FICTION: Paint by Mathew Peace

It was summer. At least I think it was supposed to be. No, it was April, so it was supposed to be spring. It doesn’t matter, our weather is usually either dull and cold, or cold with sunshine. On occasion, as a joke targeted at weathermen, you can see snow, sunshine and rain all in one day. People will undoubtedly spend the next week talking about that Monday they saw snow, sunshine and rain all in one day, and make jokes about how much it was like getting all four seasons in one day and how confused the weathermen must have been. People are like that.

This day it did not snow, it did not rain and the sun did not shine; the cold weather nipped at your fingertips and the sky was grey with clouds that had nothing better to do, no one better to annoy and had decided to stay here and give the locals something to talk about.

I removed myself from the passenger side of my car and stared blankly at the large white building in front of me.
My chauffer, a middle aged woman with short reddish purple hair at one point of her life, some two decades prior, had had removed from her a statistically large, bald and crying human being who I firmly believe looked absolutely nothing like me. She was leaning over the gear stick in an effort to put me in her range of sight, according to the laws of physics and sound this was supposed to make it easier for me to hear her voice. I have no hard facts or precise sources to back this up right now, it’s just something I read.

Either way her effort was in vain, not because she was defying the laws of physics and sounds, but because I didn’t want to hear her, I was appreciating the boring sky, the unimaginative looking building in front of me, and the startling amount of elderly people making their way towards it.
This is where they go to die, well some of them. Statistically, there’s still a few that die at home or at bus stops. But this is at least the type of buildings where very educated people with large amounts of debt spend billions trying to solve the mystery of death, or at least prolong it.

There’s something respectable about those that dedicate their lives to prolonging the period before the human body eventually gives up, piece by piece, or at least prolonging the period wherein the human body decides it’s had enough.

However most doctors and similarly educated medical professionals refuse to defy the wishes of the human body and therefore refuse to force it to endure another decade of enslavement to the brain. Instead they nurse the body back to health after something else has decided that said body has had enough of living, these typically come in the forms of large, speeding metal boxes, other angry brains or even whatever Comedian likes making fun of weathermen. I’ve seen videos of the weather throwing trees at people. Big trees. It’s not a joke.

“Okay?” said my chauffeur, to confirm I’d heard what she’d said.
“Yes, I’ll text you.” I reply, shutting the door.
I could end almost every conversation with those four words. Besides, I’d done this before, I knew the drill.

The main door to this lacklustre labyrinth was a large oval revolving door, big enough for wheelchairs and slow moving individuals to enter before the walls automatically close in on them.
In addition to preventing a messy squishing incident, this door was also built to keep out draughts and cold weather. But because the maintenance department refused to open the windows, the state of the art air conditioner was on at all times. Hooray for energy efficiency.

I walked up to a very ecstatic elderly man wearing a nametag that said “Hi, my name is DIRECTIONS” who was standing next to a wooden podium with a white “i” hanging above it and requested directions to the department that had summoned me. The smile faded from his face and was replaced by a look that might befall someone who has just found out that the moon is indeed, not made of cheese. He motioned for me to stay where I was and he took four steps behind him to the help desk and asked the young blonde receptionists. I defied his request and followed him to the desk. The receptionists pattered on a keyboard for a few seconds and looked up at Directions, completely ignoring me, and gave him the information he was looking for.
Satisfied that his purpose has been served, Directions looked triumphantly at me and with a booming voice said “Rehabilitation!” and gave me a confusing code that included several rights, a lot of lefts, a few Straight ons and a staircase. I gave my thanks and left.

Rehabilitation was not the department I was looking for, I had gone through that mess the year before. I went for a walk. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant walk: nurses bustled about, janitors lazily filled up the several thousand hand sanitiser stations available, old people stopped in the middle of hallways to talk to their friends or remember where they were going – they do this at home or at bus stops too – and builders conversed about Roger, their manager who they had spotted two weeks prior, without his protective helmet on. One of the builders explained that he was only on a step ladder, so he need not wear it. His friend argued adamantly. At least it was better than the weather.

I took a straight on, then a right. I ignored the sign for Rehabilitation and continued on. Rehabilitation was actually meant in the physical therapy sense, not the service almost all of my neighbours and I, depending on who you ask, desperately require. It was a minor disappointment.

Taking another left I was met with the Outpatient Check-in Desk. Hospitals have a lot of desks for everything. They took my details and gave me the same sort of directions the others had bestowed upon me. I gave my thanks and left.

My condition isn’t exactly the rarest, 1% is kind of a lot. That’s fifty thousand in my country, still not big enough to warrant its own department, or even a place next to the other dieticians in Rehabilitation.
The corridors which I had walked thus far had been very wide and each wall dotted with paintings and colourful signs, the floor had many intersecting lines, each a different colour and demanded violently that we follow it to its corresponding department.
The route I was required to take from here on wasn’t as well lit, had barely enough room for two abreast and had no paintings, just white walls turned grey in the dim light. A single frayed yellow line on the ground beckoned nowhere near as enthusiastically as its brothers at the outpatient desk.
Its sole purpose in life was to guide weary travellers to a destination. I had seen no signs to explain where this was and I wondered if the line itself knew where it was going, or if it was content enough just watching others share in its confusion.

After a left, the yellow line feebly pleaded that I take the lift. I declined respectfully citing that I needed the exercise. I left the line to its misery and took the stairs.
On the floor above I stopped and looked out the glass cage that encased the staircase to find the yellow line, bright and fresh, happily guiding everyone it found to radiology. It had found its purpose. I smiled and continued up the stairs.

I exited the glass cage on the second floor, and smiled at the worn brains and deteriorating bodies so old they probably confused me for their grandchildren. They were seated in green chairs next to an orange door. Turning right down the hall I was confronted with a sign that said “Ophthalmology Department” in large, friendly letters. It answered a lot of questions while making me exhale sharply in response to the probably unintentional joke.

There I sat, in Waiting Room 4, surrounded by over fifties, all with glasses or sunglasses. Like most people I assumed an older person with sunglasses was blind, in this case I was wrong.
Naturally I attracted a lot of looks and silent questions, mainly because I don’t wear glasses and if they were to take their glasses off, I looked like Tom Cruise.

I was sitting next to a man, who I estimate at around fifty, he had grey hair and a fanny pack with multiple pairs of glasses. He was holding a newspaper and switching glasses constantly, presumably to see which was better. His eyesight was rapidly degrading; all of glasses had dates on them, one for every year, for the last seven years.

After waiting silently for around ten minutes, I was called in. Robert, the man with the glasses, had already been called. I would never see him again, In a Schrödinger sense, Robert no longer existed.
I pondered this thought as I sat down in the typical hospital chair. The manufacturers must have made millions selling these to clinics and hospitals, they were everywhere.

The woman I was there to see, whose name and job title I have completely forgotten, introduced herself and, taking a pen from the pocket protector of her sports coat, started scribbling on a notepad. We talked for a few minutes about subjects that I would not even discuss with myself.
We then discussed my diet: the reason I was there. She needed to make sure that I was not sneaking bread or biscuits into my diet. This is not because I overeat, but because of allergies, and I made it clear to her, as I did the year before, that I would be able to tell if I had indeed accidentally swallowed a loaf of bread.

Satisfied I had given all the right answers, I was ushered back into Waiting Room 4, with the disintegrating people. I tried listening to their conversations; logic dictates this would be easy: as the human ear is consistently one of the first parts of the body to decide that it no longer cares about living, and starts phoning it in. Modern medicine and technology however have given older people the use of hearing aids, granting some superhuman hearing over short distances. My grandmother still can’t hear for shit though.

The dusty vessels continued to talk and understand each other in hushed voices while I contemplated the state of my own hearing.
A woman arrived as if by magic, from the corner of my eye, calling my name and beckoning me to follow her back in the direction of the glass cage. She introduced herself as Michelle, a Nurse. We entered a small room, barely a closet, which held yet another desk and a set of scales.
She requested I use said scales without taking my heavy, steel tipped mountain boots off. Accuracy obviously wasn’t her priority, something that still perplexes me to this day.
The little digital interface lit up, displaying “888kg” and a confused fear overcame me. The number began dropping like a supervillain’s doomsday clock and I relaxed. Settling around 91.1kg, I celebrated and subtracted a kilo in shoe weight. I had achieved my target.

Michelle scribbled this down and took me back into an interview room, where we could talk.
I had to, as I do every year, have the same conversation twice in the space of an hour, as Michelle and Woman No. 1 apparently do not communicate, and I do not have the luxury of consistent dieticians.

Michelle was easier to convince, after five years of living with this she would expect the chances of me accidentally using scones as eye drops or injecting biscuit crumbs into my veins to be fairly low. We talked and we laughed, I made more than enough jokes and the words “vastly overweight” were thrown at me as casually as can be. Further interrogation and ample mathematics proved that dear Michelle’s calculations do not take into account muscle. As the meeting came to a close she printed off a strip of labels, cursing the machine at the same time. She handed me the strip and watched as I reluctantly made for the green chairs and the orange door next to the glass cage.

Of the four green chairs that sat side by side only the first in the row was occupied, naturally I sat in the last one and idly read the strip of labels. Each of the nine labels had a different colour: purple, gold etc written underneath an abbreviation. Presumably to let the boys in the lab know what to do with the nine vials of my dark red, metallic life juice they were about to receive.

People have, and still believe that eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their enemies proves to the Comedian that they are worthy enough to receive their opponents strength. I’m not so sure, surely being able to best your opponent in the first place is a sign of strength. Jeffrey Dahmer just did it for fun. Either way, it’s a good way to get AIDS.

I pondered this as I sat in what looked to me like a dentist’s chair. A short, plump and rough looking woman readied a set of needles and other utensils designed specifically for removing precious life juice from willing participants.

“Where do they usually take blood from?” she said with a voice like gravel.
“My arm.” I said with a smile.
She shot me a look that could turn a bloke to stone.
“Dealers choice” I said, extending my arms and correcting my mistake.

A short pinch preceded the intense feeling that my entire body would soon be sucked into the small glass vial, this was repeated eight times before a cotton ball was pressed over the wound on the inside of my elbow and taped down. I slumped off the chair like a drunk cartoon character, made for the orange door; gingerly stomping down the stairs in the glass cage. Stretching my arms through my coat as the tape simultaneously stretched the hairs on my arm.

I took a detour onto the first floor, where the yellow line was happy, and I let him lead me to radiology. Through the turns and doorways, the meandering hallways, I could imagine him as a child, bouncing with joy after finding something interesting to show his parents.

The line had grown brighter as it approached the door, reaching a climax, his purpose. I felt myself become somewhat proud to be a part of his journey and his life, simplistic as it was.
He ended at a doorway, abruptly, like a car crashing into a wall, and it was devastating in a way.

I stood there for a while, next to the sign for Radiology and watched the nurses bustle about, patients nervously shuffle like refugees in pursuit of bored but smiling radiologists who were about to blast their fiftieth person with radiation that day, and had lost the ability to empathise with their patients anxiety.

Time passed, I cannot say how much, but a nurse approached me and asked if I needed help. I declined, thanked her for her concern and took the exchange as a cue to leave. I followed the trail of overhead signs to the exit, without looking at the floor. I did not think of the line again.

After all, he was just a bit of paint.

*

Mathew Peace

Mathew Peace is a writer currently living in Fife, Scotland, spending hours, days and weeks battering keyboards while alternating between self-deprecation and grandiosity. An aimless dreamer, he unburdens his heart and soul with a constant stream of almost unintelligible paragraphs about a hopeless future, an unproductive present and an uneventful past.

If you enjoyed Paint, leave a comment and let Mathew know.

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