For the life of him, Douglas Danton could not keep his mind focused on any one thing for more than a handful of minutes. No matter how determined he was to attend to any one task, his thoughts simply wandered until they had reached their own event horizon – the point where he could no longer look back and remember what the original idea had been. He sat down on the red leather recliner and put his feet up – a movement intended to tell his mind that this moment was meant for relaxation. All of the other possible activities that could be undertaken needed to be pushed out of his head. True, he should probably take advantage of this time to open his workbook and practice some Spanish exercises – something he never seemed to do anymore (which showed when he attempted to speak it). There was also the unread issue of Der Spiegel that he had bought last week, hoping that the costly price of the imported periodical would motivate him to get his money’s worth. “Speaking of German,” he thought to himself, “I should be getting that Fassbinder movie in the mail today. When am I going to sit down and screen it?” An awkward sense of guilt came over him and he sat motionless for a moment.
The sound of the weather outside seemed to further reinforce his desire to sit and stare at the wall while letting his mind further race. The water running through the gutter rattled to create an ambience that perfectly suited the dull grey light coming in through the closed window blinds. Despite the other reading materials that his repentant brain seemed to think it should have chosen, the item in his hand was a newly-purchased, second-hand edition of the latest Jesús Panchón novel, and Danton had been eagerly looking forward to having some time alone with it. Now that he actually had it the opportunity didn’t seem as rewarding as it he had imagined it would be.
Danton scanned the cover of the paperback in front of him then opened to the introductory page in the book. The picture used to decorate the front, according to the text, was a quite renowned painting from an early 20th century surrealist. It likely had some clever connection with the complex range of ideas that were, according to many literary experts, wound up inside this one thousand plus paged tome. He was immediately excited once more about his decision to begin this adventure and flipped to the start of chapter one.
Danton took a deep breath, smiled subtly at the happiness this current position brought him, and preceded to read to the bottom of the page where he was suddenly confronted with an adjective unknown to him. Hating the self-imposed sense of deficiency that he now felt, while simultaneously knowing that he needed to better himself by increasing his vocabulary, he simply could not continue further without knowing the exact definition of the word. He paused for a minute and thought, “Am I really going to look up every word that I am unsure of?” Danton knew exactly what this could lead to if he let it get out of hand: a grueling and arduous process of stop-start, stop-start instead of the desired tranquility he longed for. The ability to finish a book for Danton was completely reliant upon his ability to build momentum. Once he really got rolling, he could plow through hundreds of pages at a time, but he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted. Once again he stared at the wall in front of him. The noise from the cars driving by outside sounded like waves – a sign that the roads were wet with rain and the tires were connecting with slippery pavement. He suddenly broke from his trance, flopped the book down on the side table, and rose to make his way towards the computer at his desk. Accessing the online dictionary, he typed in atavistic and scrolled down the newly-loaded page to find the definition. The second of the three results for atavism seemed to be the most satisfactory - recurrence of or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity; a throwback,
A throwback. Danton pictured an old tavern with low lighting, thick with cigarette smoke. A man sat at the bar with a timelessly handsome face, charcoal five-o-clock stubble, and an all black suit without a tie. He sipped a glass of neat whiskey while a woman sitting five stools down sat completely enamored, watching this man who seemed to manifest the charm of an age long gone. A time when men were men and they took care to dress well and drink hard. Why this particular image was chosen by Danton he wasn’t sure, but he soon broke free from his idealistic daydream and peered to his left where a bar full of booze seemed to suddenly beckon him. The dreary color of his living room seemed to further enhance his emotional response to the collection of half-full bottles. How nice would it be to read a book, sit back, and nurse a glass of Ardbeg? The smoky brown liquid warming his insides while the cold world outside his window continued to get wetter.
Danton closed the screen of his laptop and opened the door underneath the bar where the glasses were kept. He pulled the cork from the Uigeadail and immediately his nose filled with the characteristic peat smoke of Islay malts. As he poured himself a small sampling, he gazed at the book he had set down next to the recliner. God knew that if he took more than a few sips of that whisky he would lose all desire to continue reading. “Think of it as practice,” he told himself. “If you can’t read and enjoy a few sips of fine liquor then your really can’t moderate much in life, can you?” He went to the sink in the kitchen, turned the faucet on to a slow trickle and quickly lowered the glass underneath it to catch just few droplets of water, softening up the strong flavor of his drink. Returning to the recliner, the book back in his hands, Danton exhaled and looked for where he had left off. This was the type of moment he romanticized constantly while standing behind the register at work. He was doing exactly what he told himself he longed to do and he wanted to soak it all in, but somehow it still didn’t quite work. Out of natural instinct he checked his watch – it was a bit past noon.
“I should go for a run after this,” he posited, but how was that going to work out now that he had begun to drink, he wondered. The guilt began to build up inside again. “I shouldn’t be drinking whisky during the middle of the day,” he scolded himself, and he gleamed regretfully in the direction of the receptacle. He reasoned he could leave it there for later as not to be wasteful. The refrigerator began to hum from behind the kitchen wall and the shelf hanging on the other side began to rattle from the vibration passing through it. The noise had a jarring effect and it overpowered the sounds of the storm overhead. Suddenly the room, which had only moments before represented retreat from the dour day and comfort in a time of rest, seemed to encompass exactly that which Danton had tried so hard to avoid. There were things to be done in one’s free time that would make the time spent seem that much more rewarding. Life was about accomplishment and the more that you could complete meant a greater feeling of satisfaction. You couldn’t get anything done if you simply sat around drinking whisky in the middle of the day. This dark grey dungeon was just the place where a man could get stuck in a daylong binge session and if he didn’t get up this instant, he would waste the afternoon away in a drunken stupor.
“I should cook something,” he thought as he once again placed the book down on the side table. He could get an entire week’s worth of lunches out of the way by preparing a large pot of his favorite pesto sauce in advance. Before he could change his mind, Danton sprung out of his seat and returned to the sink to hydrate his body for exercise. He would go for a run first, and then come back to the kitchen. The first morning of his weekend was over and he had yet to find a course he found gratifying. “What’s the point of having any time to yourself if you don’t actually do anything with it?” he thought. He might as well be at work.