Being the Murdered Chanteuse
The thing about being the murdered chanteuse is you set the plot in motion.
They’ll set up a shrine for you near the piano; you always touched the piano when you sang, ran fingertip along its wood, leaned against it backwards, bent over it, stretched both arms long, curled song out of your throat whiskey-voiced. They’ll put a photograph of you on a table, surround it with white tapered candles.
The candles will burn down to nubs. The patrons will tap their knuckles against the table, thumb-touch the wooden frame of your photograph, remember the sound of your voice, how it soared, they’ll say.
Before you were killed, the pianist was half in love with you. He’d say half, like love was a thing that could be measured, portioned out, buy you shots of apple brandy, liked the way you stuck your pinky out when you drank — such a fine lady, he always said, and laughed, laughed.
He’ll wear the same tux he has always worn. He’ll play the same songs. He’ll run scales and arpeggios when the nightclub is first coming open for the night, chairs being unstacked from tabletops, glasses being laid out at the bar. He’ll do the things he’s always done, except he too will touch the flat of table, run thumb over photo frame. He’ll like your eyes in the photograph, how they look wild, how they look wounded.
The staff will come in bit by bit for the night, séance-rap your shrine table, touch edge of photo frame. They’ll think it feels different in the nightclub now, a kind of heavy in the air, like they are always inhaling smoke or fog. They’ll take the chairs down from the tabletops, scrape the legs across the floor, listen to the broken-chord song of the pianist warming up. The bartender will pour a shot of apple brandy, set it on top of the piano. It will sit there all night. It will always sit there all night.
The bartender will remember how you’d always take a whiskey with lemon at the end of your shift, lemon for your throat, whiskey for the hell of it, throw it back, throw it down.
The bartender will remember how you used to smile. He’ll tap his knuckles against your table, they’ll be calling it your table now, little round teetering thing, covered in candle wax. He’ll tap his knuckles there, brush thumb over the frame of your photograph, remember how once your hand brushed his when you took your whiskey with lemon, how he tried to make the touch linger, the thin and taper of your fingers.
The nightclub will open, the chairs will come down.
The patrons will sit at their tables, listen to the new girl. She’ll wear black satin like you, gloves that come up over her elbows like you. The waitresses will show her your eye makeup trick, bit of concealer along your lid, that will make her eyes pop like yours, that will make her seem like you, all eyes and voice and the slick of satin.
She’s good, the patrons will say. She’s very good.
They’ll pretend they aren’t comparing her to you, aren’t finding her lacking. They’ll leave her tips in the jar on the piano, they’ll tap your table, touch the photo frame.
The new girl will do it too, tap-touch, tap-touch, every night. The new girl will, and everybody. They’ll think sometimes have we always done this? When did we start doing this? They’ll barely remember to look at your face in the photograph, touch the frame perfunctorily, knuckle-tap the table. From time to time, they’ll replace the candles at your shrine and light them, watch the smoke wind into the air, think how it soared, how your voice soared.