Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 37 of 64

“You’re going to work now?”

“I’m just going to send Fede a message and send out for some muscle-relaxants. There’s a twenty-four-hour chemist’s at Paddington Station that delivers.”

“I’ll do it, you lie flat.”

And so it began. Bad enough to be helpless, weak as a kitten and immobile, but to be at the whim of someone else, to have to provide sufficient excuse for every use of his comm, every crawl across the flat… Christ. “Just give me my comm, please. I can do it faster than I can explain how to do it.”

In thirty-six hours, he was ready to tear the throat out of anyone who tried to communicate with him. He’d harangued Linda out of the flat and crawled to the kitchen floor, painstakingly assembling a nest of pillows and sofa cushions, close to the icemaker and the painkillers and toilet. His landlady, an unfriendly Chinese lady who had apparently been wealthy beyond words in Hong Kong and clearly resented her reduced station, agreed to sign for the supply drops he commed to various retailers around London.

He was giving himself a serious crick in his neck and shoulder from working supine, comm held over his head. The painkillers weighted his arms and churned his guts, and at least twice an hour, he’d grog his way into a better position, forgetting the tenderness in his back, and bark afresh as his nerves shrieked and sizzled.

Two days later and he was almost unrecognizable, a gamey, unshaven lump in the tiny kitchen, his nest gray with sweat and stiff with spilled take-away curry. He suspected that he was overmedicating, forgetting whether he’d taken his tablets and taking more. In one of his more lucid moments, he realized that there was a feedback cycle at play here—the more pills he took, the less equipped he was to judge whether he’d taken his pills, so the more pills he took. His mind meandered through a solution to this, a timer-equipped pillcase that reset when you took the lid off and chimed if you took the lid off again before the set interval had elapsed. He reached for his comm to make some notes, found it wedged under one of his hocks, greasy with sweat, batteries dead. He hadn’t let his comm run down in a decade, at least.

His landlady let Linda in on the fourth day, as he was sleeping fitfully with a pillow over his face to shut out the light from the window. He’d tried to draw the curtains a day—two days?—before, but had given up when he tried to pull himself upright on the sill only to collapse in a fresh gout of writhing. Linda crouched by his head and stroked his greasy hair softly until he flipped the pillow off his face with a movement of his neck. He squinted up at her, impossibly fresh and put together and incongruous in his world of reduced circumstances.

“Art. Art. Art. Art! You’re a mess, Art! Jesus. Why aren’t you in bed?”

“Too far,” he mumbled.

“What would your grandmother say? Dear-oh-dearie. Come on, let’s get you up and into bed, and then I’m going to have a doctor and a massage therapist sent in. You need a nice, hot bath, too. It’ll be good for you and hygienic besides.”

“No tub,” he said petulantly.

“I know, I know. Don’t worry about it. I’ll sort it out.”

And she did, easing him to his feet and helping him into bed. She took his house keys and disappeared for some unknowable time, then reappeared with fresh linen in store wrappers, which she lay on the bed carefully, making tight hospital corners and rolling him over, nurse-style, to do the other side. He heard her clattering in the kitchen, running the faucets, moving furniture. He reminded himself to ask her to drop his comm in its charger, then forgot.

“Come on, time to get up again,” she said, gently peeling the sheets back.

“It’s OK,” he said, waving weakly at her.

“Yes, it is. Let’s get up.” She took his ankles and gradually turned him on the bed so that his feet were on the floor, then grabbed him by his stinking armpits and helped him to his feet. He stumbled with her into his crowded living room, dimly aware of the furniture stacked on itself around him. She left him hanging on the door lintel and then began removing his clothes. She actually used a scissors to cut away his stained tee shirt and boxer shorts. “All right,” she said, “into the tub.”

“No tub,” he said.

“Look down, Art,” she said.

He did. An inflatable wading pool sat in the middle of his living room, flanked by an upended coffee table and his sofa, standing on its ear. The pool was full of steaming, cloudy water. “There’s a bunch of eucalyptus oil and Epsom salts in there. You’re gonna love it.”

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