Edgar was walking south on Ninth Avenue, on his way to work, when he saw Paul. Paul had not seen Edgar yet. It was a peculiar talent Edgar had, to see and recognize people on the street well before they saw him. It was complementary to his intense anxiety over any conversation with those outside his circle of immediate family and lifelong friends. It gave him time to either formulate an opening or take steps to avoid the person. New York City was probably not the best place for Edgar to live.
Paul was an acquaintance from a few years ago, when Edgar had done some design work for Paul’s website. Paul was an artist of sorts, and Edgar found him terribly cool and unique. They had nothing in common. Edgar knew Paul lived in the neighborhood, and had managed to avoid him twice and navigated a brief, awkward conversation once with some success. Edgar had started that conversation, finding himself with nowhere to turn as Paul approached. Edgar had time to compose an opening line about Paul’s site, but stuttered and blended two words together so that “Hey Paul! Site running well?” turned into “P-P-P-PAUL. Stunning well?” It was this stutter-blend that jumped into Edgar’s mind now as Paul walked nearer, oblivious in his headphones. Edgar immediately broke into a cold sweat and decided on avoidance this time.
This part of Ninth Avenue was under heavy construction at the moment, and its width was foreshortened by an orange mesh barrier, so Edgar couldn’t cross the street. It was also sparsely populated at the moment, so he couldn’t lose himself from Paul in a clump of pedestrians, either. Paul was walking rather quickly, and Edgar knew if he turned in the other direction and started walking Paul would be behind him and could catch up before Edgar turned the corner. With time running out, Edgar made the snap decision to turn away from Paul and start coughing on the spot. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Paul getting close, so he doubled over in a sneeze, further hiding himself for good measure. He stayed down for a few seconds, collecting himself, then, certain that the coast was clear, snapped upright and turned to keep walking to work. He immediately came face to face with Paul, who had stopped in front of him.
His brain completely overwhelmed by the surge of blood brought on by coughing and doubling over in a sneeze, then drained of said blood as he jerked upright, Edgar’s vision began to gray out as he squeezed out a feeble “Stunning?” Manhattan whirled around him as he tipped backwards through the mesh barrier, falling five feet headfirst into the ditch dug out by the construction crew on the other side.
Edgar’s eyes cracked open and institutional whiteness flooded his vision. There was a brief moment of confusion as to his state of consciousness before the intense throbbing in his skull began, alerting Edgar that he was in fact awake. He rolled his eyes to the left, feeling them move in their cavities like swollen grapes, and saw a thick window looking out onto a small courtyard. A man in a white coat walked by outside. Edgar looked down and saw that he was in a hospital bed, with IV lines connected to his right arm laying on the sheet. He followed the lines to his right, up to the bags hanging on the rack, and saw machines beeping out the state of his body. There was a person sitting on the other side of the machines. As Edgar focused his eyes on this stranger, he looked up. Paul said “Hey, you’re awake! You took a real tumble, I didn’t want you to wake up alone. How do you feel?”
Edgar froze. He had never imagined a scenario like this and had no idea what to say. He stared at Paul, his skull throbbing out the time in an unsettling disharmony with the beeping from the monitors. His mind raced nowhere. He could hear a nurse passing in the hallway, her shoes muttering quietly as she walked. Someone coughed somewhere. Edgar stared. Paul stared.
In a sudden rush, Edgar said “I have to go.” He lurched out of bed, yanking out his IV drip in a hot stinging flash, then rushed to the window and heaved it up. He stumbled over the sill and ran as quickly as he could across the courtyard, his gown flapping across his bare behind.
Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.