Charles sat, his head resting awkwardly against the cool porcelain toilet bowl. A strand of vomit and saliva succumbed to gravity, landing in a growing pool on the few exposed tiles between Charles’s legs. He reached for and tore off a wad of toilet paper, dabbing half-halfheartedly at his open mouth. The words he had just heard wouldn’t leave his head.
Hey honey, guess what? I’ve got great news!
He made an attempt at standing but found his legs preferred the floor for the time being. A migraine moved down from his eyebrows to the space directly behind his eyes. His hands groped first for his second favorite orange bottle. After deciding that it was probably by the kitchen sink, the hand switched targets and honed in on the light switch. It made contact, hooked one finger around the plastic nub, and let gravity do the rest.
An hour ago Charles had been, in his mind, a different person. Before falling into his bed for a much needed nap, he would have told you, if you asked, that he could handle any reasonable problem that came his way. Now he sat on the eggshell tile floor in almost complete darkness. A bit of light from the life waiting outside the bathroom was creeping in under the door. Charles closed his eyes in an attempt make the light stop existing.
It was 5:30, give or take five minutes, when Charles removed his glasses and spread out across his bed. Light seeped through the curtain-less window and Charles soaked it all in. For the past week his only sleeping companion was a large stuffed dragon, won from a crane machine over the course of six drinks and a half hour.
On the bedside table was a poorly framed photograph from the night of the crane machine. In it was a woman, one hand out of the shot holding the camera, the other supporting the dragon by one of its four wings. Holding the other side of the stuffed animal was Charles, looking mildly drunk and very happy. The bottom of the picture frame had a rough, hand-made engraving: 7/5/2011
Charles double and triple checked the alarm on his phone. It was set to go off after ninety minutes.
In two and a half hours, the girl in the framed photo would be arriving at the train station. If you stepped into Charles’s apartment there would be no fewer than three reminders of this on any given surface.
Maybe that’s hyperbole.
The calendar pinned to the cork board on the bedroom door had today circled in red ink, like you might see in a movie. Under the circle, making the last week of the month useless, were the words K GETS HOME!, also in red ink.
Aside from the alarm and any incoming calls from two privileged contacts, the phone would remain silent. A white number in a red circle counted up the influx of unacknowledged emails for the day. On a normal day, Charles’s main priority, after making breakfast for himself and the woman in the picture, was keeping that number as low as possible. At least until lunch.
Charles heard a faint vibrating from just feet outside the door. Six, then seven buzzes. A moment of quiet, then a final buzz, taunting him and creating another new white number somewhere on the face of the phone.
Charles’s hand moved with purpose once again. Reaching above him now, it grasped a deep, royal purple towel and again let gravity bring it down.
The towel fell from its resting spot of seven days onto Charles’s head, draping part of itself on his left shoulder. In his mind he imagined how comfortable it might be to form into a pillow and lay down for the second time this night, this time, instead of a stuffed dragon, he could stare into the rubber face of his plunger.
He imagined this, but had neither the ability nor the desire to make himself more comfortable.
For the past three days Charles had eaten all his meals standing up. The table was set with a pair of candles, a bottle of expensive cheap wine, and a note – half typed, half handwritten. In the days between setting the table and now, Charles had slowly curated a playlist of, what he considered to be, the optimal music for the occasion.
Two hours before falling asleep he decided that music would clutter up the air too much, and stored it away for some other time.
The dream Charles had was a great one. One for the books, if he kept books of such things. Like all great dreams it left him feeling slightly hollow when he woke from it, though arguably less hollow than what it would have two years previous.
A moment after the towel settled in across Charles’s upper body, he felt something odd on the left side of his head. Something that most certainly was not a deep, royal purple towel. Something that most certainly was a folded piece of notebook paper. Formerly bound in a spiral.
Charles was trapped when his phone began buzzing erratically. Trapped between the comfort of a denim pillow and the soothing claws of the stuffed four-winged dragon.
After the first buzz he prayed that he had forgotten to silence texts. Something that he could, in good conscience, ignore. After the second buzz he entered into denial. It was just a part of the dream. Nothing to worry about. The third buzz finally received some validation, in the form of a disgruntled noise from Charles. The fourth buzz only lived half of its life before it was tragically cut off by a sleepy “Hello?”
The line of light under the door was joined by a new line of light. This one perpendicular, and widening quite rapidly. Charles tested his legs. The right one finally seemed willing to cooperate, though he was weary of the left, as it had been wedged under his weight for several minutes.
Charles slid one leg away from him, until it broke the bottom light line, eventually reaching a smaller, more manageable source of light than the one he had created by opening the door. The leg hooked around the phone and dragged it back. After two attempts it lightly thudded off the carpet and onto the tile. The same hardworking leg closed the door, plunging the room into mild darkness for the second time in four minutes.