Michael stood at the very back of the band room. This was a very calculated move as it prevented anyone from thinking he had even the slightest idea of being one of the acts that night. Full of nerves as he was, this seemed to help alleviate the feeling that everyone in the room was judging him and as he reflected on this, he instinctively clutched his guitar case closer to his chest by way of thanking his own forethought.
He glanced at the clock. It now read eleven thirty. By Michael’s reckoning, this meant he should have been on about a half hour ago, and it should have all been over by now. The blame lay with the last few acts. Running over time with three encores no-one had asked for hadn’t seemed like the done thing at the start of the night, but at this point in the proceedings, Michael was starting to worry that maybe he should have prepared more songs. He attempted to reassure himself that it seemed like you only had to do that to save face if you were terrible, but this train of thought proved to be somewhat double-edged.
He genuinely knew, or at least his brain did, that he had nothing to worry about. He had practised these songs time and again in his living room and, truth be told, they were sounding pretty good. It was just that, what with his brain being the only part of his body capable of the process of thought, it was finding it rather hard to communicate this idea with any of the others. His arms seemed to be coping fine on their own, but his stomach and his heart seemed to be having quite a heated debate with one another, and neither showed any signs of backing down. This in turn seemed to have inspired a sense of apathy in his legs, which had decided they just couldn’t deal with anything any more and deposited him in the chair he now occupied.
Michael considered all these things. He considered them to the fullest extent, as only a man who is trying to keep his mind off other things could. A bead of sweat caught in his eyebrow and relieved him of this comfort as the new physical sensation brought all the others back into sharp focus.
The band finally brought their last great crescendo to a thunderous end and were met with markedly less emphatic applause. The last two groups had seemingly taken everyone who appreciated their respective genres of music with them when they left, and since the band who were now packing up appeared to have been strongly influenced by the others in equal measures, they had found it hard to find a niche. There had been fewer people this week than usual, which mean that at this point, the night was turning into a far more intimate affair. Michael would rather have played to a larger audience, but not for the obvious reason. It seemed far more nerve wracking to play to the ten or fifteen people who were left at this point than to the fifty or so who had so rapturously received the first act. After all, audience members only have faces in isolation. Leaving one audience disappointed by an uninspiring gig is much easier to take than leaving fifteen actual people feeling the same way. People talk.
It was his turn now. There was no backing out once the invisible compere called his name. Mike removed his guitar from its case, and found it was still perfectly in tune. He fiddled with the tuning anyway, partly to look more professional, but mostly to buy some time, and his brain yelled at him what an idiot he had been to even contemplate doing something which put him so neatly in the line of judgement. He could see all the mistakes he was going to make, feel the strings slipping under his fingers, hear his voice cracking on the high notes and ignoring all these things, he stepped out onto the stage.