by Nathaniel Heely
“Hey,” he tells you. “Wake up. It’s time for group.”
You were dreaming about death though you don’t know just what death is. There’s yellowing spit on the pillow and you reek of Marlboro Reds. Every time you’ve been here they’ve always given you the same room. 109. It is an expected occurrence, your life is full of rhythm; a pendulum between poles. You postulate that they give you the same room because they want you to feel that you are meant to be here; that there is purpose and order even at your rock bottoms.
Though the month long visit is fifty large, you wonder why they fill the room with IKEA brand furniture and hotel-sized mini-soaps and shampoos. The coloring is warm, but sterile. You sleep on a box spring and a spring mattress with cotton pillows that are stiff and slightly scratchy. It is inviting enough but it is a room removed from a definitive location and time. Your whole existence here is meant to be temporary, like dreams and death.
In group, you start to feel it again. It’s probably been twenty or so hours since you last had a drink and now your vessels are trying to pull themselves out of your head, looking for anything narcotic. You excuse yourself twice to the bathroom to throw up. Everything comes up liquefied, acidic. When you sit back down you notice that the capillaries above your eyes have developed their own heartbeat, an operation that you did not authorize. Everybody is wearing either sandals or slippers. The girl with lime green nail polish has a cracked big toe and you imagine blood sluicing out of the keratin ravine, watering the carpet. The speed of your thought process is astonishing. You are certain Einstein was an addict. When it is your turn to talk you tell everybody your name even though they’ve seen your picture on the television before and have most certainly made their judgments about you already. Your face is part of the public domain.
You all say the Serenity Prayer. You are all dismissed to lunch. You follow the bald guy in the bathrobe to the cafeteria. You have forgotten what it feels like to make your own decisions. You eat what he eats though everything ends up tasting of phlegm and ash. It is strongly suggested that you eat as part of a group. Being part of a group is a function that makes you more human, they say. The decision is made to sit alone in case you have to get up and vomit again. You have decided that a scientist would no longer classify you as an animal.
It is after lunch and you are walking down your hallway to the tune of hysterical screams. There are people actually running past you, hungry to find the terror. Inside room 105 the big bald guy that’s in here for Oxy is throwing the brittle furniture across the room like it’s an Olympic sport. While standing in the doorway, people have to nudge and push you to one side as they go in and out. The giant karate-kicks the flimsy desk and splinters it before ripping the light bulb out of the socket of the floor lamp and smashing it against the wall like a firework of glass. You don’t have this man’s strength but you understand his pain. His rage is sedative and mildly therapeutic.
You walk away from the chaos and smoke a cigarette. The smell of burnt tobacco and the color of blue smoke is the only compass you have. You wonder if belief is the only thing that keeps gravity working. Everyone else must be in on the rouse. You hum to yourself. Outside is the pool that no one swims in and the flowers that no one sniffs. Beyond it is the ocean, the white noise that has no off switch, home and grave to all its inhabitants. The view seems off so you filter it with pale smoke.
You are extraordinarily cold. The epidermis feels scaly and the blood has given up trying to get to your extremities. You stand in the sun knowing that there are 93 million miles separating you from it. Inhale the wind and look up. Smell the ocean, feel the hair on your skin, the salt in the air, the turn of the globe through the centuries. You are the Universe watching itself.
Nathaniel Heely is a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas. His fiction has previously appeared in Revolver, East Coast Literary Review, Perihelion Science Fiction, The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2014, and many others. For more of his writing visit nathanielheely.com.