Meredith is sitting in the usual booth, trying not to polish off her cocktail before the end of the first set. She wants to be drunk when Charlie sings, even as she knows she shouldn't. Want to. Or be. Drunk. One drink relaxes her face so her smile looks natural. Two drinks and she's perky. After that, it gets risky. She can become sleepy, cheeky, cranky, and worse: She can lose all ability to feign interest. This is her second drink, and she must make the last third of it last another forty-five minutes. Unless she switches to straight tonic, and that's just no fun.
Charlie is in the men's room, warming up. He's doing his la-la-la's and mi-mi-mi's and all the other ridiculous exercises that wouldn't be ridiculous if he had talent, but he doesn't, so they are. Meredith can't actually hear him because he's two rooms and a jumbo TV screen away, on the other side of the dining room, past the pool tables. He's either in the men's room or on a little terrace overlooking the alley, belting his lungs out into the settling darkness. Charlie and his goddamn voice.
The cabaret where the singers do their thing is an intimate room within a huge bar. It's large enough for a grand piano, which two sofas face at an angle, and five booths, three on one wall, two on another. The booths are round, not rectangular, and each one seats five to seven people and they all are reserved for parties of at least three. Meredith sits alone. She's spread Charlie's sheet music around the table to effect a party atmosphere and she has ordered an appetizer for herself and a soda for Charlie, in addition to her two cocktails, the second one of which is quickly slipping from tepid to warm. As long as she orders something every time the cheery little Debby comes by, and as long as no one is left standing without a seat, she can sit here guilt-free. Charlie badgers her to order a lot and to tip well. The first thing he asks when he returns to the table, if it's not "How do I look?" is, "Did you order something?" If she gets too drunk too soon, she'll say something snide or do something crass and embarrass Charlie or piss him off—or both—and then it's all just so much worse.
The person singing now is a tall, string-bean of a woman with soft-looking honey-colored skin and close-cropped dark hair that glints in the soft light. She has a small space between her front teeth and perfect pitch. Even Meredith can hear that. After her, everyone will suck, period. She hopes Charlie isn't next. The woman barely moves while she sings. Once in a while, a wave passes down the length of her arm, starting at the bare shoulder and finally bumping her hand off the microphone stand. The movement of that long, supple appendage looks to Meredith like a noodle a fork is pulling from a plate. She looks around for the waiter; she should order something more to eat.
The fine fingers of that hand brush away the lyrics: told me love was too plebian/told me you were through with me and/now you say you love me… Meredith turns back to look at her. This is not another pathetic attempt at Sinatra or Holiday or whoever. This is not a nobody acting big. This is not a middle-aged man dreaming away the shadow his belly casts below his belt. This is a singer. This is someone with respect for music. This is someone she could listen to all night. The song was worn thin long before Charlie ever tried to sing it, but this gal revives it. She is not emulating or imitating anyone, she is singing this song; the familiar notes ripple through the room, alive. After one time through she returns to the beginning and scats through a verse, transports Meredith out of the room, into the song, so that Meredith completely forgets that she is here only because she's married to a guy who fancies himself a jazz singer. She forgets her drink, ignores the cheese plate that is delivered while the room applauds as the woman lays out the second verse before coming back in on the bridge.
A man Meredith hadn't noticed standing to her left says, as he jerks a highball glass to his mouth, "It's all about the solos. And she's got the solos. No question."
It's Frank Mackie—Frankie Mac, as he's called in this circle. He's a fat, ruddy, smarmy drunk who stinks of the hair pomade most men abandoned for "product" years ago. Meredith is careful not to flinch, not to let any movement betray that she heard him. She tips her head to one side and nods it ever so slightly in time to the music. She narrows her eyes slightly, looking for those notes before they disappear like soap bubbles in the air, when the vocalist ends the tune Meredith even does something she has never before dared to, not even for Charlie: She calls out, "Yes!" as she applauds, and "Brava!" The singer looks her way and bows slightly, holding one hand to her heart. Meredith wants to freeze the moment, wants to sit there forever, applauding, smiling, and sensing her ardor returned. Instead, she flags the waiter to order another drink.