Geist

He lay there, exhausted. Instinct told him to pant, but since he no longer needed oxygen, it didn’t help.

Eventually, he lifted a claw-like hand and curled his fingers over the side of the tub.

*     *     *

His movements were fueled by will alone. It cost him everything he had to drag himself into the dank space under the toilet tank, where he rested.

His body felt painfully dry. What served as his skin was flaky and pale. His hands, little more than knobby twists of stiff fingers, hung limp and half-severed from his wrists. Death had widened the razorblade slices like thin-lipped smiles. The skin had split cleanly, like a sausage skin. Like the waxy rind of a fine cheese.

*     *     *

Supporting himself by his frail, trembling arms, he dragged his body, hand over hand, out from under the toilet, toward the shower mat. The tiles inched by underneath him, smooth as glass but hindering his progress like jagged rocks, rough as sandpaper on his half-dissolved skin.

When the shower water cut off, he let his upper half collapse to the floor and raised his arm as high as he could. Reaching. Hoping she’d see him.

She got out of the shower, dried herself, wrapped a towel around her hair.

As she turned to leave the steamy bathroom, she stepped on his fingers. The pain was blinding. It sent a swarm of black spots across his vision like evil gnats. His scream was dry and dead, howling from the twisted, empty husk of his body like a desert wind. His eyes were dry as shriveled grapes in the canyons of their sockets. He wasn’t even allowed the relief of tears.

*     *     *

Leaning heavily on the faux-marble sink, he stared into the mirror. Stared at the reflection of the Van Gogh print on the opposite wall, the painting of the wheat field. A gash of yellow beneath a dark sky, a black crow with a blue halo around it.

He stared at the reflected wallpaper, the plastic towel bar. A tiny spider scuttled up the wall. Even the spider has a reflection, he thought.
But he didn’t.
It felt like an insult.

At least I’m standing now.

He leaned in close to the mirror. Inhaled, though it took him a moment to remember how, to feel out that ability. He exhaled a fog of foul warm breath.

A circle of condensation appeared on the mirror. He felt a flare of white-hot joy. He lifted one trembling hand, a weak bouquet of needle-thin fingers, and traced his name in the fog.

He tried to smile. But his face felt like it was carved in granite, unalterable and cold.

*     *     *

He unraveled his dry, mortified body across the middle of the bathroom floor and lay there like a severed tentacle. The house settled around him. He watched the sunlight, streaming through windows in other rooms onto the hallway carpet outside the bathroom, moving in bars as the day advanced.

The bars of light glowed golden, then got fuzzy around the edges, then faded and vanished. Evening came, then night.

Eventually, he heard her moving around downstairs, talking on the telephone. The house grew quiet.

Night passed. He felt like he was lost in a black, endless field. He wanted to sink into the only kind of sleep he was allowed, even if his dreams, his memories, were always in orbit around him, lush and alien planets.

But he couldn’t.
In the morning, she came into the master bathroom to take her shower.

He’d been saving strength all night for the moment she turned on the light. When she did, he lifted a feeble arm. She didn’t even glance at him, but closed the door behind her, hung her robe on the back of it, and stood at the sink, brushing her teeth.

Her heel was inches from his face. His fingers tingled, and he reached out to touch her. Half a centimeter from her skin, a bolt of agony passed through him in a current, and he jerked his hand away.

He wanted to scream. Couldn’t. He lay there silently.

She vanished behind the shower curtain, and he heard her crying over the sound of the rushing water.

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