Artificial tears. They dropped inside his lower lids and he blinked. His vision blurred for a minute, then settled. He could feel the run-off travelling his lashes. He blinked a few more times, half-trying to shake it off, half-testing to see if the grittiness had gone. The lightbulb seemed too light. He reached over, flicked it off. Put the TV on for background glow and background noise.
Just adverts. Dog food or cat food or some such shit. He knocked the volume down a few notches. A few notches more.
He tilted his head back, looked at the blank beige ceiling, gone grey like old age with the lights low. The voiceover man’s voice was saying words he couldn’t make out, and the bright colours coming from the screen shimmied and twisted in a thing line just above his lower lids. The still-fresh wetness there caused it to fragment, go all crystalline. He looked back down, watched a car driving along a deserted road as the voiceover man relayed some heavy-duty nothing poem over the top. He blinked and missed the manufacturer’s badge at the end. Could have been any, to him. Wasn’t a petrolhead, really, at least not for any cars they were making now. 60’s stuff, maybe. 70’s stuff. Jensons, maybe some American cars, muscle cars, big tyre-shredding, lane-filling muthas. He couldn’t say that word out loud – muthas – or anything like that. He never would, anyway. Not in company. In good company. Never been his thing, talking the way he didn’t talk naturally. Couldn’t think of the reason why he’d do it in his head, but he did.
Something else he didn’t care for, and then the channel logo, and then something started he hadn’t known was going to be on. A Springsteen gig, from years ago. ’75.
Eleven years before his time started, technically, though it felt like 20 after. 18, even. He lost 6 years, just like that, with his eyes drying, and his hand on the remote, turning it up, turning it up. First smile for three nights, and a big one at that. He patted at the empty seat beside him, reaching for another cushion, hugging it to him, leaning forward, squinting, all he ever seemed to do these days, watching things that had already happened happening again, watching them close whilst his eyes got tired and his brain got dreamy.
First song, harmonica, piano, slow-jam version of ‘Thunder Road’, and he knew it, closed his eyes for a minute of it, trying to make-believe he was actually there, in the audience swaying, maybe high on something, probably just drunk. Hands raised and clapping and him roaring with joy as it came to a close, lining up for the next one. Hugging the cushion to him tighter, almost up on his feet and holding it out in front of him, like he was just about ready to do the twist, or one of those funkier steps he’d never known the name for. He wanted to spin round with that cushion loose, but thought he might hit a vase or something in the dark. Not my place, he remembered. Not my cushion.