t always had the feeling of a party. A masquerade, even. The others gathered around him in the common room, listening for hours. His stories were like taffy, stretched out richly over afternoons and early evenings. Even the nurses would be caught, pen between teeth, leaning in to hear.
Sure, they giggled to each other in the staff room after, but in the moment, they were all like babes pulled up next to fire.
They called him Doc. Not as a joke, this place and all, but because of that particular way he had of looking at all of you at once. Like he’d just discovered you over the rim of those half-moon spectacles of his.
And his stories were something else. He’d tell them about talking badgers and walking houses and flying trees. Spotted camels living on clouds. Emerald islands, lands made of terrible horrendous rock, Amazonian rivers, and underground empires. Unbelievable things. But something else.
Sometimes he talked about the rocket ship he built. Dreamy Boom Boom, he called it. Then he’d grow sad. Outer Space, he’d say with a tear running down his cheek, There’s a rainbow up there a million dreams long. Once he got started on it, he’d spend the next while just staring out the window. You got the sense that he was biding his time. But he always perked up eventually. Those comets, he’d laugh, Were the rudest I’ve ever come across.
He’d always finish with the last of that dappled sunlight. Looking up, as the fluorescents winked on, as if he’d been interrupted. He’d pick up that umbrella he kept by his chair and rub the handle, carved like the head of a duck, gently, like an old friend. And he’d bounce off down the hall to his room. Right there, at the end. Click and the door would be shut.
There’d be a moment. Like the head of pin wedged into the silence. A moment where they all might believe. And the weight of what that belief could mean.
Then the pin pops and the room breathed out. They looked at one another in that harsh light. Nervous smiles all around. It made their own problems seem trivial. The nurses would roll their eyes and start doling out the evening's pills. Harmless, sure, but what a nutter. Did you see the way he talked to that umbrella. Like it could hear. What a nutter. King of the fools.
The scene was always like the end of the masquerade. When the masks come off and we’re never sure where we left our true faces.
Then one morning, he’s gone. Just like that.
His room, empty. The window open, curtains fluttering in the breeze. They find his sketchbook on the table, flipped open to a page. A drawing of a round barrel, a door cut in its side, with a cast iron pot for an engine and Doc’s elegant scrawl along the bottom. Dreamy Boom Boom.
They found someone else to laugh at after that. They always do.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.