The Slope of a Line

So many mistakes. The heaviest of them rests on Rattle’s thighs and flattens its palms atop his chest. The rush of the freeway nearby surges through his veins. He once raged down Route 23 at criminal speeds. He was sinewy and strong then, steering the straight line. Rattle is hooked up to tubes and beeping machines in a room with a moaning roommate and the non-stop noise of a flat-screen. He lives compartmentally: rest and forced interactions with dry-eyed, over-sanitized nurses who serve him spongy, beige foods. He waits. All of the nurses look tired except one—an over-attentive young man who calls himself Sandy, whose nametag says Sanderson, who is currently knocking on the door as he opens it. “Hello, gentlemen,” he says. His eyes lock on Rattle. “Lovely morning today, absolutely lovely. Would you like me to open the blinds?” Rattle doesn’t answer. The roommate grunts, turning over as much as possible to face the wall. For all his moaning, this roommate will be fine. He had gallbladder surgery and will be released in a day or two. For all his moaning, he is not the one in this room who will soon die. His family visits daily. Sometimes the kid or wife throws Rattle a casual smile that he absorbs like sunlight. Sandy eases open the blinds, pausing briefly in case of protest, but Rattle welcomes the...

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