Chapter six: Memento mori
Some days have passed and you’d think I’d be prepared to return to Memento.
However, the moment I open the door I feel my head in that same uncomfortable space as last time.
It feels like a weight is pressing me down.
But I fight through the sense of being crushed and keep on going because what I’m about to see should make up for all of that.
The plan is a bit mean, I won’t lie about that.
But on the other hand they also kind of had it coming.
Trying to hide someone’s doll identity behind screens and devaluing their dollness.
Kregaya went back to the owner telling him she’d be delighted to do it all over again.
Setting him up for a night he won’t easily forget.
I look behind me and find Jaxogeras waving at me by a door next to the stage.
I walk up to them.
“Come on, Kregaya says we get to come backstage.”
“Really?” I’ve never been backstage anywhere before and a little flash of excitement runs through me as they guide me to the door that says ‘staff only’.
Back here the oppressive music is much less booming, especially after Jaxogeras closes the door behind us.
“This way.” They tell me.
I’m not sure what I expected of a backstage but it looks…normal? Almost boring even.
That is until Jaxogeras knocks on a door with a brass placket that says “star” on the front.
“Come in!” Kregaya yells on the other side.
We get inside.
And I’m surrounded by skeletons.
They’re scattered through the room, jutting forth from picture frames and suspended from the ceiling,
“Charming?” I try.
“It’s their aesthetic not mine.” Kregaya clarifies as she fixes her hair in the mirror “I think the club is going for some sort of memento mori theme, but it doesn’t really work for me.”
“Memento mori?” I ask.
“The whole ‘remember you will die shtick’.” She puts her comb down on the washing table and turns to us “At least it’s different than most watering holes so if anything I can respect them for the courage.
“Are they real?” Jaxogeras asks.
“I sure hope not, but I can’t tell you for certain.”
“I assume if they were this place wouldn’t be a club but a crime scene,” I observe.
Jaxogeras chuckles at this “Most likely.”
“So how do I look?” Kregaya asks.
“Beautiful as ever.”
“Good, so nothing weird?”
“No?” is there supposed to be something weird?
The door opens and a man wearing a black pinstripe suit walks in. His pale, thin hands and wrapped around a silver watch “You ready baby doll?” he asks in a voice that sounds too chirpy for his solemn appearance.
“Sure thing boss.”
“These friends of yours?”
“Yeah, they’ve come to see the performance.”
“Can’t see much from here.” He gestures with his head to the door.
Jaxogeras and I look at one another blankly.
“That means he wants you to go back to the lounge,” Kregaya explains. “It’s a human thing. You can find your way back I take it?”
“Yes, sure thing. Have fun out the Kregaya.” Jaxogeras waves pleasantly while dragging me along.
“Oh, I will.”
We make our way out again into the crowd and that infernal beating and whining.
Luckily for me, the lights dim not too long after we enter and the bright light on the stage illuminates the white screen once more.
My sister’s voice seeps into the room like warm honey as she steps onto the stage. Her heeled shoes tap at a beat she holds in her head and then she stomps, one time, two times, silence.
I look around me, people look confused.
And then she opens her mouth again, picks up the pace, and starts singing in a dead language while swaying back and forth at the rhythm.
Puzzlement, annoyance, but also excitement as Kregaya starts singing louder and louder filling the room, the venue, the street.
And then she pulls her head off
A spray of liquid bursts from her neck, my shoulders jump at it.
That’s not supposed to happen.
Jaxogeras puts their arm on mine as if to tell me it’s okay.
I expected screams, panic, and people getting trampled.
But a high-pitched, almost whine drags forth from behind the screen.
It’s Kregaya, she’s standing there, head raised high into the air.
People freeze and watch.
Lowering her voice octave by octave as she lowers her head back to her neck she sockets the wooden piece back in.
And steps out from behind the screen.
Her dress is soaked in red liquid but her face is beautiful as ever.
And she’s smiling and she’s singing and the people are still watching as she strings syllables together in elegant configurations.
Off to the side of the stage, I spot the pinstripe man discussing with another fellow in heated whispers.
And yet neither of them steps in to drag my sister from the stage.
She belts out her last note up.
Silence once more.
But not for long.
The crowd erupts in a salvo of clapping and cheering.
And Kregaya glows.
Jaxogeras and I clap with all our might Jaxogeras even dares to try a “whoop”
It sounds a bit stilted, but Kregaya looks at us and waves.
And then the pinstripe man walks up onto the stage, but the cheers don’t die down they get louder. As if this was all planned as if the pinstripe man had some sort of credited role to play with.
It annoys me, this was all Kregaya, Jaxogeras and me.
But I can’t fault the public for not knowing that.
He puts up his hand to calm us down and slowly but surely silence sets in again.
The pinstripe man opens his mouth “Thank you all so much for extending such a warm welcome to our new club singer Kregaya.”
I look at Jaxogeras, and they shrug.
Kregaya looks as suspicious as I feel “I’m not going behind the screen again.” She says firmly.
“Of course not, that was just a…mystery to wet people’s appetite, no you’re our esteemed doll singer. What club can say they have a doll singer?” The man is very clearly addressing the audience at this point “Only Memento can make that claim!”
The crowd starts their cheering routine. I look at Kregaya, she looks at me.
And smiles widely.
The whines and drones of the regular music start playing again.
Kregaya has to wrestle her way to us as she gets off the stage.
“Thank you.” “Thank you so much.” “Yes thank you.” She grabs my shoulder, drags me and Jaxogeras in for a hug. “This is amazing.”
The music presses on my head. Jaxogeras and Kregaya talk animatedly but I find it difficult to keep up with their conversation.
“I’m glad ———”
“——— a dream come true. They cheered ————————— covered in fake blood —————”
I didn’t really consider that part before entering the hug. That’s going to be a chore to get out again.
“—————-the biggest star in Unebre————”
“Aww—————Delaylah. Hey, Delaylah are you okay?”
“Oh uh, yeah I just find the music here a bit…off. Not your music of course but the whole.” I try and let out a high-pitched shriek to sound like the violins.
Kregaya laughs at the imitation “I see, wanna go somewhere else then to celebrate?”
“What, no! it’s fine I don’t want to tear you away from your fans I’ll just go home-”
“Nonsense, we’ll go somewhere else. I’m going to need five minutes to tell the boss I’m out but if you want you can wait for me outside.”
“Sure, thank you, sis, you’re the best.”
“I know.” She responds cheekily before disappearing into the crowd.
I never considered the streets of Unebre as a quiet place, but in comparison to the inside of that club, it’s practically tranquil.
I lean against the wall and look at the people rushing past in various states of hurry and drunkenness.
Jaxogeras follows my example, and then asks “What’s up with them?”
“It’s…well it’s when they drink too much ‘booze’ and then they start acting ‘drunk’. People at the inn get drunk sometimes and then I have to get them to their rooms safely or hail a cab for them.”
“Weird.” They point to a man being held upright by two men who look less than sober themselves. The whole group looks like they could fall over at any second “Why would you want that?”
“I don’t know, but there must be something fun about it if everyone’s doing it…I can ask Mr Viola about it. He drinks sometimes, though I’ve never seen him in such a state.”
“How does that work?”
“I can’t tell you”
We watch the crowd in silence until I spot a face I recognise “Hey that’s Melody.” I let out a surprise as she walks down the other side of the road accompanied by a lady I haven’t seen before.
“Wanna go say hi?” Jaxogeras offers “I can tell Kregaya where you went.”
I nod “Maybe they even wanna celebrate with us.” I consider.
And even if not, I’m still curious as to what she’s doing out here since it’s past midnight and very much past ten.
I wave at them but before they have a chance to see me they disappear down an alleyway.
I follow trying my best to weave myself through the crowd without upsetting anyone.
It’s difficult, however.
“Hey watch where you’re going stupid auto!”
“I’m sorry I-”
“Sorry isn’t going to cut it, lady.” He holds up his hand at me.
I press my hand into his and try to shake it gently.
“The hell are you doing!?” He grunts “Just give me your wallet.”
“As an apology for being rude.”
“I’m starting to think you’re the rude one here sir. And I really must go.”
“Yeah? Say that to my fist you cheeky little-” He pulls back his hand and lands it on my wooden cheek.
Then he cries out in pain. Waving his hand around.
I bow apologetically “I’m sorry sir, I’ll be going now.” I excuse myself.
Then keep on going.
Turning the corner I find Melody pressed against the wall, lips clasped against her companion’s and eyes closed.
The lady holds up Melody’s skirts revealing the lace stockings underneath. The mass of fabric and ruffles draped over one hand as the other ventures up and underneath. Gently rocking back and forth together while the daughter of my boss lets out soft whines and sighs.
And I kind of stand there…
Should I say something?
Announce my presence?
It kind of looks like they’re busy at the moment.
Melody’s hands trail little circles on the other’s back.
Then the two disconnect for a short moment as they catch their breath.
Look into each other’s eyes with wet eyes and red faces.
And then the lady’s eyes drift around for a second and freeze upon my presence.
“The hell!?” the lady cries out as she pulls her hands back with a start.
Melody’s flushes even redder than before “Delaylah what the hell are you doing here!?” she shrieks.
“You know that creep!?”
“Spying on people’s private time looks like a creep to me.”
I cross my arms “Well in my defence you are outside.”
“Whatever, I’m out of here.” The woman spits and turns to leave.
“No wait Hope, I’m sorry I-” Melody pleads grabbing the lady’s arm.
The lady called Hope shoots her a glare and Melody lets go immediately in response.
The woman huffs turns the corner and disappears out of sight.
Melody’s face sinks, her eyes growing even more wet than before.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
And then her voice erupts, broken and livid “Of course I’m not okay you dimwit! Why are you even here!?”
“I saw you on the street and wanted to say hi.”
“Really!? Well ‘hi to you too’ happy now!?”
“Is she your girlfriend?” I ask pointing at the empty space that the lady left behind.
That question seems to pull some fire from her. Her lip trembles as she says “Maybe? Look I don’t know, maybe she never wants to see me again after the stunt you pulled.” Water flows from her eyes and she looks very distressed.
I step up to her and wrap my arms around her “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
She mumbles something but it’s hard to make out in between the sobs.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“Please don’t tell dad.”
“Why not? Wouldn’t he be thrilled to hear you found a partner?”
The girl scoffs “Really? Two women, out of wedlock? He’d kill me if he found out.”
“I doubt he’d murder his own daughter, he loves you very much.”
She groans “Not literally, just. Don’t tell him. I mean it.”
“Okay. I won’t tell him.”
“Good.” She pushes me away and pulls out a piece of cloth to dry her tears and blow her nose.
“My friends are going to celebrate one of them finding a new job, want to tag along?”
She shakes her head “I’m going home…have fun though.”
“Are you sure?”
“I could walk you home if you-”
“No thank you.”
“All right…get home safe Melody.”
She nods, and walks away.
I head back to the venue, Kregaya and Jaxogeras are talking animatedly about show business and art.
The moment they see me approaching they wave.
“Took you long enough Delaylah, ready to go?”
“Where’s your friend?” Jaxogeras wonders.
“She didn’t feel like coming along. Sorry for holding you up.”
“All right, enough waiting around. Let’s party.”