There were exactly one hundred and fifty two patients in the infirmary, one hundred and fifty two patients for one hundred and fifty two rooms. It wasn’t a large building by any estimation and so the rooms weren’t large, either. But the size of the building is neither here nor there. What does matter is the way ninety nine point nine percent of the patients, one hundred and fifty one of the one hundred and fifty two, monopolized the nurses’ time; hence, it was no wonder that the sole lonely patient, the patient in room one hundred and twenty six, had gone unnoticed. He appreciated the solitude, though. He spent his time scribbling stumbled sonnets in his mind, creating characters out of the bed he slept on and the shower he showered in and all other inanimate objects that captured his curiosity. The remaining hours
of his day were spent laughing. He laughed mostly at the inept nurses who chased the frantic patients running around the halls in the nude. And then he laughed at the patients as their bare bodies crashed onto the linoleum floor which was drenched in foam and bubbles. He also enjoyed reading. However, the infirmary had a stern policy regarding literature and so only stories written for children of ten and younger were allowed. Because some patients, not the patient from room one hundred and twenty six, but some, were confined to a jacket while in their rooms, all the hardcover books, of eighty pages or so, came with an apparatus attached on the spine which would turn the page automatically to the childish enjoyment of ninety nine point nine percent of the patients, but not the patient in room one hundred and twenty six. He felt chastised by the self-turning page of the lifeless books and so when they did come to life in his time wasting stories of the mind, they were always the villains.
He was a peculiar patient, not to say that the others patients weren’t; after all, they were all in there for a reason. But it takes a certain type of character, the rarefied character of a Toole novel about Dunces, to stand out in such a crowd and the patient from room one hundred and twenty six did just that.
He was the patient who cared not for the ringing of the lunch bell, or the recess bell or the medicine bell. And this may be the reason why he went unnoticed. He only requested the attention of the nurses once a day, every other day, and it was no standard request. There was no interaction or pleasantries associated with this interaction. No, it was more of a mutual understanding, an agreement if you will. This interaction was a clever drug heist, an incognito transfer, the kind of switch 1920s noir gangsters walking around in black and white lived for. The interaction was a sleight of hand, a gesture of a second, a brief nudge noticed by the two and only the two. It was an interaction regarding a book that, like the weather in sunny San Diego, was always perfectly timed. Unfortunately, for the patient, our patient, patient one hundred and twenty six, this exchange only came but once every forty eight hours. It was not that he was a slow reader, but rather, he read too quickly. And so the self-turning apparatus on the spine slowed down his progress only; a progress that handicapped him to fifty two readings of the text in forty eight hours.
In his small room, a fluorescent room with a single bed and patted walls, he would sit on the ground with the book between the creases on his lap. His bed rested parallel to the main wall, the wall with the door. It was oppositely placed, the bed, out of kilter with the pillow facing the right wall and his feet, when he rested, pointing west. It was the only room in the entire infirmary that was set in such an
anomalous way and so, understandably so, it made no sense. The room was not quite wide enough for the bed to fit in this direction and so when he slept his feet pressed up against the westbound wall. If he only returned his bed to its original position, he would undoubtedly spend more comfortable nights. But his room remained in this unorthodox fashion because the nurses never entered. And when they did approach his room he waited by the door with a nervous look and the lights switched off.
When he read, he sat on the ground with the middle of his back leaning against the exact middle of the framing of the bed which allowed his eyes to remain fixated on the middle of the door which, coincidentally, was in the middle of the wall. And you might ask yourself, the way I asked myself, how does he read if his eyes remain locked on the door? Simply stated, he reads in a blur. Bear with me, if you will, for only a second. You see, if you take hold of this current text and raise it up towards the level of your eyes you will unequivocally make out the words in the most pristine clarity possible, like the tropical ocean that borders against the sand in a single palm tree beach. And now, with your eyes remaining on this exact word, you will notice your surroundings; but, not directly. Your eyes, they remain on this line of literature, with the ninety nine point nine percent of your retina’s attention. But the outer- rim, the outmost edges of your world are still somewhat visible. They unsystematically enclose your full- range of vision like the rays of a cartoon sun. And that is how this patient, the patient of room one hundred and twenty six read: in a blur.
It was the second day of the reading cycle and so the patient knew that come the shower bell he would get a new book. With a little over a minute to go before the bell sounded the patient rose from the floor, brushed off his white pants, grabbed the book about a wild adventure involving a kingdom, a watchdog and a phantom booth of tolls, he had finished sixteen minutes ago for the fifty second time and walked to the door. He flicked the switch downward, like always, stepped outside his unlocked door, like always, placed the book by his left foot and waited, like always. His wavy hair of twenty four and thin stature were the perfect height to block off the small chain link window from which he observed the nurses as they struggled with the attention of the other patients. Standing from a distance a single nurse (appearing like a lawn gnome – unsightly and hirsute with a single mole sprouting a weed on the tip of her nose); pointed to the scarcely lined patients and ordered them to the showering hall. The six patients showered quickly, while the laterally impaired nurse, and others, knocked one by one on the ignored doors. Without a word, wearing a freshly washed and steamed white suite and wet hair combed over from right to left, our patient, patient one hundred and twenty six, returned to the hall. He was greeted,
as usual, by a parade of books resting against the bottom right corner of each and every door. Most, if not all except the patients, were the same books that been inhabited in the corresponding rooms as the nurses themselves would remove them from the rooms and repost them on the linoleum floor, knowing that the patients weren’t actually reading them. Tempted by them all, he dolefully glanced at each title, but never stopped to read them. When he arrived at his door he grabbed the new book by the apparatus, like always, turned the knob, like always, flicked the switch with a single finger and entered, like always. But, something felt unusual. This new book, which was unambiguously not new, was different from all the rest he had read before. It was much thicker and with a leathery cover that had a war journal appearance to it. Indubitably, it had seen some years and taken damage. Uncaring, for the moment, he dropped the book, and like always, hoped that the impact would break the apparatus. Like the two days ago and two days before that day, and even the two days before that, it didn’t break. He used the heel on his right foot to fling the book back and beside his bed. He then turned to face the perfectly placed window on the door and enjoyed the soap and skin ballet. His eyes would let out a solitary twitch of discomfort anytime and every time the bubbles neared the resting texts. As the action concluded, the patient turned to his new literary friend and smiled. He grabbed its worn cover as he sat down only to have the apparatus unlock and wilt to the floor like the last petal on a summer daisy. Shocked by his freedom, the patient, patient one hundred and twenty six, opened the injured Columbian leather cover and began to read:
Hugo Villabona lives in Miami. He has just finished a young adult novel called I Don’t Think Numbers Are Very Important.
Jen May is a Scorpio and artist living in Brooklyn, NY with 3 cats. She keeps a tumblr updated regularly with horoscope images and everything else.