A secret, delicately-nursed bitterness was keeping him alive and he knew it. An elixir of sweet poison that he rationed, to himself, terrified of losing. He took a sip now, to face the silence.
Which seized him as he wavered on the side of the bed, stooped and frail, like an old turtle. His body had almost completely abandoned him. His mind continued clear—though with the usual signs of decline—which, characteristically, he fought with inward fury. Nothing he hated more than the creeping vagueness, the dimness—the evaporation, the fading of the light of reality: once hard and bright as surgical lights, now dim and yellow and befluttered with moths.
Some time seemed to be missing, like a leak. Alphonso sat still on his bed, bathed in the warm darkness, thinking random low-energy thoughts like an idling engine. The impression of the boy, Chris, stayed with him, and he vaguely wondered how accurate his mental picture was. He had first met him while he still had some vision in his left eye and had formed this image then, retained it, morphing it over the ghostly shape he perceived while he had been in the room. Today or yesterday? Anyway, he was gone now. Alphonso could still trace the sound of the closing door, the silence.
“Like an old son of a bitch—how are you feeling?”
“Oh, Mr. Thrower,” laughed the young nurse. “I’m feeling just fine. Did your visitor leave?”
“You don’t see him, do you?”
“Then I’d say that’s a pretty good sign he’s gone.”
“Did you have a nice visit?”
“Oh yeah. Wonderful. Marvelous.”
“You ready for your dinner?”
“No. But put it down. Do you see a bag somewhere?”
“What kind of bag?”
“I don’t know what kind of bag. It’s a bag. How many kinds are there?”
“Well, I see several.”
“Something that boy left. Should be right there somewhere.” He gestured vaguely.
“You mean this bag on the table? Got some fruit and Whitman’s candy and . . . Mr. Thrower!”
“Just bring it here and save the sermon.”
“Mr. Thrower, what’s that boy mean bringing you this?”
After she left, he groped in the bag, found the Scotch and twisted the lid off with a crack. He took a small swig—one of the better cheap brands—and felt for a flat place to set the bottle. Then he took out the box of candy, pecked with maddening difficulty through the cellophane (seems the kid could have at least done that).
Ordinarily he listened to the radio, but tonight he didn’t turn it on. He lay back on his bed and drifted down the only direction open to him, but over the same rutted paths, and he felt a surge of despair at the sterility of the past, a boneyard picked clean. And all the people—God, they were all dead, every one of them. Death was thorough, you had to give it that: it never forgot, or missed, or overlooked. Death. Waiting politely just outside. “Your bags, sir.” He hated it. Hated it bitterly—waiting to foreclose on what little he had left. But it had a certain star power, this Big Event—the only one remaining, and he did try sometimes
Time lolled and moiled. He dozed.
When he startled himself awake at the precipice of some dream, the darkness had grown blacker. A deeper silence loomed around him from the building. It felt late. He fought back disorientation, staring with wild blankness into the air above him, until his confusing sense of urgency at last revealed itself as a sharp need to urinate.
The whiskey. Not used to it.
With groping pats he felt along the railing for the jar but could not find it. He felt again and again, with desperate annoyance, but his hand made no contact. Dammit! Stupid nurse! She had emptied it and not replaced it. Idiot!
He pulled himself upright and with outrageous difficulty maneuvered his feet to the floor. He dowsed through the air for the night table but it sat askew. Patting over the top of it he sought the lamp—what little light he could perceive from it helped, conjured ghostly shapes into the room and showed him a rough path. But he failed. Nothing was in its place!
Fury seethed within him. He would kill these fools if he only could—gladly!—kill them all. Doesn’t anybody understand the need for order in a blind man’s room? Doesn’t anybody think of anyone else at all?
Then a portal appeared, though in the wrong wall, and he passed through it and ventured like Magellan into the open room. His arms and tender hands worked through the darkness like antennae. Nothing. He took a few steps. Nothing! Utterly disoriented now, he struggled not only to decipher the room, but to remember which room, which place, which chapter of his life. Then
At last he encountered a wall, with a surge of relief, though he did not know what wall it was. He could not say in which direction lay the bathroom, certainly not the bed. Carefully he began to feel his way down the surface and sensed a corner coming before he proved it with his hands. What corner? Nothing to distinguish it—why didn’t it identify itself? Which side of the room? Where had they hidden his dresser? His table? He strained desperately to calculate how these things could be gone, came up frustrated.
Nothing to do but keep moving. Another slow journey along the wall, sliding his hands like tentacles over it—another corner and the maddening suggestion that it was the same one, he had gone backwards.
He lay contemplating the picture of that, until it dissolved into sleep.
Desperate now—the panic rose around him like floodwater lapping at his chin. He fought it back, then realized the answer: that he could scream, like hitting the fire button, or a child crying Time Out. He opened his mouth, rigid with the lockjaw of fear, and sent the command along the nerves: Scream! but the apparatus refused, and managed onlya constricted peep there in the dark void, like the death cry of a bacterium. He pulled all his inner force together to control himself, amazed and terrified that he almost couldn’t do it.
Leaving him trembling, every cell of his body slowly thawing from the fear.
And slowly, the earlier, familiar reality began to come back, and he remembered himself back into his room, armed with logic. Herbert Alphonso Thrower, disoriented, turned around in his room: he had only to follow the wall, any wall, without turning, and he would inevitably find his bed. Logical.
So he started out and sure enough after a moment came to his dresser. But it seemed backwards—he had imagined himself going in the opposite direction. He paused, waiting for his bearings to return—and as