Being Henry David - By Cal Armistead


The last thing I remember is now.

Now, coming at me with heart-pounding fists. My eyes shoot open, and there is too much. Of everything. Blurred figures, moving. White lights. Muffled waves of sound. Voices. Music. Chaos.

“You gonna eat that?”

A noise at my ear. I turn. Smear of a face, too close. Its mouth moves, can’t make sense of the words. Close my eyes, rub hard. Sore and gritty. I open them. Blink and blink. Senses snap into focus.

Everything in this place is washed of color. Tile on the floor is gray and white. Pumped-in classical music, way too loud. Crazy violins. Nothing makes sense.

“You gonna eat that?”

A fat man stares into my face. Long tangled hair, streaked gray, bushy beard. Eyes all watery and bloodshot. I sit on the floor leaning against a wall, the man sits next to me, gray football jersey and dirty blue sweatpants. Stinking of unwashed body and stale tobacco, with crusty bits of food in his beard.

A loudspeaker crackle jolts me and a bored woman’s voice says, “Final call, nonstop service, track twelve, all aboard.” Over the shaggy man’s head, a huge sign hangs from the ceiling, black with white letters and numbers that flip and change next to names: Trenton; Washington DC; Niagara Falls; Boston.

Cities. They are cities. I understand that much at least. People are here to go to the cities on the sign. I don’t have a backpack or suitcase, but I figure I’m a traveler too. Why else would I be here?

All I understand is that I was sleeping, and now I am awake. So why don’t I remember anything that came before the sleeping?

The man speaks again, and I blink hard. Am I going to eat what? I look around, notice my own muddy gray sneakers on big feet. Faded blue jeans, ripped at the knee, black T-shirt, and a gray hooded sweatshirt. I don’t remember putting on these clothes or walking in mud.

I reach up to scratch my head and feel a sharp, stinging pain. When I pull my hand away, there’s blood on my fingertips. I touch again, more gently this time. Just under my hairline, there’s a huge lump with a crusty scab that I just scratched off. Luckily it’s not bleeding much, so I wipe the blood on my jeans like it doesn’t matter. But my eyes prickle and burn. All I want is to get out of this place and go home.

Searching my brain for what home means, I find a white blank space. Where, what, is home?

I fumble in my pockets for an ID. There’s a crumpled ten dollar bill in a front pocket, nothing else. I think I’m old enough to have a driver’s license and for a second, I see myself behind the wheel of a car. But then that shred of memory shuts down on me, hard, like a slammed door echoing down a long hallway.

“Hey! You gonna eat that?” The guy sounds angry now, furry black eyebrows crunched together.

I search around me again on the tile floor. If I find anything to eat, I’ll gladly give it to this annoying dude, make him go away so I can think. But the only thing I find is a green paperback book, under my right leg. I lift up the book, in case he thinks I’m hiding food under it. Nothing.

I shrug, book still in my hand. “No food.” My voice is a low, unfamiliar croak.

His bloodshot eyes never blink and never leave the book. Testing him, I lift it a few inches, shift it to the left, the right, set it back on the floor next to me. His zombie gaze drifts left, right, and down, following the book.

What the hell? I squint down to scan the title, but the next thing I know, a huge paw with grimy fingernails snatches the book away. With surprising speed for a guy his size, the man hauls himself to his feet and lumbers away from me, book pressed against his beard, into a sea of people who apparently got off a train all at once.

“Hey!” I shout after him. For one confused moment, I’m too stunned to move. Then I scramble to my feet and put these long legs to work, chasing after what is my only possession in this world as far as I know.

The big guy is a pro at dodging through people and briefcases and duffel bags and wheeled suitcases. Me, not so much. I run smack into a tall guy