The Second Half of the Story

I went to see Adam again. It feels like I need to be there as often as possible, just to make sure he’s eating and sleeping and whatnot. He’s a dreaming child stuck in this young man’s body, and he doesn’t have a mother to tell him to do his homework. He’s more emaciated than he was, which is really scary to see. He looks too tired and sad to walk, let alone write for hours on end. Not really sad, though – I suppose it’s that when I see his face, pared to the bone and grinning, it makes me sad instead of him.

The picture of Theo that he sketched is taped to the wall. Theo looks more like Adam used to look than Adam himself by now. Young, smiling, just handsome enough to deserve the word. I told Adam he needed to let Theo alone and get back to his own life for a bit. After all, the character would still be there after a meal, a shower and a nap. The expression on his face was so incredulous, for a moment I felt like I had actually said something crazy. The way he’s working, it seems that he thinks Theo will dry up and disappear the moment he’s left alone, and the only way to keep him alive is by feeding him words constantly.

It’s becoming part of my daily routine to drop by Adam’s place after work. I fix him some food, drag him protesting into the bathroom and then tuck him into bed. It’s a bit like being someone’s parent for a few hours a day. I certainly worry enough about him. Mary says I look worried all the time now, and my forehead is beginning to feel tense and scrunched. I can’t remember how to relax my face, to not look anxious. I suppose Adam feels like this, but more. And instead of worrying over a friend, he’s worrying over a person he invented who lives only in his mind. It’s so frustrating – something has to change.

***

I just got back from Adam’s place. Adam wasn’t there today.

When I pounded on the door – usually he leaves it open for me – nobody answered. I kept on, and eventually I heard a muffled voice. The door clicked and swung open, but instead of a skeletal jumpy Adam I found myself looking at some man I’d never seen before. He looked vaguely familiar, so I thought perhaps he was a friend of Adam’d whom I’d only met once or twice. He smiled to see me, though, so I smiled back and went inside.

I asked him where Adam was, hoping that he was sleeping already. It was a guilty sort of wish that I wouldn’t have to deal with him at all today. This man just looked confused, though. There was nobody in the bedroom, and the silence was stretching. There wasn’t an answer.

I looked everywhere – in all three rooms, not that there were so many places to look, and checked the closets. Adam was nowhere. I felt an irrational paranoia, an unease that whispered perhaps Adam had collapsed, was in the hospital, had simply died and was twisted at the bottom of a river or someplace similarly lost and hidden. The feeling was growing and halting my breath, fluttering against my heart. The strange man was just looking at me, calmly and curiously, as though I were something new and odd to him.

I thought maybe he would have answers, so I asked, “Who are you, then? I mean, why are you here and he’s not?”

He looked relieved that I had spoken first, and said, “I don’t know what you mean. I don’t know why I’m here, it’s different. I mean, I came from here, or someplace like here. But I don’t know this place.”

That was not helpful at all, so I went into the kitchen. It occurred to me that Adam might have left for something, and stuck a note to the fridge. He’d done that once or twice before, and it would be a good sign. It would mean he had left the building for groceries or errands or some other normal human thing. There was no note anywhere.

The realization that the man hadn’t answered my questions swept over me, and I turned to him. “You never actually did tell me who you were.”

“Oh,” he grinned. “Sorry. I’m Theodore. Call me Theo.”

I left after that, and I won’t go back.

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I’ve been reading too much Borges

I went to visit Adam today. He’s been so busy lately, though there hasn’t been anything to show for it. Every time I’ve seen him he’s been typing furiously, pen scratching on the paper and head bent over the desk. There’s a mountain next to him, a pile of crumpled paper on the desk that’s nearing his head. It’s been threatening to fall for a while now, and today it had actually started to drift to pieces. Adam didn’t look so well either.

He’s gotten a bit haggard. When I knocked he opened the door and I was shocked, breath pushed out of me. His eyes are so wide, and ringed with shadow. It looks like his skin is bruised, and I swear he’s gotten thinner in the past few days alone. He smiled when he saw me, though. He stepped aside and ushered me in, and started to talk.

“I’m breaking through it, this stupid writer’s block. You know it’s not something that happens much to me. Just the past couple weeks, and my god I’ve been going crazy.”

“I know,” I said. “I know you have.”

He snorted, and plucked the paper from his desk with a flourish. It was a gesture at odds with his appearance, like a beggar bending in a courtly bow. I took the paper from him, and the words rushed from him.

“I’ve come up with this new character. Theodore, I think his name is. Theo maybe. He’s brilliant, just the answer to everything. I’m sure I’ll figure out his story – I think probably he’s a writer too, don’t roll your eyes, but he’s a writer and he’s having this trouble with, I don’t know, someone. Anyway he’s clever and a bit disheveled and all kinds of screwed up, the kind of guy you can’t talk to for five minutes without wanting to edge away a little. You know what I mean?”

I nodded, and skimmed the paper he’d given me. It was a description, simple, of the person he’d just described. It didn’t seem like much to me, except that it was the first paper in a long while that he hadn’t crushed into a wad and tossed on the top of the growing pile. So I gave him a hug, and told him I was glad. I didn’t stay long, because Mary was waiting for me. We were going to go out to dinner.

***

Yesterday I saw Adam again. When I headed over there I was thinking that he’d be so much happier, looking healthy, smiling. Once I saw him, though – he was smiling, but he’s shrunken and shriveled more than ever. It looks like his skin is withering on his bones. He was so enthusiastic though, jumping around and talking, a prancing skeleton with a mop of unwashed hair. He was telling me about Theo – he had to remind me, that was the character he’d made up. This guy lived in a little apartment, and he was dealing with his father’s death only a few months before. He had a situation with a woman that he wasn’t quite sure of – I interrupted here to ask Adam, pointedly, how he was doing. He really just wanted to keep talking about how Theo was doing.

I could see, clearly, that having something like this to focus on was giving him energy. The motivation, the drive that I’d always seen in him was there, stronger than ever. He practically quivered with the intensity of his excitement. It looked like that energy was disappearing from his body even as it filled his mind. He kept babbling about Theo, and waving his arms. I thought he might fall.

After a bit I got him to sit and eat some cereal. There didn’t seem to be much other food in the whole place, though I searched the cabinets. I found some old cereal, sour milk and a rotten bunch of grapes in the fridge, and a drawer full of dry spaghetti. He was eating cereal when I put some water up on the stove, after washing out the pot. The spoon shook as he brought it to his face, and he had to concentrate on feeding himself like something he was remembering how to do. I made him a pound of spaghetti and put it in the fridge, and I didn’t leave before I made him promise to eat some at least twice a day. I think he only waited for me to shut the door before going back to his desk and his pen.

+++

To be continued, once I have written more of it. Also! A drawing of mine and an accompanying snippet of words were published today here.