A Small, Sharp Blade

Posted on May 14, 2014

6



An Apology for the Horrifically Banal

This is the worst story I ever wrote. It’s just terrible.  I mean, it’s about nothing. It took me forever to write it, one paragraph at a time. I couldn’t even edit it I got so bored.

So why did I do it? Well, it came to me in a dream and it wouldn’t leave me alone. And I thought, it seems there is a whole genre of post-modern short stories that are about nothing. Or nothing I get or care about. I think it’s called “literary fiction.” Perhaps I’m jealous of my MFA friend who has been published 7 times this year, but whose stuff I

just

can’t

read. His last story was like 10,000 words about a dead plant scratching against the window of a rental house followed by “this is a metaphor.” He filled a whole novel full of that stuff, you know about the hard-baked ground under the leaden sky with the dead plants, where the highlight of action is rain turning the hard-baked ruts to muddy ruts which dissolve like the characters’ relationships. Which I’m pretty sure is a metaphor because it happens in every story in the genre, right before some character you don’t care about falls off the non-existent narrative arc and dies . (Note to self, add rain storm to story after dead plant.) I don’t even know how people can write this stuff. But they go to college and get advanced degrees in it, then fill journals like Glimmer Train with it. These stories make Joyce look like a Frank Miller graphic novel. (To be fair , my friend can also write Elmore Leonard type stuff which I really enjoy reading. Maybe, I just need to get an MFA to understand the other stuff.)

So anyway, lacking the time or inclination to get an MFA… I thought, well, maybe it would be good practice for me to slow down and write about nothing for a while. Maybe this story could use that as a device. Fill the page. Extend time. Explore every single possibility of inaction. Certainly I have a habit of rushing from the end of Act II to the beginning of Act III. Maybe this will cure that. But I couldn’t do it. I failed. I didn’t even  get it right. Something happens, almost, and I couldn’t hold out for 10,000 words.

I’m not going to pretend this is a clever parody of those stories, or even that it’s a  metaphor for the banality of the modern man, a man with no purpose, feeding on himself and his fears. It’s just a dream I had and a problem I solved…But just because I was compelled to write it, doesn’t mean you have to read it. Do something valuable. Clean a sock drawer. I’ll get back to stories I hope we both care about.

A Small Sharp Blade

The light shone through his closed eyes, although he didn’t open them while he lay on his side trying to remember where he was. Eventually, he became aware of his discomfort. He rolled over but it didn’t help. He was under a thin blanket on a mean mattress on a squeaky metal bed whose every support he could feel running under him from the back of his head to his heels. No pillow, he thought. Where is my pillow? He opened his eyes. The room was bright full daylight streaming through the curtainless windows from on high and to the left.

He rotated out of bed and put his thin slipper socks on the white tiled floor. He recoiled from the cold, but put them back. How long had he been out? He rubbed his jaw and found only a day’s worth of beard. He had no idea where he was. Had he been sick? He stretched, nothing hurt except maybe from lying on the bed. He actually felt pretty good. He looked down, he was dressed in scrubs, pale green, the only color in the room, and slipper socks. Walls, floor, and ceiling, all white. White cabinet off to the side, white porcelain sink. White enameled table matching the bed, and white metal door with a dirty yellow glass covered in white-painted mesh. Metal bed in white enamel, chipped and repainted so many times it must’ve been an obsession to keep it flawless. Or, maybe they just didn’t have anything else to do.

He stood up and went to the door, thinking to try it, but there was no handle. He banged on it with the flat of his hand and yelled, “Hey! Hey! Let me out!” He waited and heard nothing. “Hey, it’s…” And then he realized he didn’t know his name. He stood there with his hand on the door, his head bowed down. Of course he knew his name, he was, he was…He had no idea who he was. Then it must’ve been an accident. He walked over to the sink and looked into the metal mirror above it at his blurry reflection trying to make himself out. Middle height, brown hair, shaggy and unkempt. But totally unrecognizable. He’d never seen the face in the mirror before.

He slowly walked around the roomy counter-clockwise. Next to the sink was a radiator, painted white, cool to the touch. Then was the enamel table in front a large bay window. The window was the same dirty yellow as the door, with mesh embedded in it and a wire grate over it. He traced it with his fingers as he tried to look out. The glass was grimed on the outside with dirt. He could make out a field, once mowed and now gone to seed. Did that make it fall? Late spring? When did grass seed up? The sun was on the left and part way up. He pondered that a bit, he must be facing south. He could see a line of trees across the field, not too far, maybe 50-60 yards, but that was it. He traced the grill with his fingers to the edge where it was held fast with one-way screws painted decades over, the screw heads nearly filled in.

On the table was a white enamel tray with a small, sharp knife. The blade was maybe two and a half inches long and it was set into a plain wooden handle, worn and sweat stained behind a metal cap that fit over it where it met the blade.

He picked it up and cut himself testing it, the way people unfamiliar with sharp instruments invariably do. He dropped it back into the pan and sucked the cut on his thumb. He looked suspiciously at the knife as if it might suddenly leap up and continue the attack, then moved on. Next to the window was a small white cabinet, about as wide as his torso and as tall. He opened the glass-paneled door and looked at the shelves, neatly stocked with a supply of bandages and white towels stacked the height of each shelf. He closed the door incuriously and moved on. On the next wall there was a toilet on a boxlike pedestal thing with no handle or plumbing. He poked at it a bit and decided it was one of those chemical things. He looked over at the sink on the far wall and back to the toilet. That just seemed strange. There was plumbing, why the toilet? The room must normally not be for occupation was all he could figure. It was almost like this was an operating theater or something converted for present use.

One more corner and he was back at the bed, back on the wall with the door. For some reason that reminded him of how bright it was and he looked up. Broad daylight and six pie-pan lights on full blast on the ten-foot ceiling. Looked like 150 watt bulbs, the industrial kind where the glass was clear, made them look old-fashioned. They were covered in wire mesh, too. Having them on seemed excessive so he looked for the switch but like the door knob, it must be outside the room.

He looked around again and when he saw the sink he realized he was thirsty. He went over and twisted both taps. There was no hot, but the cold came on a trickle. He tried putting his head below the tap, but it wouldn’t fit, so he cupped his hands. That seemed too slow to slake his thirst and he thought about getting a towel out of the cupboard, letting it get wet, and wringing it into the pan with the knife. He got the towel and put it under the water, but it turned off. He took the towel out, perplexed and played with the taps but it never came back on, so he walked over and wrung it in to the pan. It was then he realized he was hungry, too.

He went back and banged on the door for a while, but its unyielding surface hurt his hand. Then he sat on the bed. You don’t heal a person up, he thought, and not feed them or give them water. He didn’t know why people weren’t answering, but there must be a good reason, all he had to do was be patient and wait. He sat for a while, and then bored he lay back. It was strange, but he had no idea who he was. He wracked his brain, but he couldn’t think of a single moment before he woke up. Was somebody he wouldn’t recognize waiting for him outside that door? Did he have a girlfriend? A wife? Kids? Brothers and sisters? Were his parents alive? A job?

He looked at the ceiling and thought. I do know some stuff, like what direction the sun was in, I just don’t remember anything about me. Is there something I can figure out? He looked at his hand, but there was no band that there might’ve been if he normally wore a ring. Of course, more and more these days, people don’t wear rings. Again, how did he know this? He wracked his brain, not a single memory. He tried to think about people, but he couldn’t imagine a single face. Generic faces: blonde girl, bearded man, but nothing distinguishing.

He sat there for a while his mind blank. started running names through his mind to see if anything fit: Bob, John, Mark, Paul, Ringo, Steve, Steven, Sean, Marlon, Earl, Eric, Darryl, Dave, Bob (did he already do Bob?), Alan, Adam – Adam (did that fit?) – Bradley, Pat, Patrick, Cedric, Sam, Cecille, Rodney…He realized after a while he wasn’t even paying attention to his own thoughts. He reached over and tried picking at the paint on the bed leg, but even that resisted all of his attempts.

His mind wandered and he slept for a while. When he woke the sun was nearly down, but the lights were still on full bore. He was sorer than ever from the bed and his arm was numb from sleeping on it in lieu of a pillow. The water came on and he jumped up, stumbling over to it. He put his hands to it and gulped greedily. Before he had his fill, it stopped again. What was this place? Who healed you and then let you die of hunger and thirst?

He thought about the water again. How did it seem to know to turn off when he used it? What was the feedback loop? Suddenly he had a thought. Was he being watched? He knew cameras were small, could be tiny, hidden almost anywhere. He decided to go over the whole room again, minutely. He started on the wall with the door and the bed, it was smooth white concrete, stippled from rollers, furrowed from brushes. But there was no real texture to hide a camera. He used his hands like a frame and went over the entire wall as high as he could reach, his head about a foot away from it, slowly. About a foot square, all the way across, then dropping down about six inches and moving all the way back. He tried to move the bed and noticed it was bolted to the floor with little angle brackets. He backed up and looked up towards the ceiling. Nearly half of the wall he couldn’t reach. He walked over to the table, but it, too, was bolted down. He grabbed the two edges and tried to rip it out in frustration, jerking back and forth until he could feel the muscles in his back straining. It remained steadfastly unimpressed with his efforts. He went back to the wall and looked again, but the shadows from the lights made it hard to see into the corners. That would be the logical place for a camera, up high, out of the normal line of sight. Hard to find, but giving an unimpeded view of the room.

He looked at the lights for a bit. Those were really beginning to bother him. It didn’t look like anybody was going to turn them off, and he was thinking if people were watching him maybe he could at least make it hard for them. But then, he wondered if the dark would be worse. One more night, then, tomorrow he could look for the camera in the daylight.

It was full dark outside now and he wondered what time it was. Having the lights on was confusing and he had no way to mark time. He didn’t feel tired, but he didn’t know what to do, so he lay down again. Then he got up and went to the cupboard and got a couple towels out to try to make a pillow. They were only hand towels once he unfolded them all, barely bigger than face cloths. He bundled a bunch together and took them over to the table where he spent some time taping them together for a pillow. It wasn’t much, but he felt a sense of accomplishment. That he had done something. He looked out the window; he could only tell where the trees were because that is where the stars stopped. There was no moon up yet. He knew he should be able to tell the date by that. How could he be, and he realized he didn’t know how old he was, a grown man at any rate, and never have correlated the moon’s rising and setting to the seasons? He thought about that for a while and how the light in the room made the dark seem darker. It was so quiet. The most quiet place he’d ever been. He began to understand why they put people in solitary.

He walked over and used the toilet, his urine a dense yellow. He knew that was a sign of dehydration, or at least stress, so he walked over and played with the sink again and got rewarded with a trickle which he nearly missed. So, he was being watched. Now he was sure of it. He paced around some and wondered if he should exercise, and then wondered if having no food and no water if he should really try to conserve as much energy as he could, so he took his pillow and went to lie down. Tomorrow, he would have to do something about the time. If aboriginal men could do it, he could do it. He would have to mark the course of the sun somehow, and then maybe pick a constellation. Could he differentiate constellations?

He put the pillow under the curve of his neck and stared at the ceiling. Eventually he fell into a fitful slumber, tossing and turning on the tortuous bed, waking occasionally to sweats and palpitations. Eventually he sat up and looked at the lights. Those lights had to go. But he was too tired to fuss with it right now, he collapsed back into bed and slept until full daylight when he awoke groggy and sore. He got up and looked at the lights. No food, no water, and now no sleep. He was starving and thirsty. He went over, grabbed the pan and started banging on the door. “Let me out! Let me out!” He banged until he was hoarse, and then slumped down exhausted.

What was this? Some kind of punishment? What had he done to deserve this? He couldn’t imagine he was the kind of man who could’ve done anything sinister or mal-intentioned. It just didn’t seem like he had the energy for it. Some kind of experiment? Watching how he would behave, adapt? He looked up at the lights. Those fucking lights. He stood up and hurled the pan at the nearest one. He missed it and it went banging off, but he retrieved it and tried again, scoring a glancing blow. But the light shone on. He knew he couldn’t break the mesh, but he thought maybe if he could score a direct hit, it might break the delicate filament in the bulb. He alternately fired and then covered his head, retrieved the pan, and started the process all over again. In about half an hour he gave up, sweating and thirsty.

He walked over to the sink and stood abjectly in front of it, like a well-trained dog, and sure enough it started to trickle out. He greedily lapped it up, but once again it stopped too soon. The cold water in his empty stomach made it growl. “Aaaargh!” He screamed slapping the reflection in the mirror with the palm of his hand.

Then he remembered he was going to look for the camera. He stood at the sink, trying to decide where it had to be to see him. Ultimately, he decided that the only place they wouldn’t put a camera was a potential ring on the wall of the sink, not too far, not too close, because if they put it there, they couldn’t see him at the sink. Right in front of it, or in the corner it might pick him up. But they were definitely watching him at the sink.

He stood in the middle of the open space between the bed and the sink. He held his arms out and slowly turned in a circle. “Please. Please! What have I done! I’m sorry! Please, telllll me!” His voice rang in the room. He shouted until he was hoarse, then he fell to his knees and cried and cried, like a child his body heaving without stop. Finally, exhausted he walked back to the bed, dragged the mattress onto the floor and lay staring at the irresolute lights. He had to calm down. He took off all of his clothes and looked his entire body over for signs of injury. Okay, so he wasn’t convalescing. With the amnesia, it was possible he’d maybe had some kind of non-trauma related breakdown. But if that was the case, why not answer the door? Why heal a man, just to drive him insane? Obviously, he was being monitored. So not answering the door wasn’t an oversight. It was by plan.

That gave him some perspective. If it was by plan, what could the end motivation be? He wracked his brain. Only two things came to him: experiment, or punishment. It made more sense to him that if you were punishing somebody, you wouldn’t wipe their memory. You would want them to agonize over their mistakes. Of course the two, the punishment and the amnesia, might not be related. Maybe the memory loss was a result of being here?

Okay, walk each of these down. Punishment maybe but since he couldn’t remember what he might’ve done, and would have no way of changing the outcome, he’d put that consideration aside for the moment. If it was an experiment, then everything in the room would have a purpose, and if he could figure out what that was, he could maybe get out. It was like a puzzle he had to solve before he could get out. Maybe he was even getting paid for this.

He got up and looked out the window again. Still a bright sunny day, but he couldn’t make much out through the glass. He was reminded of the time problem. He should’ve marked the edge of the window where the sun rose. Maybe if he thought about that long enough and the stars he might be able to figure out where he was? What kind of trees were those? He looked out the window for a while before he realized he was just daydreaming and not really on task. Okay, so maybe that information was all interesting, but was it important? How would time or location help him solve the puzzle? He decided to shelve that line of thought for a bit. His stomach growled and he realized how damn hungry he was. He walked over to the sink and made eating motions in the mirror, then turned around and did them towards the door, still convinced there was a camera but not knowing where it was. In response a little water came out and he bent to grab it as soon as he could.

So, then. Being hungry was part of it. They were, hopefully, giving him enough water to survive, but no food. What did that tell him? If it was a punishment, then dying of thirst was a terrible way to go. So there was some survival element at play here. He walked over and picked up the tray, now somewhat battered, and the knife. It was a small and wicked looking blade. He looked around the room and carried it with him as he went to look at the window. Maybe he could chip away at the paint in the screw heads and then use the blade to turn them. As he lifted the knife he thought, what a shame it was to dull such a sharp blade. And then he thought, it’s the only tool in the room. It was his most important clue. Maybe he shouldn’t rush into this. There was probably a more logical use for the blade.

He put it back in the tray as he walked by, and crossed to the cabinet. Cloth. That’s all he had. He needed a tool, something for leverage. Maybe he could cut the towels into strips, tie them together, attach them to the window grating and pull it off! That made a lot of sense. He continued on to the door. It had sealed industrial hinges whose bolts were inside the hinge line. Not much chance of taking them apart, even if he had a tool box.

He laid on the mattress and looked at the ceiling for a while. No vent. More and more he convinced himself the way out was through the window. Then he looked over at the bed. He sat up and looked at the frame. Was there any way he could take it apart and get a lever of some sort? Thin, flat bars and little springs hooking them to the frame. He picked away at their bent ends. He would need a lever to pry them apart. Maybe the back of the knife? While he was on the floor, he decided to he hadn’t looked under everything. So he crawled around, first the sink, then the table, then he reached under the cabinet. He sat in front of the cabinet for a while wondering if he could take it apart, but it was the same industrial design as the rest of the room, the seems all welded or somehow held together in a way he couldn’t discern. Everything seamless, integrated. Nothing to get a grip on. He made it back to the mattress and lay down.

Maybe if he thought about jobs, maybe he could figure out what he did for a living and that would bring his memory back. He decided to go alphabetically. What would be first? Accounting? He tried thinking of numbers, adding things in his head, thinking about debit and credits. Nope, nothing. He could do the math, but it had no meaning to him. Actuary? What the hell was that? Something to do with statistics and insurance? Well, he knew more about accounting. Acting? How the hell would he know that? Actors remember stuff. He remembered the name Shakespeare. Hamlet. He knew who they were but he didn’t know how he knew that. He couldn’t recite any lines, couldn’t remember being any character any more than being himself. Administrator? Administrator of what? Ach! This was pointless, how long had been at it? And he was still in the early As. His mind wandered and he’d barely started. Eventually he remembered how hungry he was.

Maybe he was going at it wrong. Maybe he should think about categories. Blue collar or white collar? He sat up and took off his shirt, walked over to the mirror and looked at himself, pure white, just the slightest difference in color from the middle of his biceps down. A paunch, no real musculature, no tattoos. He looked himself all over. No calluses, no scars. Sloppy posture. Okay, so not blue collar. Probably not military. White collar. Medical? He looked around and sucked on his thumb again which had stopped bleeding but now had a faint itchiness to it. He grimaced a little. Definitely not medical. Academic? He did seemed to know a few things about a few things. Physics, chemistry, astronomy, engineering? He pondered each of them but nothing came to him. A writer? He held his hands in front of him like he was typing. Still nothing. Writer’s block? He laughed. Okay maybe nothing to do with a computer. He looked around again. Boy, this place was built a long time before there were computers. He banged on the door again as he was going by, but then sat down on the bed and felt the supports across his buttocks. He realized his feet hurt from standing on the floor without shoes. He needed orthotics, he thought. How did he know that? Podiatrist? Shoe salesman?

This was going nowhere. Perhaps, he thought, he could just pick something. Shoe salesman was as good as anything maybe? You got to hold women’s legs. Guys too, he supposed. He couldn’t even tell which one of those attracted him.Why not pick something glamorous. Athlete was out. Actor was out. This was painful, he didn’t know who he was, and he couldn’t even decide whom to be! Had he always been so indecisive and unimaginative?

He slept for a while and awoke again as the sun was setting. The room was already cooling off. He was torn. He felt like he should get up, and then he wondered, “Why bother?” Eventually, he roused himself. He stood in the middle of the room and raised both hands, middle fingers extended and turned in a circle. Then he walked over to the sink, but the water didn’t come on. “Of course, he thought. Like I didn’t know who was in control.” He went over and used the toilet and realized that was why it was a dry chemical toilet. By now he would’ve been drinking out of the bowl. He wondered if he should be conserving his urine in the tray and recycling it. He remembered stories where the Tiger Cage POWs in Viet Nam had done that. But he considered against it, assuming that whoever was watching him would just turn the water off if he did that as well. Of course, there was no knowing if it would ever come back on. Just as he thought it, it did come back on and he rushed over to lap it up before it too quickly stopped once again. He bet they had a good laugh over that.

Anger didn’t work. Inaction was boring. His memory was not coming back. He had to do something. Back to the puzzle. He walked over and picked up the knife. The handle was some plain, unadorned dark wood, worn and sweat-stained. Its dark, almost black blade was simple, but unlike any other he had ever seen. It was straight across the bottom for its two-and-a-half inch length, perfectly flat if you placed it against a surface. The back of the knife was thick. It started off parallel to the blade side and then joined it in a semi-circular descending arc so that it had no point except where it intercepted the flat cutting edge. He held it up to the light to inspect the profile, like a fist with the knuckles curled under, side on. He thought about this for a while. What did this blade tell him about its purpose? A long double-edged blade would be for stabbing. A long single edged blade would be for cutting and chopping, like a kitchen knife or a hunting knife. What was this blade for? It was razor sharp. He knew the black blade meant it was high-carbon, sharper than stainless, but less popular for aesthetic reasons. (How did he know this?) In cross-section it was almost wedge-shaped, tapering from a wide square-edged back to the point. A short, sharp blade, with a strong back, no real point. No length to speak of. Some sort of carving knife? Cutting tough material in tight quarters maybe? Something you would use to puncture and then cut? Something built for a lot of force. He looked around. What would he cut? It was all metal and concrete. There wasn’t any wood in the room.

He didn’t need a knife, he needed leverage. He needed something to pry with. He carried the knife over to the bed and tried to pry the spring end open, hoping to free some of the metal bars. He tried slipping the back of the knife into the small gap but it was too tight. He tried starting closer to the tip, but still could not work it in. He fumbled with it for ten or fifteen minutes straight with no luck. When his frustration peaked, He threw the knife across the room and sat and sucked his skinned knuckles.

It took him some time to get back in control. Puzzles were always hard, seemingly impossible, but when you got the trick, they were always easy. He was just looking at it wrong. He lay down on the mattress and pulled the thin wool blanket over him against the morning chill. His stomach was grumbling painfully, reminding him that his time was not infinite, but he still thought starting over tomorrow would be helpful.

Another fitful night. The lights, the hunger, the thirst. Twice the water came on and he jumped up to catch it. Near dawn he finally collapsed. He dreamed of a woman. He couldn’t make out her features, but he knew she was beautiful. She was floating in space and beckoned him, her long blond hair floating around her. He reached for her and as he did his body both elongated and became diffuse, like fog, his hand passed through her belly and then his entire body followed, sucked along behind it in a roaring stream, so that he could see his hand and arm on one side while he was still distant from her and then he was pulled through her, fighting, fighting, knowing that it was him on this side and nothing on the other, less and less of him here, dissipating at accelerating speed. The last thing he remembered was passing through and then he awoke, troubled and reliving the dream over and over again, traversing the same emotional arc, trying to remember her. Trying to figure out what it meant.

Rodger, he decided when he got up. His name was Rodger. He was a banker. He was single. That was as good as anything. Today he would be Rodger the single banker, and tomorrow he could be Jerome, the talent scout with a woman in every city. It didn’t matter if he didn’t know his past. He could be married with kids. He could do and be whoever and whatever he wanted, every day. Change it up three times a day. And when he got out of here, he could pick the life that sounded best and do that.

He got up and picked up the knife. He walked over to the sink. The water didn’t come on, but he thought about dry shaving. He decided against it. It seemed that there was some specific purpose behind the knife and he still did not want to dull it until he figured it out. He put it back on the tray, and the water came on almost instantly. Well, that answered that question. He rushed over to get what he could then walked over to look out the window.

He used the point of the knife to mark the point where the sun crossed the window sill. It was so sharp, the paint healed up behind it. He had to cut a second little mark to make a V groove and take the paint out. He noticed a dead milk thistle brushing on the window in the breeze. It threw a wan shadow into the room. He watched it for a while and wondered if there was a way to use the shadow to tell time. He wracked his brain. Another puzzle, but he should be able to figure it out.

So, the knife was important. It was the key. It, the items in the closet, and his bedding were the only non-fixed items in the room. So those were the things to focus on. He walked over to the cabinet and started taking things out one neat stack at a time. He arranged them in rows corresponding to their shelves, starting from the back, near the window and moving forward and left to right. He felt faint and supported himself with his hands on the table. A chair. They couldn’t give him a chair? Well, that just made the puzzle easier to solve, he supposed. He needed some food. Was there anything on the table that was edible? In the back, representing the top shelf were rolls of gauze bandages, some sort of pad bandages in paper wrapping. Okay, he could eat the wrapping, he knew that. Also some isopropyl alcohol, and some tape; a suture kit and some super glue.

The next shelf was all bandages with labels like Multi-Trauma Dressing, Blot Clot Gauze Roll, Blot Clot Granules, Blood Stopper Bandage. He thought again about eating the packaging, maybe even a bandage, but he wasn’t quite there yet. He realized he’d never gone more than 24 hours without food before. A couple of days, and he was ready to eat a towel. Probably would eat a towel except all he could think of was how thirsty it would make him and the thirst was becoming all-consuming.

Below that were sponges and trash bags. And then three shelves of snow-white towels. Folded and stacked neatly to best use the space. He took each one out, unfolded it, and refolded it to make sure there was nothing hidden. It looked like they were preparing for a war in here at one time. All the things you would expect to find in a field surgery.

He heard screams and laughter and looked out the window. There in the field was a group of people passing by, running around each other like a pack of puppies. Children? He grabbed the enamel tray and began banging on the grating over the window screaming “Help!” over and over again until he thought his throat would bleed. Suddenly, the group stopped directly across from the window and all looked at him, like fuzzy characters in an out-of-focus black-and-white TV, flickering on the screen in snow. He jumped up on the table, knocking his neat rows into disarray, and banged with his hands on the grate until they did bleed. Yes! Finally, he would be rescued. He would get out of here! And then, as suddenly as they had stopped, they all turned and ran away screaming and laughing again. He stared at the wall for a while. And if there was a rescue? He did not know who he was or why he was here. He must of done something terrible to deserve this. The effort that had been expended. The ability to erase him so completely. It was a technology he has never heard of. He must’ve done something so terrible, that he deserved this. And if he got out. Would he change? Be a better man? How would he know? If he knew his crime he would beg for forgiveness. He looked up, tears running down his face.

He slumped to his knees on the table, hanging his head, sucking in air in deep hungry gasps. He climbed down, spilling bandages and towels onto the floor and then walked over to the sink. But the water did not come on, as he knew it wouldn’t.

He went back and lay on his mattress, tired from his morning. He lay down and closed his eyes. The wan sun streaming through the window was not enough to warm him. The puzzle remained before him, the items in the room spinning through his mind in no particular order, the bright lights making spots behind his closed eyelids.

He decided he wouldn’t wait for rescue. If it came, it would be soon, if it didn’t he would’ve wasted all that time. He walked over to the cabinet and took out the towels again. He stacked them on the table and picked up the knife. If he just made a little cut at the edge of each, through the banding or the hem or whatever you called the border, then he could tear the towels into thin strips. He hoped that wasn’t dulling the knife too much. He quickly cut and tore all of the towels and then he spent the next couple of hours tying and twisting them into a rope. This was good. This made sense. It made use of most of what he was given. He wished he had some water, he knew if it was wet it would be much stronger. He walked over to the sink. Nothing. But he had to try. He thought about urinating on it, but realized he hadn’t had to in a long time. This was probably a very bad sign. How long did he have without water, four days? Five? When he was done, he stood at the window and looked at the grating. Where to attach it for the most force? It seemed tying it to the very center would have the most leverage, but it would also be distributed, and maybe lose some force do to elasticity in the grate. He thought about tying it to the edge and finally settled on the top left corner. That way he could use his weight as well as his strength.

He had left a bunch of loose ends on one end of the rope so he stood on the table and laboriously threaded them through the grate and tied them off. It was time consuming and working over his head, stretched out on his toes, was very tiring. He climbed down and tested the knots by leaning against it. It held so he put it over his shoulder and turned around. He pulled hard but he couldn’t get traction on the floor. He turned around and faced the window but he just couldn’t brace enough. He finally tried bouncing his weight against it in a series of jerks. The screen bowed out barely perceptibly, and on the fourth bounce, the rope broke, leaving him to back pedal across the floor ever more awkwardly until he crashed painfully on his ass.

He got up. That’s okay. It was just a test. Tying it high was a good idea, but he hadn’t considered the traction problem. He sat down on the floor and went over the entire rope piece-by-piece. He thought if he tied it lower, he could brace against the wall and use his legs. So he got up and tied it all over again, patiently, trying to concentrate on the task and not the outcome. With hope came disappointment. He realized he was keeping an ear out for any noise of his rescuers.

It was much easier to tie it in this corner. He looked up, realizing it was dark outside. When did that happen? It was the first time he had not been painfully aware of the passage of time. Every man needs a hobby, he thought, and smiled grimly.

He gave it a couple of tugs, and then put one foot on the wall. Wrapping the makeshift rope around his forearms, he doubled over and took up the slack and then leaned back slowly increasing the tension, focusing on the joint where the screen met the sill to see if he could see any movement. He pulled until the tendons in his neck stood out and he started to see black spots. The little painted valley became his only reality, each minute bump in the painted surface looming like a boulder. He put his back into and pushed with his legs, willing the rope to hold.

It did, but no amount of force he could apply had any effect on the screen. He sat down with his back to the wall and wondered if it was worth it to take the knife and etch around the window until the paint was cut all of the way around. It took a long time for him to get his breath back, but he wasn’t surprised to realized he hadn’t perspired at all. Suddenly he was very cold and ached all over. He got up and went to the bed wrapping himself in his blanket where he shivered until dawn.

He woke to the full light of day and lay there going over every second of every minute in his short memory. The room. The tools. He went over and over the possibilities, trying to reason it all out. It made no sense. The tools were not enough to overcome the environment. He could not force his way out. There was nothing to cut, nothing to bind. The knife and the bandages were useless, the furniture immobile and thus useless.

And then, it came to him. The surgery. The hunger. The thrist. The knife. He stood up and walked over to the table, putting his palms on it and looking out the window. It was so horrific, so monstrous, he couldn’t grapple with it. Worse than punishment, because it was had no purpose but evil. That made it impossible. Who could be so evil? And then he had a thought. Was it so much easier to believe he was the evil one who must be punished? Wasn’t it obvious by now that his captors were the evil ones. Yes, it felt real. The only explanation. One by one he picked up the items from the table and the floor and restacked them in the cabinet, moving slowly back and forth to the table, occasionally looking out the window. Maybe, just maybe, they did hear him. Maybe he just needed to wait, to hold on just a little longer. It had only been what after all, 4 days? Had they not heard him? Had they not cared? Was this some kind of asylum with crazies at every window? If they were coming surely they would’ve come by now. Perhaps his captors has intervened. Worse, perhaps they had done something to them. His mind spun on the problem for a while. So he had an answer to the puzzle, it couldn’t be the only answer. There had to be another. He was looking at it all wrong. He just had to wait.

He walked over to the sink but no water. He turned around and leaned against it. The lack of water wasn’t a punishment. It was his reward for being right. It was his catalyst. There would be no water now. There would be no rescue.

He lay on the bed for a full day. Twice getting up and standing in front of the sink. He hadn’t even gone the bathroom during that time. The hunger was bad, the thirst became his life. On the fifth day, he could not sleep at all between the thirst and the lights. His tongue had swollen and stuck to his teeth. Finally, he approximated jumping to his feet as best he could, made a stumbling rush for the table, grabbed the knife and made a slash at his throat. Blood shot across the table and sprayed the window through the screen. He watched it pump in detached fascination until the room went dark and he collapsed into a descending helix, a corkscrew of human need and frailty.

When he awoke it was to almost identical thirst and hunger as when he picked up the knife. He put his hand to his neck and felt nothing, not even a bandage. The mattress was back on the bed and he rolled to his feet and then walked to the sink to look in the mirror. There may have been a faint scar, he couldn’t tell in the degraded surface. He had a day’s beard, no more.  There were no puncture wounds or marks from an IV. There was no blood anywhere. The mesh over the windows, the windows, the walls, the floor: spotless. The rope was gone, the cabinet restocked. Amazing. A complete reset to almost the very point of physical and psychic health.

Maybe he had dreamed the whole thing? Could that be? But he had very distinct memories of the time before he cut his own throat, and no memories before that. He walked over to the edge of the window; his little notch was still there. So, either his psychosis was seamlessly complete or time had passed and he had healed. Which could be part of a seamless psychosis…There was no way to know. Even repeating the action and killing himself again wouldn’t matter. He would wake up, healed and unsure all over again.

The thirst was back, like he had eaten one thousand Christmas hams. Even if it was the fiftieth day, they had arranged it to feel like the sixth without water. Like he had never cut his own throat. To make it worse, just a fraction of an inch away,a hard rain was pelting the window with fat drops, taunting him. Even with the lights on, the room was cold and lifeless under its grey pall.  His certainty was doubled. He’d never really had a choice. They could’ve wiped him again, but they didn’t. No, they wanted him to know there was no way out. He had solved the puzzle correctly the first time around.

He thought a long time about things that came in pairs. How pairs could be alike, but different. How a pair of golf tees were maybe identical, how a pair of love birds would be similar on one hand because they were the same species, but different on another because they were different sexes. He never understood why pants came in pairs. And that reminded him that he was procrastinating.

He thought a lot about the conservation of energy. How you couldn’t take energy from a closed system and feed it back into the system. That no matter what, a system would run down and die if you didn’t feed it. He thought about what if you fed the system to itself, how long could you do that? Like burning your furniture to keep warm. Like drinking urine. Like burning fossil fuels.

He thought a lot about healing. About how he had been healed and kept alive. But not healthy. What kind of person, or people, could do that to another person? And then he wondered again, what kind of person he was…But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t him. He had to believe that. He had to believe something. The evil here was not in him. This had nothing to do with him. Like his name, he would choose the type of person he was. He would choose to be a decent guy. Not a hero, but not deserving of this. There would be no heroes here.

During that time, he considered his options. No other solutions came to him. They weren’t going to let him kill himself, and they weren’t going to keep him alive.

He thought about pairs again. Body parts came in pairs, digits came in complete duplicate sets. Like love birds, identical but different. Some important organs, like lungs and kidneys came in pairs and you could lose one. He wondered why you only got one liver, or one heart.  If you had to lose a part of your body and survive, what could you give up? He would need his arms and hands. Ears would be easy, and not too painful to lose.  Toes he did not much need in here. Maybe a foot, or the leg below the knee? That would be a lot of blood. That would be the crucial thing.  An eyeball had a lot of fluid, and he really needed only one. He might not even have to remove it, just pierce it in some way and catch the vitreous fluid.

What about fat? Fat was the most dispensable thing and stored in a handy place. That made the most sense, to harvest his spare tire. It would be moist, and calorically dense. That made perfect sense. He looked down, and it was gone. He had slowly emaciated while he was convalescing. Well, that turned out to be a bad plan.

He shambled over to the cabinet and removed the supplies he would need. Today, he thought, he would be Liam, a cabinet maker. That sounded nice. He thought about that as he laid the supplies out. He was an honest man in an honest trade that he knew well. He was single, but saving up for a wife and a family. He wanted everything to be just right when he found his girl. No, he had her picked out already. He was just waiting to walk up to her and ask her. She was sweet with strawberry hair and some freckles. Pretty but not beautiful. She would make a good mother. It seemed they lived in an old-fashioned place, and why not? Time meant nothing to him. He could be who, and where, and when he wanted. Penny was her name, she sold flowers she grew with her widowed mother. Of course he would take care of her, too. Liam would be a good man with a knife, chipping out bucolic scenes on his cabinet fronts, his strong shoulders bunched as he leaned into his work, his cuts sure and steady. Not an artist maybe, but competent. One careful cut at a time, he would get the job done.

He noticed the sun was lower in the sky than before, just grazing the tops of the trees. They had taken a while to heal him.The room was cold and he was certain a season had passed. He looked down and picked up the small, sharp blade, placing the dish carefully. Really, there was only one logical choice. He smiled. It was nice to be right.

P.S. Who Are You and Where are You From?

Who is visiting me from the Ukraine?

WordPress gives me these awesome reports and I can see how people find me, where they live, how they found the blog, what pages they visited. I see people from Europe, Asia, South America, and I always wonder who they are. I would love to get comments from  you!

 

 

 

 

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