Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Much Ado about Nothing (not about the play) (07/28/11)
TITLE: Signifying Zero
By Troy Manning
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Few numbers are as difficult to figure as zero. Is it even a number? Anton wondered. Or is its relationship to them like that of black to colors—a shade of a number? In much the same way that colors of the spectrum are swallowed by the black of night, so all numbers multiplied by zero are consumed by it.
It is true that no one actually came right out and called Anton a zero or a nothing or a nobody, but the way people seemed to look past or even through him suggested as much. Like the HG Wells character, he suspected his presence entirely escaped the perception of others.
Anton laid his clothes for the day upon his bed. Should I bother wearing anything at all? Perhaps that would have the reverse effect, drawing the stares of the masses like an emperor in regal attire. Given the non-descript nature of his wardrobe, he decided a short-sleeved shirt, short pants, and sneakers would be adequate.
He began his jog at six-thirty a.m. near the corner of 41st and Oak. As usual, he was bumped and jostled several times along his route by other runners or pedestrians who took no notice of his existence. Crossing the street at 33rd, he was struck down by a young woman in a minivan.
If the button beside his bed in his hospital room worked, Anton couldn’t tell. He pressed it for the fourth time that hour. Unable to hold it any longer and not seeing a bedpan, he removed the IV and eased himself to the floor. Anton quickly discovered that his legs were unable to hold him up and he used his arms to pull himself across the floor toward the bathroom. Finding the door closed and having no way to reach the knob, he crawled out the door to ask for assistance.
The traffic in the hallway was quite heavy so Anton moved along the wall to avoid being kicked or stepped on. He called out for someone to help. While it seemed to him that his voice was functioning normally, he became doubtful as the nurses and doctors continued by without glancing down. Two doors down, Anton spotted a pan below the bed of a sleeping patient. He slithered toward it to put in is two cents.
Anton was startled by the voice from above. He couldn’t recall the last time he had heard himself addressed directly, let alone by a woman. Had he paid closer attention, he probably would not have used a woman’s bedpan but nature’s call momentarily clouded his powers of perception. He turned his red face up toward her.
“What’s your name?” she asked, peering over the side of her bed.
“Me?” Anton pulled his gown around him as best he could.
“I’m-I’m Anton. It’s nice to meet you.” He began to extend his hand to shake then, thinking better of it, quickly pulled it back.
Beth smiled. “What are you doing here?”
“I h-had an accident.” Anton turned redder. “I was hit by a car.”
“Why are you in my room?”
“I couldn’t find a bedpan and my bathroom door was shut. I tried to get help, but no one came…” he looked away from Beth’s gaze, “like I wasn’t even there.”
“I know who you are.”
Anton wiped his eyes then looked at her.
“You’re the man who ran out in front of my car this morning,” she said, her voice rising. “I tried to miss you but I got both you and a light-post.”
Anton’s eyes widened.
“I’m so glad to see you’re alive!” she exclaimed.
A nurse entered the room and approached the bed. “Are you okay, Miss Beth?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine.”
“I heard you making a fuss in here, but there was no signal from your room.”
Anton observed their exchange for a few moments before crawling back toward his room, not bothering to close the back of his gown.
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