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Even before the man knew for sure he was lost, he was searching. He felt like he had walked into a room, but didn’t know why. Instead of an occasional moment, an occasional instance, every room he walked in, he felt like that, even if he knew specifically why he had entered the room, something tickled his mind and he wasn’t quite sure why he was there. He would go into the bathroom to take a piss and, while he was peeing, be sure that there was something else he needed to do, some other task.
He started writing down his reasons for entering a room on his arm with a green sharpie. Pretty quickly his arms were filled with notes like: get banana, or masturbate, or pay phone bill. Soon the notes looked like old, faded tattoos. That was the best part of the whole experience, as he had never quite been able to work up the courage for an actual tattoo. The thought of a needle penetrating his skin was terrifying, so invasive. Such a vulnerable position and irrevocable.
He tried to pinpoint the moment that it began, the exact moment when he wasn’t sure why he was going, but it all felt too nebulous. Had he felt this way when his mother died? When he moved again and again? When he lost that job? He couldn’t remember, but a part of him wondered if it had always been like that, if he’d always had a confused look on his face after entering a room, and he felt embarrassed retroactively.
The green sharpie didn’t help. Sure he could look down and see throw out dead mouse and know to throw out the dead mouse. The dead mouse wasn’t the problem. It was the other feeling, suggesting that he was missing something, that he should be doing something else besides just throwing out the dead mouse. He thought that maybe there would be a clue in all of the writing on his arms, like a pattern he could decipher. Maybe if he could determine why he was going from room to room on a surface level, the subsurface would begin to be realized.
He wrote down everything on one long list, but nothing seemed out of place. If anything it made the strangeness of what he was experiencing more pronounced. Did he never go into a different room for a strange reason? Like just to go there? Or for something out of the ordinary? This more than anything else worried him. He became determined to figure out what it was that his mind was trying to tell him. That wouldn’t be accomplished by staying in his apartment. He had read somewhere on the internet about exposure therapy. A woman had been afraid of water and they had taken her to the ocean. Not right away of course. At first maybe watching someone sip out of an opaque glass, and then later pressing a hand to a window pane while it rained outside. But eventually she went to the ocean and the article or whatever it had been claimed she had swam. So maybe he wasn’t quite afraid, maybe he wasn’t actively hiding in his apartment shivering at the thought of going into the hallway. Not yet at least. And that was cause for fear. If he didn’t do something soon, he was sure to become afraid.
He didn’t plan anything, or pack anything. He just walked to the next room and instead of walking back, he kept on. He walked outside, but that was worse somehow, and the feeling lingered forcing him back inside wherever he could enter. So he stuck to populated areas, areas with doors. He didn’t like it, but he forced himself to do it. He was going to get his life back, whatever the cost.
Eventually after a few weeks or months, he found an abandoned town. The eight-room, strip motel would become his home for quite a long time. He could move from room to room without going outside. It offered him a break of sorts. He could keep on with his task without needing to move to a new city, without disturbing anyone. He cleaned up the dead birds and settled in.
The previous management had kept a huge stash of individually wrapped Rice Krispies treats, and he was eating one in room six trying to remember why he had come to room six when the door opened. I’m sorry. I didn’t know this was occupied. The man, a vagabond surely, stood there in the doorway checking out the room and dripping from the rain. They stood like that for a few moments, until the vagabond seemed to realize that the room was clean and didn’t have any of the man’s things. Are you management? Can I have a room? I don’t have much money, and it doesn’t have to be this one. This room, I mean. The man considered it. The vagabond was clearly on something and he shouldn’t enable that kind of behavior, but on the other hand, the motel wasn’t really his. Who was he to turn someone away? Particularly after he himself had been turned away so many times in his wandering. And it wouldn’t hinder his daily activities; he could just skip room six. He held out the confection. Rice Krispies treat?
The vagabond kept to himself, apparently content. Occasionally, the man would pop his head in on his daily tour, as he had begun to think of it, just to check on him. The vagabond was passed out every time. He couldn’t help but wonder how he continued to get high. Drugs run out. Wasn’t that the point? Both of the vagabond’s arms at the soft, inner crook of his elbow were bruised with a needle hole that wouldn’t quite close, like a cracked doorway. Once, when the vagabond was passed out, he went in to make sure he was still breathing. He was, and murmuring a phrase over and over in his haze: arrived now, now arrived.
The man couldn’t stop thinking about the phrase. What did it mean to have arrived? Certainly in all his walking he went places, he was in places, but he didn’t feel as if he had arrived. To arrive meant a conclusion. To arrive meant to know. And knowing would be a kind of bliss wouldn’t it? Maybe in that way, the vagabond’s way, through the bliss, could mean an arrival. Maybe a conclusion.
He made a plan to sneak in the next time the vagabond was passed out and see what he could find out, but instead the vagabond walked right up to the man as he was debating. He didn’t know what to say. How could he explain that he was planning on stealing his drugs? The vagabond looked vacant, itchy, and far away. Take this, and no matter what I say don’t give it back. He pushed a small black bag, like a travel shaving kit, into his hands. I can’t. I can’t, he said. And he left and locked himself in room number six. The man looked inside the bag and every bit of it seemed to shimmer.
The man closed the bag and made his tour. He’d never used before. The needle loomed in his mind. What would it be like, if he was able? Would he spiral out? His mother, God rest her, had always claimed he had an addictive personality. What if she was right? What if by stepping through this door, there was no going back? He didn’t believe that, he couldn’t. There had to be a way back. But if he had truly arrived, would he care?
Every day he smashed a Rice Krispies treat into a thin pancake, almost like a wafer, and slid it under the vagabond’s door. He wondered if the vagabond might have died, but there was no smell. For now that was enough. The man knew that some things were only conquered alone.
One night, he took everything out of the bag and laid it out. All the metal glistened. The needle, oh-the-needle, was already filled with a mercury-like liquid that danced and thrummed. It moved as if alive, and as he stared into it, he knew it would never run out, not ever. Even after he was dead, it would still slowly dance and thrum, and he thought that knowing this thing, pulling it inside him, would be to know a small bit of eternity.
It seemed fairly intuitive – just a prick and press kind of situation. He was scared, sure, but to arrive, to finally know would be worth it. He made a night tour, and as he walked by room six he was surprised to find the door cracked. He pushed it open. The vagabond was sitting on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands, but he looked up when the man entered the room. It’s still in me, even though I know it’s not. I can’t get away. Do you still have it? The vagabond looked so tired. There were a thousand things that went through the man’s head and all of them false. And he knew then that paths only diverge, they don’t end. They splinter like light through a prism. You could head in the same direction and end up with a very different trajectory. The man nodded. Come with me.
They started walking, and were several miles away from the motel when the vagabond asked, why did you put it all the way out here? Did it help to keep away? Did you use it? Of course you did. So you know, then. You know that it will never run out. The man didn’t answer.
After a while, when it became apparent that they weren’t moving toward his gear the vagabond asked, where are we going? and kept looking over his shoulder, looking back, though, now, he couldn’t see the way. The man still didn’t speak, but he did grab the vagabond’s hand and they kept walking.