Fearful that his family’s abrupt exit might direct Casey’s attention on to him, he sat motionless and settled his eyes on the seat back of Maver’s roller, pretending to pay no mind. The caretaker. That was it. Casey. Beastly man. Don’t think anything, he reminded himself, hide your scent of life.
He admired whoever came up with the idea to stick tickers on the back of the rollers. You have to think, with all the kooks filling up thousands of places like this, a reminder of the time was valuable for the few who could comprehend it. Maver’s ticker would be zeroed out in an hour for his nap, which meant his own wasn’t far behind. Must have been three, four weeks since he’d arrived, or was it…?…oh nevermind, the point was that Maver had come at around the same time, and their tickers were programmed only a few minutes apart. He knew more than they thought. But now they knew too much, he realized, feeling the heat of Casey’s gaze.
“Hello. The time is now: seven, thirty, PZ…” a soft voice started from the overhead sound box.
Even in this moment of uncertainty, the woman’s calm inflection washed over him like realized attraction. He lived for it some days, positioning himself right beneath the only box that wasn’t cracked, where he sat now.
“…Evening dining will begin in: thirty, minutes. Submit vouchers to your assigned hall monitor, or–”
“–defer for alternate dish,” he sang along.
“Well would you look at this fella,” Casey beamed as he strutted over, “All worked up and ready for a nap!”
It was all he could do, to be what they thought he was. He clamped his hands together and rocked back and forth for his performance as ‘the delusional man in the corner’. The caretaker stopped short to furrow his brow and exclaim in exaggerated placation,
“Gee, something wrong Mr. Wallace?”
Commit, he thought, keep rocking…wander the eyes. Make him believe.
“I know!” the man came closer and proclaimed, “I’ll help ya!”
Don’t respond, just rock. You’re not here, because you don’t exist. There is another man that time produced who sits here. He doesn’t know his name or anything else about anything. Nothing stays in his mind because he can’t perceive of anything. He may not even sense, since he is almost nothing. And nothing is free from everything, even fear.
“Oh Mr. Wallace! You’re drooling all over!” Casey was shaking his head.
In what must have been a play on compassion, the caretaker pulled a wire cloth from his back pocket. There was a man last week who had fallen and scraped his knee during the morning roll call. It was the caretaker who cleaned the wound, whittling away the second layer of flesh with his cloth before disinfecting it with the same stuff they used to clean the floors. Even the idea of it was proof enough; the occupants of this place weren’t put here to live. He kept his eyes open just long enough to see that dimwit Bamber scuttle by with one shoe missing, and couldn’t believe this would be the last image to grace his sight before the end.
The wiry shaving of his face, a sudden clenching of his body, or the current from Casey’s static rod. Any of these sensations were expected, but a quaking tremor seemed unlikely at first. It came from the floor and rumbled his roller.
“Hello. The time is now: seven, forty, five, PZ… Qopul 27, 1978…” she repeated, her message now appreciated amidst the silence.
The mean man was heading back to the pharmacy counter and had unsnapped his rod from its holster. Doesn’t take much to set that brute off. But wait just a minute, he tried to think, that doesn’t make any sense when he was just right here about to put me down. And the woman, she just read the wrong time. It could only be three, maybe five minutes since her last announcement…not fifteen! Well that’s typical. Everything’s always broke. They better fix it before lunch.
That was the last he thought of that, though, because then there was another tremor. The big guy lost his footing. The stretch of wall right past the pharmacy, where they hang those pointless captures of everyone’s families, collapsed too. His jaw was trembling, he realized, but his mind needed time to remind him why. While he waited, Albert began to roll, wondering if this was his chance. Oh, he’d thought of it many nights. They didn’t think he knew what the tickers were for, but he’d seen it. In his first days a couple of weeks ago, there were whispers on the other side of the dividing curtain where the younger fellow with the limp legs slept. Nothing wrong with him, other than his taxing burden on the masses. Must have been early morning when he heard them. Through the break where the sheets met, he could see two women. One of them was drawing fluid from a vial as the other strapped the man into his roller.
“but it’s usually best when they’ve just woken up. They’re still a little hazy,” the needle woman was saying.
“Would it be alright if I get one in for my checklist?” the other asked a little above a whisper.
The silhouette of the needle woman’s cheeks rose as she rudely burst, “Oh that’s right! How much more do you have before finishing!?”
“I’m five hours short,” the girl exacted.
“That’s exciting!” said her optimistic mentor in a self-corrected whisper, then, “Well you show me what to do!”
What’s this now, he thought as he watched her insert the needle into a chamber on the back of the roller.
“And? Yep, you got it,” the lady confirmed as the girl emptied the contents and pressed a combination of buttons on the roller’s top panel.
Turning to the gimp, the elder lady instructed, “Now Mr. Walker, you’ll feel a little sting.”
Back to the girl she nodded.
Nothing was clear about any of it until they began rolling out of the room.
“Oh drask!” the girl noticed the patient’s foot catching on the roller’s spoke.
When she maneuvered around the front to put the foot pedals down the ticker was visible, blinking between –:–:– and 00:00. All of him, not just the parts that had dwindled least, awoke to resurrect that old familiar tingle of human volatility. Though his hope buffered from that point into the next few days, that he would see that sad sack again, he knew. He Knew.