His eyes flicker in the screenlight as if they’re following an autocue on turbo. Every frame saturates his pupils faster than a nuclear iceblink.
I lift the top plate off his stack of filthy crockery and try not to breathe what he’s been living in. ‘Do you mind if I take this and bring it back with some actual food? I could even sit next to you and put the food in your mouth – we can call it quality time.’
He ignored every word I just said.
I ask, ‘Is that actually a videogame? Because to the untrained eye it looks like a line is moving across the screen and you’re pressing a button to put bumps in it, over and over again, forever. How about we visit grandma in hospital? You can watch the same thing and you won’t get repetitive strain injury.’
He yells at the screen: ‘I can’t turn it off, I’ll crash.’
‘Crash what? It’s just a wiggly line, like a pulse or something.’
‘Stop talking at me. I can’t hear you.’
It’s the ear buds. They’ve burrowed in deep, like wireless parasites. I tug one of them free and listen. It’s the kind of eighties synthscape that makes your knackered Fiesta feel like Optimus Prime. The earworm’s voice is like warm chocolate syrup down the back of my brainstem. It tells me to go for it – full speed, total momentum, a hundred thousand rpm, a million frames per second, all the way down the pacific coast highway, past palm trees and sandbanks designed with the single purpose of taking me out of the game. I feel the Ferrari in the soles of my converse and the breeze in my caterpillar stache. The god of Vroom is with me – you’d better get the fuck out of my way.
Enough is enough. I yank the plug out of the wall.
The room is quiet again. Differently quiet this time. Nothing stirs him. Not his name screamed so loud the neighbours knock on the walls, the ceiling, the floor. Not the urgent strangers who burst into the room. Not the voltage they fire into his chest. They tell me to keep talking, that he can hear me, even as the last of his synapses fend for themselves like candles in a power cut.
I sit with him in the ambulance – full speed, total momentum, a hundred thousand rpm, a million frames per second, all the way down the pacific coast highway – to the hospital, where none of their apparatus does the trick, and the coroner will have no explanation; it’s as if someone just switched off his heart.
Gareth Durasow works in a gents’ tailoring shop where they still measure in Imperial. His stories are soon to appear in Neon, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and the Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthology 2019. He is a STORGY flash fiction prize winner. You can find him here @garethdurasow.