The music throbbed through the club and vibrated the tacky wooden floorboards under Peter’s feet. The lights strobed in time to the electric beat, and he could feel bass thumping in his chest in time to the elevated rate of his heart.
Several other guys from his fire station always accompanied him to this club after an intense call. The adrenaline kept them all wired for several hours after each fire was resolved, and despite the exhaustion grasping for their knees, each needed his own way to wind down the night before sleep had any hope of catching hold of them. He knew that the reward most of his coworkers were here for had little to do with the electronic dance music blasting their ears. For some it was the anesthetizing effect of the many beers they poured down their throats, and for several others it had everything to do with the beautiful bodies writhing together on the dance floor, any one of which would be happy to give a hero his due in the parking lot, or all night long in either participant’s apartment. But for Peter he was here exclusively for that heavy pulsing bass, so closely mimicking the racing tempo of his own pulse, keeping him up in that headspace he felt during the fire; clear, focused, and controlled. The music is what brought him to this club, and music is what would send him onwards to the next stop once his buddies had each met their needs for the night and headed out.
After he’d seen that everyone else had headed out, Peter would be ready for a change of pace, would finally be prepared to step things down one level closer to his baseline and eventually start winding his way towards sleep. The next place was a grungy dive bar, lighting dim and private, and nearly deserted this late into the night. It boasted a truly great jukebox he could load full of quarters. He selected all of his favorite rock songs, the ones he knew sung to his decreased level of intensity. He was ready for lyrics now, able to start imagining something that wasn’t just the heat of the fire, the tar and resin in the fire’s smoke clogging his lungs, the remembered grit that had made its way against his skin even through all of the protective gear, the stickiness of sweat caused by heavy exertion and extreme temperatures. There were still a few ladies, now so close to closing time, looking to offer him comfort and hoping to find some of their own. Peter politely refused, smoothly deflecting their advances. He’d never felt awkward saying no, rather he’d felt decidedly wretched the few ill-advised times he’d muttered yes. Nursing just one beer, his first and only for the night, he’d rest here in an out of the way booth, getting up only to reload the jukebox as needed, until the bar tender gently ushered everyone towards home.
Making sure the barflys made it safely to their cars, and saying goodnight to the few friendly regulars, Peter would make his short drive home in anticipatory silence. Softly closing his front door, and twisting over the deadbolt, Peter would immediately make his way to the beautifully restored record player that held pride of place in his apartment and he’d carefully place the needle down on one of many treasured blues records. This final step on his journey was done in reverence. He was finally met with the feelings of pure safety and security that meant he was home, alone with just the music, and his thoughts cleared of everything hot and impatient. Now he felt his mind and body relax and loosen, releasing everything that tonight’s fire had caused to stress and harden, giving way to the waves of sound with which he had surrounded his evening. Now 3 a.m. and Peter wallowed in bed as the scratch of the needle and the mournful blues danced him carefully the last few steps into slumber.