Neil was given leave from work, advised to avoid loud noises, bright lights, crowds, public places, stressful situations, anything that might aggravate the Condition.
He sat in his apartment alone with the blinds shut. Waited. Tried to keep himself busy. He took long showers. He devoted more time to a crossword puzzle than his attention span had ever allowed him before. He thumbed through books he’d read a dozen times. He slept. Dreamed unpleasant and fractured dreams. Waited. Dusted. Swept. Organized his clothing, pantry, books. Gave up. Let the dust settle. Wracked his brain for ways to pass the time. Two weeks. Waited.
The darkness of his empty apartment soaked into his skin, dragged him down like a damp sweater. The Condition grew until it was big as half a grapefruit. It twitched. Stretched. Plucked at the back of his shirt. He ignored it.
He eyed his bookshelf, at the cigarette box perched above the books, a little mute dare. It had been a while. He reached up, plucked the cigarette from its packet, as one might pick a flower. He sniffed it. Wrinkled his nose. It was stale. He dropped it and fell back into bed, betrayed.
Rolled onto his back, stared at the ceiling. Became aware of the ticking of the clock on his bedside table. Realized he’d been like that for almost an hour.
Time to go for a walk. Clear his head. Get something fresh to eat.