Hiya folks! Late on this month’s writing project and, I admit, I took advantage and wrote a little into May. Here is another Mia excerpt. If you haven’t read the first two, here you go:
I am sixteen. I have not yet secured my position at the Academy yet, but I will this year. I am in the smoky basement of a pub called The Underground. We are new enough to town that few know what our family looks like. It’s still easy to go out without getting harassed. Electric lights of green, gold, and amber flash on and off, lining what appears to be a stage made of crates. A lone microphone stands crooked in front. The place is packed and noisy, young people, my peers, I guess, milling around drinking bright-colored alcohol out of beakers. Some of the beverages are smoking. My older brother does not know I am here.
I try to dress like young women my age, but I never seem to have all the elements together. I’m always missing a key jewelry or the right boots or a debonair hair treatment. Bustles are still in, but long underskirts are out, showing off stockings of all colors and patterns. Corsets are visible and sexy after hours. I am dressed in a black blouse with a high collar, black leggings and my lightweight sparring boots. In an attempt to be fashionable, I stole one of Saga’s black silk cinches, which I will pay dearly for later, and secured it around my waist. I have no skirts in my closet.
I do not say this to be ironic, but I wore all black before it was a statement.
The emcee, wearing a hat made of a variety of colored foxtails, approaches the mic carefully, leaning forward to speak into it without touching. It must be one of the old microphones — my brother told me about them. Apparently some of the more cantankerous models would electrocute people.
“Crazies and powdermen, continue to marinate! Tonight’s eccentricities will begin in a few ticks so drink up, slobs!”
The crowd responds with a mix of dull acknowledgement and unnecessary cursing. I remain in the dead space between the alcohol corral, piled high with kegs and stills, and the dance area. People mill around me in colorful swaths, not noticing.
“Mia, my favorite niece!”
Aunt Elin never ceases to amaze me. Although she is more than twice the age of most of the people in the room, she is dressed to kill. Her hair, currently blonde with blue streaks, is piled high on top of her head. She wears a cerulean silk corset ratcheted tight with what looks like silver gears and teethy wheels. She has no undershirt or chemise, showing off her bare muscular arms and shoulders. She wears a silver bustle with dark patterned hose and boots with a heel sharp enough to poke someone’s eye out (and probably has). There is nothing subtle about Aunt Elin.
“You here to see Artie?” She leans over to shout in my ear, her breath thick and sweet with liquor.
“Yes, Aunt Elin.”
“Good girl! Stupid of him to try and keep the family away. ‘Slike he don’t know who he’s dealing with, right?”
“Yes, Aunt Elin.”
“I was gonna tell your father, but I wanted to see if this kid was even talented. Fucking up on stage would be punishment ‘nuff.”
My brother, Art, is a musician and a singer, like my mother. It has been hard for him to “book gigs” because many establishments still do not like the idea of having our family as patrons. If they find out who Art is, they sometimes book him only under the condition that we stay away. One relative of a genocidal maniac singing songs will sell tickets. A passel of them cheering him on might start a riot.
So I admit that I am not supposed to be here. But I am not one of the family members that Art should be concerned about. Aunt Elin has found a young man enamoured by her statuesque beauty and is convincing him to buy her more whiskey.
Art is the first musician on. He looks like my mother’s side of the family — tall and lithe, olive complexion, a long straight nose, brown eyes and hair. I am the only one of my siblings with the traditional Fox Family green eyes. Art carries on his guitar. A girl with a bright red bob follows him on, holding a typewriter and with various bells around her neck. She sits on a stool next to a large leather suitcase. Finally a very handsome blonde man enters, a dark green bowler perched on his curls, an overly large purple bowtie secured about his throat. I swear I can see his blue eyes from where I stand. He’s wheeling on a beat-up bass.
Without introduction, Art and the blonde approach the microphone, temples touching, eyes closed as they softly sing in harmony with each other. The room quiets. It is hard to tell whose voice is whose, the audience is captivated by every breath the men take together. The singers are joined by the percussive pecking of the typewriter. Then the girl begins to kick the suitcase in rhythm. The blonde takes a harmonica from his breast pocket and wails into it, his breath heavy into the speakers. Then Artie begins to play.
I hope you do not think it hubris, but my brother is a genius guitar player. I smile. Mama would be very proud if she could hear him.
The blonde attacks the strings of his bass and the floorboards pulse beneath my feet. Everywhere I look, I am meeting the eyes of someone my own age who is happy because of my brother’s music. I feel young. I hear Aunt Elin whooping and see a flash of blue as she is twirled by a young man in tails.
The chorus and bridge hit and no one is still, not even me. Unknown hands take mine and I’m dancing, I’m dancing, and I’m being passed around between other girls and boys like I’m one of them, like I belong here.
There are no clocks so I have no idea how long Art and his band have been playing, but all of a sudden a voice breaks through the music.
“Ow fuck, damn thing!”
I cannot see over the hands and arms and heads and hats, but I think the emcee burnt himself. The band is vamping and I raise myself up on tiptoes to see my brother’s mouth is open in laughter. The emcee regains his composure and introduces the band. The audience cheers after every name.
“The Underground would like to welcome The Senders! Give it up for Bet on keys, Drake on bass, and Julian on guitar!”
Everyone is screaming and bouncing, lifting their drinks into the air. Aunt Elin and I are silent and still. I know now why Art did not want us to come. He is despicable to me right now.
“Julian?” My aunt suddenly seems sober. “Did that bloke say Julian? Hey! HEY! You got his name wrong!”
Elin continues to try shouting over the crowd and gives up. I can see her vacillate between hurt and anger. She grabs a whiskey glass out of someone’s hand and drains it. The final song is finished and the emcee announces a break. Elin cleaves through the crowd, pushing hopeful fans out of her way. I watch Art’s face melt as she makes it to stage and slaps him across the face.
There is a fight, but it doesn’t last long since the drunk, the weak, and the stupid are no match for Aunt Elin. She barely has to throw a punch and wordlessly disappears before anyone can remember who the stunner in the blue corset was.
I turn and catch my brother’s eye as the stories spin and the participants congratulate themselves. He looks angry, but I do not care. I wonder what would have made him remember his courage and honor. After a weapon was drawn? After blood? We both make our way toward the exit and it isn’t until we are a good distance away from the pub that I speak.
“Mia, relax, it’s just a name.”
“You deserved that. Mama would do worse if she knew and if Da-”
“Well, he’s not gonna!” Art licks his lips. The exhilaration of his performance and the fight has not left his body, I can almost see electricity crackling through his scrawny arms and legs as he paces and gesticulates. “And Mama neither! You wouldn’t tell on me, Mia, wouldya? Don’t you understand? You learned all that fighting when Da said-”
“It is different, I never denied who I am, like you.”
“I ain’t denying, just hiding it til folks can get to know me.”
“Look, I do what I have to do.”
“This is why you moved out of our house, this is why you never have time for the family anymore. Da always says it starts with denying your name. What next, Art? Mama? Aunt Elin? Me?”
“Damn it, it’s MY LIFE!” Art curls his fingers and shakes them at me, his brown eyes wide and wild. “Mia, don’t you get it? You’re the smart one, you can go where no one else can follow. I’m stuck here and I don’t want to suffer anymore for something I had nothing to do with. I don’t want to live in quiet obedience and watch the world make the rest of the decisions just cus Da thinks our family used all ours up. Fuck that!”
“Do not curse at me.”
“Fuck you! You come here when I told you not to and then you lecture me? Why are you even here?!”
The venom behind his question makes me look at the ground. I say, “Just to see you play your music.”
“Well there, you had your little tour of normality and you don’t approve. Too damn bad.”
“Art, please. . . I know how you feel, so does Aunt Elin-”
“She’s a selfish spoiled brat and it’s too bad she’s unbeatable because I wish someone would kick her teeth in.”
Art’s bandmates stumble out of the alehouse and spot Art. They head toward us and after a look from Art, I can tell he does not want me near. I glare at him and feel my feet take root.
“Why, uh, why don’t you go see if Aunt Elin needs your help, huh?”
“Why? I thought you wanted her to get beat up?”
“Come on, Mia, don’t-”
“Hey Jules!” Drake, the attractive blonde, staggers over, grinning with his perfect white teeth. His bowler is askew on his head, his bowtie unfurled. “They say we can do another set!” He looks at me, his unfocused eyes trying to drink me in. “You can bring the skirt, she can be up front if she wants.” He tries to wink. Bet, the girl who played the typewriter, eyes me.
Art grabs his friend around the shoulders and steers him back toward The Underground. “Nah, she’s just a kid. Another set, powderman?! Turbo!”
Bet follows her bandmates without giving me a second look. Art glances over his shoulder briefly, not making eye contact, and I know it is the only attempt at apology I will ever receive.