Darryl came in late because he worked late. He's had the same job for 26 years, works second shift at the phone company. He made good money but was tied to his desk all day. He had to raise his hand if he wanted to take a piss. He talked to no one there because no one talked to him. He carried a strip of velvet in his pants pocket; he took it out sometimes and rubbbed it between the thumb and third finger of his right hand.
He ordered Long Island Teas mixed in frozen pint glasses. He drank them quickly and through a straw. Otherwise his frosted glass propped up his stubbly chin while he waited.
Always waited. Always waited for one of us to speak with him first. His eyelids and hairline and brow were eager for attention as you refilled the ice or turned his way to ring up a check. He always sat just behind the register where it was hard to hear him and difficult to reach his glass. He wanted to be seen. He would use the bathroom many times and whenever he wanted.
He only came in once every couple of weeks, but every time he did all he talked about was Karrin Allyson. Some jazz vocalist whom he absolutely adored. He would nod and rub his papery hands together when he whispered her name. Always whispering. Always requiring you to lean into him. Every time he came in I promised to find some of Karrin's stuff, maybe on the internet. He really seemed to want me to. And every time I promptly forgot.
I asked Darryl what he did for Christmas just before January came. He told me that he did nothing again, just had some tacos and listened to Karrin. Immediately I recalled that his account of Thanksgiving was much the same. Except he had Burger King and watched some videos. I spotted that his icy glass was empty and was thankful for an easy way to slip out of a response. I wished I'd remembered he had no friends or family, I would have invited him over for dinner. Except I wouldn't have. Because he stared right into your mouth when you spoke, his lips parted, his tongue visible and quivering and snake-like. He was always folding his papery hands.
One night at about 11, just before the managers locked up the front doors Darryl slipped in. He marched straight in and spoke without waiting. He shouted out my name. I turned and saw him in the lobby, hidden under a black slicker, his face wet from the onslaught of rain that fell just outside the doors. He held up a clear plastic baggie dotted with droplets of water. Inside it were two concert tickets. Karrin Allyson's name was printed boldly in a squareish font on each.
"Did you listen to any of her songs yet?," he spoke again. Again without waiting. My eyes fell to my broom as I shook my head no.
He slowly removed one ticket from the bag, wrapped it in the scrap of velvet. And when he handed it to me he held my hand in his for a few seconds. It felt nothing at all like paper. Then smiled and turned and dissolved into the storm.
We stopped chilling pint glasses a few months later.
Now I can't get enough Karrin Allyson.