Brain Damage

By Andrew Looney

Zachary Jones was sitting by the window in the fifth row of a Greyhound bus bound for Detroit. There were eleven other people on the bus, their gray faces staring out of the gray windows, and they all had good reasons for going to Detroit.

Zac looked out of his gray window and wondered why he was going to Detroit. He remembered. Detroit was the most distant city he could get to with the money he had. Next he wondered what he'd do when he got there.

"I'll get off the bus," he told himself aloud.

Presently the bus stopped, and a new driver got on. He brought with him a substantial amount of the April rain.

"April showers bring my trousers," said Zac.

Suddenly Zac remembered Suzanne, and the life he had lived so long before. It was, in fact, about three months ago, but as Zac thought about it, it seemed like several thousand years. He sometimes wondered if he'd ever even had that other life. Perhaps he just saw it in a movie.

Suzanne had been Zac's girlfriend. The two of them had gone to high school together, but they ended up going to different colleges, and so they only saw each other on weekends. Each Friday, Zac would make the two hour drive in his beat up old Volkswagen, and he usually stayed the weekend.

One Friday, Zac had taken a terribly difficult physics exam, and he was reasonably certain that he had failed it. To make matters worse, he forgot his backpack when he left the lecture hall, wallowing in a mist of self pity, and when he returned, it was gone. That backpack not only contained a $40.00 physics textbook, but two notebooks full of class notes that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace. He spent more than an hour trying to track it down, subsequently missing his next class, and he never found a trace of it.

It had snowed the night before, which made the drive to Suzanne's particularly unpleasant. By the time he arrived, he was looking forward to a quiet evening with his girlfriend more than anything else he could think of. He needed to get his mind off his troubles.

Suzanne's roommate, Kirsten, met him at the door. "She's not here. She told me to give you this," said Kirsten, quickly vanishing down the hall.

"This" turned out to be a brief note to Zac, explaining that Suzanne had fallen in love with her history professor and had run away to Mexico with him to join a religious cult. Zac was stunned. Admittedly, he had recalled noting a certain degree of coldness in her during his last few visits, but he never imagined that their relationship might be in danger.

Zac had done very little other dating; he wasn't sure he knew how to start over again. He hardly had any time to worry about it though; three days later he was faced with a new problem.

Early one morning, Zac was shaken awake by his roommate. "Your mom's on the phone," he said. "It sounds like bad news."

Zac slowly pulled himself towards consciousness, like a diver swimming to the surface from the bottom of a very deep pool. His mother was so broken up that Zac had great difficultly in discovering what she was trying to say. Eventually, through the sobs, he was able to figure out that his father had died.

Zac had only experienced the death of a loved one once before. When he was seven years old, his dog, Vector, had been run over by a school bus. Zac cried for three days. This tragedy, however did not hit him as hard.

When he first heard the news, he felt strangely unconcerned. Everyone dies sooner or later. At the funeral, though his mother and two sisters bawled continuously, he shed not a single tear. Mostly he stared at the floor, and tried to think. After the reading of the will, however, the permanence of his father's death began to sink in. It was difficult to accept. His father was a constant. He was always there when Zac needed him. He was never gone, except when he occasionally went out of town, in which case he always came back, usually with small gifts for him and his sisters. How could he possibly go away forever?

One thing in particular troubled Zac. He was certain that his father knew how much he loved him, yet Zac had never actually told him so. He felt that it was a dreadful mistake on his part.

In the weeks that followed, Zac did very little. He returned to school, but did not go to class. He spent a week sleeping, each day waking up only long enough to take a shower and then crawl back into bed. He didn't eat at all.

His friends tried to help, but there was little they could do. They encouraged him to go to class, and invited him to parties and other social events, but he was entirely disinterested. He became very moody. Often he would say nothing when people spoke to him, and other times he would have violent outbursts, in which he hurled threats, insults, and occasionally, small objects, at everyone in sight. His roommate couldn't stand it, and moved out. Eventually, even his closest friends gave up, and went away. When Zac's name came up in conversation, they would sadly shake their heads.

From that point on, virtually no one spoke to Zac. He stayed alone in his room, sleeping, and reading pulp science fiction books. Each day, he gorged himself at dinner in the dining hall, but ate no other meals. He frequently brought food back with him, and then did not eat it.

His room was a mess. The floor was knee deep in dirty clothes, books, magazines, newspapers, uneaten food, and trash. It stunk, and was stiflingly hot. The cockroaches loved it. Everywhere you looked, you saw them. They crawled around freely, without persecution. If you were to touch one of the posters which sagged slightly on most of the wallspace, a dozen roaches would scamper out from under it in every direction.

Zac didn't mind the roaches. Indeed, he considered them his best and only true friends.

Sometimes Zac took long walks in the middle of the night. On one such walk, he found himself at the bus station, and having nothing else to do, he bought himself a ticket to Detroit.

When he got there, he got off the bus. It was raining, but Zac did not mind the rain. "It's like taking a shower," he said to a man he walked past. "I like showers."

Zac walked along the busy city streets. The rain made everything dark and colorless. Zac suspected this was because someone was watching him on a black and white TV set.

Zac decided it was time to go home, but he didn't know how to, so instead he went across the street to a coffee shop with a blue neon sign in the window that read "DONUT". The "S" was burned out. Inside, Zac could see several department store mannequins seated on bar stools. He went up to the dirty, plate glass door and tried to push it open. He pushed very hard. Then he noticed a small sign over the handle, which read "PULL".

"Oh well," thought Zac, somewhat dejected, "I'll come back when they're open."

Just then, one of the department store mannequins came out of the coffee shop and approached Zac. She was wearing a long white robe, and her black hair was in braids. She handed Zac a red carnation, and said "I want you to have this flower, and could you please make a donation to the..."

Zac reached into his pocket and pulled out all of the coins he had there. It totaled 37 cents. "That's all I have," he said as he handed her the coins, and absently walked away.

Later, Zac arrived at a small park and sat down on a bench to consider the problem of getting home. In doing so, he accidentally crushed his carnation, and broke the stem, about two inches from the top.

Zac looked down at the spoiled flower and began to cry. It seemed to him that it was the saddest thing he had ever seen. He had paid seven thousand dollars for that flower, and now it was ruined. He wept huge tears, and bawled loudly.

Suddenly, he stopped crying, because he realized that two aliens from the planet Froozboddle had emerged from their spacecraft, which was parked nearby, and were approaching him. They were cleverly disguised as police officers.

He listened to what they were saying.

"Why does he cry, Grxxxxt?"

"Because, Yaaaaght, my friend, he has suffered many woeful tragedies, and the sadness weighs heavily upon him."

"Then we must help him, Grxxxxt. I shall use this desteeglifier to erase his sadness."

One of the cops shook Zac. "I said, are you alright, bud? Whatdayathink, Leroy?"

"He's drunk, John. Let's take him down to the station." Leroy was bored, and wanted to arrest someone.

At the police station, Zac failed to answer any questions coherently. He had no possessions except a crumpled, soggy bus ticket and the tattered remains of a red carnation, which he clutched desperately.

After several days of investigation, which failed to reveal anyone who knew Zac, or even anyone who wanted to, and after it was realized that his brain damage was caused by more than alcohol, he was committed to the Glenndale Sanitarium.

Visiting hours are: Thursdays, 4:00 - 5:30, Sundays, 1:30 - 3:30, and Mondays, 6:00 - 8:00.

This story appears in My Secret World. Copyright © 1985 by Andrew Looney.

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