Four

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Dave spent the day in the basement. For a long time he simply sat on the couch, staring at the small old television perched on its rickety plant stand. The room seemed fit for nothing; the dreariness of its darkness was matched by the ugliness of the furniture and the absence of anything of interest to look at. Above the couch there had been a ground level window at one time, but it had long since been filled in with cinder blocks and roughly painted over. The front wall was a garage door that would no longer open.

He could not clearly remember this room, although he must have seen it before. Somewhere in the back of his mind was the notion that there had been family gatherings here, dull holidays perhaps, with trays and paper plates and plastic cups. Now and then he heard the echoes of voices in his mind, which he linked to the idea of his mother and his father, whose names were .... Ray had just told him but now he couldn't recall them. He tried harder, closing his eyes as if that would help, but only shadows came.

There was a flash of a scene with a bicycle and a man with a narrow brown tie. The face of the man was a blur but his voice was harsh and bitter. Another image came along with that, of long grass freshly cut and smelling like heaven. He concentrated but the memories were vague and came rarely. It was troubling. After awhile he stood up, approached the tv and pushed enough buttons until the thing came alive. The screen was small, perhaps eleven inches, and the display was very fuzzy but there were people on it, and voices, and Dave sat back to observe.

The people were sitting around a table and chatting, two men and three women discussing anonymous personal problems. Someone was too fat and didn't like herself. Someone was afraid to tell somebody something. Another person had trouble with her teenage daughter. Now and then the audience was shown, a chorus of random people sitting in happy judgment. The stories were obscure to Dave, and he couldn't follow the details. He noted that every one had something to complain about and was looking for reassurance. They relaxed when they got that.

The act of speaking drew his attention, and now that he was alone he felt more confident to give it a try. He wanted to say to the people on the television, 'everything is going to be all right', but all he could manage, at first, was to push out a sound.

'Uh'.

That was progress. He had made the noise through his mouth, up from his throat. He repeated the steps he had taken until he could produce, as short bursts of exhalations a series of sounds. His body was struggling and the effort was intense. He felt, for the first time since awakening, some weariness, but that faded when he made the discovery of closing his lips while forcing out the noise, making the "p" sound.

He sounded like an infant babbling but as he sat observing the people on the tv he noticed the different sounds they were making and watched their lips move and after an hour or so was able to make words come out that sounded close to what they should, and this gave him a good feeling. The exercise of speaking was also teaching the muscles around his mouth how to move again. He could change the expression on his face a little bit more. Not much, but it was something. When he saw Ray again, he would be able to communicate better.

Ray came home in the middle of the afternoon, bearing his bundles, which he proudly unpacked in the downstairs room, handing each item over to Dave while explaining its purpose and his reasoning. He helped bandage up the wound, and showed Dave how to put the clothes on. He applied a little of the make-up to Dave's cheek and all the while Dave managed to grunt and make sounds and even a few words, such as "k" for okay, "ga" for "got it", and "no" for "no" in response to Ray's questions about food and water and whether he wanted any.

Soon Dave was looking almost human. The hand-me-down clothes from the thrift store suited him well enough. His face and hands were free of blood and dirt. The patches where his skin flaked off were covered up. Ray'd even thought to pick up an old fedora hat which didn't really go with anything Dave was wearing but covered up the spots on his head where a few clumps of hair had fallen out. Dave sat back on the couch and turned his head towards Ray and thought he wanted to say something but didn't know what that was. Ray just stood there nodding.

"I don't know what it's all about" Ray said. "You being here, coming back like you say and all. Must be for some reason but darned if I know. You got any notion?"

"No", Dave replied in a rough exhalation. He shook his head and repeated the word.

"None of my business, I suppose", Ray went on. "You're a full grown man and all. I was thinking maybe you should see a doctor. What do you think?"

"No. Doc", Dave pushed out.

"No. Poy," he continued. Ray took that to mean "no point" and agreed.

"Not much they could do for you I guess. I mean, what could they do? Check your pulse? Wait, that gives me an idea", he said, and came back closer to Dave, grabbed his wrist and held his thumb over the artery there.

"Very weak", he said after a time, "Maybe twenty pulses a minute. Hardly a thing."

"Should've got some deodorant", he continued. "I forgot how bad you smell. Almost getting used to it, though. Still, you're going to need some if you ever go anywhere. You can use mine for now. Remind me."

He let go of Dave's hand and took a step back.

"Holy mackerel!", he declared. "You ain't hardly breathing are you? I mean, are you breathing?"

He came closer again and put his face up to Dave's.

"No, I guess you're not."

He clucked his tongue and backed away again.

"Not hardly human", he concluded. "Something else again. Like you were once a man, but now you're something else, the way a caterpillar become a moth."

Ray took a seat on the other chair in the room. The television was still on, but now it was showing some news program. A man was sitting behind a desk telling incomprehensible tales about far off places where events were ostensibly occurring.

"Never had a child of my own", Ray told him. "Of course you know that, or at least you did. Married. Long time. But no kids. Now it seems I got me a grown up alien baby to look after."

Dave glanced up from the tv and tried to force his face into a smile.

"Da", he said.

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