Some people shiver the whole time. Some have perspiration pouring off of them, their bodies glistening, leaving pools in their wake. One guy, the whole time you’re talking to him there’s this tiny trickle of blood seeping out from his left eye.
Me, I’m always about to start sweating.
You show up like waking up from a falling dream, all of a sudden you’re looking around wildly at this huge, old building, one of those old east coast train stations but infinitely bigger than a real one ever could be. For the first little while it’s just you and a half dozen others, wandering around this building, squinting like you’re going to find clues in the stained old bricks and cracking murals. You rub your forehead, rub your eyes, over and over, but you can never quite seem to come to, remember how you got here. The veins in your temples bulge after a while, and then you’re not in the train station anymore.
The cafeteria, sticky with the sweat and spittle of the thousands of people who moved through it every day, was mostly empty in the midst of its early-afternoon lull, and Lillian sat without intrusion. Her face was impassive. Her eyes did not blink. Her chest neither rose nor fell.
She became aware that the time appointed for her meeting was approaching and rose from her seat with a feeling resembling reluctance. That night, when she came home, Oscar would ask her how her day was, and when she said that it was fine his eyes would narrow and he would ask her what she had eaten for lunch, and so she scanned the menu to see the special for the day. Synth steak and mashed potatoes. The potatoes were runny, she decided she would tell him, but the steak was good.
“I’ve always hated the phrase ‘meteoric rise.’ What the hell kind of meteor rises? Only meteors I’ve ever heard of come crashing to the ground. I wouldn’t want that kind of rise.” She exhaled slowly. I watched the wisps of smoke trail from her pale lips until they caught in her long eyelashes.
“You ever gonna pass me that?”
“I’m just saying.” She took one more long drag on the joint and moved her arm about a half of a foot towards me, which is as close as she ever got to actually giving anyone anything. I scooted towards her on the couch, taking the opportunity to lazily wrap a stray lock of her hair around my finger, and took the joint.
“The phrase I always hated.” I took a short pause for a drag. “The phrase I always hated was, ‘it is what it is.’ I mean, what else would it be? Of course it is what it is. Sportscasters and idiots always say that when they have nothing else to say.” I blew some abortive rings and took another hit.
“When I used to work with recovering addicts, they always used to say ‘it is what it is’ about their past, or booze, or whatever was the problem. Which makes sense, in a way, since they meant that they couldn’t do anything about it, but why not just say ‘I guess I can’t do anything about it?’”
She grabbed the joint out of my hand, stood up, twirled, and headed into the kitchen.
That morning he’d woken up and regretted it. A haze immune to Advil and sunlight had settled on his mind. Just like every morning, he told himself he should go for a jog. But most days he at least got out of bed, put on shorts and sneakers, went through the motions until he paused at his front door and said fuck it. Today he couldn’t even get up. Every time he tried he was seized by an overwhelming and inexplicable feeling that once he had his feet on the ground, it was all over. That was the ballgame. He made several abortive attempts, but the closer his feet got to the carpet the more urgent the feeling became, until he leapt back into bed wondering just what the hell was going on.
He contented himself with television, although getting the remote had been rather dicey since he’d carelessly thrown it on his desk the night before. Standing on the foot of his bed, he steadied himself on a chair with one hand as the other hand inched its way towards the remote. Twice he lost his balance and nearly fell, and both times the horror of touching the ground closed in on him, black and cold, forcing him into absurd acrobatic postures. Finally he caught the edge of the remote with his thumb and began the long, achingly slow journey back to the safety of his bed, nursing his fragile balance. Only when he was back on top of his covers did he realize he was drenched with sweat.