Tst-tst-tst-ta-tst-tst the jagged cymbals hissed in the dark depths of Muddy’s. Drummer whisked the snare like a snake oil rattle. In the club’s dank heat, sweat rained down his dark pale face from his wiry dreaded knots.
He twitched his wrist as the kick drum thumped along with the slap slap slap of the bass, swampy brown eyes reflecting the crowd through the lights. Separating the tables from the pitch black night of backstage, the spotlights cleaved the stage from the blue green nicotine miasma of the club. Drummer’s ride shimmered, a sustained splash as the bass rode out its last thump through an archaic Fender combo amp. Stuttered claps erupted from the crowd.
“Back in five,” the bass player announced.
Drummer split the curtain, disappearing behind the stage. Slumping into a battered couch, he whispered into a fifth of gin procured on the cheap from the liquor store around the corner.
“I’m so fucking sick of this,” he said. As he swallowed acrid liquor, he pulled a fat cigarette from his disappearing pack. It crackled as the gray snaking ribbons merged with the smoggy ambiance.
The hat man poked his mug through the tattered curtains like a jaundiced moon rising. “Got 2 minutes, kid.”
Drummer choked through his gin: “This is bullshit. You’re ripping us off. King Club pays twice as much.”
“Tough shit. Go play King Club then, asshole.” He paused, calling Drummer’s bluff.
“That’s what I thought. You weirdo acts are a dime a dozen.”
As hat man vanished through the ratty red door, Drummer yelled after him: “You know I got a kid to support, dick!”
Bass rolled backstage. “Crowd’s shit, man. No love. No tips I bet. Probably won’t even sell a demo.”
“I know. I hate this place.” He motioned to the stage door hat man had left through. “I hate that guy.”
Drummer’s phone whistled, making him jump. “Ah great. It’s Terra. Now what?”
Bass rolled his eyes. “Same old shit. Different day, right?”
Reading the message, Drummer’s cigarette dropped onto the stained linoleum, rolling under the coffee table. Bass furrowed his brows.
Drummer flung his phone across the room, its case shattering against the wall. Its cracked screen looked on, exposed.
“Fucking Terra just broke up with me. How am I gonna see Jemma? What the fuck am I gonna do?”
Bass patted him on the shoulder. “You’ll figure something out, bro. I know it.”
“Her parents’ll never let me see Jems.”
As if smelling a fart, Bass wrinkled his nose. “Oh shit, man. Where are you gonna stay?”
Rolling his head in his hands, drummer sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Fuck.”
“It ain’t much, but you could park your van outside my apartment. Don’t think the landlords would give two shits.”
“Thanks, man.” Trying to suck tears back into his ducts, Drummer turned as the door opened. Hat man’s bird-beak poked through the dark.
“Break’s over, shitheads.” Hat man never left home without his charm, Drummer thought.
Climbing back through the curtain like a medical examiner opening up a cadaver, they trudged onto the stage. From his throne, Drummer clicked out an 8/4 beat as Bass fuzzed to life. With the weight of the world, he rode the snare and the crash, waves of rhythm crashing against the crowd too quickly to be appreciated.
Maybe tonight would be different. Maybe A&R would be sitting at that misty table in the corner. Maybe Terra would forgive him his flaws and invite him back into her apartment. Maybe there was nothing else he could do but play. So he did.