When he woke, he first smelled the strong aroma of coffee, then a faint whiff of urine came off the stiff, musty couch. He felt the front of his jeans and was happy the smell wasn't from him this time. He tried to sit up and look around the room to see where he'd ended up, but his right arm, which was stuck under his body, was dead asleep.
There's coffee ready in here, a voice called.
Through the doorway of the kitchen a woman sat at a table behind a haze of cigarette smoke, her pink bathrobe loose around her waist, an orange and white cat at her feet. From his angle and the way she was sitting with her knees spread, he could see she wasn't wearing anything underneath her robe. He didn't recognize the woman, and after looking around the living room as much as his stiff neck would allow, he didn't recognize the house either. This wasn't an unusual feeling for him; he'd woken up in a dozen or more strangers' homes in town—few residents locked their doors at night. He'd close down Dusty's Tavern and stumble home only to find that he'd somehow ended up in someone else's house—affectionately called "pulling a Dale" by the guys at the bar. He'd been awakened by screaming women, run out by men wielding Louisville Sluggers, poked by children awake before their parents, both licked and bit by dogs, but this woman offering him coffee—that was new.
So as not to offend his host, he managed to roll his body off the couch and onto the floor. He struggled first to his hands and knees and then slowly, using the arm of the couch for support, to his feet. The room swung, like he was standing on a pendulum, so he closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening them, and, using various pieces of what looked to be thrift store furniture—a beige thread-bare recliner, a dinged-up end table, and finally an oversized china cabinet full of meticulously arranged baby angel figurines—he staggered his way to the kitchen. Though the pattern on the faded linoleum didn't help his dizziness or the headache sizzling behind his eyes, by the time he got to the kitchen, the world had stopped swinging and he could stand on his own. Dale recognized the style of the fixtures in the kitchen as the same that were in the house he grew up in. The cabinets, too.
The woman motioned toward the place at the small table where a Waffle House mug full of coffee sat steaming. Said, Sorry about you sleeping on the couch.
It's okay, Dale said, but he didn't understand what she meant. He thought she might have been attractive, once, perhaps when she was a teenager. The women in this town, the ones that stayed, either got hard around the edges, or soft. This one, whoever she was, had gotten soft. He sat and started to bring the coffee to his mouth when he noticed a large chip in the lip, so he turned the mug and took a long swallow. The coffee burned through the fuzzy feeling on his tongue and in his mouth.
Would of let you stay in bed, but when I got up to clean myself, she said and took a drag of her cigarette, you must've slipped out of bed 'cause when I come back you were gone. Found you on the couch sawing logs. Already had your clothes back on.
He took another drink of his coffee. Sorry 'bout that, he said.
His thoughts were murky, but he wondered why the woman thought they'd had sex. Did she have proof—a used condom? a stained sheet? That seemed odd and unlikely. And why would he put his clothes back on and then sleep on the couch? Was it possible she'd fucked someone else and the mystery man had left just before Dale had come in and passed out on the couch, he going out the back door, Dale coming in the front? Dale remembered leaving out the back of the bar, and he knew this woman wasn't with him then. He couldn't have met her between there and here, wherever here was, because he'd taken the alley in the direction he thought was home. Looking at this woman, he wasn't ashamed; sure, as drunk as he'd been, he would've slept with her, only he didn't believe he had. There was a woman or two he wished he could've forgotten he'd slept with, but she wasn't one of them.
You alright, she said. Look confused or something. Here, she said and, stepping over the cat, pushed away from the table and went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Seagram's. Her robe had opened at the neck and Dale saw most of her heavy left breast when she came back from the fridge. She either didn't notice or didn't care, just twisted the off the cap and brought his coffee back to full. A little hair of the dog, she said and splashed a healthy dose into her own before placing the bottle on the table between them and sitting.
Dale took a drink, and the spiked coffee burned in his churning stomach but tasted good.
There you go, Sugar, she said and gave Dale the kind of satisfied smile he hadn't seen in years, since probably back when his mother was still alive.
For whatever reason, this woman thought they'd slept together last night, and though as far as Dale knew they hadn't, seeing that look on her face, he couldn't bring himself to say anything.
What's for breakfast, he asked.
Oh, honey, I bet you're hungry after last night. What'll you want Miss Rhoda to make you? Scrambled eggs? French toast? Pancakes?
Pancakes'd be great, Rhoda, he said and sipped his coffee.