On the morning of Day 30 he wakes up at 6:30. He glances at his watch. Five hours of sleep. Half an hour more than the previous night. He walks to the bathroom mirror and stares at himself. The mirror has two post-it notes stuck to it. He reads them aloud.
“My name is James Buchanan Barnes. My best friend is Steve Rogers.” He stares at himself again, willing his brain to remember everything, anything. It refuses, like it has from Day 1.
He turns to the doorway, and spots another post-it note on the door frame.
“Eat breakfast,” he reads.
There isn’t much in the kitchen, so he grabs a pad of post-it notes and writes ‘buy food: milk, bread, oatmeal’. He sticks it to the fridge, which is already dotted with the colored squares.
He looks at the dog. The dog looks at him. She found him wandering in an alley, and refused to go away. So he has a dog now. The dog looks expectantly at him, then down to her food bowl. He picks up the bowl and scoops some dog food out of the bag. There are three post-it notes stuck to the bag.
“My friends call me Bucky,” he reads, always out loud. “I am a dog person. Steve is a cat person. Steve is my best friend.”
He gives the dog a pat on the head and walks back to the fridge. He opens it and grabs the orange juice, then quickly shuts it. He can just barely stand the fridge temperature, but he won’t touch the freezer. It’s too cold. The house temperature never falls below 70, yet he is still cold. The cold is in his bones and it won’t leave.
He reads a stray post-it note on the counter.
“The notebook is on the couch.”
He walks to the couch and picks up the black notebook. On the front is a purple note.
“Read while working out.”
He obeys, and opens the notebook. While doing one-armed push-ups with his right arm, he reads the notebook to the dog.
“My name is James Buchanan Barnes. People call me Bucky. My best friend is Steve Rogers, now known as Captain America. Steve used to be small but now he’s a super-soldier. I used to protect him from the people who picked on him. I am a dog person, and he is a cat person.
“Steve rescued me from something, I can’t remember. I lost him. I fell. It was cold, someone found me. James Buchanan Barnes was replaced with a nobody and a metal arm. Hydra did this to me. Hydra is evil.”
He is angry now, and anger is an emotion he’s used to. He does 200 push-ups and hardly breaks a sweat. He moves to the treadmill. The dog whines and pushes her head against his arm.
“You need a name,” he tells the dog.
She wags her tail in agreement. He lets her out of the side door into the small backyard, and returns to the treadmill. He wishes he could run outside, but he’s wary of being spotted by Steve or the Bird Man. He’s not ready to talk with Steve.
He runs 20 miles full-speed while watching a movie called ‘The Lord of the Rings’. He’s not used to modern TV yet, but he enjoys it anyway. Apparently it’s based off a book. He should read it, so he writes it down in his notebook.
There is a post-it note on the treadmill. “Take a shower.”
He takes a shower, holding his metal arm outside of the shower curtain. He’s afraid of rusting it, and all he knows is how to oil it, nothing else. He doesn’t even know what metal it is. He always had people doing the upkeep for it. He shudders at the memory.
Showering is one of his favorite parts of the day. He has the water temperature up as high as it will go, which scalds him but he doesn’t care. It’s the only time the coldness is almost gone.
When he gets out of the shower he looks in the mirror. His hair is limp and wet, and he debates whether to get a haircut. He doesn’t want James Buchanan Barnes’ hair, but he doesn’t want the metal soldier’s ragged locks either. He decides to go to a barber shop tomorrow, so writes it on a post-it and sticks it on the door frame on his way out.
“On Day Thirty-Three I will go see Steve,” he tells himself.
A moment of confusion shoots through him. Who is Steve?
“Steve is my best friend,” he yells at the wall. “Steve Rogers from Brooklyn.”
He sits on the bed and cradles his head in his hand.
On Day 31 he wakes up at 7:00. Five and a half hours of sleep, half an hour more than the night before. A small burst of pride shoots through him, followed by a wave of panic.
Who is he?
He rushes to the bathroom, trying to reach the mirror but coming short. He collapses on the floor and curls into a ball, metal arm screeching against the tiled floor. He stays like this for a while, body shaking, trying to regain control.
The dog walks through the door. She curls up against him, offering support. He pets her soft head in a soothing, methodical way. Slowly his heartbeat becomes normal and his body relaxes. The dog licks his cheek, leaving a trail of warm slobber. He feels the corners of his mouth twitching up. Giving the dog a thankful pat, he gets up and goes to the mirror.
That’s right. He’s James Buchanan Barnes. Bucky. He has a best friend called Steve.
An image flashes through his brain. A small blond-haired man, dressed in somber clothes. He looks sad, but he’s smiling. This must be Steve. Why is Steve sad?
He can’t remember. Frustration courses through him and he slams his hands against the sink. His metal hand chips the ceramic basin.
He turns to go into the kitchen, stopping to read the two post-it notes stuck to the door. He takes the one about the barber shop with him.
In the kitchen he makes himself oatmeal and scoops some food for the dog.
The dog follows him out the door. He tries to get her to stay, but she looks at him with her puppy eyes and he gives in. They walk together companionably down the street. He has to wear an oversize hoodie to hide his arm, and he pulls the hood up to obscure his face.
Thankfully, he finds a barber’s just two blocks over. He tells the dog to wait for him, and she sits by a lamppost. The bell above the door rings as he pushes it open.
“Good afternoon,” the salt-and-pepper haired barber says. “What can I do for you?”
“I -,” he pauses, unsure. “I’d like my hair cut, sir.”
The barber smiles kindly at him. “Of course, sit down and we’ll see what we can do.”
He notices a tabby cat lounging in the window. It reminds him of something. He tries to remember, but it’s just out of his reach. He pulls out a pocket notebook from his hoodie pocket and flips it open. He scans the pages for a mention of cats.
Of course. Steve is a cat person. Steve is his best friend.
He clears his throat. “Where did you get your cat?”
The barber chuckles. “I found him on the streets when he was a tiny kitten. People like to dump them around here. Now, how do you want your hair?”
He walks out of the shop and sees the dog waiting patiently. He pets her head and starts walking back. She trots along faithfully beside him.
His right hand fiddles with his hair. It’s shorter now, but not as short as James Buchanan Barnes had it before he fell. The kind barber had given him a tub of hair gel, and showed him how to spike up the front.
They arrive home, and he gives the dog a small rawhide bone as a token of gratitude. Without the dog, he doesn’t think he would be this far along. He puts the tub of hair gel in the bathroom next to his toothbrush, then wanders into the living room.
He switches on the TV and sees that the second Lord of the Rings movie is about to start. He hadn’t known that there was another, but he is pleased. For the next two hours he runs on the treadmill, watching Frodo Baggins fight to get to Mordor. He doesn’t trust the Gollum character and agrees with Samwise Gamgee about the nasty creature.
He walks into the kitchen for a drink of water, and spots a post-it note he hasn’t read today.
“Visit Steve on Day Thirty-Three,” he reads.
Steve? Yes, Steve. He’s a cat person.
The start of Day 32 is surprisingly good. He wakes up at 8:30. Seven and a half hours of sleep, a full hour and a half more than Day 31. He allows himself to feel proud for a second. He looks at his lamp, where a new post-it note sits.
“I am Bucky. James Buchanan Barnes. My best friend is Steve.”
Steve. Something is nagging in the back of his mind. Something he read in the kitchen yesterday. He grabs the note off the lamp, then pads into the kitchen and greets the dog with a pat on the head. He looks for the note. He thinks it’s a blue one, but he isn’t sure. It’s not on the fridge, or the counter. He looks everywhere, finally finding it stuck to his mug in the cupboard.
He plucks the blue square from the black ceramic and reads it. That’s right. Steve on Day Thirty-Three. Tomorrow. He feels a tight knot forming in his stomach, but doesn’t know what this feeling is. Anger, pain, frustration, panic, and fear are the only feelings he is familiar with.
And pride, he adds, almost as an afterthought. He was proud about sleeping.
The dog walks into the kitchen and stares at him. He feeds her, and puts ‘fondness’ on his mental list of feelings. He is fond of the dog, and the dog is fond of him.
He and the dog finish eating. He pulls on his thick hoodie and grabs a small cardboard box from the recycling.
“We’re going out today,” he tells the dog.
She wags her tail and follows him out the door. They comb the area for hours, stopping once to get some hotdogs for lunch. Only because the dog was giving him puppy eyes.
He finds what he was looking for as the sun is going down. He places it carefully in the box, and they start walking home.
Day 33 arrives. He wakes up at 5:00. Three and a half hours of sleep. He puts it down to the knots of the unknown feeling writhing in his stomach. The first knot seems to have multiplied in the night, it now feels like he swallowed a dozen live snakes.
He doesn’t know who he is.
The panic sets in, this time a huge, raging monster. He races to the bathroom, making it to the toilet just in time. He throws up, his body heaving. The dog rushes in, alarmed. He tries to reassure her that he’s alright, but is cut off by another convulsion.
The dog whines at him, then catches him on her back as he slumps over, exhausted. She curls herself around him and licks his face. He buries his head into her fluffy neck and wraps his arms around her. He stays like that for a while, listening to her heartbeat.
After ten minutes he pulls himself up and leans on the sink. He brushes his teeth in an effort to scrub away the lingering taste of bile. It doesn’t work, but he feels a little better. He stares at himself in the mirror. His shorter hair is disheveled, sticking out in all directions. He looks at the post-it notes.
“I am James Buchanan Barnes,” he says, hoarsely. “My best friend is Steve Rogers. I’m going to see him today.”
The nest of snakes in his stomach knot tighter.
He decides to get a shower, and stands there, letting the scalding water wash over him. His metal arm hangs outside the shower curtain. He flexes it. It’s a little stiff. He needs to oil it.
He gets out of the shower and pulls on his clothes. The dog hasn’t left the bathroom. She’s laying by the door, watching him.
“I’m fine,” he tells her.
She blinks at him. He towels his hair and applies a bit of gel the barber gave him.
In the kitchen he feeds the dog, giving her the steak he had planned to eat for dinner. He decides he loves the dog.
“I’ll give you a name soon,” he promises her.
She wags her tail.
He is standing outside Steve’s door. On the way here, he figured out the feeling coiled tightly in his stomach is nervousness. His entire stomach is churning. The dog is sitting beside him, and he rests his right hand on her head. Nestled in his metal arm is the small cardboard box.
He slowly lifts his right hand up to the door, then snatches it back.
“You can do this,” he whispers.
The dog nudges his hand in agreement. In one swift motion he brings his hand up and raps firmly on the door. He shifts the box so he’s holding it in both hands, and listens nervously to the sound of footsteps growing closer on the other side of the door.
After what seems like an eternity the door opens to reveal a tall, blond-haired man.
Steve’s face shows several emotions in quick succession as he takes in the sight before him. Steve’s mouth opens to speak but is cut off.
“Your name is Steve Rogers,” he says. “You grew up in Brooklyn. I’m your best friend.”
Steve starts to say something, but he’s not finished.
He opens the box and tilts it toward Steve. “Your name is Steve and you’re a cat person.”
Inside the box is a small, dark grey kitten. Steve’s mouth drops open in surprise.
“I found him abandoned in a dumpster,” he continues, and offers the box to Steve.
Steve gingerly picks up the kitten and cradles it. It mews and rubs its head against Steve’s jaw. Steve smiles at it, and then at him.
“Bucky,” Steve says. His voice cracks slightly. “I- thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replies. He gestures to the dog. “I’m a dog person.”
Steve smiles again. “I remember.”
He frowns. “She needs a name.”
“That’s between the owner and the dog,” says Steve.
He nods slowly. “I need to go.”
Steve frowns and reaches a hand out. “Wait, Bucky. Stay for a while, please?”
He shakes his head and turns away.
“Just,” Steve falters. “Just come back soon, okay? Please.”
He pauses, then nods briefly.
He stumbles through the front door, the dog close behind him. He sinks to the floor and leans against the wall.
When he saw Steve’s face, he remembered things. Small things. Steve’s favorite color (bright yellow), Steve’s favorite street food (hotdogs), Steve’s favorite song (It’s Been a Long, Long Time - by Harry James and his Orchestra).
He takes out his notebook and writes these things down before he can forget them. He rests his head against the wall and stares at the ceiling, absentmindedly stroking the dog, who is lying with her head in his lap.
He is glad to have seen Steve, he decides, and he will go see him again soon. He’s curious as to what Steve will name the kitten. Which reminds him.
He turns to the dog. “I was thinking that Amora is a good name, do you?”
The dog looks at him and thumps her tail against the floor in agreement.
“Hello, Amora,” he says softly.
Day 34. He wakes up at 10:00. Eight and a half hours of sleep. He lays in bed looking at the ceiling.