as a favour to the guy responsible for the entertainment.
I was shaking as I wracked my brains to remember some songs, but did a few numbers and couldn’t believe the applause and calls for encores. Obviously everyone was merry otherwise I’m sure they wouldn’t have been so supportive.
Noticing the time, I decided to finish with an old favourite of mine
‘I’ll meet you at midnight.’
I sang the song as the minutes ticked towards the midnight hour. As I finished someone started the countdown, Big Ben chimed and total strangers kissed and wished each other a Happy New Year. By one o’clock I was home alone with a nightcap and by one thirty I was snoring.
The first of January is always a peculiar day, most places are closed, the revellers are sleeping off their hangovers and there’s none of the excitement of Christmas. The only thing to look forward to is months of bad weather and anti-climax until Easter, when the world starts coming back to life.
As it was a day when very few people worked, I was surprised to receive a phone call from an agent saying he had heard me sing and thought I had great potential. He gave his name as Rob Williams and wanted to arrange a meeting, to see if I was interested in signing a contract for him to become my manager.
Obviously I thought it was a wind-up, and ran through the list of possible culprits who might have given him my number. Perhaps I was still on a high from the reception I had received the previous night, perhaps I was tired of being alone, perhaps I had finally decided to start taking back control of my life.
Whatever the reason, I agreed to meet him for lunch. Even if no-one turned up at least it would save me cooking, and I was used to eating on my own. As I hovered in the doorway of the restaurant a waiter came forward, and after confirming my name led me to a table where Rob was already seated. I recognised him from the party but had escaped before my matchmaking friends tried to introduce me.
‘First, an apology,’ he said. ‘I pulled in a few favours to get your phone number. I hope you don’t mind but I never got the chance to thank you for saving my reputation yesterday. Suffice it to say that group are no longer on my list. Oh, just to prove I’m genuine I brought along a few things for you to look at.’
With that he passed me a file with newspapers cuttings, links to publicity and review pages, all sorts of information about him and the entertainment company he controlled. He interrupted my browsing to ask what wine I preferred, but I was so surprised at being consulted I just mumbled ‘whatever you’re having.’ After all the booze I’d consumed the previous evening I should probably have stuck to a soft drink but he didn’t seem concerned.
Somehow I didn’t feel rushed, and even when I peeked to see if he was getting bored I noticed he was sitting quietly, looking at the menu. When I had finished reading he smiled, passed me his business card and suggested we eat before we started to discuss the contract.
At first I was shy, but he began telling me about some of the odd people he had met during his career, and soon had me laughing at his stories. He was such easy company I found myself divulging things I had never told anyone else; how as a kid I had entered and won various local talent competitions, and had dreams of becoming a famous singer when I grew up. I had started making a name for myself in the local clubs, but everything had come to a halt soon after my seventeenth birthday.
When I had first met Ryan, he told me he was an entrepreneur with contacts in the showbiz world, and would build my career and make me a star. He became my manager and took over control of my finances and my life. I was installed in a small flat, which I later discovered was paid for from my own earnings. Ryan had a key and would turn up unexpectedly, then disappear for days without a word. If I queried anything he would tell me to concentrate on singing and to leave the rest to him.
He took my innocence and then my self-esteem.
‘I hardly see anything of you these days. When will you be back?’ I ventured one Tuesday afternoon as he emerged from the shower, ready to go out. It was bad timing on my part as I knew he was hung-over from the session with the boys the previous evening.
‘You ungrateful bitch,’ he screamed as he backhanded me across the face. ‘I’m working my guts off while you swan around all day doing nothing. I’ll pick you up at 7.30 on Saturday for the gig at the Blue Moon. Be ready. And get this place cleaned up you slovenly cow.’
The door slammed behind him as I picked up his dirty clothes from the floor where he had dropped them, collected the empty bottles and cans strewn all over the living room, and then burst into tears. It was the first time he hit me but not the last.
That was my life for the next few years as I sank deeper into depression and his temper grew steadily worse. My only release was on stage when I sang my heart out before returning to my prison. If another man so much as glanced at me in the clubs Ryan went into wild fits of jealousy, so I learnt to keep my head down and never engaged with the audience once I had finished my session.
One night Ryan totally lost control. As I left the stage an older man started chatting and congratulated me on my performance, just before Ryan came to claim me. He was seriously drunk and went berserk, but fortunately the bouncers intervened before he could do any serious damage. Previously he had ensured the blows didn’t show, but this time he was prepared to give me a beating in public. I found out later the older man was the owner of the club; he filed charges and Ryan ended up with a two year jail sentence. The harsh judgement was explained when I discovered he was also dealing drugs, taking advantage of my gigs to expand his trade.
Life had turned full circle. Now I was back, older and wiser, listening to another entrepreneur offering to make me a star, and wondering if I had learnt anything from my past experiences or whether history would repeat itself.
Three years have passed since that New Year’s Eve party where I first met Rob. I’m waiting in the wings, ready to go on stage, but this time it’s in Las Vegas and I’m the star of the show. I make my entrance to thunderous applause.
As the minutes tick away towards the New Year I launch into the song that made me famous and finally brought me happiness.
‘I’ll meet you at midnight’ I sing to the handsome man seated in the front row. Rob, my manager and now my husband, gives me a wink as we share a secret smile.
© Voinks June 2017
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