by Ian Li
Steady beats of bass drums, soft
arpeggios of guitars, wistful words
rolling forth, swelling crescendos—
she drank it all in. Then she slammed
a few bills on the counter, spilling
out onto the street, the musical high
keeping the biting winter air at bay.
“Fourth night at the bar this week
already, you can’t keep this up,”
she imagined him chiding. Except
her memory of him came from a time
before restrictions. Would he understand
if he were here now?
She felt around for the last few bills.
Payday sat a week away, but the bar
already beckoned to her once again.
After three days without a taste,
she no longer felt real. Normally acrid
shrieks of her boss passed through her.
The customers droned on so blandly,
she could hardly discern their orders.
Even when she dreamed of him and his
lilting voice, it failed to nourish her.
Her body vaguely complained of
hunger, yet she had no desire to eat.
Screw meals, she could only get
the sweet, crisp taste from the bars.
Darting up the alley, she felt her heart
tumble when she saw the owner in front
of the speakeasy, shaking his head. “Sorry,
love. They clamped down on listening bars—
we were the last. They’ll be here to confiscate
everything any moment now. You should leave.”
“Please,” she pleaded, “I just need one song.
Any song! There’s nowhere else I can hear one.”
Pity filled his eyes as tears filled hers, so he
let her in and switched on crackling speakers.
Hesitating for only a moment, he flipped on
the strobe lights too, a rare and expensive treat.
Strong drum beats stampeded the room,
carrying lyrics of angst and anger.
She sat quietly, breathing light
and drinking song, for the last time.
Ian Li left his career as an economist and consultant, and he now dabbles in writing sci-fi, developing games, and designing websites in his hometown, Toronto.