The Ride by Mickey Miller



The Hungry Burger is one of those hole-in-the-wall, family-run places that you can’t even tell whether it’s a bar, restaurant, or a just a well-decorated house. I haven’t been here in ages.

I park my bike in front and get off.

As the light fades on the horizon of the Great Plains, I heave in a deep breath.

I hear the voice coming from inside the bar and feel something foreign cross my face: a smile, inspired by that angelic voice.

I have to know its source.

My boots sound on the gravel as I walk toward the door, then press it open. Everyone in the place turns to look at me.

Everyone being all seven of the people inside, bartender included.

And the singer on stage shoots me a glance. The source of the voice.

I nod to the bartender, a woman who looks to be in her forties, as I take a seat, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. They’re probably all regulars. Unlike me. I’d definitely classify myself as a non-regular in this instance.

Plus, maybe one of the reasons they are staring at me is that it’s possible they recognize my face. One thing I know for sure is that you have to stay on your toes in a bar like this. One of the regulars, the mangy-looking, thirty-something guy in a leather jacket, sizes me up like he’s worried about a fight.

Take it easy, bro, I want to say. My fighting days are over. I’m fighting averse now since if I actually do have to get into it with someone, my only worry is that they might wind up in the hospital, which will get me in trouble. But I’m not looking to engage anyone here. I just want to listen to the singer.

I ignore the people around me and my attention is drawn to the source of the music. My heart rate surges as I watch the girl on stage and listen to her sing and strum chords.

Well, the woman. She’s more woman than girl. Probably in her early twenties, like me.

She’s singing a Bob Marley cover of “Three Little Birds.”

Her voice penetrates straight into my soul. It’s not showy or flashy. It’s just powerful. Her tone is feminine but understated. She’s got shoulder-length brown hair, and she wears a cute little ribbed white tank top that says angel energy.

One of the most accurate shirt labels I’ve ever seen in my life.

The song ends and she’s met with a round of applause and a few soft hoots as she prepares to sing another song.

“Hey, y’all, this is a little cover I’ve been practicing,” she drawls with a timid smile. “I hope y’all enjoy it.”

I squint as she plays, bobbing my head to the beat. It’s a rendition of an old Frank Sinatra tune, “That’s Life.” I’m not usually into old music, but the way she slows it down and brings soul to the words blows my mind. She’s a tiny woman, yeah, but every person in that bar feels the same amazement I do. I’m sure of it.

I lose myself in the music as her voice soothes the room. She plays a variety of cover songs spanning different genres that aren’t normally my jam, but the way she sings them, I dig them. She plays “The Only Exception,” a Maroon 5 hit—and then a few I don’t recognize. I wonder if they are original.

After downing one Johnnie Walker Black neat, I switch to ice water. I want to be clearheaded since I’m driving home. And with the way my mood was going haywire before I stepped inside, I don’t want to get too wired. Besides, that mousy little brunette’s voice has my senses humming. I might as well be drunk with the way watching her and listening to her is making me feel.

She launches into a slowed-down, acoustic version of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” dedicating it to the man who wrote the song. Chills run through me.

Something about this whole situation seems off. She is so good. What on Earth is she doing playing in this podunk place?

Not that we don’t have decent, local talent, but this girl is way too good to be playing Thursday night gigs at The Hungry Burger for a single digit quantity of people. I narrow my eyes at her, curiosity nibbling away at me.

I don’t recognize her, and although I’ve been gone for a couple of years, I still have a sixth sense of most everyone in the Blackwell County area. How had I missed a girl like her?

Unfolding a napkin, I draw a map more or less of the United States. Practically smack dab in the middle of the Midwest where I am, I mark an “X,” then stare at it while angel energy voice sings.

For some reason, when she hits the chorus, my skin tingles with possibility. My pulse speeds as I glance along the coasts of my makeshift map. I am running down my own dream.