The cigarette dangles from his hand, dropping ash on the scuffed surface of the table. He doesn’t notice. His eyes are focused on a spot on the dark wood, but his gaze is turned inward, sifting through the fog of recollection.
The night had been a mess of moving shadows, like ghosts on a sunken ship, punctuated by moments of light and colour. Cacophony, against the dark grey of his memory.
One of these interludes had been a brawl. Attack, more like; he hadn’t exactly put up much of a fight.
Rick stretches out his free hand, wincing as the scabs crack, oozing plasma. His other hand, cigarette caught between two fingers, rests below the bruise on his cheekbone. His ribcage snarls at him with every breath.
The man. He’d looked straight in the fucker’s face; why can’t he remember? He tries to concentrate, to summon the man’s face to his mind, but his features twist, blur into one another. He can’t make them out.
“What’s your poison?” asks the barman in his memory. His voice is clear, but Rick can’t remember his answer. His own voice is a mumble, but the barman nods and passes something dark across the bar. Another. Another. Too many. They blur into darkness.
Those dark patches of memory. Like the lights had gone out, or the fog had rolled in. Figures moving like clouds across the night sky.
Light again. A woman’s face, young, surrounded by a halo of red hair. Red? Maybe not, perhaps it was the light, playing tricks. Troubled blue eyes. Never seen her before. Rick pinches the bridge of his nose. Next.
The next moment of light is outside, though the woman might have been too, hard to tell. Sidewalk. Streetlights, bright. He staggers down the street, one hand on the wall, brick, the lights calling out to him, lighthouses on the shore, beacons on the hill. The bonfire that scares off the wolves. Go home, go home.
He sinks again into the dark. The memories grow more tangled. The next island of light is just movement, his movement, their movement, fists and feet and something else that hits him in the kneecap and sends him sprawling onto the concrete. The man kicks him in the ribs while another cracks a two-by-four across his back. Laughter. The man bends over him, face swimming in his vision. He saw, but he can’t remember. Can’t bring it back into focus.
He flexes his hand again. His knuckles are torn, bruised. He must have hit back. For what good it did him. Maybe it had been someone else, though he isn’t violent, doesn’t think of himself that way. Not unless he has to be. Maybe he’d hit a wall. Hit the floor.
Just flashes after that. Snapshots at odd angles. A triangle of sky, a streetlight, a stretch of wall. After the fight the fog is darker, harder to make out the shapes. And it has a thread of pain to it, rust-red and twisting. He’d dragged himself –
No. No… one of the snapshots – warmth at his side, his arm slung over someone’s shoulder. They’d helped him home. Who?
A voice, there’d been a voice. He hears it as though through water. Can’t make out words, or even tone. Man or woman? Can’t tell. Not even that.
The final part of the night is a complex soup of pain. The rust-red thread grows until it blots out even the dark. He’d collapsed against his door, heard his own strangled cry as if from a distance. Then his bed, white, too bright, heaven’s cloud. Then oblivion.
He’d woken at eleven to a throbbing head and throbbing ribs, and a leg that waited to scream until he’d moved. His sheets stained with blood and the dirt of city streets. Either he’d been functional enough to remove his boots, or the guardian angel had helped him all the way to his bed.
Strange thing to contemplate. Someone you don’t remember taking your boots off and tucking you into bed. Went without taking anything, not even the coins on the counter. Even the muggers hadn’t been muggers – he still has his wallet, cash tucked inside.
Weird fucking night.