The curved fingers of his left hand formed quarter-notes in andante while his right hand thrummed eighth-note cut-time against it. Ebony and ivory gleamed between shadows thrown from the spotlight in the rafters. His eyes were closed while he crooned a painful symphony of blues-like harmonies. They rumbled from his throat to tell a story of love won, lost, emptiness without it, and finally the love’s return. All the while, the empty opera hall filled with a phantom audience to his side behind his closed eyes.
The sound men readied their mix while their board-lights spiked red. Someone cut the gain on a mic and the mix was perfect. The Legend played on, oblivious to the technical orchestrations. He’d become too enamored with the crowd streaming in through the doors in his mind. His vocals were crisp, clear, perfectly overlaid beneath the piano that accompanied it. Breaks in verses were accented with hard dynamics that would bring even the hardest of heart to tears.
The sound crew gathered near the curtain to watch The Legend, lost in his world. Across the hall, the lighting crew gathered on a cat-walk. They hung in half-hunches on the railing or else dangled their feet through it, heads and eyes fixed as they watched along either side of spot-lights.
As if with the fade of one falling into sleep, the stage-lights dimmed. The lighting guys thought to get up but something held them in place. The Legend launched into the first chorus, his throat rumbling and crooning the highest notes as even his younger-self could have never done. The phantoms suddenly appeared below. Silhouette people streamed in from the doors, shuffled to their seats; a faceless audience that didn’t exist.
The crews wished to look to one another, express some disbelief, but the Legend had captivated them. Instead, they merely listened, mouths half-open and drying against open air.
The Legend’s gray hair began to darken to its youthful chestnut. His wrinkled face tightened, its smatter of salt-and-pepper five-o’-clock shadow darkened too. He unripened from the old, grizzled troubadour to the young, boyish song-poet he’d been. He almost shriveled in place from the change. The room merely watched in awe.
He started the first verse over inexplicably, crooned with less gravel, though its presence was undeniable. All the same, it was the least of the crowd’s focus– phantom or otherwise. The stage had darkened to a lone spot-light across he and his piano. His rhythmic melody thrummed and sustained with ear-warming vibrations, filled the audiences’ hearts with a curious, sharp pain.
Beside him, the Legend felt his thoughts and memories project across the black curtains. The heat of the light dissipated and the spot-light died out.
He sang of love won: the projection shone like an eight-millimeter reel. It even shook and bucked with the same, hand-held framing and fast-motion movement of the era’s film quality. He stood before a woman on a platform, their unceremonious wedding officiated beneath a banner that said “Cinco De Mayo” in a dingy looking bar. They wore day-old street clothes, her hair golden as it cascaded down her shoulders with fatigue.
He sang of love lost: The projection jumped through time with the eight-note thrum as its beat. The two people aged a decade in half a phrase. Through the verse, his hair and face grew heavier, longer, her more angry, fierce. At the second half of the verse, he stood alone on a road, began to walk it toward a setting sun. The wandering continued over the rise and fall of more suns. The city he’d left turned to woods, plains, then more city until he hunched over a scotch in another bar.
A man approached from one side, a cigarette in his mouth, put a hand to the Legend’s shoulder to impose for a match. A short conversation took place. The Legend began sang of desolation, sadness. He and the other man took off in a truck. The sun gleamed off its dirty windshield while he stared off at the road, his mind elsewhere. The scenery turned colder, became filled with snow while canyons encompassed the truck. He gave a pained wince, his eyes telling of an obvious longing for the woman.
When he sang of emptiness, the cold truck turned to the cold innards of a darkened cabin. He and the other man were now beneath piles of blankets on chairs before a roaring fire. The man gave a few hacking coughs into his clenched fist. His body heaved. There was a hesitation in the young Legend before he rose from to help his comrade. The emptiness in the elder Legend’s voice apexed as his younger self stood before a filled grave, his face pale and body hunched against cold.
He muttered something beneath his breath, then turned away. The cold scenery wandered past again, the Legend ambling along snow-laden streets. He stumbled drunk most times. It was obvious in the sad droop of his eyes, but bleak grays and drab blacks suddenly began to recolor as the roads turned rural once more. The weather visibly warmed, his posture straightened. Trees budded with beauty that fanned out in stop motion across the road. It lined the edges of an asphalt horizon as the eight-millimeter film shook and bucked more than ever.
He wandered almost endlessly, aimless until he sang of love’s return. The younger visage of himself watched his feet as he walked through a verdant forest. His downcast eyes were prompted upward by a shadow and the face of the woman he’d long ago married and left. They were older now, both more slacked and their eyes heavier than before.
He approached with a cautious, slow gait. She dangled her feet off the edge of a dock, her arms locked behind her to prop herself up. He stopped a few feet away. She seemed to sense his presence, but made no protest. He continued and sank into place beside her.
The last verse cried out over the two once more falling in love. Time passed while the Legend and his wife were hobbled by age. Until at last he stood over her bedside, as weathered as he had first been on stage. She held his hand with a smile, then closed her eyes. The Legend’s last lyrics were echoes. The piano faded out. The crews watched the lights fade up and the phantom crowd disappear. With them, the Legend had gone too, the piano now vacant in the spotlight’s center as its last chords echoed into silence.
No-one was quite sure what to make of it, but neither were they willing to speak toward speculation– or anything really. The Legend had given his final performance to an empty room– yet somehow it was more full than any over-sold stadium. Whatever had happened, the Legend had not died, merely faded out, and that much would forever be certain.