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‘Head Up, Eyes Forward’ | EXCLUSIVE | Abigail Lee By Chris Schultz For The Libertine Magazine | The Fall Flight 2013
by Kate van raden
“Her eyes were piercing, even in black and white. She stood staring at her head-shots, uncertain to throw them away or keep them as a consolation prize. Did she really think that she, of all people, would be a star? “Iowa’s just as swell as New York City,” she lied to herself. “Best to leave it all behind.” But at the last second, her hand missed the trashcan and tossed the head-shots into her suitcase. With two clicks of the clasps, she was ready. She straightened her dress, it was her favorite. A splurge from her first week in the city, this dress was everything she wanted to be: elegant, simple and beautiful. She might be giving up, but she was doing it in style, that’s for sure. The dress was already making her feel better about her future. As she walked out to the sidewalk, her dress failed her. The daily dance of the city was one she was slow to learn but once learned, it defined her. Each move of the hand, each skip of the step was set perfectly to the constant melodic noise that pervades the air. She was a master of this choreography– head up, eyes forward. Except today. Today, she would study her feet as she dragged them against their will to Grand Central Station. It was at this moment, as she was beginning to become nostalgic for a dead rat on the sidewalk, when she noticed a pair of familiar hounds-tooth heels approach her. Of course! Her roommate was the last person she wanted to run into as she attempted to slink out of the city like a dying animal. She engaged despair, lifted her head and right before they began the beguine the tempo changed. Her roommate forgot to write down a phone message. Jerry called. They need a girl at the club tonight. This was it. On pure instinct, she dashed in the bar across the street, smiled at the bartender from under her eyelashes and asked for a favor. Within no time at all, she was on their phone dialing the club. She needed to hear it from Jerry. The city was a roller-coaster, this much she knew. With each ring, she steadied her hand, her breathing, herself. He answered. She had three hours to get downtown, get dressed and go on. Not only go on, but go on as the headliner. She didn’t know if she should squeal or vomit. She opted for neither, she could do them both later. Now she needed to stay cool and find a dress. No offense to her favorite, but tonight elegance and beauty wouldn’t be enough. When you have one shot you pull out all the stops and spare no expense. Besides, she can return it tomorrow. “Where the hell were you?!” some overweight lug yelled at her as she dashed into the club. Finding a dress that would make her a star took far more time than she had expected. It was worth it, that’s if they hadn’t already replaced her. She barged into her dressing room. Empty. Good, no replacement. The dress box was opened and emptied in five seconds flat. Dancing to the beat of her heart, she gracefully shed any ounce of “mid-western hopeful.” The dress looked spectacular on her– right? This was meant to be– right? Her heart had reached a tempo so fast that her grace couldn’t keep up. She had to sit, she turned to the mirror. Make-up! Routine, simple. She began with foundation. Her heart calmed itself with each stroke of the brush. The painting continued with rouge. She was going to be alright. Better than alright, she was going to be a star, unless… Eyeliner. Focus on the eyeliner. It was time. She didn’t want to wait in the wings, but she could only apply so much make-up without turning into a clown. She paced to the sound of the band. These guys were great, really great; more proof of how truly crowed this city was with talent. And her moment had arrived. She stole a peek at the noisy crowd– full house on a Friday. Smoke filled the air, allowing her to see each beam of light as it traveled to the stage, leading the way to her destiny, perhaps. If only she could remember the lyrics. Forget the lyrics, what in hell was the song list? Her brain was blank; the world was quiet. Her breathing became shallow as her throat began to drain any ounce of fluid from itself. Her heart began to beat, louder and faster until it found the tempo. And suddenly calm. It took her a moment to realize that her heart fell in time with the drum on stage, but she wasn’t about to question this moment. She released herself to it. The music flooded her body. Her name was announced. A tiny voice reminded, “head up, eyes forward.” And there she was. The lyrics, she thought she lost, poured forth as if she was writing them herself. The music moved from her body to her soul and eventually out– to the smoke and the lights and the crowd. She was no longer in New York City. She was somewhere else, another place, another time. There existed a beautiful silence in that club, only interrupted by music and a voice, her voice. She saw an act by a hypnotist when she was little, and perhaps that’s what had happened to her. Except, she wasn’t under another’s spell, she was in control– of everything. The band, the club, the universe. If there is a reason one is put upon this earth, this was hers. And then it was done. As if someone snapped their fingers and flash. She was back in the dressing room, noticing how the wall was cracked and the paint was chipped. Ever so carefully putting the dress back into the box, exactly as it was when she purchased it. The ball was over. The applause still rang in her ears, but she could tell it was already a memory and no longer a reality. She caught herself in the mirror; undressed, unarmed. She did it, and yet there it was again, the past tense. Pictures around the mirror came into focus, this was still someone else’s dressing room. The ephemeral truth of the moment crashed into her heart. She was a filler, a stand-in. It was over. She stood over her dress, exposed and lost. She wanted to put it on again, relive the moment a thousands times over. She wanted to rip it to shreds; embarrassed by her own naïveté at thinking this was her big break. You can take the girl of the mid-west… Maybe she could still get on a late train headed west. As she headed out of the club, the band members lauded her with praise. She ignored it, they only ever wanted to get lucky or get high, and they were already the latter. She finally made it to the door, when Jerry caught her by the hand. “Look Doll, I can’t tell yous when I’m gonna have another opening, but I will tell yous this: when I do, yous is the first dame I’m gonna call.” She knew he meant this; he didn’t glance at her breasts once. With that, he released her back into the city. It was cool and bright outside of the club. The night was young and so was she. The entire kingdom lay before her, and she knew it. She released the train ticket that she was clinching so tightly and as it floated into a gutter, she clutched the dress box tight to her body, this dress wasn’t going anywhere. She breathed in the city. A smile burst onto her face. She gracefully took a step and whispered to herself, “head up, eyes forward” as she rejoined the dance”.