Closing Act

by Noll Griffin

The shadows of bats swirling through the parking lot after the show looked like flimsy envelopes, falling at exactly the perfect angles to always function. I was never good at making my own envelopes, but I could somehow fold paper into little origami bats. You could hang them in a window on fishing line and watch twilight fade off its sky-stage nightly through each translucent black membrane. I had made a bouquet of them to hand up to the tour bus window, a nervous currency of love, but only the real creatures greeted me once I made it through the venue exit.

All the other fans had already scattered, less interested in catching a spare pick from a benevolent technician than my friends and I had been. Sweat cooled under my t-shirt, all the fluid left in my body gelling behind the band’s peeling logo. I gently wiggled a foam earplug from each ear, but my tinnitus still waltzed with the looping choreography in my brain – favorite songs, screams of joy, and the songs that changed my life starting and stopping forever.

Cory said, “We can wait here.” He pointed to the long box of the bus perfectly lined up against the far side of the parking lot. “If we see any movement over there, we can start speed-walking right away. Security guards won’t care unless we loiter right up to it. They’ll think we’re just having a smoke over here.” He sat down on the curb and pulled a smuggled water bottle from his hip bag.

We never waited more than an hour. There was no way the band was ever still around by then. I glimpsed at my dying phone to check the time and then wiped it on my shirt. My hands were still clammy. I hoped the bouquet of bats in my backpack wasn’t crushed from all the jumping up and down I did on the rail, like a dog behind a kennel grate hoping to be adopted.

Jane went looking for her stashed purse under a decorative bush, her tiny bottle of cheap vodka intact. We all took a face-curling swig and killed ten minutes this way. The sound in my head started to fade. Apart from the crickets and electric hum of parking lot lights, only my tinnitus was left. I hopped around a bit, arms folded across my chest, trying to keep warm as the area’s infamous fog wove around the foothills and through my already damp clothes.

Fifteen minutes gone. Twenty, thirty passed by as we discussed the encores. I was the lucky one, we decided. The band had played all three of my favorite songs after I thought they wouldn’t, bursting back on stage to an explosion of applause.

Fifty-five minutes in, my friends were restless. Jane investigated a taco truck on the other side of the venue, but it had apparently closed before the show was even over. Cory mentioned some food places that were open late and within walking distance of the hostel. I touched my bouquet of bats, as if our heroes could be summoned with my paper talisman.

Jane pushed off the sidewalk and wiped her palms on her denim shorts. “Better luck next time,” she said, starting towards the tram stop. “I hope we didn’t miss the last tram.” I knew she and Cory had tickets to the next show and the one after, all the dates listed on the tour poster I’d snagged at the merch table. My next show would be whatever the buskers sang on my long train ride home in the morning.

I said, “Can you take my bats with you? You know, to the next show.”

Cory shrugged. “Maybe. We weren’t really planning on trying to meet the band at the next one. The weather’s supposed to be bad, right, Jane?”

“We could try for the one after that though,” Jane said. “If you trust us not to wreck it by then.”

The tram was already casting a friendly glow up the line when we got to the stop. “So, falafel or pizza?” Cory started uploading his concert photos as we boarded, no longer looking back at the venue’s dimming facade or the lonely tour bus.

I took a window seat just in case. The tram stayed for a moment as the driver got out to check for stragglers. I scanned the parking lot and wondered what I’d do if I saw the band right then – if I’d abandon my friends just to say hello and hand over my gift. Would my phone have enough battery left to get a taxi or would I have to walk back to the hostel? Did I even remember the name and address of the hostel, as tired as I was from dancing?

The tram creaked into motion. My friends already looked half-asleep. We would probably be skipping the post-show meal if their closed eyes told me anything. No matter, I didn’t feel hungry. I looked back one last time.

A figure emerged from behind the venue, followed by two security guards, then two more people. In the parking lot lights, a shock of turquoise fringe came into view as the person in front ran a hand through his hair. There they were, but we were already too far away to beg the driver to stop. “Cory! Jane!”

“Well, shit.” Cory leaned on the window with a clenched fist. “How much longer would we have needed to wait?”

Not long, I thought, but didn’t bother to say it. I watched until the tram turned a corner and all I could see were closed convenience stores and apartment buildings. I imagined I could see right through them, through some kind of hole, and watch the band getting on the bus – and then, through another hole, watch them laughing over a table of snacks and setlists.

The tram stopped in front of a strip mall with a still-bustling karaoke bar at the end. “You want to go there for a bit, to make up for us not waiting?” Jane asked. I shook my head. I didn’t want to pry the show out of my head while the memories were still forming.

A woman with buzzed hair and a giant tattoo of a vintage sewing machine on her forearm got on, slinging a tweed guitar case across her back. She heaved a tired sigh as she came to the back and gave us a little wave. “You were at the show earlier, yeah?” she said. “I see your shirts. I couldn’t get a ticket before they sold out.”    

While Cory and Jane made small talk, I took the origami bouquet out of my backpack and played with the corner of a bat wing. I didn’t look up again until I heard my name.

“And is that usually Kim, or—”

“Kimberly,” I said. “I like names with a lot of syllables. I wish mine had even more.”

“You’d like my band then. We’re called Hot Rock Earthquakes Beneath Lizards in the Sun. We just played a gig at that karaoke bar before they turned the mic over to everyone.”

“Do you play hot rock?”

“We play acoustic disco punk. Everyone in the bar hated it so much, they were cheering when the first person to sing after us did off-key Sinatra.”

“When’s your next show?”

“I wish I could tell you. Was yours any good? You look kind of disappointed.”

“It was great, but I wanted to meet the band. Everyone always thinks they’ll meet the band, but we almost did for real. We waited outside the venue, but they came out as soon as we got on the tram.”

“I promise if I ever get famous, I’ll come out before the concert even starts. Just because you told me this.”

“Do you have a website?”

“Not yet.” 

“CDs? I have maybe five dollars on me.”

“No. No one ever asked to buy one before.”

“I’ll be your fan anyway,” I said, holding out the little cloud of paper bats on twisted tissue stems. She took it, smiling, and got off at the next stop.  

The hostel was three stops after hers. I wrote the name of her band in my phone right before it powered down. I started the post-concert ritual in the bathroom as I always did, checking out the bruises in patterns that detailed exactly where I was in the crowd. This time, my waist was dotted with purple blotches from hitting the rail when people behind us pushed forward. The back of my calves ached.

Lying there with throbbing temples in the thinly made hostel bed, I didn’t think about the play-by-play as I usually did after a show. Instead I imagined vintage sewing machines, rolling out reams of music in a running stitch that pricked scales of quarter notes and lizards and earthquakes in my eyelids, my favorite songs fading into a dream. 

Noll Griffin is a musician, visual artist, and writer currently residing in Berlin, Germany. When not doing something creative, he’s into gaming and making homemade pickles.