Everybody Wants an Uncomplicated Life

Alicia Bones holds an MFA from the University of Montana. Her writing has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Paper Darts, Fairy Tale Review, Pidgeonholes, and Necessary Fiction. She is a community college instructor and freelance writer in Seattle.

"This song isn't great," I whispered, "but people like it because she looks poor."
Bob, my date, glanced at the exit sign. What a joke. "That's kind of a mean thing to say about your daughter." Whatever. I'd brought Bob to my daughter's show because it had been a year since I'd seen her perform. Bob was my first date in twice that long, but I hated going to bars by myself. 
"Jamie likes things easy," I said, taking another sip of my wine, the wrong thing to order in a place like this. "Not me. I prefer rigor." 
Bob didn't take his eyes off of my daughter. She was more attractive in her early thirties than she'd been in her twenties, anemic skin, thin and starving. She wore a tiny, frilly blouse that left her arms bare. 
"Her father left me for a rich woman when she was a kid," I said. "There's nothing easier than wealth, I get it. There are days when I want things easy, but when I have it easy, I don't know what to do with myself. I don't like downtime."
He said, "My hobby is golf" – isn't that annoying?
"But then my daughter becomes a musician. A singer. Those guitar players are probably fake poor, too. No musician without a trust fund can rent an apartment in Seattle these days."
Bob didn't reply. 
When her set finished, Jamie came over to us. Bob looked more excited to meet her than he'd been to meet me. "Awesome set!" he said to her, smiling like she might actually care what he thought.  
She squeezed his arm. "You're kind. Who's your friend, mom?"
"Bob," I said. Jamie grinned at him. She'd always been good with people, a lot better than I was.
"I'm glad you're here, Bob. I'm glad you're here, too, Mom." I nodded, just once. I could never decide if she was sincere.
Someone down the bar congratulated Jamie, and when she left to talk to him, Bob told me he had to get to work early. He left through the door he'd been scoping out the whole night. Jamie sat down next to me a few minutes later. "It means a lot that you're here. Where did your friend go?"
"He's not a friend. Someone from work set us up. I don't know why I agreed to come. There's not going to be a second date."
"I'm sorry. Why not?"
"Hard to explain."
She nodded. You think your children will be versions of yourself, but there are no guarantees. I ordered a third white wine. "Why are you always singing about mothers?" I asked. 
Jamie shrugged. "Because I have one."
"A mother."
What did that mean? The red signs and yellow lights of the bar were getting fuzzy, so I asked, "How can you think this is important, when there are real things in the world?" My whole life, I was always intense, but my daughter turned out easy. My ex-husband's loosy-goosy genes bested mine.
"You've got to believe in something," Jamie said. 
I rolled my eyes up but not all the way around. I thought of myself at her age when I was divorced with a four-year-old. "Does your dad ever come watch you?"
"Yeah, he's here most of the time. He made up some excuse why he couldn't come tonight. Because of you, probably. Sorry. He wants to help me find an agent."
"Really?" Surely Jamie didn't plan to keep this up forever. "Your dad loves make-believe, huh?" 
Jamie laughed. "I know! You can't just make an appointment with an agent. But he means well."
That was it. I swung around to face her, my knees hitting into her thighs. "I never thought this was what you'd be doing at 33. Did you?"
Jamie swigged her drink. She was a kid in a way I couldn't remember being even when I was a child. "I thought you coming tonight meant you supported me."
"I do. With honesty." I took another gulp of wine to fortify myself. "My colleagues' children, they tried the artist thing, but now that they're in their thirties, they're practical. They're teachers, or graphic designers. You're so creative, honey, you could do something else. You just never got off the train with this thing."
"I'm on the train." She gestured around the dim bar, with its photos of ‘90s grunge on the walls.  
"People really like you. You can go far with that, let me tell you. Why can't do something that will earn you your own money? Do you want your father, or really, your stepmother, footing the bill for the rest of your life?"
"That's not going to be forever."
"How do you know? You don't even have a backup plan!"
She put her hand on mine, and I realized no one other than my daughter ever touched me. "I want you to understand. And every time you come to one of my shows, I hope you will."
"I want so much more for you!"
"If this was the only place I played for the rest of my life, I'd be happy."
"No, you wouldn't." I shook my head so fast I felt like I was falling.
"I would."
"You'd be happy being a sad sack 50-year-old, still playing at...Chuck's?" My job earned me a lab coat and a good salary. That meant something. It meant everything. 
"Happier than anything else."
I sighed. "Let me tell you a story." I stacked my other hand over hers, mine, then hers, then mine. "My grandfather grew a bunion on his foot. It grew and grew, and everybody saw it. My parents talked about it when we drove home from their house after Sunday dinners, but they didn't say a word to him. Grandma didn't either. He cut a hole in his sneaker, right into the fabric so his sock showed all the time. Nobody said a word. Eventually it got so painful he could hardly walk."
Jamie stared at the ice in her glass. "My intervention, huh?"  I nodded.
"I appreciate it, Mom. I guess. Maybe I don't appreciate it, but I get it."
She smiled sadly. "I understand you."
"Oh, Jamie."
She turned to me. "Oh, Mom." She looked like she was about to cry. "You should try to be happy."
I looked around the bar, at the boys in her band who had become men a long time ago but didn't want to believe it. Jamie couldn't think this was it for her. I told her she could be whatever she wanted to be, but this wasn't what I'd meant. 

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