This is the first part of a two-part piece for The Argus arts section’s November Fiction Series. Each Argus issue in November will contain either an excerpt or an entire student story submitted to the contest. The second half of this piece will be published on Friday, Nov. 4.
Tom flailed his limbs in momentary spasms, rolling onto his shoulder, his back, his stomach, over and over in a late morning half-sleep. His bedroom was brightening, and as the sunlight began to infiltrate his eyelids, causing him to squint, he woke. But he could not open his eyes. He did not dare stare back into the million faces that watched him from the wallpaper.
He lifted his lids a fraction to create the tiniest sliver of vision, caught the sight of a wretched, horrifying, suffering pair of eyes, and then hid his face in the pillow, reentering the darkness. He’d seen those eyes before, they were Kennedy’s. The first time they connected with his, he was a thirteen year old boy, in 1963. Tom was standing alone in a street lined with hordes of people. They were packed together, leaning over railings that ran the edge of the road. They were all screaming, trampling each other. He was the only person in the street, standing a few yards behind a stopped black convertible. President Kennedy, a bullet hole in his stomach, leaned over the trunk of the car and called to Tom for help. Blood ran down the side of the car, dripped from the tires onto the pavement, and pooled on the car’s shining silver bumper. President Kennedy reached out his arm toward Tom and called his name, over and over, begging for help, begging with his voice and with his eyes. Tom could not move. He wanted to help the President, but he could only watch him die. Tom would never forgot those dying eyes, and now they were here again in his bedroom.
Tom could not lie in bed all day. Melissa was coming over for lunch, and he didn’t want to worry her. He also meant to call the insurance company before she arrived. He breathed through his nose, held it, and let the air out his mouth, as he’d been told to do many times by various doctors. Finally, he lifted the covers off himself and scuttled out of his bedroom, blocking his peripheral vision with his hands to avoid eye contact with the wallpaper. In the safe, tile-walled bathroom, Tom was able to open his eyes fully. He washed his face, brushed his teeth, and picked up the orange pill bottle that contained his last tablet of Abilify. He rattled the bottle. He’d been saving the last pill for Melissa’s visit, and so had not taken his medication for two days. Tom swallowed the pill without any water.
He walked out of the bathroom and started to descend the creaking wooden stairs to the living room, but realized that he left his glasses in the bedroom. He walked up to his bedroom door and twisted the knob, which emitted a shocking squeak that warned of the danger in that room’s walls. He could do without his glasses.
Tom crept backwards away from his bedroom door and creaked down the stairs once more. He laid down on the living room couch and closed his eyes, exhausted from the morning’s ordeal.
Something moved Tom’s shoulder back and forth.
“Dad, wake up. Are you okay? Hello?”
He opened his eyes. Melissa was leaning over him. He forced himself upright, groaning.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“How are you, sweetheart?” he said.
“Dad, it’s after twelve. How long have you been asleep?”
“I was tired,” he said. He pushed his palms into the couch cushions and stood up. “There’s coffee in the kitchen.”
Tom took a seat at the kitchen table, which was covered with grocery bags that were not there last night.
“What’s all this?” he asked.
“Lunch,” Melissa said. “I’m making chicken, squash, and wild rice.”
Her father grunted.
“I picked it up at Grover Farms,” she said.
“It’s expensive there.”
“I know, but I’m only buying organic now, for the baby.”
Melissa expected an argument from her dad. He would always say how organic food was such a ripoff, how every pregnant woman had eaten nonorganic food for all time, and so her baby would do just fine either way. But today, her father did not respond. He sat at the kitchen table with his arms gripped across his stomach, looking around the room with rapid eyes and a clenched jaw.
“Dad, how are you feeling?”
“Hmm?” he asked, only seeming to remember now that she was in the room. “I’m fine, a little tired.”
Melissa sat down in the chair next to his and positioned her face in front of his line of vision, forcing eye contact between them.
“You don’t seem okay, Dad. Can you tell me what’s up?”
Tom looked down at his lap. He sighed.
“My pills stopped coming.”
“The health insurance people stopped sending me my pills.”
“You haven’t been taking your pills?” Melissa asked.
Tom shook his head.
“For how long?”
“I’ve been spacing them out,” he said. “I took the last one this morning.”
Melissa put her hands on her forehead. “Jesus Christ.”
“It’s fine,” her father said. “I’ll take care of it,”
“Did you not call the insurance company?” she asked.
“I tried. They didn’t help me.”
“Is this because of your pension?”
He blinked at her.
“Okay, you know what,” Melissa said, standing up. “Why don’t you tell me where your insurance card and prescription are, and then go lie down again while I call the insurance people and make lunch?”
Tom leaned his hands on the arms of the chair and pushed himself up.
“Fine,” he said. “Everything’s up on my desk.”