Updated: August 10, 2015

In the beginning he saw nothing. He smelled the disinfectant, he heard someone shuffle past, he twitched his fingers against starched sheets.

In the beginning he could not move.

In and out of a fog he drifted, reluctant to shrug off the cottony comfort of sleep. He let the darkness swallow him. In the beginning, he remembered, darkness was upon the face of the deep. In the beginning …

Fog of Memory

Fog of Memory

All he wanted was to go back to sleep.

He bolted upright suddenly, swung his legs down off the bed, found slippers waiting for him, yanked the starched sheet off the bed, wrapped himself in it and shuffled toward the thin stripe of light on the floor. Hands before him like a blind man, he groped until he found the door, then the handle, and yanked it open.

Light spilled in like water, flooding him, blinding him, drowning him in smells, washing him with sounds. The hospital! The horror! The realization loosened his bowels and bent his back beneath the weight of memory. He cried out and a hand grabbed his arm and pushed him back into the shadowy room. He could just make out the silhouette of the person guiding him back, back, back to bed.

“You can’t leave now, man, no way. Peters is pissed.”

He let himself be guided back down onto the bed, then the urgency to get out rose in him again. He pushed against the arms of the man holding him.

“Stay put just now. She’s on a rampage.”

The man’s voice seemed familiar but he still couldn’t see a face. Was he blinded by the light pouring in from the hospital corridor? Or was he going blind?

The urgency grabbed him again and he tried to stand, tried to tell the other man that he had to leave, but the man held him firmly and, eventually, slowly, carefully, sat him back on the bed again.

He blinked. He blinked again. The man closed the door and the darkness welcomed him home.

“That better?” the man said.

He nodded.

“We kept the room dark, you see, so’s Peters won’t find you. You’re in her dog house. First your escape and then … well, you know. She gave orders to lock you in a closet. That ain’t policy. Said she had permission from your legal guardian. What you doing with a legal guardian?”

The face speaking to him was beginning to take shape in the dark. His eyes were adjusting. Relieved he wasn’t going blind, he smiled a little.

“Yeah,” said the face, “we thought it was pretty funny too. Funny weird, not funny haha. Ain’t nothing funny haha when it comes to Peters. Brad said to put you in here. Temporary like.”

The face looked at him. A kindly face, he could now tell. So he tried to explain to the face about the urgency, the need—now!—to get out. But the arms held him firmly to the bed.

“You remember Brad, don’t you?” asked the kindly face. “Head orderly? Took one hell of a gurney ride with him, remember that?”

The face was waiting for an answer. He nodded and tried to smile.

“Sure you do! Damn right! All the therapy in the world couldn’t erase that memory, now could it?”


The Door of Perception

The Door of Perception

The word sent electrical charges across the synapses of his brain, but nothing came to him—no memory, no image, nothing but a faint smell of something burnt. He opened his mouth wide, to gulp in fresh air, but he couldn’t swallow, couldn’t breathe.

The man slapped his back, hard at first, then more gently, and he began to breathe again. The man gave him a hug. “Way to go, old man. Welcome home.”

The old man, who only now realized he was an old man, smiled back at the face of the younger man holding him. Home, he thought, home is the hospital, that he remembered. I’m in the hospital, that was logical. So this smiling face must belong to an orderly. And Brad—he struggled to remember—Brad must be an orderly too. But a gurney ride? No, he didn’t remember a gurney ride. Maybe the orderly was mistaken. Surely he’d remember something like that. Wouldn’t he?

When the urgency clutched him again, he cried out.

“What?” the orderly asked. “I ain’t hurting you, am I?”

The old man tried to say No and Gotta go! at the same time, but it came out sounding like Gotta know, and the orderly just nodded, so the old man grabbed his dick and squeezed to keep from pissing the bed.

The face of the orderly opened like a sprung trap. “Oh shit, man, you gotta— I didn’t — wait!”

The orderly sprang from the bed and opened the door. The water-like light poured in and the old man was blind once again. He heard the orderly call to someone, then he heard footsteps going and footsteps coming again, and then the orderly breathlessly handed him a tin pan.

“Here, man, piss in this for now,” the orderly panted. “Soon as Peters is back in her station, I’ll take you to the toilet, okay?”

The old man nodded, but he was still drowning in the light and there was no urgency now. He held the tin pan patiently.

“Ain’t easy to piss on command, is it?” the orderly said. “I know. Just like the army. I hated every order they gave me, but most of all I hated pissing on command. Fuggit. A man should go when he needs to go and not when some lily-livered second louie tells you to, right? Well, you just take your time.” The orderly stepped into the hallway and closed the door.

The old man lay back down on the bed and tried to will himself asleep, to fall back into the darkness, into the warm embrace of the fog. But the moment he closed his eyes, the urgency gripped his guts more fiercely than before and he sat up and pulled the sheet off and barely got the tin pan beneath his dick before the urine spilled out, steaming and orange in color.

He looked at his piss in the pan. It seemed unreal, and unrelated to him. Artificial in its orangeness, strange lying there in a tin pan. He smelled it. It didn’t smell different, but the color worried him. What does orange piss mean? he wondered.

“Get some relief?” the orderly asked when he poked his head back in the room. “Good,” he said when he saw the orange liquid in the pan. “Let’s get you something to drink. Peters just headed down the hallway toward the Nurses’ Station, so we can sneak out now. Got your slippers?”

The old man looked down at his feet. They were tucked neatly into a new pair of slippers, brown corduroy it looked like. Whose slippers are these? the old man wondered. Where are my slippers?

He tried to call up an image of his own slippers, but all he could conjure was the sight of dirt all over his feet. When had his feet been dirty?

The orderly opened the hallway door and the light flooded in again, spilling into the darkness and pushing everything before it as it washed into the tiny room. The old man was pushed back on the bed by the force of it.

“Whoa,” said the orderly, “guess you weren’t ready for that. Here.”

He handed the old man a pair of glasses. The old man shook his head and tried to tell the orderly his eyes didn’t need glasses.

And the blind shall see

And the blind shall see

“I don’t …” He couldn’t remember the word.

“Sure you do,” the orderly said. “Here, try ‘em.”

The orderly placed the glasses over the old man’s ears and down onto the bridge of his nose. The water receded instantly. And somebody turned the lights down low. Now the old man could see.

“Not blind,” he explained to the orderly.

“I know you’re not, but these ain’t for eyesight,” the orderly said. “They’ll keep the bright lights outa your eyes.”

The old man tried to explain again. “I’m not blind no more.”

“Good,” the orderly said and led the old man into the hallway.

With the lights turned down low and the water magically evaporated, the old man could see a familiar sloping ramp that must have run a hundred yards up a cement incline to the far end of the hallway.

“Water?” the old man said, wondering where it had all gone.

“Sure ‘nough,” the orderly said. “I could tell you’d be wanting some of that.” And he led the old man to a water fountain just a few steps up the hallway incline.

“Here,” the orderly said, and he turned a handle. Water flowed from the fountain.

The old man watched the water, wary that it might try to drown him again. When it didn’t, he relaxed and smiled.

“Take a sip,” the orderly said, and the old man did. It tasted good, and he gulped down more, greedily, suddenly aware of how thirsty he was.

“Not all at once,” the orderly said and released the handle. The water stopped flowing. “It’s here, when you need it, any time of day or night. C’mon, let’s get you to the toilet.”

He guided the old man up the long hallway to the next corridor, turned him to the left and started down a wider, flatter hallway. No rising corridor here, just doors and more doors and … windows!

When he first noticed the window, the old man nearly buckled over weak at the knees. The orderly helped pull him up to the window sill.

“Being cooped up as long as you been, I guess that view is something special, eh?”

The old man rested his chin on the window sill and looked out. The window opened onto the South Quad with its perimeter of trees and broad expanse of green lawn surrounded by the wings of the hospital. But what the old man saw, the only thing the old man’s eyes could focus on, was the gate at the far, far end of the Quad. The gate that opened to the world outside the hospital. A gate through which you could enter or leave the hospital. Gate 38.

Tears began to collect in the old man’s eyes. He stared out at the gate.

The old man remembered.

He remembered Gate 38.