His throbbing temples woke Danny Turner first, though if he had to be honest, the dripping of the bathroom faucet didn’t help matters. When he opened his eyes – first the left, then the right – his blurry vision filled in the sight of a living room. After several seconds he realized it belonged to his apartment. Everything ached, and with his face pressed against the couch cushion, he could feel drool clinging to his cheek. Whatever he had done the night before, he had well and truly fucked himself up.
An involuntary yawn preceded him stretching, though the latter created a resurgence of pain that finally made him groan. Danny pushed himself to a seated position, cursing God inside his head and scolding himself for drinking too much again. Second night in a row, genius, he thought, patting his shirt pocket and looking for the pack of cigarettes he normally kept there. When the customary crinkle of the wrapper didn’t follow, he blinked a few times to clear his vision. The room was its normal level of hell. This only left the mystery of where he’d tossed his coat.
“Fuck it,” he said, gingerly rising to his feet. His first few steps formed a stumble, and when the coffee table nearly took him out at the shins, he paused to regroup again. Focus occurred in layers, not fully realized until he collapsed into the chair where he’d left his coat and patted those pockets for evidence of his cigarette pack. That victorious surge which accompanied finding them gave him his next kick into the waking world, and his faith in God was restored with the first draw he took from the filter.
“Need to stop this shit, Dan,” he said. “You’re not a spring chicken anymore.”
Danny paced himself to the coffeemaker, throwing in too many grounds and not enough water, but confident that something resembling coffee would spit out. As he wavered on his way to the bathroom, cigarette perched between his lips, he tried to figure out what exactly had happened the night before. He imagined himself without even seeing his reflection – the black eyeliner smudged and his short, dark hair standing on-end. When he turned on the light, however, he saw one thing he hadn’t expected to find.
Whatever he had done to himself last night – which now, he admitted, was a bit blurrier than he realized – a cut on his neck stuck out like an angry, red mark. “Fuck,” he said, placing the cigarette down on the sink, turning his head so he could get a better look at it. It looked a few days old, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember cutting himself within the past week. His headache reasserted itself with fury and intensified the more he tried to recreate what chain of events had brought him home.
“Fine, fine, I get it, universe,” Danny said. “I’ve got to work tonight anyway.”
He leaned against the sink, shutting his eyes, and took a deep breath in some attempt to still the jackhammer pounding in his head. Reaching up to remove the earring still in his ear, he set it on the sink and picked up the cigarette, taking one more drag from it before using the water from the faucet to extinguish it. Within moments, the shower poured water down on his head, and as he washed the previous night from his body, he made the decision not to bother trying to remember any further. “Coffee. Food. Maybe a walk before work,” he said as he showered. Somehow, the mantra stuck and looped inside his head even after he’d gotten dressed.
Coffee. Food. A walk before work.
Danny padded into the kitchen, affixing the earring into place en route, and only when he’d taken his first sips of coffee did the headache even begin to abate. Lighting another cigarette on his way out the door, the pack found its way into his leather jacket again, and after that, he started to feel human again.
Food. Then a walk before work.
He sighed as he dug his hands in his pockets. Passing a row house with several people hanging off the porch and front steps, he saluted them when they hollered hellos at him, his attention clicking another step into full awareness. Philadelphia looked the same way it always did – gray and drab – and though he’d been hoping for a warmer day, the skies threatened rain. Danny ducked into a sandwich shop at the corner of 11th and Spruce, nodding at a couple who strode out while he walked inside.
The owner, a portly old man by the name of Art, looked up when the bell jingled, lifting a hand to wave while Danny waved back. His hair gray-bordering-on-white, he wore a plain white t-shirt and, if not for the earring and his effeminate diction, Danny would have confused him for a grizzled, old World War II vet. “How’s it going today?” Danny asked, approaching the half-counter.
Art sighed, the sound dramatic. “It’s going,” he said. “Another day, and Reagan’s still President.”
Danny breathed a chuckle. “Next year’s an election year, Art. Get ready to start volunteering.” He nodded at the deli case. “Can I have my usual?”
“One of these days, I’ll get you to try something else.”
The suggestive wink Art flashed made Danny smirk and as Art set to sandwich preparation, Danny leaned against the glass. “Did something happen that has you especially on Reagan?” Danny asked. Asking the question made his stomach sink.
The way Art paused before continuing to slice deli meat spoke volumes. His voice lowered by a fraction. “Life’s too short,” he said in a maudlin fashion. “I know we’ll survive this, but it’s going to take too many people in the process.”
“I get it.” Danny fidgeted, wishing he could extract another cigarette. “Someone you’re close to?”
“My roommate’s boyfriend. Just got tested, which means my roommate’s going in to get tested.”
“Tell me about it.” Art frowned, putting the ham back into the fridge and meeting Danny’s eye for a moment before turning his back to him again. “Anyway,” he said. “We’re not communists, so we’re not important enough for his attention. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’ll talk your ear off if you’re not careful.”
“Isn’t this where I’m supposed to say something like, what shot do you think the Eagles have this year?”
“Danny, honey, if the question isn’t concerning my bedroom, I don’t care what a bunch of hot, sweaty men do with a football,” Art said with a snort. His jovial demeanor had returned by the time he turned with a wrapped sandwich in hand, secured in place after the mask had slipped and though Danny hated the disingenuity of the action, he understood its purpose. “Please tell me you’ve been up to something less depressing than my lack of company.”
“If I answer that question, you’re going to be upset with me,” Danny said.
“Try me, doll.”
“Getting fucked up at Nocturne. Stumbling home and waking up with staggering hangovers. The usual.”
“Sweetheart, the closet doesn’t become you.”
“It’s not… that. It’s just…” Danny sighed, reaching in his back pocket for his wallet while Art brought the sandwich over to the cash register. Danny fished out a five-dollar-bill, and Art reached for a bottled iced tea, ringing both up. “I mean, you know what it’s like, losing everything,” he said. “After Kim died, my parents went mental and there’s no way they’d accept…”
“… I know,” Art said, accepting the money and making change. “Well, they’re in New Jersey. You’re here. You have a whole river separating the three of you, so don’t burrow yourself too deep in there.”
“I have Nocturne.” Danny flashed a smile, only meaning half of it. “I just need to stop getting so damn messed up while I’m there.”
Art grunted, withholding further commentary. As Danny took his meal to one of the closest unoccupied tables, he let his smile falter, focused suddenly on the food once he had it in front of him. Unwrapping the hoagie, he took a giant bite from it, following it with several other lustful bites before washing them down with the bottled iced tea. Something about eating felt euphoric, and though he could have gone home and taken a nap right after that, he tossed his garbage into the can and strode in the direction of Kahn Park.
A walk before work.
Danny’s feet moved as if they were following their own directive. Though he paused intermittently to engage the people he encountered, a force within kept him going, pushing him through the neighborhood until he reached a coffeeshop close to the place where he tended bar. At that point, his feet stopped and he walked inside, letting himself sit, his actions felt both odd and necessary. Nursing a coffee, he stared at Blue Horizons across the street, counting down the time until it would be acceptable to step inside. At exactly six o’clock, he departed from the café, and entered the bar.
A final wave of relief crested over him the moment he walked inside. Stripping off his leather jacket, Danny walked to the bar where his co-worker, Joshua, stood cleaning glasses. A sparse collection of people occupied the bar area, and, in the corner, one group of kids dressed in leather with spiked hair played pool. Joshua furrowed his brow at Danny when he jumped the counter and landed on the other side.
“What the fuck are you doing back here?” he asked, his voice riddled more with confusion than frustration.
Danny shrugged, looking for one of the clean bar towels and tossing it over his shoulder once he had. “Checking our stock first before I go back to punch in. Why?” he asked.
“Because you don’t work tonight.”
“Of course, I work tonight. Why else would I be here?”
Joshua breathed a sardonic laugh. “Not sure, man, but Trina is working tonight. And she’ll have your balls if you take a shift from her.”
Danny broke himself from taking inventory of the collection of bottles and made eye contact again with Joshua. The other man looked genuinely at a loss now, watching Danny like he’d been forced to witness a lunatic. After stealing a quick glance in the direction of the kitchen, he looked back at Joshua. “Who’s working with her? You scheduled for a double tonight?”
“No.” Joshua folded his arms across his chest. “Just got in an hour ago. Trina’s closing.”
“Then I’m genuinely confused.”
“That makes two of us. Dude, it’s Sunday. You never work Sundays.”
“No, I don’t. It’s Sunday?” Danny scratched his head and as he did, the headache from earlier threatened to return. Each time he dipped into the past, the dull pain roared back to life and this time, when he retreated he realized he might have done more than gotten screwed up on alcohol. “Fuck. I’m sorry. I must have lost a day in my head or something. I should have known it was Sunday, but it didn’t click.”
“It’s okay, man.” When Joshua chuckled, this time he sounded less like a witness to madness. “I mean, if you want to switch, I technically wouldn’t mind having the night off. I could take Thursday for you.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He felt like adding that a distraction would be nice, but instead focused on forcing a half-grin into life, nodding with gratitude when Joshua patted him on the shoulder and offered to discuss it with the manager. It was a formality; Chris always let them sort out switching shifts if they penciled it onto the schedule. At the same time, having the chance to be alone with his thoughts came as an unexpected godsend to Danny.
Once Joshua had disappeared into the back, Danny leaned against the counter and furrowed his brow. The temptation to pour a shot of tequila while nobody was watching came and went, lost again as Danny tried to figure out why he’d never stopped to ask himself what day it was. Why he’d never gone through his normal rituals after eating lunch at Art’s deli. Normally, he remembered, he sat at the coin laundry on Sundays and smoked cigarettes with the owner. Some weeks, they disappeared in the back and watched VHS porn. But he always returned home afterward and never got so confused, he wandered into work.
“I could have sworn,” Danny muttered, interrupted when Joshua emerged again from the back. As expected, he gave Danny a thumbs-up, which Danny exchanged before wandering to the kitchen to clock in. It took a moment of standing in the kitchen for him to center himself, but even then, walking into the bar again felt strange. The same fuzziness which had been plaguing him all day felt even more obvious now, his fingers gliding over the wound on his neck subconsciously. He’d have to ask about the previous night when he wandered into Nocturne next, he determined.
For the time being, he had work to take his focus from the absurd.