Few can do it, but I’ve gotten the perfect level of drunk for karaoke. Paced myself and now I am feeling the right amount of bold, horny, irreverent, and ultimately nihilistic. I am ready.
I make eyes with the guy running the mic and he flashes ten fingers at me. I head to the bar for a final beer. Our neighbor Lanie is in line in front of me. Even from behind, I can tell she has a pained expression on her face. She certainly doesn’t blend in with the crowd, which is mainly me and Camina’s drinking crew since high school. I can see this from the lilac leather fringe experiment of a jacket she’s wearing. She must have thought she would be impressing her new bestie Camina. Cute really, how much Lanie looks up to my wife. This isn’t new, women have always loved Camina because everyone loves Camina. God only knows why she chose me. Probably came down to time and persistence. Camina likes steady and secure.
Lanie turns around and jumps. I tell her to relax and take a shot with me. She looks nervous but agrees. We take the shot and then I slug the fresh beer. I am the perfect amount of drunk, all right. I’ve got that oxytocin rush that makes me wanna tell the next person I see anything to make them smile. I clasp a hand on Lanie’s shoulder and stifle a laugh when the fringe shakes beneath my grip. I tell her I’m happy she and Camina have gotten close. I won’t lie, I tell her, shouting over the music that has suddenly getting louder, I can get jealous of anyone spending a lot of time around my wife. Looking like that—how could I not? Lanie gives me a weak smile and we both look at Camina. People swarm her as she cuts her birthday cake into squares.
The mic guy calls my name. Camina hears it and looks over at me. It’s loud but I see her mouth the words, What are you doing? I blow her a kiss and set my beer down on the bar. I would finish off my drink before running up, but if I do Camina will make the face and I don’t want to see the face. It’s a party. She’s happy. I can keep it this way. Tonight, I can keep her happy forever.
I picked the perfect song: In my range, crowd pleaser, romantic, easy lyrics, and not too long. The well-known piano chords start and there are scattered woo-hoo’s. I look to see if Camina has noticed the song, but she looks deep in conversation with a co-worker. She doesn’t look at me. Maybe she can’t hear the song in the back.
The mic guy calls my name again and points to the screen where the words fly by. I yell fuck into the microphone which gets the crowd’s attention. I take a breath and pick up the next lines.
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you
I have most of the women’s attention in the room. Camina is buried by people at the gifts table. Why are they making her open stuff now? This is my birthday gift to her, so it’d be nice if she saw it.
Lanie hovers at the bar. She must not know anyone else. She looks like she has cut her bottom lip from chewing it too hard. She picks up a shot from a roaming tray and takes it with surprising gusto.
If you should ever leave me
Though life would still go on believe me
I catch Lanie’s eyes and point to Camina then back to myself. She nods and moves through the crowd. She looks relieved to have something to do. I see her reach for Camina’s wrist and give it a gentle squeeze, too nervous to interrupt the conversation I suppose. Camina turns too fast and her loose curls whack Lanie’s face. Camina leans back laughing then rocks forward and kisses Lanie on the forehead. Wow, Camina must be drunker than I thought. Lanie turns bright red and rushes back to her bar stool.
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I’d be without you
At the bridge I set the mic down and dance. Laughter ripples. It is good-hearted. I have the crowd.
Everybody sing with me!, I shout into the microphone. Keep singing, as I talk.
The drunk people in front do a decent job of the chorus while I pull the crumpled piece of paper out of my back pocket. My birthday speech for Camina. I have to bend over it to see because of the stage light above me is so bright. When I look up into the crowd everyone is a dark blur. My eyes catch on the lilac of Lanie’s jacket. She is mouthing the lyrics to someone in the room. Her gaze is intense and focused.
God only knows, I sing
I take my eyes from Lanie and look for Camina. There she is. But she’s not looking at me either. She’s looking at someone on the other side of the bar and singing. I look back at Lanie and there it is. As plain and easy and ugly to see as Lanie’s jacket. She is staring at my wife. My wife is staring at her. They are serenading each other.
God only knows, I sing for the final time.
The crowd applauds and I hear Camina blow a whistle through her fingers. She smiles, blows a kiss, and walks towards the back patio of the bar. Maybe outside to smoke a cigarette. I can’t see well because my eyes have filled, but I can trace a lilac blur walking ahead of her in the same direction.
God only knows what I’ll be without her.
M.M. Kaufman is a writer of the south. She is a Fulbright Scholar and earned an MFA in the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She is the Managing Editor at Rejection Letters. She has work published with Slush Pile Magazine, Memoir Mixtapes, Tuck Magazine, The Normal School, Hobart, Shift, Metonym Journal, Sundog Lit, Orangeblush Zine, Our Name is Amplify, Daily Drunk Mag and forthcoming from Olney Magazine.Find her on Twitter @mm_kaufman and on her website mmkaufman.com. (She/Her.)