In this very second my heart skips a beat. Every time. And I become calm. I’m in a tunnel where I’m completely focussed. One last check in the mirror. Maybe some more powder. Don’t forget that they’ve decided to skip the third verse and instead play the chorus one more time.
“C’mon, they’re waiting. What the heck happened to your face? You look as pale as a moth’s flour fart. We don’t have time for this. C’mon now!”
Jim is actually a nice person: Successful, handsome… and he cares about me. He got me off the street, where I had to play old folks’ songs to pay for food. Mum died when I was 9. After that my life pretty much went downhill. My father started drinking, suspicious figures of women walked in and out of our home, eventually he lost his job. Me and my sister weren’t allowed to ask questions. “Mash the potatoes! Make bread!” It’s all we did. Often he fell asleep in his armchair. That was enough time for us girls to go out and play, sing and dance. I knew deep inside dad wouldn’t mind, but life has taken its toll on him. Life wasn’t about joy anymore, it was about getting through with it. For him and for everyone else. Music has always been my refuge into a better world.
After dad died, I took my sister to the big city. I was only 15 then. For two years we lived in a big house amongst other homeless people. “One day, you will be famous!” my sister kept saying. She was still young, and didn’t understand the severity of our situation. We’ve had each other, that was all that mattered. Every day we went to the city centre together. I played the guitar and sang until my voice ran out. Every time someone stopped and listened, she took the hat our dad used to wear to use it as a tip jar, swept a courtesy and gestured in an old-fashioned, yet sweet and sneaky way “May you, sir?” Most of the time it worked pretty well. Especially when business men came to town, no family or friends around. They were looking at her in a way that always disgusted me. She was still a child. I did get a few offers to go home with them. It was especially difficult to resist when the seasons change, fewer tourists or business men were in town and I didn’t know how to pay for our food. I remember a day – it’s been a rough week with a lot of rain – an elderly man with a big belly offered me 5000 Dollars to spend the weekend with him, he was gonna give me 500 in advance. As I was about to reach out for the money, my sister ran him over, pretending she didn’t see “Oh pardon me, sir. Please take my excuses.” Furious as he was, he dropped the wad of notes, trying to reprimand my sister who yelled “Run, Lilly, run!” I took the money and my guitar and we both ran as fast as we could. Laughing and crying at the same time. We went to a diner and gorged on burgers, fries and coke. I booked us a motel room, we jumped up and down on the beds, took a bath, went onto the front porch and watched the setting sun in a cleared up sky. I said “I want to know everything there is to know in the world!” She looked into the distance: “But if you knew everything there is to know, then what’s the point of living then?”
A few weeks later, it was cold and rainy, my sister started shivering and talking in her lucid dreams. She was crying for our mother. Cold drops of sweat ran down her cheek. I will never forget the fear in her eyes. I cried for help. Mary died in the night of November10.
Where was I gonna go from there? I had nothing else to live for but my music.
In spring, Jim saw me playing. He told me that he was going to make me famous. He complimented me on my voice and how beautiful I was. He made me feel like … I could finally belong somewhere again. I have lost trace of my sister. With every day passing by she felt further and further away. I could hardly remember her voice anymore.
He was the first person I loved.
Jim was very strict, but it was for my own good, he assured me. It was my own fault when he hit me. I wasn’t supposed to talk back to him. He showered me with love after a good show where he made a lot of money. He took care of our finances – what would I need money for anyway? I felt loved and admired. I am no longer sleeping on cardboard. I’m grateful for that even if no longer sleeping on a cardboard means sleeping with him.
But something scares me. Something has changed. I want my old life back. I want someone who keeps me from taking the 500 Dollar notes, protects me from men like Jim. Someone who runs away with me, someone who makes my life worth living. I want my sister back.
Lily? You’re up.
I am happy with my performance today. Me and my band worked well together, a cocky smile here, a flirty wink there, the audience delighted. Jim is happy. Which scares me the most. It’s even worse when he is angry. He drank too much whiskey already. Jameson. As usual. The rich whiskey for the poor people is what they call it. I smell his alcohol and cigar soaked breath, I feel his greedy hands on my buttocks.
“And herrreee’s the staaaar. Ma Lily. Ma Lily love. A goldmine! From the street I got her. A whore she would be if I hadn’t picked her off the streets. Dirty and filthy. Filthy Lily. And look at her! Look at her! Uuuh and her well shaped breasts.” In front of the barmen, strangers and my own band, he grabbs my breasts and licks my neck. I am disgusted. He whispers in my ear “Tonight you will be mine.”
A slap on my behind. “Sit down, woman.” On a round table there are six, maybe seven men. I sit there quietly and look into my jar of whiskey. The warmth of the alcohol spreads out in my stomach and leaves me with a warm, cozy feeling. Something that reminds me of home.
“Why do you do this to yourself?”
Ben my guitarist swivelled his jar of whiskey. I hear the three bricks of ice bumping onto the glass. He takes a sip and puts it back onto the table without looking at me.
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
More whiskeyyyy for the gentlemen!
Ben looks at me. Then he looks at Jim, holding me with his arms around my shoulder as if I was his possession.
“You could do so much better, Lily.”
“What a yo gals rambling on about?”, Jim interrupts and turns my face towards his to kiss me. With every piece of his skin touching mine if feel more disgusted.
Ben gets up and leaves the table.
“Ohooo, lil’ boy can’t handle seeing what adults do!” The round laughs. Some of them are making French kissing gestures and worse …
“Gentlemen, I have to use the lavatory.”, I excuse myself and go outside.
“Ben! Ben! Where are you?”
In a dark corner on a hay stack in front of the tavern I see Ben lighting his cigarette.
“Ben! What did you mean, when you said I could do better?”
“I’m talking to you!”
“You know what, Lily? I have had enough! You keep living hell when you see heaven right in front of you. For years I had to watch him treating you like a piece of shit and you’re holding up with this. I would never, NEVER treat you that way. You’re the most beautiful person in the world and if you were my wife…” I kiss him. I feel a warm tear of relief running down my cheek.
I hear voices.
“You fucking whore!”
Jim comes out of the bar.
A slap and I fall down. Blood is rushing through my veins, I hold my cheek. It feels warm, I feel my blood pumping. I try to look up, the left side of my face is swollen. Some guys are pushing me towards the ground. Jim and Ben are fighting, drops of blood fall onto my dress. I try to escape, wind myself on the ground, screaming. Jim pulls out a gun. I cry.
“I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna kill that motherfucking face of yours!” For a second I hear nothing but my heartbeat. The world stands still. I see a colt flashing out of the holster of one of the guys holding me down. I grab the gun. I shoot.
Jim falls onto the ground like a wet pouch of sand. The guys are getting off me to look for Jim. Ben helps me up “Run, Lily, run!” I feel the adrenalin pumping through my veins. We run and run, laughing and crying. Until we are finally out of sight. We sit down in the woods, leaning onto a strong trunk of a tree. I am breathing heavily. Slowly we’re catching breath. Ben hasn’t let go off my hand. He puts his other hand in his pocket and fetches a wad of notes. Smilingly and out of breath he gives it to me: “I took it from the table before I left the bar. Jim was busy…” he pauses. “It’s 500 Dollars cash. Let’s go and get some fries.”
Heaven takes and heaven sends.
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