Neko Takes the Stage

Katherine Gehan

The crowd is bearded and sweet and growing old. Bartenders breathe flames to entertain us. The three of them are black-clad, tattooed, too-cool kids. I was never like that. Fifteen years ago I may have pretended. In the dark I tricked some, but never for long. Good girls are terrible liars. We aren’t convincing, even in darkness.

I watch the lithest girl stretch her torso across the bar to hand over a glass and I wonder if she’ll birth easily. My mind goes there these days, now that I am a mother. I think about hips and pain. In the club’s bathroom mirror I don’t look like myself anymore. Too round in the rear. Too pinched around the eyes. Eighty will be like this too; I will always feel young but continually face something shabbier, a disappointment.

We wait for the show to begin and the kids behind us talk healthcare. Should I get this mole checked? You can find anything wrong. Dig deep enough and you will always find something wrong. One girl whistles her S’s. Does she hear it?

Oh but hush now: Neko is on stage, bones painted on her black leggings—a nod to our inevitable death, to what lurks beneath. How we stare at her bones. Her pelvis sighs of unborn children. Her femurs curve downward, the patellas are so tiny from far away; tibias, fibulas hard to differentiate. We are entranced with her mortality. When she turns eighty, she’ll laugh. She’ll remember vibrating on stage tonight.

Neko’s flaming, graying hair is a toy, a prop she flips out of the microphone’s way. Her voice is a complicated system, the timbre of it a January soul-salve, our drink to survival. Swaying before a drop cloth that swirls with green snakes, she reminds us of that teenage feeling from which everything germinates, from which all feverish, youthful, and lusty creativity emanates, the very kiss of God, and we are all in this together and I think I can make it until February anyway.

KATHERINE GEHAN doesn’t go to all the shows she’d like because there’s a babysitting surcharge on all of the tickets. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Muddy River Poetry Review, Literary Mama, WhiskeyPaper, MetroFiction, Literary Orphans, Crack the Spine