'Is that dude a soldier? Or a king?'
'Dunno ... maybe.'
'He looks funny.'
The two small boys considered the poster of Danny with bemused faces. The picture of Danny was far too old. It dated from his Adam Ant days, all brocade and crazy hair. A dated look, even then. Abe, Danny's manager of sorts, hadn't had anything else to use. These days a publicity head shot of Danny would not be a pretty sight. Danny's wild hair - thinning and almost all grey - only succeeded in drawing attention to his ravaged face and the sad eyes beneath his ragged brows.
The bench table where Danny sat, out on the footpath watching the world glide past, was sticky with a decade of grime and spilt beer. There was a pervading smell of traffic exhaust, and the occasional passing hubbub of drinkers coming or going. He watched the boys turn away from the gig poster with shrugs and sniggers. They headed down Hunter Street with their cokes. Danny's glass made a tiny squelching noise as he lifted it from the surface and took a long mouthful. He felt the cool liquid course down his throat and hit some sort of satisfying spot. There were three hours till the gig, plenty of time for blotting out the present and drifting back to earlier days. He went into the bar to order another beer.
At 5pm the mike and amp had been readjusted and Danny had tuned up. A handful of drinkers sat around tables in the back bar, mostly with their backs to the tiny stage area. Eventually a few other patrons drifted in. No-one seemed to glance across to where he fussed with his guitar and settled on a stool.
After mumbling his way through a brief introduction Danny settled in to a few of his old standards: Springsteen, Clapton and Van Morrison covers. Then Someday after a while, which he could still pull off. Just. The drinkers adjusted their chairs in his direction and offered a brief applause. At this stage of the gig his voice was true.
A couple of times, between numbers, Danny drained his glass and then signalled to the obliging barman who brought over another beer.
Things were beginning to feel mellow and some of them were actually listening. Danny played the opening chords of one of his own few songs, In her lovin' arms, closing his eyes and letting the warm feeling flood him like smack used to. The gentle minor chords. The words came easy when he wrote them. He could see her face still.
A younger Danny watched as she approached along Darby Street. It was hard for him to imagine anything more dazzling than the heavy drape of her dark hair over her shoulders and her hips swaying. She wove past shop fronts, idling café goers and women with toddlers. But something in her face wasn't quite right when at last she saw him at the table and approached.
Sitting, she darted a glance towards him then looked down at her hands.
"Sorry I'm late," she said. Her voice was flat.
"No worries, babe. You're all good."
Silence burned in the air.
"Where d'ya fancy for dinner?" Danny made his voice sound lively. He was not quite sure what her new reserve meant.
"Not sure," she replied. Her fingers were worrying the house keys in her hands. "Not sure if I can stay. I'm on the 6am shift tomorrow. Need to get to bed early."
He studied her face, the discomfort on her brow and the delicate veins of her lowered eyelids. Her uncertain mouth. Then he knew. He could see it at last.
Later he walked back down the street in the deepening dusk, towards the corner pub. Booze and smack beckoned. He had a desperate need to lose his mind. And he did.
Danny savoured a fresh drink - vodka this time, for the kick - and started on his final set. Catfish blues and Good world gone bad. With each number his voice was rougher. But some of the old passion was still there. By now he should have been winding up. Yet stopping would mean finding something else to do with his night, somewhere else to go. He kept on singing.
By now he should have been winding up. Yet stopping would mean finding something else to do with his night, somewhere else to go. He kept on singing.
Some of the drinkers started to move into other parts of the pub. A bright-eyed and nervous girl, perhaps 19 or 20, entered the bar with her guitar case and hopeful eyes. She had not yet seen what Danny had: the futility of the miserable microphone and the uncaring crowd.
Danny ignored Abe's clear wind-up signal, launching into the opening chords of I can't make you love me and imagined Abe's exasperated sigh. The girl could wait her turn.
In the calm of the Sunday morning city, some weak early sun slanted across Danny's face. There was cool, smooth cardboard under his cheek. And a strong, sour stench of alleyway dumpsters.
Kids' voices echoed from the distant street. Danny's eyes remained shut as the indistinct chatter came nearer and feet scuffled in the scattering of litter. A momentary silence fell.
'Is that dude alive?'
'Dunno ... maybe.'
'He looks funny.'