Monday, July 4, 2011

"The Playroom" by Stephen R. Wilson

The man had just been sitting there – for hours, maybe – deep in thought. Slowly, he began to stir and then, in a flash, noticed that he had no idea where he was. He looked around and found that he was sitting on a toy-shelf in the middle of some kind of children’s nursery, with no memory of how he had gotten there.

He looked around the room again. It didn’t have any windows, but there were some stairs leading up, right in front of him. He started to push himself up off the toy-shelf to go up stairs, but then settled back down. Going up the stairs would mean walking across the room and climbing up the stairs and…he didn’t really feel like doing any of that yet. I’ll just rest here for a few more minutes and then go up, he decided.

“What’s the matter?” a feminine voice asked.

The man turned. Sitting on a rocking horse a few feet away to his left was a woman. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. She was skinny, wearing brown slacks and a white dress shirt, and had long brown hair. And he was pretty sure that she hadn’t been there a moment ago. “What?” he asked. “Oh, I’m fine. I just…I don’t know…don’t really feel like doing anything. Do you know how to get out of here?”

To his right, two young women – also in their twenties – appeared. They were sitting across from each other at a pre-school sized table. Both of them were overweight and they were both talking at once. One of them was saying, “I just keep thinking these weird things, you know? And I say weird things. I’m always humming or singing to myself and rocking back and forth on the balls of my feet. And then people at work look at me like I’m weird and I don’t think any of them like me. No one ever talks to me anymore unless they want me to do something. And I always feel like I’m going to pass out again or something. I’ve been taking my medicine every day, I think, but…”

And the woman across from her was saying, “I know my boyfriend’s a little too fat, but he’s nothing compared to me. Ever since high school, no matter what I do, I just keep getting bigger and bigger. I work out and do my Tae-Bo, but nothing really ever happens.”

The man looked back over to the young woman on the rocking horse. “Shouldn’t someone go talk to them or something?” he asked.

“They’re being helped,” the young woman replied. “What about you? Are you okay? Has there been anything going on in your life?”

“Not really. My wife divorced me, but I don’t care about that. I’m glad she’s gone. The wench.” Looking over, the man saw something that he recognized on another table. He walked over and picked it up. “I used to have this one,” he chuckled. It was a He-Man action figure – He-Man himself wearing his fur boots and fur underwear-shorts. “I had it all. Castle Grayskull and…whatever Skeletor’s place was called. Oh! And here’s My Buddy! Did you ever have one of these? I think they had a girl’s version. I guess it’s kind of weird now, having a doll for boys, but the song was cool. My Buddy and me!” he sang.

He looked over, slightly embarrassed now, to see the woman’s reaction, but she was just sitting there on her rocking horse, smiling indulgently at him. Across from her was a bench press. Where did that come from? the man wondered. But somehow it didn’t matter. He walked over to it and laid down on the bench. “I haven’t worked out like this in years.”

Grabbing the bar, he lifted it easily three times before he suddenly started crying on the fourth rep. The woman, behind him now, caught the weight for him and gently placed it back in its rests. “Why did she have to leave me?” the man wept. He could feel his heart breaking. He hadn’t expected this, but it felt good in a way, like opening a dam that had been shut up for too long. When was the last time he had cried?

“Do you want to talk about it?” the woman asked.

But just then, the man saw someone else coming into the room. It was a little girl, walking down the stairs, holding a toy stuffed dog, She looked sad.

The man quickly wiped his eyes and sat up. “What’s the matter?” he asked the girl.

“Seth’s picking on me,” she pouted, “and won’t let me play with him.”

As the man listened to the girl’s answer, it was like he could hear the echo of her older brother calling her names. “Ally’s a loser, Ally’s a loser!” the boy chanted. “What’s the matter, loser? Are you gonna cry now?”

The next moment, the man thought he could see Ally and Seth’s mother coming into the room. “Seth! Knock it off! Don’t say those kinds of things to your sister! Now tell her you’re sorry and play nice together.”

“Sorry,” Seth muttered, handing Ally the Lego he had in his hand.

When the man looked for the girl in the nursery again, she was gone. He turned around and the woman he had been talking to had also disappeared. He was feeling better now since his cry – it was still strange that he had broken down like that – and thought, Well, might as well see what’s upstairs.

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