“Barry,” I asked, “are you still there?”
“Uhh,” Barry groaned.
I guess that’s better than nothing. The Coronavirus seemed to take a toll on Barry’s body and mind. Through most of the night, I listened to him moan and groan in pain. Every once in a while, he might mumble some words. All of this proved challenging to develop a plan, but at least he seemed responsive now.
“What do you think socks have to do with the man?” I asked.
“Eh?” Barry asked. “I uno.”
Incoherent speech, check. Well, maybe I can at least talk myself through the ideas. I looked at the television screen in front of me and could see the ice forming on the five bodies in Freezer two. I’d caught a glimpse of the man dumping water on the bodies, but I don’t understand why. Not that I understood the man’s logic at all.
“Why would he take all seven of us if he wanted to affect me the most?” I asked.
“You, peep talk,” Barry said as he fought through gasps.
I shrugged, and a pain like a hot knife in my vein seared up my arm. The man removed the dirty needle last night. Sadly I couldn’t remove the infection like a clot from the arm. Barry wasn’t wrong though, a lot of people liked to talk to me, and I liked to talk to them. Okay, I need to correct that. I enjoy talking to my coworkers and the friendly donors, I gave everyone else Customer Service Benjamin. The nice kid you thought cared about your day, while inside, I felt like their incessant life story oversharing made me want to cry.
“So, socks are so important that Kelsey chose that for her last words?” I asked.
“Yeh,” Barry said, sounding a little more alive than before.
“Do you think it’s crazy socks?” I asked. “Or do you think he wore the same socks every day?”
“I uhno,” Barry responded.
Okay, maybe not as good as I thought, but it helped a little. I wish we could have only gotten that third name from Kelsey before she passed. The man hadn’t returned since he put her inside Freezer two. The first layer of ice covered her eyes, which luckily remained closed. Deep inside, I know that she thought she was giving us the golden nugget to save our lives, but the man didn’t seem to agree. He didn’t leave us with a hint last night. If only I could get to those charts. My stomach grumbled.
“You know what sounds good,” I said, “Double H. You want to order for us, Barry?”
“Uh huh,” Barry said and then smacked his lips.
“Meat lover style?” I asked.
“Oh eh,” Barry responded.
“Are you two really talking about food when you should be figuring out my identity?” The man asked.
I almost laughed at the anger in his voice. It wasn’t like he’d made the game fair for both sides. Someone so arrogant that he thought everyone in the center would know his name. Wait, I know somebody like that, but the name feels so distant.
“I guess when one person talks like a caveman and the other a man of intellect,” The man said, “it would diminish the quality of the conversation. Barry, I brought more medication for you. I found out why your mother came in search of you, but I fixed it.”
“Eh,” Barry responded.
The man reached into the cage and dumped the pills into Barry’s mouth. At least the man gave Barry water to gag the pills down this time.
“Why?” I asked.
“Why?” The man replied. “That’s really the best question you can think up? Your generation always ashamed me with their lack of attention to the customer.”
I didn’t want to waste time arguing with the man about the difference between a customer and a donor. But that did tell me he was older than I thought at first. Though the arm I saw on the first day made me think he was too skinny, it might be that he was just smaller than me. The glow of the television outlined the man. I couldn’t gauge his size because he wore an oversized lab coat, but I could at least tell that.
“How about this,” the man said, “if you two can’t identify by tomorrow, I will have a sit-down talk with the survivor on the following day. A good man to man like back in the old days.”
Maybe a boomer? I didn’t know for sure, but it sounded like a line from someone in that generation. I’m not worried about offending him because it seems like either way, I will die tomorrow or the next day. I looked at Barry, who’d gained some strange semblance of coherence after the water he gained. I watched Barry’s eyes shift into determination. Barry began to writhe in his bed, and at first, it looked like a seizure, and he groaned and cried out in pain.
The bed started to rock back and forth, then side to side as Barry gained momentum. The man stood up but spun around too slow. Barry tipped over with his bed, and the cage burst open. What poor design. Barry’s body slammed into the waxed floor with a solid thud. Barry whimpered in pain.
“What the heck, Barry,” The man said. “You could have killed yourself. Only April gets a pass at that.”
Heck? Really? I never understood people’s issues with curse words. Just say what you mean. The man bent over and picked up Barry’s head in one hand. Barry’s eyes darted to the man’s ankles, or I think it was his ankles, and he smiled. Then he closed his eyes and went limp.
“What is with you people and trying to kill yourselves?” The man said. “I am giving you a fair opportunity to save yourselves.”
The man grunted and hoisted Barry with his bed back into an upright position. The man took off his face shield and wiped damp black hair from his forehead. The man’s hair looked unkempt and unwashed. That moment was the first time I’d seen the man’s hair and hadn’t realized why he looked so off before. With the face shield off, I saw it had a white cover over the top. So much for a fair opportunity. The man didn’t say anything else and left. The clack of dress shoes disappeared into the distance.