I felt the hot water on my skin, sensuous and burning. Erupted sores on my shoulders and legs, the physical degradation of flesh; the spent miles, the erosion of will. The spine of the land in my feet, the unnatural curl of my hands, grasping for the unseen. The dirt swirled down the drain, red and black and corrosive. The water stung. I relished it, like an aching tooth flooded with warm milk.
“Booze or needles?” asked the Muffin Man.
“Dreams,” I said, and he nodded.
There was an anchor dragging along the meat of my brain, snagging pernicious memories and splattered conversations. My belly was swollen with obscene gases prone to hot egression. Soap and water would not clean me, nor soup and bread feed me. I squinted to keep the light out of my eyes; even in the dimmest of rooms, the light was too bright. Shrouded in clean blankets, wearing underpants a size too big, and an old disinfected T-shirt, I felt cast-off, a virulent organism drifting inside a beast. Booze or needles, indeed.
I wanted to get back to the mountains and prairie. Back to being me, a man with a purpose, a cowboy (though, strictly speaking, I was no cowboy. I was a rancher and a carpenter). I was that man, not this one, not a man in borrowed underpants, a puke bucket beside my cot. I had a noble duty, a necessary task. A promise I couldn’t remember, and who could blame me, my brain was full of churning silt.
I didn’t want to consider it, that I was crazy and my mind was already lost.