“Thanks, Mark,” my gratefulness seemingly silenced by the fizzy scream of the PBR can opening, bubbling up beyond the brim. I take a long sip and grab the second beer on the counter, turning my back to the bar.
The room is dimly lit, tainted with an aroma of cigarettes and years of spills. The rafters, decorated with objects lamenting the past. The walls, adorned with clever blurbs regarding the process of adequately tipping your bartender, in jest. The jukebox, spitting out the same six classic hits, transporting the entire bar back to the year 1968, reminding us all of easier times.
“Nice shot,” I say to Paul, handing him the extra can—glancing up at the board as the dart sticks out of the double-bull. “Thanks,” he responds, making it hard for me to know if he’s thanking me for the beer or the compliment as he takes the can in his free hand. Paul is solemn, a mysterious box of information once the lid is cracked ajar, but silent to those outside of its proximity.
I’m one of those lucky few.
It’s my turn, taking the darts into my left hand—transferring one at a time to my right. I kick my shoe on the wooden platform, exhale, and lean. 20, 16, 20. “Okay, not bad,” Paul offers, taking another swig from his can, reaching his other hand towards me as I wipe chalk from my own, residue from marking my progress on the board.
The darts exchange hands hundreds of times over the course of a few hours, embellished with moments of laughter and pauses for more serious conversation. We play enough times to decide a concise winner, leaving the darts in the board for the next contestants as he motions to me that he’s stepping outside to smoke. I follow him.
“Thanks again for keeping me busy, man. All this stuff is just hard on your mind, you know?” He exhales, releasing the smoke from his lungs. I do know. But there’s nothing I can say that’s going to change what he’s going through, but good company certainly doesn’t hurt—a few beers won’t hurt either. I tell him it’s “no problem,” and we head back inside, the dartboard still vacant.
“One more game?” he asks, trying to prove himself a victor at some point this evening. “Sure, man. One more.” I rescind my plans to leave.
“So, I know you’re not the one going through it, but are you good? Are you taking care of yourself?” I break through a soft bout of silence, letting him collect his thoughts. He looks down range at the board, clearly calculating his response.
“Yeah. Thanks for asking, man. I’m good.” he breathes out heavily, throwing each dart in less than 10 seconds. 3, 3, 3.