By James Lendrum
To the left of the library interior, great glass panes trap students in a prism of light. Nothing like the Sun that soaked into the pavements of his childhood. Summer days are behind him now, and the shoes he wears are not dirty from outside play. Ha! Soleless. Filth amassed between threads like an ugly linear bruise. Worn differently. And weathered by much more than the muck.
Eight weeks ago, an ambition ate through him—electricity beneath the skin. He snatches at the shelf now, the current thinned to a brute hum, but there, waiting. Thumbing through a contents page, skin splits, and eyes widen to the push of red. It paints some gluey image into his palm. Fixed back into place, the book hangs grimly, brothers and sisters bound by leather, suspended in rows. It is no use; the words bleed together. He will try again tomorrow.
Back in his room, the walls seem to close in. He bargains: it is nothing more than shadow play. A cup of warm squash glows like lithium in water on the bedside table, and the high black shapes arrange themselves into daggers, pointing to the pill box. Nausea spools behind his right eye socket. He is going to vomit. A tuna sandwich is heaped grimly in the toilet bowl. With tissue, he cleans the rim of its flecks, making it white again. Cold light flushes at the room’s penumbra, and his black sweater does not absorb the light as black so often will, but shrinks beneath it, like some homeowner pillow-smothered by a thief. With a yank of the chain, that acidic churn is set into motion, and tuna is dashed, pulled down, buried. The door clicks shut behind him to seal in the darkness.
Sheathed in cotton, he turns, burning. The ambivalent clock. North, north-east, east, south-east, south. Outside, crickets sizzle in dusk. Nothing will bring him back. Not even the slant of antiseptic moonlight carving across his brow, or the papery shout of a crow, arrowing itself through the night quite astonishingly against the quiet. The pill box flanks him. In those capsules, every grain of pain-taker sits ready for another time. At the hilt of the sky, morning rises, slick, orange. Its fizz eats out for miles. Yellow beats at his window, and he stirs, doused in the wash of a new day. Inside him, the sickness retreats. It is annexed behind his left eye. Right there. Waiting.
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