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Trying Hard to Focus
The gorilla who clung to the ceiling was wearing a Princeton t-shirt. It must have been an XXXXL. Exxxxelll. Exxxxelllent. That was funny. I laughed. He didn't seem to mind. He just kept playing with his cigarette lighter, sparking tiny fireworks through the air. His glasses had thick, black frames. They made him look smart. Laughing made my head spin, so I closed my eyes.
He was gone when I woke up. The walls were still rippling. They always rippled. Sometimes, they hummed movie music. They'd been painted by Vincent Van Gogh. A fuzzy man wearing a vanilla coat came in through the door and gave me a sandwich. Grilled cheese. Gorrrilllad cheese. The dark and light-brown patterns looked like George Washington. The father of our country winked at me. George Winkington. Everyone knows he washed down the cherry cheese.
The cheese was sort of tangy.
That's a taste. I rubbed my tongue across my front teeth and tried to remember the last time I'd tasted something. I knew I'd had other meals. I could remember the clack of a plastic knife and fork against a tray. But I couldn't remember any tastes or smells. It was all cardboard. I stared at my right hand. My fingers grew longer. I stared harder. They snapped back. But the crumbs on my fingertips kept singing. It was a nice song about fractions.
I finished my sandwich and took another nap.
The walls didn't ripple at all when I woke. Picasso had snuck in and painted over Van Gogh's work. Vincent would be furious about that. Picasso better keep an eye on his ears.
I sat up to look around. My body got there first, so I waited for my head to catch up. There was nothing much to see in the room. A wooden chair. Walls made of cinder blocks. An open door to a bathroom. A small table. No gorilla. Too bad. He was funny.
I didn't have any idea where I was. Or why. My brain started to spin, so I flopped back down. My pillow smelled like sweat.
I heard footsteps, followed by the swoosh of a bolt sliding free. I wasn't in any shape to deal with people. As the door opened, I shut my eyes and slumped deeper into the mattress.
A hand touched my shoulder, and then shook it.
"Come on, Eddie. It's time to play our game."
Game? What was he talking about? I tried to think. It was like jogging under water. Or under syrup. Eddie. That was me. Eddie Thalmayer. I knew who I was. But I had no idea who this guy was or why he wanted to play a game.
I wasn't going to do anything for him until I figured out what was happening. He shook my shoulder again. "Eddie ... wake up. We have to move the marbles."
Vague images drifted through my mind. Marbles rolling across a table or floating above it. And, sometimes, wires stuck to my head. It wasn't a fun game.
The fingers tightened for a moment. My mind thought my shoulder should hurt, but my shoulder didn't seem to agree. The guy let go, and I heard him walk toward the door. "Those idiots must have overmedicated him again."
Overmedicated? Maybe I'd gotten sick or been in some kind of accident. But this didn't smell or feel like a hospital room. After the guy left, I opened my eyes and studied the wall next to the bed. A half-dozen large, black ants, as big as robins, swarmed over it. They were transparent. Except for their hula skirts. I blinked hard and the ants faded. I blinked again and they vanished.
I ran my tongue against my teeth and found a couple of crumbs. They were silent.
I'd been given something that turned my brain to fuzzy mush. Why? So I could play a game with marbles? No. There had to be more to it than just that. I dug through the mist, searching for something solid.
The answer jolted my numb body and sluggish brain. I knew why I'd been drugged and locked up. It was payback. I was here because I'd killed that man.
CONVERSATION BETWEEN PAMELA AND CORBIN THALMAYER DURING A CAB RIDE TOPHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IN LATE MAY
Pamela Thalmayer: I can't stop thinking about it.
Corbin Thalmayer: It's hard. But sooner or later, you're going to have to let go.
Pamela Thalmayer: It's my fault. I know it is. If only we'd paid more attention to Eddie. If only I'd been a better mother. We should never have let them send him to that school. That's where he learned to be a criminal.
Corbin Thalmayer: It's not your fault. And it's not my fault. I thought the school was good for him. He seemed so much better when he came home. At least, at first. There's no way we could have known what was going on in his mind.
Pamela Thalmayer: A mother should know. How could my son be capable of doing such an awful thing? How?
Corbin Thalmayer: I don't know. I guess we'll never know.
Copyright © 2007 by David Lubar