This headache had all the signs of permanency. It stayed with me when I slid my timecard into an empty slot that clanged back at me, when I skittered across a jammed street of blowing horns and impatient buses with brakedrums worn to the rivets, when I got off at my corner and stood in the precarious safety of a painted island in a whirring storm of hurtling hornets. It got even worse when I ate dinner and tried to read my paper through the shrill juvenile squeals of the housing project where I live surrounded by muddy moppets and, apparently, faithless wives and quarrelsome spouses. The walls of my Quonset are no thicker than usual.
When Helen—that's my wife—dropped the casserole we got for a wedding present from her aunt and just stood there by the kitchen sink crying her eyes out in frustration I knew she finally had more of a mess to clean up than just the shattered remains of a brittle bowl. I didn't say a word. I couldn't. I shoved the chair across the room and watched it tilt the lamp her mother bought us. Before the lamp hit the floor my hat was on my head and I was out the door. Behind me I heard at least one pane of the storm door die in a fatal crash. I didn't look around to see if it were the one I'd put in last Sunday.
Art was glad to see me. He had the beer drawn and was evening the foam before the heavy front door had shut us off from the street. "Been a while, Pete. What's new?"
I was glad to see him, too. It was quiet in there. That's why I go eight blocks out of my way for my beer. No noise, no loud talking or you end up on the curb; quiet. Quiet and dark and comfortable and you mind your own business, usually. "Got any more of those little boxes of aspirin?"
He had some aspirin and was sympathetic. "Headache again? Maybe you need a new pair of glasses."
I washed down the pills and asked for a refill on the beer. "Maybe, Art. What do you know that's new?"
Nothing. We both knew that. We talked for a while; nothing important, nothing more than the half-spoken, half-grunted short disjointed phrases we always repeated. Art would drift away and lean on the other end of the bar and then drift back to me and at the end of each trip there would be clean ashtrays and the dark plastic along the bar would gleam and there would be no dregs of dead drinks and the rows of fresh glasses would align themselves in empty rows on the stainless steel of the lower counter. Art's a good bartender when he wants to be. I held up my empty glass.
"One more, Art. Got the radio section of the paper?"
He handed it to me. "Might be something on the television."