It seemed as if he’d been waiting forever already, and it had only been a little over an hour. It was 10:47pm according to the dim red glow of the digital clock radio on the nightstand. His hands were shaking like a leaf and his eyes were burning red with wretched tears, dilated and retreating from the pale-yellow disheveled light that lunged at him, as he blindly felt along the wall to find the small switch; it was surreal, as if he were walking through a waterfall of dancing shadow. As he reached for the sink to steady himself, hands clammy and warm, he turned the knob but dare not look at his reflection in the mirror above, as the reddish-brown water spat and then rushed into the rust-stained bowl.
Unable to wait any longer, he thrust his quivering hands into the stream and watched through wading pupils as it slowly began to run clear. With concerted effort, he attempted to raise a puddle of it to his face, but after several failed tries he would eventually surrender his entire upper-torso to the effort, as he angled himself between the shallow bowl and the spigot. Maneuvering his head into the small basin and under the steady but ragged stream of ice-cold water proved challenging, as his eyes were now instinctively (and tightly) closed. Time and again he would adjust himself, bumping into the sides of the basin and poking his scalp with a jagged-edge of the rusty spigot, causing water to be violently deflected into the small bathroom and narrow hallway that lay beyond it and just inside the front door to the room.
At some point, the water began to re-route itself around his head and found a path down the back of his shirt – Shit! he thought, as he quickly raised his head, forgetting the ½” clearance he had narrowly achieved and impaled his scalp on the spigot – FUCK!! he exclaimed aloud.
Reaching out to grab a too crisp (hard) white hand towel now askew on its rod, Mark began to dry himself without removing his sweatshirt. A proper term for it now, his ‘sweat’ shirt (and tee beneath) were soaked almost dripping prior to their impromptu dousing. Cold sweat had now become exacerbated by the icy-harsh blow of the room’s air conditioner as the youth now leaned into it. He was boiling hot and dripping with sweat a few seconds ago, but now as he pulled his frigidly dry forehead from the smooth plastic ventilation-grate covering the front of the small A/C unit, he could make-out the lines of dust that would now adhere to it, as his gaze shifted than passed in front of the cheap hotel dresser’s mirror. Wiping it disgustingly away with his sleeve, before transferring that onto the corner of the bed-slip that lay at the bottom of the single bed in the small room. That’s fuckin’ gross. he grimaced at his reflection in the fake gold-framed oval mirror, ghosted in areas by the etching of age and neglect, its ‘gold’ taped edges peeling-away in places to a bare industrial-metal frame.
It was 10:58 now, as time shifted between fevered un-willed motion and mocking shadow. Almost delusional with constant internal strife his very soul a twisted and distorted scream, the boy sat, eyes sunken and lifeless as he witnessed but did not partake in his World; a darkened room, small black and white TV causes shadows and gray light to flicker and fade, back and forth, beyond his physical eyes and across the silver-screen of frontal lobe activity that now replaced actual ‘sight’. He nervously laughs a little at the spectacle. Up and down his emotions are steered - like a haunted house, on a roller-coaster. Then he’s on his feet again, but he doesn’t know why or, where. A gush of water, now he’s wet and so is the floor of the bathroom. His reflection is harsh and cold, won’t look again, can’t look again. He’s shivering now, or is it ‘still’?
Gotta sit down before he passes-out. ‘Guys Pass-out, girls Faint’ – he wasn't sure why that mattered to him at the moment, he just felt that it did – He laughs (aloud?) at this. So gray now, he’s Gray inside. He paces back and forth again (or was it before?), here and there, to and fro’, flicker and fade. The room darkens between scenes on the TV (or maybe just in his head), shadows of light and gray. The gray is more disturbing than either the sharp intrusion of the Light or the solemn retreat of the Dark; It knows both, and is instantly made aware that it is neither. Thus it becomes, Hopelessness. Crippled by (just) one too many choices.
Time dances still, turning and waltzing with heaving bosom and heavy sighs. He sleeps and is awake again, or is it still. Shadows and light, then… Brrriiinnnggg! The noise shot through his brain to the very core, where it hummed and pulsed violently, Brrriiinnnggg!! Please Stop, Oh God! One eye closed, he reached for the nightstand, grabbing the handle to the single drawer (within laying a Gideon Bible, no doubt) on the first blaring torture, then finally lifting the horror from its cradle.
“Hello?! Chucky? Penny? Who is this?!”
“Yes, hello sir it’s the front desk. There’s a Delivery-Guy here who says someone ordered some food there but isn’t answering the door. This is room 307 correct, did you guys order any food?”
“Food? Shit, I mean yeah. I was asleep I’m sorry –“ his head was pulsing angrily with a migraine now, thump-Thump, thump-Thump, thump-Thump!
“It’s $9.30.” The desk clerk continued in a thick Southern drawl, “Should I send him back up, or did ya’ll wanna come down to the lobby?”
“Yeah, naw. Send him back up. Sorry.”
He had ordered the food in a delirious state he imagined, no doubt thinking that it would give him strength or comfort, or both. He heard the rushed and then running hard-soled rubber adidas that the youth was wearing as they chomped up the hollow outdoor stairwell and crested the landing of the 3rd floor. Tip tap, tip tap, Mark could hear him approach. As the boy rounded the corner of room #301 (which lay at a 'fork' on the landing of the third-level, overlooking the Main parking-lot), 'brown-paper-bagged' order in-hand, he decisively turned 'left' toward Mark’s room and not to the opposing (and numerically descending) rooms on his right. Whispering secrets of many a previous delivery, he was surely seasoned, and may know the local area well enough to be of use, Mark weighed. 'Tap, tap - tap.' the boy was upon him now.
Sorry about the confusion. Mark said. Aw, that’s no problem Man! $9.30 said the youth. Keep the change, it’s Okay – Thanks again! He said smiling, and turning to leave. Hey, you know where I can get some… Never mind. Thanks.
LIGHT & DARK
who gets to say what
Gray Matters | a short story by Mark Wilson