Icarus Descending

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Lewis Patten wakes up to the sound of arguing on the television next to an ugly, old woman that he does not recognize. He realizes that he has no idea where he is or how he got there, and no matter how hard he struggles, he cannot recall the last few days of his life. As he leaves the room in search of his memories, he learns a series of truths that he isn't quite ready to face.

Submitted: April 24, 2012

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Submitted: April 24, 2012

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Icarus Descending

He woke to a cacophony. A man and a woman shrieked at each other on the television while an unseen crowd cheered them on mindlessly. He did not know what show it was, or even why the television was on, and upon opening his eyes he certainly did not know the room that he had awakened in. It was cold in the room but his arm was warmed by the few rays of sunlight that fell through the window at his side. On his other side, an older woman was sitting in a chair, lightly snoring. Her hair was blond but graying, and he thought that at some point in the past she must have been quite attractive, but now, slouching in a chair beside him, vulnerable to his judging eyes, she seemed haggard, old, and ugly. He did not know who she was. In his lethargy, he did not know what to think. Should he be frightened? He closed his eyes again and tried to remember what had happened yesterday. He could not recall where he had gone last night and fell asleep, nor what he had eaten for breakfast. Nothing.

He focused on what he could remember. His name was Lewis Patten. He had studied art in college and, after some difficulty finding a job, had landed a position with a small advertisement agency as a graphic artist. At one time he had taught adults how to paint at the local rec center, but he had had less and less time to paint after getting a “real job” and starting a family. Painting had been his passion but it had not been practical for him to continue doing it.

He had a family. He remembered that. His mother had died when he was thirteen and he had lost touch with his father not long after he moved out. He had met his beautiful wife Judy while in college. Back then she went by Judith, wore her hair short, dyed it outrageous colors, and was active in whatever radical, liberal protest was taking place on or near campus. After an uneasy courtship, she had settled for him and they had a daughter, his darling Samantha.

He pulled himself out of bed, his muscles aching at the effort, and he took a few steps toward the door. The few feet between his bed and the door left him exhausted, and his mind raced, trying to find a solution. Certainly, there had been times in the past where he felt needlessly tired after a good night’s rest, but it had never been this bad, and a couple cups of coffee had always fixed him up and sent him out the door happy. Now he felt like lying down, but he had a mystery to solve, and he was determined to fill in the blanks that his memory had left him with. He opened the door slowly, only to find a woman there, her arm lifted and her fist balled tightly, as if she were about to knock. She smiled warmly at him, and his eyes looked her up and down, trying to place who she was. She was young, probably in her mid-twenties, and had her brunette hair pulled tightly into a pony tail. She was wearing what appeared to be pink scrubs, and his mind began to race. Behind her, he could see others, dressed in scrubs or white coats, walking quickly to their destinations. The hallway smelled strange—a contradictory mix of utter cleanness, sterility, and a pungent stench of old age and disease. Lewis Patten had found himself in a hospital and he had no idea why.

The young woman, who he determined must be a nurse, spoke to him in a calm voice. “Oh, Mr. Patten! You know that you should stay in bed until I come get you. You should be resting.” He turned his head back towards his room, eying the woman that was still sleeping beside his bedside, and then he looked down at himself. He was wearing the gown of a patient, and his legs were bare below it, pale and wrinkled. None of this made any sense. Lewis knew himself to be a healthy man. Sure, he had had the occasional cold, and the spring always brought the annoyance of seasonal allergies that he had to deal with, but there was no reason to hospitalize him. Still, his legs were not the fit, young legs that he knew himself to have. Something had happened to him, but what? Perhaps he had been in a car accident? Or maybe he had suffered a concussion at his company’s annual baseball game? He must have been in this hospital for awhile… he had hit his head, he was sure of it.

“Sorry,” he grumbled to the nurse, his voice unusually raspy, somehow reminiscent of a time that he could remember, but burdened by something. If I have been unconscious awhile, he thought to himself, my voice may be out of practice. The thought was somehow comforting. “Why am I here? And who is that in my room?”

The nurse’s smile did not falter, but her eyes showed a change in her demeanor. Somehow, her brown eyes seemed sadder than they had been just moments ago. “We’re just keeping you here until you’re feeling better, Mr. Patten,” she began, confidently, but she hesitated before she continued, “and that is your wife in your room. She has barely left your sidesince you arrived. She will be so happy to know that you got up all on your own, though. You’re making such a quick recovery. How are you feeling today?”

Her answers made him tremble uncontrollably. His wife was there at his bedside. That old hag of a woman was his beautiful Judy? That was utter nonsense. Rubbish. Judy’s hair had been dyed red just the week before! She had only the start of wrinkles underneath her eyes, but she was still youthful and gorgeous, the perfect wife and mother that he cherished coming home to after a long day of work. That woman was not Judith Patten. She looked like she could be Judy’s mother. He was mortified by the nurse’s lie, but he chose to say nothing about it. Instead, he simply muttered, “I’m fine. Let me go.”

She nodded, “If you’re feeling up to it, you can walk around. I’ll come find you later when it’s time for therapy. I think you’ll like what we’re going to do today, but I’ll talk to you later.” She reached out and patted his shoulder, a gesture that Lewis found revolting, and then she strolled away, quickly turning a corner down another hallway and disappearing from his sight.

He trudged down the hall towards the elevator, planning his escape. He was not feeling well, each step he took seemed to weaken him further. His body felt heavier with each stride. Still, he knew that he should not be in a hospital. Hospitals were places for people who were dying, and he was not dying, he was just feeling a little off. He would leave, go home, and see the real Judy, not the grotesque caricature of his wife that the awful nurse had pointed out. He reached the elevator, pushed the down button, and waited.

5… 4… 3… The dinging of the elevator paused then the doors slowly opened. A group of people pushed outward, a couple of children racing by and knocking into him. Fucking brats. He lurched forward, turned around, and pressed the “1” button. The doors closed and he felt all warmth exit his body. Staring at his reflection in the glossy, silver, paneled doors of the elevator, he found himself feeling lost. Almost empty. Curiously hopeless.

Staring back at him was an old man, easily in his sixties. What little hair he had was gray and his face, neck, arms, and legs were wrinkly. His eyes looked hollow, surrounded by the deep furrows contouring his face. He was pale except for where his skin was blotched a deep purple. I’m only thirty-five years old. I’m only thirty-five years old. I’m only thirty-five years old. He kept repeating the mantra in his head, hoping for it to gain strength in his mind and make him see past the illusion created in the elevator doors. What cruel trickery was his mind playing on him? Lewis wondered how sick he really was. He struggled to remember details from the past and he was seeing things, awful things, things that he wanted to erase from his memory. He felt heavier than ever as he stood in the elevator, staring at his reflection. He slouched against the wall. He felt dizzy, as if he were falling.

There was another ding, the sound of the elevator reaching the first floor, and the doors opened, banishing the foul, decrepit illusion of a Lewis Patten that could not yet be. He ignored the weakness of his limbs and hobbled quickly towards the exit. He just needed to get home, kiss his wife passionately, embrace little Samantha, just five years old a month ago, and forget about the wretched daydream that he was going to escape from. He could feel the eyes of everyone around staring at him. One man, dressed in a guard’s uniform, moved to stop him. He said something, but Lewis could not understand. Everything seemed muffled. Before he could reach the exit door, or even the man that stood in his way, he staggered and fell to his knees.

Dazed, he struggled to look out through the windows ahead of him, where the sun blazed and illuminated everything. He could almost feel the warmth, despite still being trapped in the hospital, the air around him still stagnant with the scent of decay and disinfectants. The guard was moving closer to him, both in an effort to help and apprehend him, but Lewis still focused on the world outside. There were a couple of people sitting on the front steps smoking cigarettes. They were young—at least, younger than he was now—and one was quite attractive. Looking at her, Lewis was reminded of his beautiful Judy. Her hair was cut short, falling just above her shoulders, but it was dyed crimson, and her eyes were that same deep, emerald green. As he watched her take a long drag from her cigarette, he wondered if it could be Judy. Maybe that woman in his room had been her mother, an in-law whom he had never liked and whose name he could not remember. But this was not Judy… Her nose was different, her shoulders a little broader, features that related more to him than his wife. The woman looked up and saw him. She looked surprised, somehow both happy and concerned, and rushed through the doors of the hospital. “He’s with me,” she cried, warding the guard away and drawing Lewis out of his daze.

“Dad?” She approached him and extended her hand toward him. Her question echoed in his head. Dad. Dad. Dad. This was Samantha, aged thirty years in what seemed like only a day. She reached him and threw her arms over him, embracing him tightly. “How are you feeling? Why are you out here? I’m so happy to see you!”

He was frightened and struggled for air, breathing faster and heavier. This was his daughter. What sort of nightmare was he having? His Sam was just a little girl with strawberry blond hair who liked playing with dolls and chasing her cousins around in the mud. She was not a strong, young, beautiful woman just yet. She couldn’t be. “Sammy,” he started, feeling suddenly nauseous, his terror-fueled adrenaline rush dissipating and in its wake the weakness and aching of his joints returning, “what is going on? Why am I here?”

She broke their embrace and sadness etched her features in the same way that it had the nurse’s earlier. “Dad, you’re… you’re just a little sick. You’ve been having trouble remembering things. They said it might be Alzheimer’s, but they aren’t sure yet, they want to run a few more tests. There are a lot of reasons why people forget and you’re going to get better.”

I’m going to get better. Alzheimer’s. I’m just a little sick. That’s all. I’m going to get better. Just a little sick… Trouble remembering. I’m going to get better.

Lewis Patten felt colder and heavier than before, as though he had been immersed in the sea. He did not feel confident that what the adult manifestation of his little girl was saying was true, but he had to believe it. It was all that he had to rely on.

* * *

He was back in the hospital, in a large, ovular room, sitting amongst a group of people whose age ranged from seven to seventy. They all sat in front of a canvas and the nurse that he had run into earlier was writing on a dry-erase marker board. She had written “ART THERAPY” in big letters and Lewis understood why she had said he would enjoy himself later.

“Art has long been used as a form of expression,” the cheerful nurse stated, jotting down her words on the board as she spoke, “and expressing yourself can be a great stress reliever. You all, no matter how old you are and what your life is like, have a story to tell and a burden that you need to get off of your shoulders. Doctors can give you medicine to try to help you, but you need to try to help yourself too. So today, we’re going to try to work through what’s bothering you.”

Even though he liked painting, he found her enthusiasm and her belief that art was going to fix their serious illnesses to be annoying at best and cruel at worst. She went from patient to patient, asking them questions about how they feel, then helping them paint their answers. Lewis Patten began to paint before she reached him. He used vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows to cover most of his canvas, with just hints of blue below. In black, he crafted the silhouette of a man.

“It’s beautiful, Mr. Patten,” the nurse said whenever she came to him. “Tell me, what’s bothering you? What does your canvas mean to you?”

He looked at her in disbelief. Why did she care what his canvas meant to him? She thought that it was beautiful, but he did not want her validation. She would just patronize him. He would ramble on about the intricacies of his work and his feelings and she would pat him on the back and move on to the next patient. He would not play her game the way that she wanted it to be played. He just wanted her to leave.

“It’s my journey,” Lewis muttered, sizing up her reaction. She seemed pleased and wanted to hear more. What else could he say? He had painted a man falling into the sea from high in the sky. The sun had burned his wings. He had painted himself. He could not remember anything and everyone he knew had aged seemingly overnight. He had wasted his life and he was falling. He did not even realize it, but he was no longer looking at the nurse. He was staring at the silhouette in his painting. He traced his finger from the man’s body down the canvas to the cerulean of the sea below. He realized that he had fallen and he had hit the water. Now he was drowning. He felt like crying, but he knew that that would be ridiculous. Only young boys cried, and he had left his youth behind long ago, though he could not fully remember when that had been.

She patted his shoulder again, and this time he did not feel revolted, though he still did not find it very comforting. “Take the painting back to your room with you. You’re making progress, Mr. Patten. You’re going to be better soon.”

He regained some composure; he knew that the nurse had seen his moment of weakness. He had been drawn into his painting whenever he had wanted to construct a story that would just make the nurse move on to the next patient. “Thanks,” he grumbled, “I know I’m going to be fine. I know how to fucking swim.”

The nurse smiled at him warmly then walked away, finally moving on to her next patient.

* * *

He lay in bed, his painting sitting on the chair that the elderly Judy had occupied earlier in the day. She had left earlier, still looking as haggard as that morning, under a doctor’s order that she needed to get out of the hospital and really rest. Lewis liked that she was no longer at his side.

Looking at his painting, he felt oddly exuberant. He could not remember most of the last thirty years, but Samantha and the nurse had both told him that he was going to get better. It was though he was breaking the surface of the water. He was going to swim back, recover his memories, and return to the life that he had left behind some time ago. His wings had burned in the sun’s harsh light, but he was not truly the Icarus of his painting. He was going to get better. He fell asleep with a smile on his face, with only the soft buzz of the television invading the silence of his room.

* * *

He woke up to wailing. A group of kids performed a rock song on the television and an adoring crowd cheered them on. He did not know what band it was, or even why the television was on, and upon opening his eyes he certainly did not know the room that he had awakened in. Looking out the window at his side, he could see that the sky was cloudy and gray, and it was raining. There was no sunlight and his room was very cold. He could not remember where he was or how he had gotten there. He focused on what he did know. His name was Lewis Patten.

He turned over and faced a painting sitting on a chair. A shadow of a man was burning in the sun and was destined to fall into the water far below him. He had studied art in college and he found the painting before him to be rudimentary. He was aware of the Icarus myth, and he remembered studying many paintings that encapsulated it far better than the one beside him. He did not like the ugly painting.

Lewis Patten had fallen and was drowning, and the worst thing was that he did not know it. Slowly, despite the aching of his joints and the weakness in his arms and legs, he got out of bed and walked towards the door, his memories shallower and his despair deeper than the day before, a day he no longer remembered.


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