BY BLAZE ARCHER I am sitting up on my bed. The light from outside has gone and been replaced by bright white lights and darkness. When I slit my eyes, the white lights look like bright halos of finely spun glass—stardust. We are all made of stardust. In me is the nebula of faraway galaxies. The farther I look into the stars, the more I am aware of the past. Light years away, they look as they did thousands of years ago. A time-capsule. But in this room the only stars are electric light. The night outside is black, painted thickly on the air. It’s so thick I imagine I can peel it off as if it were wallpaper. I lift my hands and watch them glow white in the electric light like deep sea anglerfish, a cruel trick of the light. They are so pale, translucent, blue with veins.
These veins I have abused for the past year.
I am counting the hours before detoxification.
I have been lying here staring at the fading light for ten hours. I have gotten to know the ceiling well, like a new acquaintance I am taking in. The shape of a brow. The curve of a lip. I can see a face. The light in the ceiling blends into the white of the room so that it no longer startles me with its silence. The violence of the white walls no longer lacerates my eyes. I have become numb in my head, as if it were filled with cotton wool, keeping my thoughts from landing hard and breaking. There is something about my hands that makes me think of a swan’s wings. I half imagine them fluttering toward the ceiling and then burned by the electric light. But in reality they are fast by my sides, as if they are chained to the bed. They cannot fly.
A nurse shouts, “Dinner!” I blend into the bed and disappear into the airplane bathroom smell of the sheets. A nurse opens my door and peeks in, bearing a tray which he leaves on a table by my bed. He walks out as silently as he came in. I stare at the food. Roast chicken. Green beans. Tea. Orange juice. A nauseating wave ripples through my abdomen, and I curl up on the bed and whimper into the pillow.
Today is my fourth day without food. I have gone past hunger into a state of shock. The electricity has burned me. It still leaves a charge that cannot be anchored. I am floating in flames. They are cold. There is a whiteness to my insides that makes me think of shark’s teeth. They bite into me: but I can no longer feel pain.
A nurse pokes his head in. He stares at the untouched food tray. “You’re not hungry?” he says. “You haven’t eaten all day.”
I am silent, burying my face in the pillow. The nurse is lingering like a foul odor. “You need to eat something,” he says. “Otherwise I’m going to have to write you up.”
“Go ahead,” I mutter. “It doesn’t matter to me.”
I hear him take the tray of food and walk out of the room, leaving the door open behind him. A rush of cold air comes through the door, and I wrap the blanket tighter around me, shivering like a chimp in a lab.
I am beginning to lose my sense of place and time, the hours blending into minutes and the minutes blending into hours till all I am left with is the long hallway of the past. The memory of Richard dangling from the ceiling. How he used to paint pictures of blank walls. It makes me feel like I’m looking into a funhouse mirror, my image distended, flowing in and out of the curved mirror, bulging like a too full balloon, threatening to drift away. I whimper again. The memory of Richard’s cold skin as I lower him to the floor. His bent neck, crooked, broken. I gently finger the red welt where the rope bit into his throat. Hugging his body in my arms till I shake. It is hours before I can call the police. It is hours before I realize he is dead.
Sitting up, I rub my eyes with my palms. They are cold on my skin, and make me aware of my body. My dick begins to pulse, and I realize I am aroused. Gripping myself beneath the hospital gown, I begin to pump my cock. The flood of arousal overwhelms me, a forest fire sweeping through the underbrush of my pubic hair. It makes my hands warm, makes my insides glow red and whither in heat. My cock vomits cum and I curl up and bury my face in my hands. It only takes a few minutes to come. Just the touch of my hand is enough to make me orgasm. No fantasy, just just the friction of flesh rubbed raw between my fingers.
Another nurse opens the door and peeks in. I pull the blanket round my open legs quickly as the door opens. The nurse disappears as quickly as he appears.
His stare is light, airy, a breath. It inhales with the push of the door, and exhales as the door is closed. The rhythm. The pulse. I have become attuned to the fifteen minute intervals between the breaths, orienting myself in time with each mute witnessing of my curled body.
I long for a voice. I have barely heard a word all day except for the admonition to eat. Getting up, I wrap my blanket round me and enter the hall. In my hands is a piece of paper with a number on it. I drift toward the phone in the wall. Picking up the receiver, I dial nine then the number. The rings gradually become my insides and I want them to stop.
“Hello?” The gravely voice of Liam. He sounds tired and depleted, like a stale Mylar balloon.
I breathe in and say:
“It’s Leif. I…I want to tell you the visiting hours.”
“Okay,” Liam says. “Is there anything you want me to bring? I grabbed your keys before we left the other night.”
“Yes, please,” I say. “I need clothes. And something to read. One of my English books. I have some P.G. Wodehouse.”
“Sure,” Liam says. “When are the visiting hours?”
“Four to six thirty every evening,” I say. “I’m going to be detoxing soon.”
“Can I bring you something to eat?” he says.
“Um…no,” I murmur. “I doubt I’ll be able to keep food down for a while.”
“Leif, you need to eat something,” Liam says. “I can make oatmeal, something simple.”
“Um…” I flail for words like a man trying to fend off blows. “No.”
“I’m bringing it anyway.”
“I’m not going to eat it.”
“I don’t care, I’m bringing it.”
I am silent. I listen to Liam’s breathing. It is smooth like a wooden plank is smooth, unvarnished and white.
“What’s there to do there?” Liam says.
“Nothing,” I say. “There’s a TV. They play Fox News.”
“Christ. I’m going to bring my chess board. You play chess?”
“I was a regional champion,” I murmur, “when I was at Dartmouth.”
“Okay,” Liam says. “I’m pretty good myself.”
“Why are you being so kind to me?” I say. “All I ever did was avoid you.
“I wasn’t too great to you either,” Liam says. “Consider this my apology.”
I am silent. The silence has a dense shape that breathes in Liam’s breath. A shiver passes through me but it is not from the cold.
PREVIOUSLY: Part 4