Good Evening, Keaton Thomas. by tlkirk
Keaton Thomas is a man. Keaton Thomas is aging. Keaton Thomas enjoys using various terms of endearment to address women.
He dreams of meeting women who fawn over being called such things. Each morning he pulls himself from a twin bed lined with 70-thread count sheets, and these motions come at 8 a.m., feeling less necessary with every moment shuffling along the matted carpet beneath his feet, weighing down under excess not lost since the weeks following his divorce. Skipping meals, though, is tried and true.
With no breakfast, Keaton is soon through and out his front door, trotting down plank wooden stairs separating his second-story apartment from the neighbors below, and he flows in and out of the complex’s entrance as a man who prefers to go unnoticed by those not worth noticing.
Keaton is the only lost soul with somewhere to be. He feels the need to run there, this somewhere—to this place he needs to be—until he’s no more familiar with his surroundings than he is with his future. A man will travel great distance to escape, but only feel lost upon his arrival, when he could have simply paid the girl at the corner in the city an appropriate fee to experience something just the same. But Keaton worries he’ll know this girl, or at least commit to memory her maturing features. In his head he is aware of the chance he takes in recognizing her ripe curves and apathetic stare as that of a former student from days long since passed, but he hasn’t yet chosen whether or not he will press his fading luck. This is a mistake he simply can not afford in any sense of the word, and chooses to let his lust dissolve into a puddle of off-the-shoulder silk tops, black leggings and stiletto heels dripping into the corner’s sewer drain. Though, he’d set his eyes on more than just a few of the older girls years ago. But Keaton had remained faithful, forever and always. For ever, and in all ways.
He’d known better. On these morning lopes, though, Keaton knows not what to expect. He always begins quickly, as if he will never slow, but the hill is predictably two minutes ahead, as the sun drifts further into the horizon, lined on the right with a makeshift fence of thin evergreens to shield the homes just beyond. Keaton cuts right into this neighborhood after reaching the hill’s peak, and begins to dream of rendezvous. Judging by the homes’ brick-lain majesty, the sheer number of high windows, and the shell-swept driveways, those dwelling inside must be stunning: Beautiful specimens of an unknowable gauge and measure, one assumes. As he passes these homes, Keaton so longs for a woman—a mother alone for the day—to be collecting her mail from the box near the edge of her husband’s lawn. Keaton is noticeably exhausted in this fantasy-scape, and the housewife feels compelled to invite him inside for a glass of water in her marble-laced kitchen, where he can cool off.
Here, dear, drink this.
Of course. How long have you been out there? It’s too hot to be running.
No, no. It’s only been 35 minutes—not true.
My goodness. Well lie back and I’ll make you more comfortable.
And a scene plays out like they so often do in the movies Keaton finds himself watching just to fall asleep at night.
But this is a longing never fulfilled, as most seem to go. He continues jogging, the pace picking up now as the subdivision begins to slope back down toward a world these beautiful people will never know is real. House after picturesque house, Keaton sees no one. He is the only lost soul with somewhere to be.
This life he’s running from has become so ritualistic, and all are in their own way. Run in the morning, and then nothing. Perhaps he really has nowhere to be. Lost, he begins builds in his head again, but fabricates an icy figure from the puddle he left on the corner. He imagines sculpting a replacement, with sunken pupils and cracking lips. With warm breath, he shapes the part in her hair. Is this where he flees? Are all other souls beginning to reach their destinations, while Keaton is left wandering? He is the only lost soul with nowhere to go. And he has no idea.
His thoughts carry him back inside of his bedroom, to the far edge of his bed. Sweat etches a path down his forehead, onto his nose, and falls from its tips to the matted carpet beneath his feet.
Keaton draws a bath, tests the water with a single toe, and lies within. His body is sore, as always. Muscles wish for remedy, but Keaton provides none. He will never see a doctor or visit a pharmacy. There is no use. This man is no longer living for anyone.
With this thought, Keaton reclines, bends his knees toward the ceiling, and submerges his head under water. Through the layer above his eyes, he sees an uncertain image of himself staring back, through him. A lone bubble trickles out from a nostril and escapes into the cooler air above.
Keaton Thomas cannot decide if he will ever join the bubble.
Keaton Thomas is forty-seven years old. Keaton Thomas has no children. Keaton Thomas was never told why his wife left him, and this is why he chooses to pull himself from the depths of porcelain.
With a penetrating gasp, new life overwhelms Keaton, feeling as if this is curiosity saving him, not a will to live—for he has none—but to discover, an urge to have led many great men. Though, there is no sense of grandiose flowing through him. Instead, is a confounding slur of answers to questions Keaton has never wanted to ask himself but must now, hoping, too, to recite them to Claire in only a matter of hours, especially if this wonderment was so overbearing as to resist the urge to fall victim to his own selfishness. Could Keaton be the only lost soul worth saving? Of course not.
The white gold spun around the appropriate left-handed finger is now as much of him as the finger itself. His memory is an unstoppable force and the ring is an immovable object. Swollen there until Keaton feels the need to lather it off, the vow he made to Claire is flickering in the dim light above the sink. In the mirror, he wishes she were beside him, staring back, imitating the faces he made then: Their childish game. But Keaton is alone.
But, now, he has a goal. Claire had left him four long years ago, and Keaton has never known why. Admittedly, he had been so taken aback by the initial confrontation, no words could be said.
He and Claire had lived well. He taught at Penbrook High School and she owned a paddleboat rental store along the bustling edge of Lake Pierre, flanked on the left by the shore side café. As patrons fled from their leftovers, they’d notice Claire’s rental booth and pay her high fees to bask in the middle of a discolored lake under an April sun for a midday’s hour, digesting.
Rise at five and home by six, Keaton and Claire appeared to be happy at home together in the evenings. Neither had need to ever suspect infidelity. Men often seek a new means to ecstasy upon realizing their better half is no longer sensually pleasing, but this feeling never arose in Keaton. Claire had been infertile from a young age.
Perhaps Keaton was the one leaving his partner unsatisfied. Could it be Claire had found someone better suited to her needs? If so, Keaton never bothered asking. Silence is overwhelming within the stunned.
A want is stirring within, though. He remembers Claire’s cell number written on the tips of his fingers, and feels the need to speak with her. He deserves an answer to the question he never asked.
This number is no longer in service.
The message playing into Keaton’s ear is discouraging, if not the ultimate showing of loss. Although he knows of no such act, Keaton feels betrayed. Therefore, he must go to her.
Months ago, as he was pulling out of the supermarket’s parking lot, Keaton saw Claire leaving the town’s motel.
And for no reason other than the tinge of urgency, Keaton leaves at once. Fleeing past gas stations and a lemonade stand at the corner before the motel entrance, he drives without any sense of surrounding, but with a flurrying mind and supreme will, led by a thirsty subconscious waving its reigns over the backs of this inquisition.
From his crooked parking spot, Keaton high-tails to the motel check-in counter.
I need to speak with Claire Thomas. Could you tell me which room she’s in? Please.
I’m sorry, sir, but no one by that name is currently staying here.
Claire Ford, sorry. She was my wife. My name is Keaton Thomas. Here, take my ID.
Which room is she staying in?
Sir, I’m sorry, but the Days Inn policy remains that we withhold such information from the public.
Well, luckily, this is a private matter. She was my wife. We were married. And I would like to see Claire.
I’m sorry, sir.
Stop apologizing. If you can’t point me in the direction of her room, can you at least bring her to me?
I will see if is Ms. Ford is available, sir.
Thank you, Dave—so it appeared on his name tag.
The rhythm of Dave’s shoes as he leaves his office, striding along the sidewalk out front his patrons’ doorways, is a range of rolling hills conflicting with the deadened plain of Keaton’s internal pulse. Involuntary functions are failing him. Brushing his eyes of minute debris from warmer seasons’ death is becoming a chore, and air need not be breathed as the wind on the backs of migrating fowl forces itself down Keaton’s throat into his shriveling lungs, who don’t mind the descending rapidity of the tide between them.
But as Dave returns with a perturbed Claire, Keaton’s eyes beat, lash against lash, and winds calm while his chest expands and again fills itself with a cool calm, encompassed by a flow of warm blood, but all too heavy. Will any change ever be again as it once was?
Keaton Thomas may be heaving a heart attack.
Keaton Thomas is awake. Keaton Thomas is not breathing regularly. Keaton Thomas is staring at the woman he loves in two wholly separate ways, unsure of what to say now as she stands before him.
Keaton. Keaton. Hello? Keaton?
He is aware of his name being spoken, but cannot react.
Keaton, I’ve told Dave to notify the police. You can’t be coming here. You aren’t supposed to be doing this anymore.
He hears these words, and understands their weight, building at his feet with the some degree of speed as that of the policeman traveling to the motel in response to Dave’s cautionary phone call, but Keaton is a man of stone looked upon in disdain.
They’re going to take you away. This is your third violation. You’re going to go to jail, Keaton, there’s no way around it.
As the words continue to pile, he cannot recall his reason for being here. Hope trickles down over the mound Claire is crafting in the way valuables descend to the bottoms of public trash heaps with the sediment of materialism settling into their tombs.
Why, Keaton? Why are you here?
This is the slight gap in the words encompassing Keaton, and through it, he can see Claire, various glimmers of differing emotions being told through the shakiness of her eyes, darting about his silent façade, and most importantly, a moment to speak.
Exactly. I need to know why. This is the reason I’m here.
What are you talking about? You need to know why? Why, what?
Why you left me.
Claire’s entire being sinks backward and her face crinkles into a deformed shock. Her left hand finds the turquoise dangling from its slim silver chain, and the thumb and forefinger begin to fiddle, hoping to come across the contents of a possible response on the surface of the precious stone.
Claire, why did you leave me?
Her eyes no longer glimmer or dart, but hold Keaton’s impatient gaze unconsciously. He feels her silence penetrating the atmosphere. Dave grows uncomfortable and leaves his patron and her ex-husband to their own devices, admitting himself to the break room for a moment.
I—Keaton, I’m not sure I understand.
We were once happily married, Claire, and seven months ago I woke up to a packet of divorce papers lying beside me rather than you and your morning breath, and I’d like to know why. There is no more concise way to say all of this, Claire. Why did you leave me?
Keaton, don’t talk to me like I’m a child
Then don’t act like a child who asks stupid questions.
You shouldn’t be like this. We can talk—like adults—before the police arrive.
Then talk. You have my attention.
Claire breathes and rolls back her dropping shoulders.
First of all, how did you find me?
I was leaving the market not too long ago, and I saw your car in the parking lot. I didn’t seek you out, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not crazy. This restraining order is unnecessary.
No, I don’t think so. You’ve grown to be so unpredictable, Keaton. I don’t think anyone, let alone only me, ever knows what you’re doing or what you plan to do next. I’d prefer you leave, but you can’t do that now. That police should be here soon.
Thanks to Dave, I can’t go. But couldn’t you have just been civilized? I’m here, now, standing in front of you with a calm demeanor and simple intentions, not aggression.
I cherish my safety too much.
Well just answer the question then, Claire, and everything will once again be as mundane as it ever was for you. And you won’t have to see me anymore. I came her for closure and a return to sanity.
Keaton, I don’t know what to tell you.
Start with the truth.
Well… I wasn’t happy.
With what? Me, surely. What did I do to you?
It’s what you didn’t do, Keaton. You didn’t love me anymore.
I didn’t love—he hesitates through contentiousness. How can you say that? I have always loved you, Claire, forever and always—
For ever and in all ways. I know, Keaton. You don’t have to say it. But these words became a lie so quickly, the way a broken record loses its meaning to repetition. I heard you say it every day, but it was as if you were saying nothing at all.
I was saying everything. I told you I loved you, day and night, and I meant each of the three words, every damn time, with all of the sincerity in the world. What could have possibly made you think I stopped loving you for even a moment?
For the first time, Keaton notices a multitude of moist trails drawn on the surface of Claire’s defined cheekbones, rolling to her jaw line and slipping off onto her bare toes.
Don’t cry, Claire. Just talk to me.
I can’t. I can’t talk to you—not without this, directing her finger toward reddening eyes. Keaton, every day I question whether or not my decision was justified, and now you come here, unannounced, and force me to question the same, but aloud.
I don’t care if you cry due to ill-advised decisions, Claire. That’s your fault, and the least you could do.
How can you say that? You’re an atrocious human being.
No, I’m realistic. You deserve to feel every ounce of regret because you’ve always said you live your life without the, and that’s simply ludicrous. No one can manage.
Leave, Keaton. I don’t care if you’re not here when the police arrive. But I don’t want to look at you anymore.
Loving you and sparing infinite decency is no reason to cast me off. Accept these truths and admit your mistake, Claire.
No, I can’t; I wont. And I will never love you again. Accept these truths and admit yourself to somewhere far away from here, please.
Keaton Thomas wonders whether or not his sudden collapse is due to an internal feeling caused by remnants of his shattered heart cascading onto his brittle organs, or if his body is simply crumbling to the foot of his ex-wife with the gravity of her honesty.
Keaton Thomas is in the back of an ambulance. Keaton Thomas blinks, and sees his life now as a fleeting reel of film, skipping beats. Keaton Thomas goes to sit up, distributing his weight to his elbows, but an EMT places him backward with a gentle forearm.
Mr. Thomas, please, lie down. You went into cardiac arrest moments ago, and you are being rushed to the hospital. The attack was quite minor, and we seem to have lessened the chances of anything else happening for some time. But you will still be evaluated once we arrive. My name is Charlie, and I’d like you to take these aspirin now.
Is Claire here?
I’m not sure who Claire is, sir. When we arrived at the Days Inn, the only person with you was Mr. Perkins, who had the made the initial call to us.
Hi, Mr. Thomas. I hope you don’t mind I’m here. They insisted I come, too.
Keaton hasn’t noticed ‘til now, but another man is in the hull of the ambulance, sitting opposite of Charlie.
Dave, you called 9-1-1 for me? I—thank you. But where is Claire?
She called my name, sir, very loudly, and she sounded frightened. I ran from my office behind the counter, out to where you two had been talking, and I saw you there crumpled on the ground. Ms. Ford was returning to her room when I arrived at your side.
Keaton’s own wife had left him for dead.
Your ex-wife called the hospital, sir, and she said she would cover all of your expenses. That doesn’t happen often, Mr. Thomas.
Shut up. Just, please, do your job, thank you. But I don’t want to hear anyone else talk until we’re at the hospital.
Keaton sets his head onto the stretcher’s pillow, breathes, but doesn’t feel his lungs fill or his heart beat. All he hears is the part in his lips sweep in the stale air being recycled through Dave’s nose and Charlie’s nose and the ambulance’s ducts overhead, and Keaton can almost taste their last meals on his tongue. A sense of unease drops without warning into his abdomen, but Keaton shows no signs of change. The last thing he wants to hear happen at this moment is Charlie asking Dave for help in obtaining 60 CCs of anything.
And he isn’t positive, but Keaton feels a bit of certainty in believing Dave has left the Days Inn completely unattended. How will Claire function without a man telling her to pay the bills each month? Keaton wonders, but quickly realizes Dave will only be gone until he can find a friend to deliver him back to his rightful post.
Keaton rolls backward in the slightest as the ambulance halts just beyond the sliding doors to the hospital. A young blonde woman wearing the same uniform as Charlie opens that back hatch, and aides in wheeling Keaton out of what could have been a coffin—certainly as musky and eventually quiet as the real thing.
Thank you, dear.
You’re welcome, Mr. Thomas. Be careful, now. I’m sure you’ll be out of there in no time.
But he wasn’t even in yet. Hospitals are timeless in the sense of having any ability whatsoever to predict it accurately.
As he is being guided through the double sliding doors in a wheel chair provided by the hospital, Charlie tells Keaton there is no need to rush to a room, seeing as Keaton is in good health. For now, he will stay in a room on the third floor, where all is quiet save for the nurse who will be taking dinner orders at six, in twenty-five minutes.
Your heart attack was more of a fluke than anything.
Is that the medical term?
We’ll be keeping you for a day, though, just as a precautionary measure.
Charlie, Dave, and Keaton reach the nurses’ station in the lobby, and Charlie hands Keaton a clipboard of documents handed to him by a wrinkled black Jamaican woman in leopard scrubs.
Mr. Thomas, please fill these out and return them to Coretta when you’re finished. Perhaps your friend here can help you with them.
He’s not my—
I hope all goes well, sir. Enjoy the rest of your night.
Though Keaton feels more annoyed now than he has at any point in the last twenty-four hours, he knows he will at least sleep well in the night, alone, surrounded by an eerie quiet. And he looks forward to this.
Mr. Thomas, I can stay if you’d like. I have no one to pick me up, so I was going to call a cab if you didn’t need me stick around.
Keaton tells Dave there’s no sense in staying, and thanks him for the offer.
Really, sir, I can stay and fill out those forms for you.
Keaton tells Dave this isn’t strenuous activity. As well, the information on these forms is private. Dave doesn’t need to be filling them out.
Okay, sir. That’s fine. I’ll be sitting over here.
Keaton watches Dave shuffle to the opposite wall of the waiting room, to the corner, beside the algae-ridden fish tank. He peers in at a suckerfish coasting along the pebbles, and his gaze never falters.
Keaton, on the other side of the room, still close to the nurse’s station, doesn’t feel like writing. His right hand is shaking; this pen doesn’t work.
Nurse, this pen doesn’t work.
The nurse gives him something better.
Here is a pencil, Mr. Keaton.
Under his breath, he says he’d rather have the pen back. But the forms are soon full of his information, the nurse is looking everything over, and Keaton is being wheeled to the elevator, which will take him to his room on the third floor.
Do you mind if your friend comes along?
He’s not my—
Sir, could you please come with us? Thank you.
Dave shakes his head into full reality and plucks himself from the majesty of the aquatic life, and catches up to Coretta and Keaton at the lobby of elevators.
You don’t have to come up, Dave. I’ll be fine on my own.
I don’t mind.
The door to the room chooses to be difficult as the nurse attempts to swing it open, but finally falls with a heave and a grunt, and sounds as if the hinges were bolted on before the era of WD-40.
Here you are, Mr. Keaton. I’ll leave you two alone. Just press the call button beside your bed if you need anything at all. Goodnight.
The room is dank with an uncertain musk that hangs in the air, and the nurse leaves without flipping on the light switch.
This is less than idea, Dave. If you want to leave, I understand. If I didn’t have to be here, I wouldn’t be here.
No, I can stay with you for a bit. I haven’t called a cab yet, and I’m in no hurry.
Don’t you need to get back to the motel? Isn’t it unattended?
No, before we left in the ambulance, I called my brother. He’s there now.
Keaton nods, and lifts himself from his wheelchair and lies down on the squeaky discomfort of the hospital bed’s mattress.
Sir, you seem tired. I’ll stay until you fall asleep, and then I’ll call a cab.
I’m never going to fall asleep in this horrid room of stench and aridity, and an overwhelming silence won’t help things, either.
Here, I’ll turn on the—
The room is void of a television, but there is an apparatus and cords protruding from the wall where one must have hung at some point.
We can just talk, Dave.
About what, sir?
Tell me about your life. I think I should know at least a little bit about the stranger who has managed to remain by my side through this whole ordeal. So talk about whatever you’d like. Well, anything but Claire. Keep her off of my mind, please.
The man who appears to be the only friend—for lack of a better word—in Keaton’s life is now unsure as to where he should choose to begin.
I—he hesitates and draws his fingers to his lips—I don’t know what to say.
Say anything. Don’t start anywhere in particular. Whatever comes to your mind, Dave.
First of all, you don’t have to keep calling me sir; please, stop. I’m not staying at the Days Inn. I’m here, in the hospital, with you, and my name is Keaton. Secondly, how has your day been up until this moment?
And so Dave begins. Well, fine. Work was work was work, as it always is. But just now, I was looking at those fish out there, in the lobby, and I couldn’t help but feel disdain for them. Why did I even bother to sit there in that chair, staring at them for as long as it took you to fill out your forms? They didn’t deserve the attention I provided them. For all their lives, from the day they’d been caught or born into that tank, those fish had been hand-fed and protected and looked after, privileged in a way some human beings cannot even begin to imagine—at times, I’m sure, even more privileged than you and me. And then I began thinking of the glass. Can you imagine if this room was the rest of your life? I cannot. I enjoy leaves and trees and spring too much—wonders of the world they could never be aware of. Sure, you have a window to the waiting room of the rest of the world as you know it, but beyond the room is another room without doors or windows, leading to thousands upon thousands of other rooms swimming with stunning, exotic fish, those who have never even seen a reflection of themselves. These are fish you will never be aware of. Life could never be allotted enough time to sketch every fish in the seas. Thank God for memory. But, surely, we all hope to be entranced by the scales of just one, with an iridescence you could never be aware of until its glistening beyond the cloudy sheath through which you view all beauty. This sheath, to these fish, is the glass. And it is your window, there, on the other side of this room, and at home. Given either the option of privilege or a grand uncertainty, which would you choose? I’m not sure myself, Keaton. Nor am I sure why I ponder such things. Though, there is one certainty I am aware of in the lives of fish: From sea to sand, in time, even their bones become the coral reef.
Keaton never falls asleep. He retains every word, nodding his head and thinking to himself, but he never speaks or falls asleep. And he is thankful the nurse taking dinner orders never came around at six. He wouldn’t have wanted anything to interrupt Dave.
Thank you, Dave. That was quite something. You thought about all of that while you were sitting there waiting for me?
If you hadn’t come up here with me, is it likely you would have never shared with anyone what you just shared with me?
It’s very likely, I’d imagine.
Well. I appreciate you staying here with me this whole time. I hope the Inn is oiled well enough for you to be here.
It should be fine. My brother is competent. And I enjoyed talking to you, as well, Keaton. Thank you for listening. I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about these things in so long. My mind was getting too full. So much of my day-to-day only consists of apathetic small talk; I thought I had forgotten how to speak like a normal human being.
You’d never know. But go ahead and reach into my wallet, there, on the nightstand, and take out a twenty. It’s probably time you left, and that should be more than enough for cab fare. Besides, I’m almost certain visiting hours are over, not that anyone seems to mind.
No, Keaton, I can’t take your money. I’ll be fine on my own. Thank you, though. This has been nice.
The two shake hands and Dave Perkins shuffles his way out of the room, through the hallway, and extends his forefinger toward the appropriate button beside the humming elevator.
If for some reason Keaton Thomas never wakes, he is content with the manner and moments in which his life dissolved through.
Keaton Thomas winces. Keaton Thomas loathes the taste of his own breath. Keaton Thomas is peering around his third floor room at the hospital and notices an absence in the visitor’s chair opposite the bed.
D—he chokes on that taste—Dave. Are you there, Dave?
Yes. Hi, Keaton. The voice comes through from the bathroom. I’m in here.
The quiet whisper of running water slips under the closed doorway, and Dave follows.
What time is it?
Half past nine.
Did you stay here all night? You didn’t have to do that, Dave.
Well, I didn’t. I took a cab to the Inn last night after you fell asleep. I wanted to let my brother go home for a while, so I relieved him of his duties for the night. But I just got back now. Sorry for waking you.
No, no. You’re fine. But you didn’t have to come back.
I don’t mind.
Why did you come back?
Dave falls silent as he dries his hands with a crunching paper towel taken from the container beside the sink.
I just thought I should.
I didn’t want you waking up alone. You don’t deserve that.
Thank you, Dave, but I’m not sure you’re the leading authority on what I deserve.
No one deserves to be alone after experiencing what you did yesterday. And I overheard you speaking with Ms. Ford, and I think she was in the wrong to have left you. I’ve never liked her much. From the day she first came to the front desk asking for a room, I knew I wouldn’t like her.
With all due respect, she’s somewhat of a bitch.
Hey now, Dave. That’s my wife. Please watch what you say about—
Will you stop saying that? She’s not your wife. You are divorced. She divorced you, and left you alone
My goodness, Dave. You can’t talk to me like that. You and I are not friends. Hell, even my friends don’t talk to me like that.
You have friends?
Mr. Keaton? came a woman’s Jamaican accent following a rap at the door. Would you like anything for breakfast?
No, Coretta, I’m all right. Thank you.
Of course, Mr. Keaton. You should be able to leave within the hour. And you will you have to go, too, sir.
Thank you, Coretta. He and I will be leaving shortly.
Coretta closes the door without so much as a whimper. She’s been doing this for some time, obviously.
Dave, you can go. I need to shower and be on my way. You should be getting back to the Inn.
I don’t have to leave, Keaton. I can stay until you’re ready to go.
You can leave. Please.
Well, all right. If you need anything, you know where to find me. Try not to cause a scene next time, though.
You have my word, Dave.
With the closing of the door behind Dave, Keaton felt a shutter. Cold air is pushed through the room’s atmosphere, and up the sleeves of his gown, spreading over his body as an infection. His skin shivers, and he props himself up, throws his legs over the edge of the bed, and heads toward the bathroom.
Steam fills his surroundings and clouds the mirror while Keaton slips out of his wear and into the billowing warmth aloft behind the shower curtain.
The water is near perfect, so he corrects its temperature, and now he feels a general fondness he doesn’t believe he has felt since the days when Claire still loved him. Those days were extraordinary. Each one began with a peaceful Claire by his side, and never ceased to be capped off in the same manner—and on occasion, even with more delight. What he sees now in the steam overhead is the way the sheets would hug her body, and conform to her curves no matter the way she positioned herself next to Keaton. Now, forming there in the air, is the nature in which her blonde bob fell across her cheek, while a smile crept out from underneath. And each finger and hand felt as if she had never done a day’s work in her life, and Keaton didn’t mind this. Her touch was an influential entity.
With his arms extended outright and his hands pressed against the wall, Keaton begs for an overwhelming strength in his body. But it never comes. He slowly allows himself to collapse into the bottom of the shower, while the steaming head looks down upon him, disgusted and spitting. He covers his eyes, but can no longer separate the difference in feeling of his tears and the warm water. He cries, begins to wish he had never met Claire, but casts this notion aside. She was a gift.
His naked body is wrinkling more than it already had been prior to the shower. He looks over his hands, and thinks about where they’ve been: Over every inch of her body, wrapped around countless fifths, gripping the sides of a stretcher, and here, aged beyond recognition. The whole of his being appears this way.
And his consciousness seems to be lacking. He thinks he knows to stop wheeling her through his mind, but he isn’t sure. For now, he believes she wants to be here, wheeling, and he wants her to be here, lying on the porcelain floor covered in a layer of slowly cooling water.
He knows he has to leave this place—both the warmth surrounding him and the home he has rebuilt inside his head. He has to stand up again, and remove the sheets. He has to turn the knobs appropriately, and disassemble the bed frame. He has to pull the curtain back, and burn the house down.
But he doesn’t. Instead, Keaton uses the memory of Claire to pick himself up, and take hold of the showerhead’s neck. In his hands, he feels the last fleeting bit of warmth flowing through the cord, and can even feel it as he wraps it around his neck, tying a knot behind his head. Water is firing to ever corner. The bathroom walls are dripping.
Keaton Thomas is, for the second time in as many days, the only lost soul with nowhere to be, and he falls slack, and Claire rolls off the bed in his mind.
Keaton Thomas is in heaven. Keaton Thomas is in hell. Keaton Thomas sees both a white and black light, and is drowning in the gray area.
Lungs filled with this matter are no lungs at all. This gray area attempts to gather oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to the heart, but there is nothing to be gathered. The veins become gray, and fluff powder into the four chambers, coating the walls within. The arteries attempt to spread this gray substance to the extremities of the body, but a cement coagulates in each pathway, and nothing—not even the gray area—can spread any longer.
Coretta sees Keaton lying on the shower’s floor, with the showerhead and its cord tourniqueted around his neck, and blood is surfacing in the area due to tight lacerations. She sees this, but cannot react. Another nurse jukes around Coretta’s statuesque figure, and he dives toward Keaton.
I need the defibrillator, Coretta, now!
The nurse frees Keaton of the suicidal hissing serpent, lowers his ear to Keaton’s hanging lips, watches for movement in the seemingly dead man’s chest, and feels nothing against his face. His chest lies flat, too. But, he does feel a lively flow through Keaton’s neck, and, with this, the nurse grabs the mask from his cart, and covers Keaton’s nose and mouth. He pumps. The bag contracts and fills, as do Keaton’s lungs. He pumps again and listens, watches, feels. He pumps twice more. Listens, watches, feels. A faint exasperation comes in contact with the nurse’s ear; he hears and feels life again.
Coretta, never mind the defibrillator. He’s breathing. He’s breathing again.
Oh, Mr. Keaton.
Keaton Thomas would rather be dead.
Keaton Thomas is neither asleep nor awake. Keaton Thomas is thinking of the dream. Keaton Thomas wishes he were dreaming of falling into a deep enough state of sleep so he begins dreaming of falling in love again and then falling out of love deeply enough to warrant never wanting to wake from this deep slumber moreover.
But perhaps he wants to wake up. Perhaps the best thing now is to wake up, and feel again. Feel every other brittle bone lying here before him, those who have died and those who have walked away from somewhere no one ever wishes to call home. Does Keaton Thomas feel alive now? Does he feel awake?
Does the sound system overhead remind him he’s breathing? Something must, because he is. He is aware of the rise and fall in his chest, but he can’t see it, or smell or taste the air passing through one or more holes in his face. But, he knows these are truths. And he is now feeling something along the lines of sadness’ antonym, but he wouldn’t be able to come up with an appropriate word if Coretta were to walk in to Keaton’s room at this moment, see his eyes opening and closing regularly, and ask how he was feeling. There is no chance the right word would come to mind. Maybe he’d say nothing, but smile instead. Or wave his arm at her, like he’d known her for sometime before he had been rolled through the hospital’s sliding doors only a day ago. Could he know more than he cares to know? Right now?
No. Would he like to? Probably not.
The less you know the less you will ever have to burden yourself with, he tells himself.
And so he opens his eyes, finally, and sees the same room Dave had previously left him in. The room still has its window overlooking the many fish decomposing and joining the ranks of the coral reef, unknowingly, all the same. Still attached to this room is the stark white restroom containing the shower in which Keaton chose to tie himself up high to where his feet would drag lovingly. His undesirable body has a knack for getting lost amongst the porcelain as of late.
However, while he knows it has existed in his life before, this room feels new, too. There was a moment in the last hour or so in which Keaton’s life was the crackling bulb hidden beneath its shade, on for nothing more than curious glimpse into an illuminated room, and then burnt out in the very same second. Keaton’s life has been reduced to that of a light bulb. But the socket has been replaced. The room is glowing again, and Keaton believes he’s seeing things under this new light, from a different angle, with a preferred perspective. And who’s to say he really isn’t?
His skin feels replaced. His eyes appear focused. And Keaton’s mouth no longer contains its putrid fragrance.
Is Keaton Thomas happy he was saved by an unnamed Hispanic nurse with a shaved head and tattooed forearms? Happy may not be the best way to go about describing how he really feels. What’d he like to say is dangling its legs over the edge of his tongue, convincing itself what lies beneath is real. This is all new.
Keaton Thomas is new.