Character Study No. 500: “What am I doing in this room?”

by dschapman

I am in a room with one door and no windows. I am sitting in a leather Parson’s chair in front of a metal desk on which sits a stack of paper and some pens. I do not know why I am here or what I am supposed to do; I have what appears to be total amnesia. I am not sure just what is going on, but for some reason I am not very nervous. In fact I am, beyond all confusion, strangely acceptant of my circumstances. Perhaps I am heavily drugged. Some sort of Colombian zombie-drug. I’ve heard stories of the stuff. If that’s the case, I’m already doomed, but if they let me go, I’ll get my gun, and I’ll – but is now really the time to fantasize? Here in this room? What am I doing in this room? Am I supposed to write something down on that paper? I stand up from my chair and I pace around the room. It is a mere five paces in any direction, a tight space and windowless, and I grow increasingly anxious about being in a tight, windowless room. I knock on the door – it is heavy, and metal – and knock, knock, knock, with all of my body until I’m bruised by it, but there is no response. I shout a few times, knowing that it won’t do me any good. There is no handle. What sort of a door has no handles? I walk back to the desk and I place my hand on the stack of papers. It  feels like a normal stack of paper. I pick up a sheet and I stare at it, holding it up to the ceiling light to check for a watermark, or clue, or anything. There is nothing. I laugh and I crumble the paper up and throw it against the door. The starkness of a piece of crumbled paper in the middle of an empty floor makes my anxiety worse and I immediately pick it up and look around for the trash receptacle, of which there is none. I sit down, sheepishly, at the desk and uncrumple the paper. As far as I know, this may be the last stack of paper I have in my life, so I must treat it with respect and be conservative. I place the crumbled sheet at at the bottom of the stack in the hopes it will flatten and return to form. What am I supposed to do with all this paper? It is just plain wood-pulp paper, nothing special. It is not the stuff that use. This isn’t my paper. I like the special stuff, cotton rag and linen. I pick up a pen – it is plastic, I don’t love plastic pens, it is not one of my pens – and draw a line – and I am relieved to see the ink is black ink, not blue. I draw several more lines and then set the pen down. Now what to do? I’m in such a tiny room, I think. I stretch and take stock of my clothing. It is a familiar outfit – unpolished leather shoes, unironed cotton pants, undersized cotton shirting. I notice that I am not in any noticeable pain, and upon noticing it I grow surprised, although I couldn’t exactly say why I am so surprised by it. Am I supposed to be in pain? I felt a great urge, a predisposition, toward pain, and felt slightly naked to be without it, a sensation I can not explain. Perhaps I was drugged with heroin and painkillers. Perhaps I’m just perfectly healthy. A healthy individual? That seems too good to be true. I look at my hands; they are riddled with scars; I pull up my pant legs and look at my legs, they are mottled with scars, the repurposed tissue of skin grafts – sickening. I stop thinking about that. I don’t want to think about that. But it proves I’m not healthy. I turn back to the paper and pick up a pen again. Five pens. I hope that will be enough ink – I will be sure to not waste any ink drawing black squares or anything. Having had that thought, I draw a black square, and I make it a cube, and I color inside the lines, but upon filling it in with black it loses its cube-like dimensionality and becomes a  distorted hexagon. I write my name underneath. I am surprised to know my name – I am not a total amnesiac, yet, apparently. Benjamin Phelps. Is that really my name? Suddenly, upon seeing it written out, I am doubtful. Why did I write it so naturally, then? I cross it out and close my eye and try again. Dylan Thomas. That sounds natural, but slightly comical. I cross it out and move on from the matter, writing down “Ben” in the upper-right corner of a new sheet of paper and drop the matter. I would write down the date as well but I couldn’t say what that might be, exactly. Unless it is November. November 12th. What happens then? I lean back in my chair and fold my arms across my chest. I’m really starting to get confused now, and want to keep my head straight. What am I supposed to do? I decide to wait. I close my eyes and control my breathing and wait. Time passes – indeterminable amounts of time – and nothing happens. I will be hungry soon, I think, I will have to rehydrate. They will have to come for me eventually, whoever they are. What if I had to defecate? What if I needed medication? This is outrageous what they are doing to me. It must be some sort of a test, a psychological exam or experiment, and it will all be over with soon. Or else I am a hostage. Or is this a jail in some strange country? An insanity ward? Am I a madman, just awake another day in the life of a madman, with his specially requested desk and chair? But they would not give me pens to kill myself with if I were in an asylum. They might give me pens in a prison but for some reason I doubt it. I have no experience with prison but I have seen a movie where men are killed with pens, and I know in prison they try to keep weapons out of people’s hands. But people write books all the time from prison – they must have pens in prison. What was the name of that movie I’ve seen with the pens in it? I remember a man in a black suit looking handsome, talking into a mirror. That is where I learned how to talk into mirrors. Mirrors! I remember the existence of mirrors. I open my eyes and look desperately around the room for a reflective surface, something to see myself in. I realize I have no idea what I look like, and that I would very much like to know. I try to catch my reflection in the light bouncing off from the surface of the desk, but the steel is brushed and gives no clear reflection. It is in fact a very nice desk and I am lucky to have it. It must be very expensive, in a way. Or perhaps leftover from some early industrial application. In which case it is probably even more valuable. I sneeze. Sneezing reminds me of my mouth and nose and I suddenly want to see them. I touch my hands to my face and I feel the organs of my face, but I am unable to piece a mental picture of it together just from touching it, like the blind men do in movies. I must have watched a lot of movies in my life, I seem to think in terms of movies. What else have I seen? Am I educated? Am I a working man? Am I married? Do I have any friends? Do I have family? Yes, of course I do, I think. I have a family and they love me, I have friends and we get along just fine. I am well-educated, I’m perfectly smart. And odf course I work, I must work, who doesn’t work? I am not a rich man. Suddenly I get a bright idea, and I check my pockets for a wallet. There I will certainly find some identifying documents, maybe even a clue as to what I am doing here. I am pleased to discover that I do have pockets, but let down to find them totally empty, scarce even of lint. I sigh and I fold my arms across my chest again, relaxing, and I close my eyes. At least I try to relax. I am still quite anxious. I wonder how much time has passed. It feels like hours but it could have been mere minutes, I would have no idea. Is there a way to tell how much time passes in a windowless room without access to the outside world – while suffering from amnesia? I suppose that there is and I try to riddle it out in my head, but can’t get anywhere. I am surprisingly bad at devising solutions to quandaries such as this. Perhaps I’m not well-educated after all. I can’t even remember my own name, after all. Unless I am Benjamin. Is that what this paper is for – to mark time, like a calendar? How would I do that? Prisoners mark days in the wall, but they have a window for to keep track of the passing of days. All I can think of is a deleted scene from Groundhog’s Day, where Bill Murray keeps track of time by reading a page a day in the public library, until he has read the entire library. But that has nothing to do with my dilemma. Who is Bill Murray? What is this about groundhog’s day? I have trouble keeping my thoughts place, my vision is starting to get blurry – am I having some sort of panic attack? Am I losing my grip so quickly? I rub my eyes and bite my tongue to clear my head. I put my feet up on the desk and push aside the stack of papers with my heel. I suppose the only thing I do know is that I am intended to use these pens with this tall stack of paper. That is the absolute only explanation. There are only four distinct objects (five including the light fixture, six including myself, seven including the nondescript door) in this room and they all naturally unify under only one common cause of purpose – writing. Write what? What is going on here? Am I supposed to write something interesting? Or am I just supposed to try and stay sane, keep myself entertained while I die here? Is this an experiment to see what an amnesiac remembers? Is this an identity game? I could play number games, word games, I could draw simple figures, I could write a story, I could do a million easy diversions to keep myself occupied. But I’m bound to run out of paper soon – so there must be some teleology to this. Am I supposed to write a book? I could write the story of my life if I wanted to. I realize that the very first thing I should have done upon finding myself in this room was find out why I was in this room, and how to get out of it. I feel like I’ve already wasted hours doing nothing, and maybe I have. I pick up a pen and a single sheet of paper. I must get to the bottom of this! I decide to write down everything I know, in order to analyze patterns and look for clues, and I start writing furiously. I begin with the very beginning, from the moment I came of awareness and took stock in my situation, and I record my actions and thought processes as clearly and with as much detail as I can remember them. It brings me to this very sentence here, where I am a few pages in and still no closer to understanding my situation than I was before I began. Now what am I doing?

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