Roy wakes up and it is morning. He’s apparently pulled the armchair into the center of the living room. The couch and table are pushed in front of the television, making all three unusable. He’ll have to move them back into position before Shirley gets back.
Only the faintest impression of the Sun floods into the room. Roy has shifted his weight toward the vertex of the recliner and he is balanced ; about as flat as he can get in the chair. He’s slept well. His knees feel relaxed and his muscles haven’t yet started to tense. But before he can rise from the chair, he might as well make a plan.
He is not yet hungry, and yet he wants … something.
As he approaches the main throughfare on foot, there is bright and quiet. Cars squeak in the background. It’s been a while since he looked at the clock (as cleaning up and getting dressed, on the oven-stove, just once, green numbers) but he guesses it must be about six o’clock. No, scrap that. Five-thirty.
He turns the corner. In the periphery, there is a man reeling a metal gate. He’s opening shop. The metal panes scrape against each other and the sound is loud. But it breaks apart and bashes against the stone buildings. By the time the sound waves reach Roy, they no longer hurt.
The bricks fade into a black-painted facade. He peeks in the door’s window to see the barkeep shuffling around, moving wooden stools. A pair sits at a back table.
He walks in. The floor is made of wood planks, well-weathered. The surface is worn away unevenly and damps the sound from his footstep.
“G’morn’.” he is tired but keeps at it. He looks at the floor and raises his hand, palm facing toward Roy, in a half-parade wave. “What can I get you?” The two haven’t yet met eyes.
Roy doesn’t speak. He walks up to the bar’s counter, where all stools are put up except four, somewhat off-set from the center.
The barkeep’s hair has gone white. His shiny skull, skin now stretched firmly against bone, is visible between short hairs. He washes a glass in a deep silvered sink and begins to dry it on the cloth strung from his apron. Specks of white hang in the air ; dust particles reflecting light.
The barkeep puts the glass down and fiddles on a shelf to retreive a bowl of cut lemons. 90° to Roy’s left, the bathroom door swings shut and a young woman walks to the table. She walks slowly and deliberately. Alcohol has made precision of movement difficult. The sound of her body collapsing on the bench is the only sound in the bar for just that moment.
The barkeep attends to the preparation of the drink. A bottle clinks against others as he pulls it from beneath the overhanging counter.
Roy nods, still trying to eavesdrop on the couple in the back. The barkeep continues shuffling objects.
The man talks to the woman but Roy doesn’t catch the specific words. A question, he posits.
“No?” Her voice is clear and little overly-loud. But her response gives no information about the question he asked. He guesses that they’ve been here all night. She pushes her glass around the table. “Let’s go up front. You know, catch some rays. Looks like it’s gonna be a nice day. Sunny, at least.”
The pair collect themselves and pick up their glasses. They make a wide-V, punctuated by a stop at the bar to deposit their glasses. They slide their glasses across the counter toward the barkeep. “One more of the same, my good man.” The male customer clicks at the end of his sentence. (A bit caustic.)
The glasses are empty, save for some melting ice. The barkeep picks them up with one hand and they clack together loudly. With one hand, he flips a napkin on the counter, places Roy’s drink on it, and scoots it over.
A light fluffle can be heard behind Roy. The pair have repositioned themselves at a table next to a large window.
“They’ve got me programming in Excel.” The young woman begins.
“Yeah. You know: ‘If A1 greater than A2’ kind of stuff.”
“Well. That’s…” The man is uneasy, restraining his honesty.
“Yeah. Not exactly what I was hoping for. I was hoping for something a bit more… Well, a bit more than cooking someone’s books. But pay’s okay.”
“What’s the company?”
The barkeep turns on a radio near the aged cash-register and begins flipping through the channels. He settles on one. It’s a sports broadcast, but some kind of classic re-run.
“Greetings, friends. We’re here at –”
The man laughs loudly at something his comrade said. Roy’s attention leaves the radio and he misses the line.
“Today’s game will see the Baltimore Oreos –”
(Oreos? No no. Or-i-oles. Ears.)
“…play the Boston Americans.”
The barkeep interrupts his thought. “1901, we’re in. April sigst.”
“And it’s a fine day, sunny and clear. The 26th of April–”
“April twenty-sixth. Right.” The barkeep runs his rag over the edges of the sink.
The radio drones on and Roy tries to hear the couple behind him again. But no noise rises. After a few moments of impatience, he pushes against the counter to look behind his right shoulder. They are gone. Roy looks back to the bartender but he is absorbed in cleaning his stations.
He looks back at his drink. Condensation has left a ring around the bottom and the paper is just starting to disintegrate. He drinks the rest of it in a large gulp, leaving the ice in the cup. He tries to stifle a shudder as the stuff hits his empty stomach. The barkeep raises an eyebrow while glancing at the scene.
Roy pulls a ten-dollar bill from his wallet and places it under both the glass and the napkin. Water wouldn’t outright damage the bill but no need to be obnoxious.
When Roy finds the radio, the batteries are crusted over with acid. He knows he shouldn’t touch the things with his bare hands, but he’s overcome with impatience.
The faint smell of the crystalized chemical rises into the air. He is about to reach in and pull the batteries out when
His cell phone buzzes in his pocket.
Beep. He answers it. “Hello?”
“Roy?” (It’s Shirley.)