Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Mr. Barbicane Takes A Trip" Chapter Twenty-Four

When the clock radio snapped on at 8:30 A.M. with Gary Wright singing “Dream Weaver,” Mr. Barbicane awoke with no memory of his nightmare. He had entered three additional periods of REM sleep following the episode in the cemetery and all memory of the previous dreams had evaporated long before he pulled back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed in contemplation of the day ahead.

He stood, went to the window and opened the drapes to look out at an almost empty parking lot, shadowless under an overcast sky. His time as a traveler was diminishing. He knew this, but there was nothing he could do about it.

Mr. Barbicane pulled the curtains and drapes completely opened and let the vague gray light into his room. Then he went to the dresser where he’d left the ice bucket. He lifted the lid and found the plastic bucket filled with cold water and the few transparent shards of ice. Mr. Barbicane dipped his hand into the water and scooped up the ice. The water was painfully cold against his skin. He dropped the ice in one of the glasses on the tray then took the can of iced tea from the mini bar, opened it and poured some over the ice.

Sipping the tea he walked from the bedroom to the bathroom where he turned on the lights surrounding the vanity mirror, put down the glass at the edge of the sink then went to the shower. He pushed the door to one side and reached in to start the flow of water from the tub faucet. He put the same hand he’d used to scoop the ice from the bucket under the flow of water into the tub. His fingers were so cold that the warm water felt like it was scalding his fingers. Mr. Barbicane pulled his hand away and looked at it. Then he used his other hand to judge the temperature of the water. When it arrived at a comfortable point he pulled the bit of metal jutting out of the faucet. This redirected the flow of water and in a moment there was a gurgling sound above his head and the water shot out of the small, adjustable shower head.

Mr. Barbicane stepped back, pulled his t-shirt off over his head, pulled down and removed his boxer shorts and stepped into the shower, sliding the door shut after him. He turned his face to the spray from the shower head and closed his eyes as the water brought him the rest of the way to wakefulness.

He opened the small bar of soap he found in the niche cut in the wall of the shower stall and used it to lather his body. He rinsed the soap off then put his head under the shower to wet his hair. Lifting his head out of the water he turned to the niche again where he found and picked up a small bottle of shampoo. He half squeezed half shook its honey-like contents into his hand then, after setting aside the bottle, lifted his hands to the top of his head and started to wash his hair. He closed his eyes during this procedure and could feel tendrils of lather crawling down his face, sliding down his forehead and along the left side of his nose. He felt the lather touch the inside corner of his left eye and a moment, a surprisingly long moment, later, felt the sting of the shampoo in his eye and squeezed both eyes tighter against the irritant.

Once he felt he had done a satisfactory job of washing his hair, Mr. Barbicane leaned his head under the showerhead again and rinsed out the lather, making sure to wash his face again to avoid additional irritation to his eyes. This done he opened his eyes and straightened up, pushing his wet hair back along the top of his head.

Mr. Barbicane considered using the small bottle of post-shampoo hair conditioner he found in the shower, but decided against doing so.

He turned his back to the showerhead and backed up into the flow until it was striking him at the back of his neck. He closed his eyes and savored the water and the heat.

There were, at that moment, seventy-five other guests at the Hyatt Regency taking showers. And in her bathroom in her apartment in Cranberry Township north of Pittsburgh, Diana stood in her shower, leaning forward, her hands on either side of the wall with the showerhead, letting the water strike her head. Her hair fell around her face, pulled down by the weight of the water that streamed off her head. Her head was a source of great pain. In particular, the area behind her right eye, which seemed to be the primary focus of her hangover’s attention.

She woke at almost the same moment as Mr. Barbicane and looked around to find that while she had gotten home, she had not succeeded in either getting undressed or reaching her bedroom. Diana had opened her eyes and recognized the fabric of her sofa. She turned over to see the living room with the lights on and the t.v. playing with the sound off. On the television screen a handful of men and women were trying to escape from a large mechanical man with an implacable screen where his face should have been. The people and the mechanical man were in black and white.

Diana had no specific memory of arriving home, parking her car, coming up from the garage, unlocking her front door, coming into the apartment, turning on the lights and the television and sitting down on the sofa. At her feet were the remains of the package of Pepperidge Farm cookies, but no sign of either the lotto ticket, the milk, or the bottle of vodka she bought when she left the airport. But the important thing was that she was where she was supposed to be and not somewhere else. That would make things easier.

She was, however, not feeling well. Her head was pounding and she felt as if something was trying to push her right eye from inside her skull, trying to push it completely out of the socket. She put her right hand over her eye as if to hold it in as she stood up. This only made the pain more intense, synchronizing the pounding with the beating of her heart.

Reaching out in front of her with her left hand, Diana made careful progress across the living room and down the hall to her bedroom and bathroom. She passed her flight bag by the door and was glad to see it had made it from the car with her. In the bedroom she closed her eyes and the darkness made her dizzy. So, she squinted out at her bedroom, at her still made bed, and undressed. She leaned down to take off her stockings and fell back across the bed. She felt sweat suddenly pour from her skin and knew she was seconds away from being violently ill.

Diana rolled off the bed and, still in her skirt and stockings, pitched herself toward the bathroom where she found the toilet and relieved herself of much yellow bile. It was one of those great contractions, one of those times of illness when you feel the crushing hand of a giant squeezing the life out of you, squeezing you like a tube of toothpaste.

She felt incrementally better after throwing up, took off the rest of her clothes and got into the shower. She turned the water up to its maximum pressure and let it beat on her head. She slowly turned under the water, letting it cross her shoulders and neck. Then she leaned forward again, pressing her hands on the walls of the shower to keep herself in place and let the water have at her head. She closed her eyes and tried to breath which is when she realized how stuffed up her nose felt.

Diana put her hand to her face, squeezed the bridge of her nose then touched the nostrils with one finger tip. She opened her eye and looked at her fingertip and saw that it was red. She touched her nostrils again and the finger came away redder than before.

Her nose was not bleeding at that moment, rather the hot water was reaching the dried blood plugging her nostril and rehydrating it.

Diana brushed the back of her hand under her nose and looked at the red streak this motion left on her skin. She assumed that whatever had happened to cause the nosebleed had happened since she fell asleep, or more accurately passed out, on her sofa. This was not the case.

Outside Diana’s apartment, forming a subtle trail to her front door, was a series of small brown drops, the dried residue of blood that had dripped from her nose between the time she got out of her car and the time she reached her threshold. There was a larger drop of blood on floor of the garage next to the driver’s door of Diana’s car. There was also blood in the car, on the gear-shift and turn-signal levers, the door handle, the center armrest and on the upper part of the steering wheel the impact with which was the source of Diana’s injury. She struck her face against the top of the steering wheel when she went over a curb on her way home. The impact was not sufficient to set of the deceleration sensors responsible for firing the air bag system so Diana was able to continue on her way, once she got the car off the lawn and back onto the street again.

As Diana stood in the shower dripping water and old blood, her car rested in the garage dripping bright green anti-freeze from the holes she ripped in her radiator when she drove over the ornamental statuary of the small Mexican man with his burro and cart loaded with flowers. There was now a crease along much of the passenger’s side where the car side-swiped a row of garbage cans a block away from the apartment building. And pressed into the treads of the right rear tire was a strange, gray snakelike thing which at first might appeared to be the remains of a tremendous worm but was actually the severed tail of a possum, or more accurately a Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana) the only marsupial found in North America, that had been exploring the garbage cans at the time of impact. Injured and furious, the animal escaped and survived.

The empty bottle of Stoli was under the car along with the lotto ticket, which was worth $360,000 to anyone who might find it and wanted to go to the trouble of checking the numbers.


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