Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould Read Online (FREE)
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When Laura was sixteen she wrote a perfect song. It was the first song she’d ever written, so she didn’t understand how hard it was to write even an okay song, or how hard it was to make anything new, in general. She still thought, then, that making something was primarily a way to have fun. She didn’t know that the song was perfect, just that it was as good as anything on the radio. She played it on her guitar alone in her bedroom, and then for her best friend, Callie, and then for her mother. Her mother made an approving noise and went back to paying attention to one of Laura’s brothers. Callie asked where she’d heard it and didn’t believe her when she said she’d written it, because it was the kind of song that sounds like it has always existed. Laura started to think that she must have heard it somewhere and remembered it. She hadn’t, though. She had written it.
The next day she wrote another song: this one wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t even okay; it was barely a song. This convinced Laura that the first song hadn’t really been hers. She was embarrassed about the whole thing, and so she pretended to herself that it hadn’t happened. She didn’t think about that first song again for years, and by the time she remembered, it was almost too late.
Now, at twenty-two, she stood in line outside a bar on the corner of Lafayette and Grand, sweating through a black dress that was absorbing all the heat of the midday sun. The other women in line were also wearing black, and some of them clutched the page of the Village Voice where the help-wanted ad had appeared. Some had printed out their résumés. Laura had never worked in a bar or restaurant. In Columbus, she’d worked selling cheap electric guitars to teenage boys at her family’s shop, and then for a while at the Gap in the outlet mall. So she hadn’t brought a résumé, but it didn’t matter. A man came out and walked down the line of women, assessing each one for an instant, then made his selections.
He looked at Laura and saw the way she smiled and made eye contact with no hint of wariness in her giant dark eyes, the expression on her face constantly saying something mildly incredulous, like, “Wow, really?” He guessed correctly that she was very new here. He walked back a step, pointed to Laura and two others, and told the rest they could go home.
Laura and the other two women stepped inside and blinked as their eyes adjusted from the glaring heat and brightness of the sidewalk to the chilled darkness of the bar. It was painted black, and the banquettes were dark red velvet, meant to give an impression of luxury, but like all bars in the daytime it stank and was sad, like an empty fairground. The guy who’d chosen them started training them immediately, without even asking their names. He had no way of knowing that they even knew English—and, as it turned out, one of them, Yulia, essentially didn’t—but it didn’t matter, because they weren’t being hired as bartenders or even waitresses. The ad had read “front-of-house staff,” and their job, as the guy described it, was to greet guests at the door and usher them to a banquette in either the upper or lower section of the bar, depending on how much money they looked likely to spend. Other than that, their job was to walk around in the bar and smile and chat. They were there to provide ambiance, like the chandeliers and the nicer-brand soap in the bathroom’s dispensers.