This was written for the June 2010 Writing Challenge Contest in the Review Game.
"In the beginning there was nothing and God said 'Let there be light', and there was still nothing but everybody could see it." - Dave Thomas.
Ghastly frost rimmed the glass that chilled my fingers as it rested against my palm, the sickly sweet yellow liquid bouncing with each step I took. The hard soles of my shoes tapped the blank, white floor, and the echoes bouncing off the walls smashed into my ears with each step. A ball of sweaty, sticky saliva pooled around my tongue, and I swallowed it, cringing as pain seared the walls of my throat as it slipped down ever so slowly.
Droning, irritable voices flooded the hallways as I shuffled through them, calling so enthusiastically for doctors, nurses, and the occasional janitor. The slow, winding bustle of the hospital melted away with each footstep I took toward my destination, and I watched warily the slimy beverage that sat obediently inside the glass.
I felt like the inside of my throat had been pressed with a scorching iron, and if I opened my mouth, steam would stream through my lips. Achingly bright sunlight streamed through the window, a glass pane that stood ten or eleven feet tall, and it beat down on my pale skin without mercy. Crickets sat outside on the shining, dewy blades of glass, their wings chiming an annoyingly steady stream of buzzing.
My lips parted, and I squinted, preparing myself to speak as I laid eyes on him. He sat staring silently out the window, his empty brown eyes protected by an overtly large pair of sunglasses. The sun's sheen bounced off the heavy black lenses, and I stood silently for several moments, my words clutching onto my tongue, not wishing to be forgotten as I watched him sit there, unmoving, his chest heaving with the tiniest of breaths.
"Hey," I whispered. He continued to gaze outside. "I have your juice," I smiled, my dry lips cracking. My footsteps didn't bother to emit any noise as I ambled over to him, pressing gently the glass against his own palm.
He fingers immediately clutched it, and he, without a single glance toward me, nor the beverage, stared blankly out the window. His hand looked like it had been scrubbed furiously, the skin sorely reddened and thin slivers of the pale, delicate skin peeling. Unsurprised, I dragged noisily a wicker chair next to his own and sat inches away, my hands lazily hanging off the sides. The juice continued to stay glued to his palm, completely and almost scarily stationary.
I frequently had to stop myself from checking his pulse seventeen times a visit. He was alive, I told myself every time my paranoid eyes flickered over to that goddamn juice. Not a drop ever wavered, nor a finger ever squeaked along the glass. My heart would skip a beat every time a draft blew through our small space, due to a nurse lifting another window yards away.
Nine times out of ten I would scream at whatever nurse who did so.
If the juice was going to fucking move, he was going to move it, no matter how hot it got.
He wasn't a mental patient. Every Saturday as I walked through those creepily white hallways, sometimes I could be granted to witness somebody writhing inside a wheelchair, their wrists tightly bound to the arms. It didn't happen often – most of those I saw shuffled sullenly in a circle, mumbling wide-eyed to themselves. The saner ones, the ones that actually tried to reach out and speak to me in an appropriate manner, immediately were detained and corporally punished.
I tried to ignore everything. Those Saturdays I pulled open one of the heavy double doors, scrawled my name across a sign in sheet, and all the while balancing in the other hand the icy fucking pineapple juice, the juice that I swear would give me blisters.
It was on a Saturday he had finally stopped moving, stopped talking. He stopped going for hikes through ridiculously difficult trails. He stopped watching the blood splatter all over his tanned, hairy arms when he slapped a mosquito during sweaty, itchy camping trips. He stopped shielding his eyes with his large hands as he squinted, just like I did, scanning the sizzling summer sky. He stopped dragging his reluctant brother to his exhausting ventures. The brother who, if he had known what would happen someday, would have savored every breath of hot, sticky air he hadn't been able to stop complaining about.
The only seemingly voluntary movement anybody has witnessed was when his hand instinctively wrapped around the glass of pineapple juice. After playfully offering it to him once, I ritualistically brought it with me each and every time he visited, hoping that someday, somehow it would allow the other muscles in his body to wake up and be how they once were.
Maybe one day he would smile again.
The smell of pineapples wafted through the vicinity each and every Saturday, and fearful that changing any aspect of the beverage would disallow him from clutching so fiercely onto it, slimy yellow pineapple juice is what I always carried with me, and slimy yellow pineapple juice is what he always got.
In his wicker chair he would sit, eyes wide open, day after day, staring determinedly out the large window. His mouth slightly agape and his gaze uneasily fixated, I sat next to him casually, learning to ignore what he held between his fingers.
"She talks about you a lot, you know," I rambled, crossing my legs and listening to the legs of my jeans scraping against each other. "She wishes she could visit, and she tries to, she does, but it's far, you know? She would call you on the phone, but you know, that wouldn't work out very well, now would it?" I laughed lightheartedly, and he didn't move. "But she loves you," I added. He didn't move. "We all love you -- even me, buddy." I swallowed. The pain crawled against my throat as I felt my nose and cheeks feel a rush of uncomfortable heat.
With every word that dripped out my lips and into his ears, I wondered if he could hear me. For fear my voice would crack and my words jumbled and wet, I sat back silently and gazed out the window, shifting inside the wicket chair.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him do it.
A small spasm, a miniscule jerking of the wrist that forced the juice to rock back and forth, lapping up rhythmically against the glass. Without thinking I retracted both my legs and sat on top of them, spinning my entire body around as I leaned over, clutching the twigs of the arm rest, my eyes eagerly following the swishing of the sickly sweet yellow liquid.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
I saw him do it.
He did it.
He lived a long life as a vegetable.
For several more decades I visited him every Saturday, awaiting once more the swishing and swaying of the pineapple juice, which without fail I watched his fingers clutch each time I gave it to him.
And for the rest of his and my Saturday's, the pineapple juice never swished or swayed again.
The sharp shard of hope that poked at my heart each time I saw him scratched excitedly inside of my chest, leaving deep, bloody scars whenever I had to leave those Saturday afternoons.
My hands over the years had taken on a new shape, a shape that knocked my breath straight out of my lungs when I realized that I couldn't hold the glass of pineapple juice anymore. His old, strong hands laughed at mine, and pressing it each time against his soft, wrinkled palm, his fingers still closed around it.
I often wondered if he saw, if what he saw truly fascinated him, or if he might as well have been in complete blackness. He takes solace now, I suppose, in knowing that the blackness he sees now will not be shared with anybody, and that he can forever envision himself and the world in any way he pleases, not restricted to whatever sat outside that window. His frame had diminished over the years, and although thick veins still ran through his hands, without any difficulty the rest of him now slightly, almost unnoticeably swayed. Back and forth, it swayed.
Back and forth.
I didn't write this in less than two hours because the deadline was June 7th, and I discovered it four hours before June 7th ended. No. I totally didn't. Nah.