Inside the hollow sun

 Uncategorized
Oct 122011
 
Authors: Justin Goodfellow

“What can I get for ya?”

“Whiskey sour.”

“Sure thing, boss.” The bartender started mixing whiskey and lemon juice and sugar. I pulled out my phone and sent a text to Greg. Having a few drinks. Head over.

I dropped my last 20 out for the bartender as he set my drink down. I picked it up and took a long sip. I wouldn’t be able to get my next welfare check until therapy on Monday, but I drained most of the drink without savoring it anyway and ordered another. A light buzz started settling in and it made me think back to last year.

You are all a lost generation. That’s all I wrote for the first few months. Same with Geoffrey Chase Tucker-Hem, Angela Elizabeth Hudson-Hem, Frank Gordon Mendez-Hem and Terry Nicholas Padilla-Hem. That sentence was the only thing I thought about for weeks after getting my implant.

It felt like some great revelation instead of an overused sentence. To me, they didn’t feel like the same words Hemingway wrote a hundred years ago. They were fact.

I tried explaining this feeling to Dr. Clermont once a long time ago before I’d learned what type of man he is. I didn’t have rows of scars that I constantly rubbed across my wrists back then.

“Well that’s natural with the implants, Harrison,”said Dr. Clermont. “Any person with an Oppenheimer implant is going to obsess over nuclear fusion for years before experimenting with other physics. Same with the Warhols too. They enjoy their soup cans for a while, but eventually, they’ll begin working on Progresso cans. When you put an implant into your life, that’s just the way it works,” he’d said.

“Is that the way it should work?” I’d asked.

“How I think it should work isn’t important, Harrison. Tell me how you think it should work.”

I noticed my phone buzzing on the bar. I picked it up and read a message from Greg: Can’t. I’ve got therapy in an hour. I’ll call you tonight. My implant started throbbing and I scratched the back of my head. Another unpleasant side effect. The headaches used to be one of my excuses for writer’s block. I blamed it on all sorts of thing like slow spinning fans, lukewarm coffees and loud people. Blaming them used to make me feel less responsible.

“I’ll take one more,” I said to the bartender after draining my second drink.

“It’s one in the afternoon boss, sure you need another already?”

“Yeah, my head hurts.”

“All right, $4.50.” I tossed out the last of my money started wondering if I had anything to drink at home. There was a chance that Elizabeth had left something the other night, but I couldn’t remember. I wouldn’t see her until I went to Dr. Clermont’s next session, and I could already picture a frown sitting under her blank gray eyes as I told her I’d polished off the rest of her wine.

“Here you go,” said the bartender as he sat a fresh whiskey sour in front of me. “So what’s wrong with your head?” I looked around the bar. It was pretty much empty besides me and another guy around 60. I must have seemed more interesting than him.

“Uh, just an implant.”

“Oh yeah? You got one of those, huh?” I nodded my head. “They’ve been finding more and more of those spoiled ones lately.”

“Yes, they’ve been finding quite a few,” I said.
“So who do you have in yours?”

“Hemingway.” The bartender seemed to squish his face in concentration. “Ernest Hemingway?” I said. “The Old Man and the Sea? The Sun Also Rises?” He shook his head as I listed off the books.

“Sorry boss, don’t know him.” I shrugged and took another drink. “So is he one of those banned ones?” I put my drink down and looked at him hard. He seemed to wait for some response, but I sat still. I could see discomfort settle over him as he decided to change his question. “So… why did ya get the implant?”

I thought about it for a moment. I wanted to write the short lines like Hemingway did. I thought it would help me write books for my generation like he had. I felt like he was what my writing needed. It was a stretch, too, but back then I thought that I might even find the new voice for my generation. I wanted it to help me write. I didn’t want it to help kill me.
“It made sense,” I responded.

“Made sense how?” asked the bartender. I leaned further onto the bar and grabbed a straw. He watched as I started dragging it back and forth across my wrist.

“Well,” I started, “It was simple, you can spend thousands of dollars on a college education, or you can spend those same thousands of dollars on a neuron pulse stimulant implant that takes an hour to get.”

“Yeah, I hear that boss. I skipped dealing with all. The old man had a place at this joint for me, so I just hopped on it.” I stood up and drained my glass. He seemed to catch the hint and started walking down the bar. “Well, nice talking to ya. Hope your head feels better.”

“Thanks,” I called as I shuffled out the door. Standing made me feel a little drunker, and I wandered off into a sunny Friday afternoon.

I stood waiting. Knock knock. I started muttering, “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…” Knock knock. Silence filled the space around my knocking. The hallway was dimly lit, and I counted out another three seconds. Knock knock.

“Harrison?” I heard Greg call behind his apartment door.

“Yeah,” I called back, “it’s me, Greg.” I heard locks turn before Greg cracked open his door and poked his head out.

“Hey, sorry about that. Never hurts to double check.” Greg proceeded to shut and lock the door after I walked through. His desk lamp was on, and I could see papers spread out under its light.

“Did you draw today?” I asked as I walked up to the desk.

“Tried to,” said Greg. He came up and stood next to me. “My hand started getting bad again.”

I examined the drawings on top of the pile. The lines were shaky and sporadic. They looked like sketches that would come out of an elementary school classroom. I shuffled them aside and looked at the drawings underneath. Smoother lines occupied the comic strip boxes on these pages. Some even had color already, but most of the dialogue boxes were blank. Greg liked me to proofread his lines before he wrote them down.

“I tried writing this afternoon.”

Greg turned toward me with raised eyebrows, “Really?”

“Yeah,” I said, “but nothing really came out of it. I was just in the mood to see what would happen today.” I walked over to the couch and laid down. “Have you got anything to drink?”

“I’m not sure if we finished off that wine yesterday,” he said. “I’ll go check.” Greg went into the kitchen and started opening cabinets. The afternoon sun squeezed into the apartment through a small window. The living room had been tidied since I’d left this morning. I looked up at the dozens of “Peanuts” comic strips hanging on the walls. A majority of them had Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and as usual, ending up on the ground. “Sorry, Harrison,” called Greg, “looks like we’re out of luck.”

“Whatever,” I sighed, “I’ll grab some more on Monday when we get our checks.”

“Are you already out again?” asked Greg from the kitchen. I usually had trouble holding onto my welfare money past Wednesdays. No one was willing to hire people like Greg and I anymore, but at least they didn’t give us a hard time about registering for a disability claim. The only condition was attending therapy every weekday. That’s what gets me into Dr. Clermont’s office week after week.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“What did you spend it all on this time?” I didn’t respond. Greg walked into the living room and stared at me before sitting at the table. I started scratching the scabs on my wrists. “I’ve still got 80 left if you want to go to the store.”

“All right,” I said, standing up. I felt something stream down my arm and over my hand.
“Is that blood?” I heard Greg say.

I couldn’t stop scratching at the bandages. This was the third time I’d had to replace them since Friday. They would start out on my wrists white like the hallways of the trauma center. They were a type of white that held hope that first time I’d gone to therapy. The first time I saw Elizabeth. I could still remember—

“Can I help you?” the receptionist had asked.

“Uh, yeah actually,” I’d replied, “I’m here for therapy.” She looked at me for a moment, wanting something I couldn’t guess.

“Great. Name please?”

My nerves had control. “Oh,” I nodded, “Harrison Knapp-Hem.” She looked back down to her computer and started typing.

“Go back to the elevator, but take a left at the hallway just before it,” she said without looking up from her monitor. “You want room 534, Dr. Clermont.”

“Thanks,” I said as I turned around and headed back through the lobby. The receptionist’s directions took me through a small white hallway filled with people. They were sitting in chairs, waiting. Everything looked clean, and like it had a place. It was the same type of comfort a hospital gives. I went to the end of the hall and sat down in a chair next to 534. A girl sat across from me next to 533.

I opened a book I’d brought and pretended to read. I started glancing up from time to time, trying to catch her eye, but she seemed to be staring somewhere. I made sure to tilt the cover of my book toward her anyway. I’d brought an old hard copy of “The Great Gatsby” even though I’d only read the sequel, “Gatsby’s Manor.” Blinking seemed rare for her, and I didn’t notice her eyes ever shift in any direction other than straight. I finally risked staring. Her eyes were glassy and completely gray.

I heard 534 creak open behind me and a voice leaked out, “Mr. Knapp-Hem?” Dr. Clermont entered the hallway. He was an older man, freshly shaven with thin, graying hair on his head. His eyes were droopy, and I stood up to face him.

“Yeah, that’s me,” I said.

“Right this way,” he replied with a sweeping gesture. I followed him into room 534. I turned back and saw a man stick his head out of 533.

“Elizabeth?” the man asked the girl as Dr. Clermont shut his office door behind me.

I noticed I was scratching again. Parts of my bandages had turned from white to a pinkish red. I grabbed my phone and dialed Elizabeth. Her vision impairment had left her absent from the world of text messaging.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Harrison.”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“I need help changing my bandages. Can I come over?”

“For Christ’s sake, Harrison, again?”

“Yeah, I promise I’ll leave them alone this time,” I lied, “I just want them to be fresh for therapy.”

“I’ll help you in the morning when you pick me up. I’m going to bed now, goodnight.”

“Come on,” I pleaded before hearing a click. She had hung up.
My session with Dr. Clermont didn’t go well the next morning. He made me unwrap my wrists so he could take photographs of the fresh scars.

“You’re symptoms are getting worse,” he said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. He just shook his head. It was a long hour for the both of us. He started suggesting extra sessions, and I argued against it. I couldn’t imagine spending more time in here with all of them. We reached an agreement: any more fresh cuts and I’d have to go to evaluation.

Evaluation is where the head panel of the trauma center reviews your file. They can give you a new therapist, multiple therapists, or even require permanent residency in the trauma center. Like I said, it was a long hour.

I waited for Elizabeth outside of office 533 after therapy. Her sessions ended later than mine. I watched people drag their feet through the hall. It always squeaked when they did because the floors were freshly waxed each morning. The sound made me clench my teeth.

“Harrison?” said Elizabeth as she walked out into the hallway.

“Hey,’ I said, standing up and offering my arm. Elizabeth reached out and grabbed it. She was wearing sunglasses again. She’d taken to having them on all the time. ‘I’d rather people wondered why I’m wearing them indoors,’ she’d told me. ‘Not wonder if I’m blind.’ We walked out of the building together and headed toward Moreno’s.

Greg usually met us there for lunch on the Mondays. It was a café that was roughly located between all of our homes, so it had become a place we liked to frequent. Greg already had a table when we walked inside.

“Afternoon,” he said.

“Hello, Greg,” Elizabeth replied. I patted him on the back and took a seat across from the window.
“Do you want anything off the menu today?” Greg asked Elizabeth.

“No, that’s all right,” she said. Greg and I had guessed that reading the menu out loud embarrassed her. She tended to just get whatever the special was for the day.

The waiter approached us a few moments later. “Hi, my name is Anthony and I’ll be helping you today. Can I start you off with anything to drink besides water?”
“Iced tea please,” said Elizabeth.

“Actually, I’ll take the same,” said Greg.

“And… I’d like a glass of cabernet sauvignon,” I said.

“I’m sorry sir,” said Anthony, “but we don’t serve alcohol before noon.” I pulled out my phone to look at the time— 11:14. Damn it.

“Water’s fine,” I said.

“Very good, I’ll be back for your orders in just a moment.”

“Thank you,” said Elizabeth as Anthony walked away.

“So, are you still planning on Idaho?” asked Greg.

“Yeah, I’m leaving on Friday,” I said.

“And you’ll be back…”

“Sunday.” I had a type of anniversary to honor. July 2, the day Hemingway committed suicide in 1961.

Friday couldn’t come quick enough. I’d put in the request for this trip months ago, and it had been a hassle. Dr. Clermont had met with some of his colleagues to review my file before they even considered my request. I’d asked for permission to go to Ketchum, Idaho this upcoming weekend.

Saturday would be July 2, and I’d gotten it in my head that I needed to be there. I wanted to see his grave. I couldn’t be sure I’d have the chance to ever go again.

On the first review, I got a blunt “no.” It was two more applications before they took my request seriously. I’d had to answer pretty standard questions for them—

Review Board: Why do you want to take this trip?

Me: I think that going to his home might help. I might be able to write again or stop the cutting. It could be a wake up call.

Review Board: Why do you think you’re eligible to be awarded city leave for the weekend?

Me: I never miss therapy, and I haven’t applied for additional funds to take the trip.

Review Board: Why are you requesting that one, Elizabeth Metzer, be allowed to go with you?
—Like I said, standard questions.

The review board ended up granting me permission. They set up the flight and gave us one of their guys to chaperone. The chaperone would hold our funds, IDs, hotel keys, etc. Not the best possible outcome, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d just turned me down all together.

Elizabeth stayed over at my place the night before we left. She was fine with taking the couch. Greg didn’t even know she was coming with me. I felt bad about not asking him, but I wanted it to be her. My apartment buzzer started going off at nine on Friday morning. I opened the door to a large man in a gray suit. He was about 6’5’’ and thick.

“Knapp-Hem?” he read off his phone.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Officer Burling,” he said. He noticed Elizabeth sitting down with cereal and looked back to his phone. “And this must be,” he paused. “Metzer? Is that right?”

“That’s me,” Elizabeth said between bites.

“Just Metzer then? I’d been told you both had implants,” he said, still staring at his phone.
“Correct,” I said. He began to look confused.

“I don’t carry my implant tag on my name,” Elizabeth said. She’d found her way to the door. “The only side effect I’m diagnosed with is blindness; so, there’s really no need for you to have that information.” Greg and I had tried to figure out what type of implant Elizabeth had gotten many times. We still didn’t know.

Officer Burling glared at her. “Fine,” he said. “Metzer. Let’s get going. The van’s waiting.”

I picked up my bag and handed Elizabeth hers. She took it and held it out in the direction of Officer Burling. He scowled and grabbed it from her as we all headed out the door.

We almost missed our flight. The van got a flat, and we didn’t have a spare. When we got to the gate, the flight attendant had to reopen it for us. She looked at us as if she had a grudge as the three of us walked onto the plane.

On the plane, Officer Burling read, and Elizabeth slept. I had a window seat. I watched the clouds as we flew across the country. I thought about the trips I could have taken if I hadn’t gotten my implant. Maybe I would have gone to Europe.

Spain, possibly, or France. Definitely France. I could have gone to Paris and visited the cafés like the lost generation had. That’s where Hemingway truly started his writing. Without the implant, I might have gone to those places instead of Ketchum.

“You’re bleeding,” Officer Burling said. I lifted my arm and saw fresh blood flowing. I hadn’t even noticed I was scratching. “It looks like you got it all over your pants too.” I sighed as I looked at my pants. Officer Burling went back to his book, and I reached up and pressed the call button.

We landed in Boise on time. I turned my phone on and saw a text from Greg: “Good luck. Hope you find what you’re looking for. Take some pictures.”

I still felt guilty for leaving him behind. He hadn’t traveled in years either. He had tried to visit his parents, but the review board always denied his requests. They would try to come see him as often as they could, but they were usually busy taking care of Greg’s grandparents.

I put my phone away, and Elizabeth took my arm. We followed Officer Burling through the airport. Outside, we found a small sedan waiting for us. Officer Burling drove while Elizabeth and I sat in the back. He kept the doors locked. The drive to Ketchum took us about three hours, and by the time we got there, the sun had started to set. I asked if we could go see the grave, but Officer Burling took us to the hotel instead. I considered arguing but thought better of it. He looked tired from the traveling. If he had really wanted to, Officer Burling could have kept us in the hotel for the entire trip.

Our room ended up having two beds, and I took the floor. I hadn’t been sleeping for the past few nights; so, I didn’t mind. I started thinking about what might happen when I went home. Would I actually feel any different? I wondered if Dr. Clermont would notice anything. It was really a lot to ask for, but maybe I’d even be able to start writing again. I needed things to be different after the trip. I thought about that hard. I was up all night. We all got up early the next morning. Elizabeth showered while Officer Burling and I drank coffee. The TV was playing the news on a low volume, and Officer Burling watched it while I studied the view outside the window.

Bald Mountain dominated the view. Trees were in full bloom from the summer weather, and they littered every hillside on the mountain. The town itself was small, but it felt comfortable. I could live here, I thought to myself as I sipped my coffee.

By the time the news ended, Elizabeth and I were ready to go. Officer Burling downed the rest of his coffee, and we went out to the car. It took us a little while to find the cemetery despite the GPS unit in the car. I sat with clenched fists as the minutes passed us by.

“Swear it should be right over here,” Officer Burling muttered.

“Try going left up here,” Elizabeth said. I nudged her arm and she smiled.

Officer Burling stopped the car fast and turned around. “You shut the hell up,” he said. Then he took off again, continuing his whispered speech.

We finally made it to the cemetery, realizing that we’d already passed it. Officer Burling pretended to ignore this fact. We all got out and approached the entrance: a black metal arch. Elizabeth held my arm as we walked underneath it. Officer Burling stayed a few yards behind us.

“So here we finally are,” Elizabeth said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Finally.” We followed the cemetery path as it began to loop. I had pictured a statue in my mind, maybe of Hemingway in a boat, or just him standing in some dignified position. I scanned the area and only saw pine trees between the numerous tombstones. Two large pine trees stood out on the path. As we walked up, I looked down at the markers.

Two granite grave markers laid flat on the ground. One had the name Mary Hemingway on it, but the other belonged to him. I crouched next to it, and Elizabeth did the same. She stretched out her hand and traced it along the grave marker. I decided to do the same.

“You know what,” Elizabeth said.

“What?” I asked.

“I’ve never actually read any Hemingway.”

“Wait, really?”

“Not a page of it,” she said.

We both crouched in silence for a moment, until I started laughing. I couldn’t stop. I don’t know why I did it, but Elizabeth didn’t seem to mind. Eventually my laugh started sputtering into something else. It sounded like hiccups until I felt tears. I began to sob.

Elizabeth tightened her grip on my arm and sat me down as I cried and gasped for breath. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done this.

“Need a minute?” Elizabeth asked. I was still crying too hard to respond. She stood up and called to Officer Burling. He came up and guided her away from me. I clenched my bandaged wrists and cried harder than I could ever remember. I, Harrison Knapp-Hem, was sitting six feet above what remained of Ernest Miller Hemingway. Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment of the fiction story “Inside the Hollow Sun,” which will run in Verve throughout the rest of the semester.

I remember the rest of the trip as a blur. Somewhere between the cemetery and the Boise airport, we left Ketchum. We boarded a plane home and left without seeing anything else in Idaho.

I kept Dr. Evan Wendell’s card in my pocket. Something about him had struck me, and our
encounter occupied my thoughts as we flew on the plane. The card didn’t say much. It had his name and an email address to reach him at. It didn’t indicate the kind of doctor he was.

Officer Burling dropped us off at my apartment after we got back to the city. He kissed Elizabeth’s hand good-bye and gave me a gruff “Good luck, son” before he left to his normal life. Elizabeth plopped down on the couch, and I grabbed a bottle of wine from the kitchen.

“All right, what’s going on?” Elizabeth asked.

I popped the cork out and took a long swig from the merlot. “What?” I replied after polishing off a quarter of the bottle.

“One minute, we’re standing around watching you cry in the cemetery. Next thing you know, you’re having a conversation with some random guy who disappears when we come to check on you.”
“So?”

“So then you’re completely silent for the rest of the trip. What’s going on, Harrison?” I drank from the bottle again and watched Elizabeth. She kept her face turned in my direction so that I could see her dull gray eyes clearly.

Finally I sighed. “His name was Dr. Wendell. He gave me his card.”

“And?” Elizabeth insisted.

“And that’s it. Then he left.”

“He didn’t say anything?”

“Nope. Just told me to send him a message.”
“Are you going to?”

“I don’t know yet.” Elizabeth stopped asking questions, and I went back to the wine.
“Harrison, I’m tired. Take me home before you get drunk.”

“Sure,” I said before taking one more chug.

I walked Elizabeth home. She didn’t speak to me, and she slammed her door once she knew she was home. I couldn’t get her to understand I wasn’t lying. People were all over the streets, walking into shops and eating at restaurants. They all seemed to avoid me as I walked back home.

I caught a look of my face in the reflection of a shop mirror: overgrown stubble, unkempt brown hair, and saggy eyes. I couldn’t remember my face having as many wrinkles the last time I’d studied it.

I moved on and felt the bandage on my left wrist loosen. Instead of tightening it, I pulled it off and examined the rows of scars and scabs. They itched, but I resisted the urge to touch them more. I had a promise to keep with Dr. Clermont. Computers were perched in a coffee shop I was passing, and I decided to go inside. I took out Dr. Evan Wendell’s card and started typing him an email:

My name is Harrison Knapp-Hem. We met at the grave. What did you really want to talk about? Editor’s note: This is the ninth installment of the fiction story “Inside the Hollow Sun.” The story will run in Verve throughout the semester.

I had a message from Wendell the next time I checked my email. He told me about himself: a professor of English, 52 years old and an avid fisherman. He also said he had wanted a Hemingway implant a few years back. He ran out of the hospital 10 minutes before his appointment.

Over the weeks following my Ketchum trip, Wendell and I messaged constantly, talking about the things we’d read and about each other. He couldn’t have been busy since we exchanged as many as four messages a day. I, on the other hand, had nothing to do with my days except find ways to waste them.

He asked me why I chose the Hemingway implant, and I told him because I read “Hills Like White Elephants,” and I never stopped thinking about it. I asked him why he chose to not get his, and he said that no one with an implant had written anything he hadn’t read before. I asked him more about that, but he never addressed my question. Greg and Elizabeth called often, but I would answer sparsely, and then even more rarely, I’d meet them for lunch or coffee. For the most part, I just wanted to stay home.

Dr. Clermont ended up changing my appointment time to the end of his day, so he would have extra time to work with me. He wanted me to write again. I could tell he was disappointed with the Ketchum trip’s results. I was the same mess that had gone there in the first place, but I agreed to start a journal. I was supposed to write in it daily, and Dr. Clermont didn’t care what I put in it. He just wanted me to be writing something, anything.

After one session, I found Elizabeth waiting outside Clermont’s office.

“It’s been awhile,” she said. I stayed quiet. “All right,” Elizabeth started. “I think you’ve had enough time to sulk. I’ve been giving you space, but this is getting ridiculous. What have you been doing?”

“Nothing,” I replied.

She sighed. “Harrison, why are you doing this to me?” I paused and thought about it. “Harrison?”
“Elizabeth,” I said. “I am not doing anything.”

“Oh, really? You aren’t doing anything? You might want to think about that a little more. Avoiding me? Avoiding Greg? You’ve been an ass ever since the trip.” I walked past her and without responding. “Harrison, where the hell do you think you’re going?” Her voice echoed behind me as I stepped onto the elevator.

A couple weeks later, I was trying to write in my journal when the phone started ringing. I ignored it, but the phone rang again after the first call, and then a third time after that. I checked the caller ID: Elizabeth. I waited after the third call, and sure enough, the fourth one came. I took a sip from a bottle of whiskey before answering.

“Hey,” I said.
“Harrison,” she said. Her voice was frail. “You need to come down here now.”

“What?”

“It’s Greg,” she said. “You need to get down here now. We’re at the hospital.” Editor’s note: This is the tenth installment of the fiction story “Inside the Hollow Sun.” The story will run in Verve throughout the semester.

I ran. The streets were dark and empty. All I could hear was the panting of my breath. I’d had more to drink than I thought, and I felt dizzy. It wasn’t long before I ended up crouched over, vomiting into a gutter. I hadn’t been able to get Elizabeth to tell me what happened. She had just said she was in the hospital with Greg, and then she lost it. I tried to get her to settle down on the phone, but she just kept crying, and eventually I hung up and left.

After my stomach emptied its contents, I stood back up and walked fast. The hospital was only 15 blocks away from my apartment and walking would be quicker than waiting for the bus. I thought back to the last time Greg and I talked. It had been a while ago. A couple weeks? Maybe more? I couldn’t remember exactly. This is the type of friend I had become to him.

Entering the hospital, I whipped my head around the room. The lobby was empty aside from a lone nurse behind the secretary desk. She looked up at me and I watched as her mouth curved down into a frown. I imagined being in her shoes and seeing me walk in—a frantic, scuffed up man searching the lobby, dried vomit on his shirt and blood shot eyes bulging. I would have frowned at it too.

“Can I help you?” she asked softly.

“I’m looking for Greg Lee-Schulz,” I gasped, still out of breath. The nurse checked her computer screen.

“Right, Mr. Lee-Schulz is still in ER. The waiting room for that is just down this hall.” She pointed to her right.

I turned without another word and walked. I got to the waiting room and saw Elizabeth sitting, tear trails, fresh and dry, all down her cheeks. She got up and ran into my arms. I held her and let her cry into my shoulder.

“What happened?” I asked her.

“It shouldn’t be this way,” she whispered as she trembled against me. We stood in our embrace, and waited.

A few hours passed before someone came out to talk to us. Elizabeth had settled down, and I had bought coffee for us to sip on.

“He fell,” Elizabeth told me. “He fell down some stairs. All I know is his leg started to spasm on some stairs and he lost his balance.”

She proceeded to tell me about the other things I’d missed in the past few months. Greg’s Parkinson’s disease had gotten worse. So had his anxiety. She said he missed me being around. She told me everything I already knew, but refused to acknowledge until now.

The doctor came up to us, the only two in the waiting room. “Are you here for Mr. Lee-Schulz?” she asked.

“Yes,” Elizabeth replied. “Is he okay? What’s going on?”

“I’m sorry,” said the doctor. “Mr. Lee-Schulz took a real bad fall. We tried everything we could think of, but we couldn’t save him.”

My stomach sank. Greg, my best friend, was dead.

Editor’s note: This is the eleventh installment of the fiction story “Inside the Hollow Sun,” which will run in Verve throughout the semester.

Only a few of us were at Greg’s funeral. His parents, his psychiatrist,
Elizabeth… I was there too. I stood in a haze near the coffin while Greg was
commemorated. Everything about the situation felt surreal. It’s hard to remember
much about that day. It’s splotched in my memory. I can’t even recall if there was a
reception. Maybe it was because I started to not sleep well, or because of my
drinking. I couldn’t really say, but I remembering missing Greg.

Wendell had been messaging me constantly. I wanted space and told him I
was just busy, but he didn’t buy it. Eventually, I told him what had happened to
Greg. He responded with: Don’t lose control. Dr. Clermont tried to say much of the
same thing during therapy as well, but Elizabeth was the only one I could stand
being around. I found I could talk to her again about most things except Greg.

Elizabeth and I were walking to Greg’s old place a week or so after the
funeral. It needed to be cleaned out, and I’d offered to do it. Elizabeth said she’d
come keep me company. The landlord was waiting outside when we showed up. He
must have recognized us, because he walked up and held out a key before speaking.

“You’re Greg’s friends, right? Here to clean out the apartment?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, grabbing the key. “That’s us.”

“Well, sorry about your friend. He kept quiet, but he was a good tenant,” the
man said. He didn’t sound sincere.

“Thanks,” I said, and led Elizabeth past him and into the building.

We got up to Greg’s apartment, and I jiggled the key around in the lock before the door opened. The entire place was a mess. It looked as if Greg hadn’t cleaned in months. Leftover food filled the apartment with a moldy odor, and I got to work collecting it in a trash bag. Elizabeth sat on the couch as I shuffled around.

“It’s bad in here, isn’t it,” she said as more of a statement than a question.

“Yeah,” I replied. I finished trashing the perishables, and moved on to the other contents, deciding what to toss and what to keep.

“Are you doing okay, Harrison?” I stopped and looked at Elizabeth. Her
glazed eyes stared straight ahead. She couldn’t have known, but they were fixed on
the wall taped up with Peanuts comic strips.

“I’m fine,” I said, standing up and moving to the desk.

“Really?”

“Yes,” I insisted. “I’m really doing alright.”

“I just thought that if you wanted to talk about anything…” her voice trailed off.

“Look, I’m fine. I don’t know how many times I have to say it. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine! Why does everyone keep asking? Clermont, Wendell and now you? I’m completely fine!” Elizabeth sighed.

I was being unreasonable, and I didn’t care. I looked at Greg’s desk and picked up a piece of paper that appeared singled out.

It was a will: Greg’s will. I looked at the date and felt myself choke. It had been made the day before Greg died.

Editor’s note: This is the twelfth installment of the fiction story “Inside the Hollow Sun,” which will run in Verve throughout the semester.

“He had this made the day before he died,” I said, starting to feel nauseous. I
started reading further down the document. He hadn’t even filed it properly. Here
it was, sitting on his desk. Then the next day, he’s gone.

“Harrison,” Elizabeth said. I tried to ignore her and read further down the
document. “Harrison, put that down right now.” I stopped looking at Greg’s will and
turned to Elizabeth. Her voice had grown cold.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said. “I’m going to tell you what it says.” I froze. “Now hand
me the will.”

“Elizabeth,” I whispered. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“It’s time you know. Greg’s made sure of that.” I contemplated running for a
moment, but decided to sit down across from Elizabeth.

“It’s time I know what?”

“It’s time that I tell you who we all really are,” she said. “I’m sorry that it has
been this way but—”

“Stop,” I interrupted. “Tell me what you’re talking about.”

Elizabeth sighed before speaking. “I work for Dr. Wendell, who is Dr.
Clermont’s associate.” I shifted in my seat. “I know this isn’t an easy thing to hear,
but we’ve been trying to evaluate you for a long time.”

“For what?” I asked.

“We’ve been evaluating you as a candidate for an operation.”

“An operation? I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” I could sense
frustration building inside my chest.

“For your implant,” Elizabeth said. “We’ve been evaluating whether or not
you’re too far gone, but we don’t think so.”

“Too far gone? What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well,” she started. “It’s a hard thing to define. Basically, we’ve been tracking
how deep the psychological damage is from your implant. Greg was too far.
Parkinson’s and anxiety were a bad match, and we told him he couldn’t have the
operation.”

“What?” I started. “He knew about this?”

“Well, neither of you were supposed to, but he found out. As you can see, he
didn’t much like the fact that we labeled him unfit for the procedure.”

“Christ,” I muttered. “What in the hell is wrong with you people?”

Elizabeth ignored my comment. “This procedure has never been done
before,” she said. “It’s something totally new. Wendell and Clermont have been
working on it, and they finally have approval for a human test.” She stopped to let
me process.

“And that’s where I come in,” I said. “You want to test it on me.” Elizabeth
tilted her head to the ground, something she rarely did. “Well, what’s stopping
you?” I asked.

“Isn’t it obvious? Your consent.”

I stood up and went into the kitchen. I saw an opened bottle of rum and I
started chugging.

“Harrison,” Elizabeth called. “I’m so sorry you’re finding out this way. I
really am. None of us wanted it to be like this.”

“Can I ask you something?” I called to her from the kitchen.

“Sure.”

“You don’t actually have an implant, do you,” I stated.

Silence.

“So why are you blind?”

“Glaucoma,” she said, finally starting to answer me honestly.

Inside the Hollow Sun 13: Trust us, it’s been tested

Editor’s note: This is the thirteenth installment of the fiction story “Inside the Hollow Sun,” which will run in Verve throughout the semester.

My fists were clenched in my lap. I tried to breathe evenly, and I struggled to keep my body from trembling.

“Harrison,” said Dr. Wendell.

I opened my eyes and faced the room. Dr. Clermont, Dr. Wendell and Elizabeth were all seated around me. I looked up at the monitor they had been referencing. It showed a picture of a human head. The brain was outlined, and the implant was highlighted.

“Do you understand?” asked Dr. Wendell. “That’s the entire procedure. Pretty incredible that we can do it all in half an hour, don’t you think?”

“You’ve never done this procedure before?” I asked.

“Not on humans, but trust me. It has been sufficiently tested, and we’re all confident it is ready. It can help people, and that can start with you, Harrison.”

“What’s it been tested on?” I waited for someone to respond, but only received blank stairs.

“Trust us, it’s been tested,” Dr. Clermont said.

I stopped trying to pursue the subject. Elizabeth hadn’t spoken during the explanation. I wondered how confident she felt about the procedure. Did she really believe it would work? Or was she just willing to do whatever it would take to solve the implant problem? I knew where Dr. Clermont and Dr. Wendell stood on the issue, but not her. Did she want to actually help people like me, or just be one of the names attached to saving my lost generation?

Dr. Wendell turned off the monitor and faced me. “I know this all sounds a little terrifying, but we are confident that it is going to work.”

“If you don’t agree to the procedure, we’ll have to start screening a new patient as soon as possible,” Dr. Clermont said. “As you’ve seen, it isn’t a simple process.”

“There isn’t anything else that can help you,” Dr. Wendell said. He gestured at my wrists. “It hasn’t been easy to keep those from popping up all the time. It’s a miracle that you never went to the extreme with them.”

I unclenched my fists and rubbed the rows of scars on my wrists. Dr. Clermont and Dr. Wendell finally seemed to lean back in their seats. They had stated their case, and they couldn’t do anything but wait for my answer.

I turned to Elizabeth. Her clouded eyes stared off and her lips were firmly set. I thought about all the times Greg and I tried to guess what kind of implant she carried, but it had been pointless. She had never been one of us, but simply our supervisor. Still, she was the only friend I had left.

“What do you think I should do?” I asked her.

She titled her head toward me and sighed. “I think you should do whatever you want to do,” she said. “If I were in your place though, I would try to get my life back.”

I waited, but Elizabeth was done speaking. I looked back and forth between her and the doctors before letting out a slow breath. “Fine, I’ll do it.”

_Fiction writer Justin Goodfellow can be reached at verve@collegian.com. _

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