Deservedly, Basil garnered a lot of attention. Maybe it was the power he harnessed with his ballpoint pen and notepad. Maybe it was his perfectly coiffed hair, or his suit, seventy percent off at Nordstrom, but people noticed him.
The performer was still surrounded by fans so Basil leaned against a wall and averted his gaze. Playing things aloof could be tough, but he pulled it off. This wasn’t carnegie hall.
As the adoring audience members filtered out, only a small clutch of fans remained by the stage. Basil’s time to shine had arrived. He flipped open his notebook and scanned the page. His notes were ruthless, and if he were to be so proud, they were honest. The finest review contained a spear of truth. This performance had been a trainwreck. A cataclysm. He’d been forced to endure the kind of singing that made his ear drums want to climb out of his head.
“Hello,” Basil said.
He walked up to the stage and rested against the worn wood. The young woman who had been responsible for that night’s auditory terror sat at the piano, a wide smile on her face. He’d wipe that smile away, philanthropist that he was.
“Wasn’t she amazing?” one of the fans said. “Absolutely incredible.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Basil said. He opened his notebook and cleared his throat. “I am Basil Hartley and I am a professional critic.”
“A critic?” one of the fans asked.
“That’s right. The stage is a sacred place and it’s hollowed spotlight must be held under scrutiny.”
“Mom, what’s he mean?” The performer asked.
“I dunno hon,” a woman said. She had a face for radio. The fans were the performer’s family, which explained a lot.
“That was the single worst performance I have ever heard,” Basil said. “It’s laughable really, hardly worth my time.”
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” A man said. He looked like he worked at a hardware store.
“I recommend the most drastic course of action for such a hopeless case,” Basil said. “Do us all a favor and get a tracheal transplant, or just give up singing forever.”
The performer burst into tears and her fans gave Basil harsh looks. They jumped up on stage and comforted the singer, but Basil was only getting started.
“And who the fuck are you?” the man said.
“I told you, I’m Basil Hartley, professional–“
“What gives you the right?”
Basil stood tall and faced the accusatory man. “I am the stage. Like every sacred domain from Tartarus to the gates of heaven, the stage has a guardian.”
“You wouldn’t understand.” Basil turned back to the performer. “It’s hard to find a singer that’s bad enough to provide a good frame of reference for just how poor you really are, so–“
“Why don’t you just fuck off?” the man said. He got right up in Basil’s face, a real mouthbreather.
“Listen, it’s nothing personal. Sometimes the truth hurts. But I am a critic. You should be thanking me for giving a professional critique.”
Basil could smell the man’s fast food breath. The performer’s weeping provided a backdrop, easier on the ears than her singing.
A fist sunk into Basil’s mouth as he opened up to say more. He dropped to one knee before popping back up, smarting from the blow, but feeling no less self righteous.
“You’re sick dude,” the man said. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m a critic you troglodyte,” Basil shouted.
“This a recital for kids man,” the man said. “That’s my daughter you’re talkin’ about. She’s eight years old!”
The performer wept uncontrollably in her mother’s arms. The child simply didn’t have it. If she couldn’t handle the spotlight, get the fuck off the stage. Talent wasn’t something you worked for. You think Sinatra ever bombed like this kid on stage? Not likely.
“It’s better she knows the truth now,” Basil said. “Give up.”
The performer’s father grabbed Basil’s shoulder and hauled him towards the exit.
“I’m going, I’m going,” Basil said. “I know when I’m in the presence of less civilized company.”
The father let go and Basil walked out into the rainy night. He couldn’t wait to get home and post this on his blog. Being a critic was a thankless job, but with any luck he might break twenty hits. He whistled as he walked away, though the tune lacked any discernible melody.