Glass door whooshed open, Recompression chamber, a hyperbaric chamber used to treat or prevent decompression sickness, and Larry made short work of signing in for his doctor appointment.
He took the one empty seat.
Magazines flopped on the tabletop were too old to matter, too handled for Larry to consider touching. The air humming through the building’s ventilation system smelled vaguely of Aqua Velva. He scanned a battered Newsweek page, splayed open atop the stack. Scientists could not say why some Australian women felt sad after otherwise satisfactory sex.
He lifted his eyes to the sport-jacketed guy on his right. The guy was squishing and unsquishing his face.
Larry said, “Really old people confide in me, and really old people who have confided deeply in me always say it’s really bad.”
The guy unsquished his face. Locked his eyes on Larry’s.
Larry said, “Very old people say it’s very screwed up. So bad you can’t fix it. These are their words, not mine, but that’s what I think, too, that it’s a screw job. “
A few seconds passed between them.
“That’s what I think,” the sport-coat guy said, throat clearing, “I think so.”
Larry continued. “Okay, so it’s not like it’s in the water supply, right? It’s hidden, in the messages—radiation with words.”
The guy shifted toward him in the chair. “Words?”
“Yes, words,” Larry said.
“Like ‘Existential anxiety was found to make people dislike Richard Dawkins’,” the guy offered, “or ‘Americans who believe in the transformational power of material goods are more likely to abuse credit’?”
Larry felt a current. Southeast Asian orb web spider males who lose their genitals during mating fight more fiercely to defend their mates, said arachnologists, because they “have nothing to lose.”
An older black woman with tremors signed in at reception. Larry wondered why she would wear a heavy overcoat on a day like this. He turned back to the sport coat guy. “Exactly. Yes. Those are messages with radioactive words. They penetrate the mind.”
“That’s how they want it,” the guy said, smile wrenched across his squished face.
“Yes, how they want it,” Larry said, “and it goes right through the lead blanket of what you believe, seeps though. Distracts you.”
“Wonder how long we’ll wait,” the guy said. “They always over-book. Not like the old days.”
“Yes, the old days—wish I could go back,” Larry said. An anteater at a Swedish zoo massacred a stand of flamingos.
The guy smacked his lips. “This city is ground zero for radioactive messages. Can’t deny it. That’s why the confusion.”
“That’s what I think, too,” Larry said.
The guy considered the space around them, looked out the plate glass at Melrose Avenue traffic. “I’m a believer—are you a believer?”
“I am,” Larry said.
“I’m a counter-revolutionist. Are you?”
“I am a counter-revolutionist,” Larry agreed. Americans who have just ridden an up escalator are twice as likely to donate to charity as those who have just ridden a down escalator.
The guy screnched his eyes up, and his nose, turned to Larry. “It’s unavoidable.”
Larry looked at his watch. “Hey, where’s the home improvement store around here? Don’t know this part of the city.”
“Yes, I am,” Larry said, “building a patio.”
“You like to barbeque?”
“I do. Barbeque’s the only real way left to cook,” Larry said.
“I agree,” the guy said, “That’s what I think, too. Take a left out of this parking lot, drive three or four blocks, and it’s on your right—can’t miss it.”
“Is it a Home Depot?”
“It is a Home Depot,” the guy confirmed.
“I can’t go there.”
“Too pricey?” the guy said.
“I was attacked.”
“Did it affect you,” the guy said, “I mean, spiritually?”
Larry scooted closer. “Yes. It was a large fellow.”
“With tattoos, I’m guessing.”
“Yes, with tattoos,” Larry affirmed.
“I knew it. Red and green, like militants,” the guy said flatly.
“He was a militant, yes,” Larry said, “that’s what I think. Very dark messages in all that, the tattoos—dark messages.”
“Yes. Tattoos radiate dark messages.”
“I can’t go back,” Larry said, voice pinching.
The guy focused his gaze on him. “You must though. We must go to the Home Depot. It’s inevitable.”
The nurse at reception picked up a clipboard and called Larry’s name. Two brightly dressed women whooshed through the office door, chattering Spanish. Larry rose.
He walked toward the desk, suspecting the women were debating the validity of research reportedly having made progress toward making the custard apple seedless. He remembered how the report quoted a biologist saying, “This is no small thing—this could be the next banana.”
Maybe that’s why they were squawking so passionately. It was hard to know. Larry followed the nurse, considering the apple and banana analogy—squishing his face at the radiant thought of it.