Robert Lopez, Which One’s Will

I could hear choking and laughing but couldn’t tell who was choking and who was laughing. There were about ten of us altogether, on either side of the room, all spread out. I wasn’t the one choking, but I do choke more than I should. My problem is whenever I think about swallowing food, I choke instead. I’m not sure if this happens to other people, but I’m guessing that no, it doesn’t.

 

But it’s when I have too much in my mouth that I start to choke and sometimes I have to reach in with my fingers to keep myself from passing out. Only once or twice has someone had to get behind me and do the maneuver.

 

I’m not sure which one was choking this time. It’s not unusual for someone to start choking when they get us together for mealtime. It’s the bread they serve and how dry it is. You’d think they want us to choke and you’d be right.

 

I remember hearing the stories growing up. This great-grandfather choked on a chicken-bone, that cousin choked on his own birthday cake and so on. It’s the same way with the breathing. I am out walking and everything is fine. I might be on my way to the store or to the park or god knows where as it’s not important. What is important is that I am out and about and walking and not thinking about anything in particular. But then I start to think about my breathing and I forget how. I collapse right there on the street.

 

We are supposed to practice chewing and breathing every day. They instruct us to take a bite of our lunch and then chew it at least twenty times. We are to swallow it slowly on its own, without the aid of water to help it down. We are to breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth as we swallow. There is a pitcher of water in the middle of the table but we aren’t allowed to drink from it. There are glasses in front of our places at the table but they are empty. This is why so many of us choke here during mealtime and it’s me as often as anyone.

 

My chest hurts and my vision blurs and my mouth goes dry and then I’m down. Only sometimes do I get the shakes. I know some people think I shake all the time but it’s not true. People are always careful to step around me whenever I do get the shakes, though. Sometimes people are good this way. I feel a real kinship with people when they step around me. I never look them in the eye when they step around me because I am usually convulsing when this happens and I can’t keep my eyes open. Still, I know they’re there and I know they are making an effort to step around me convulsing on the pavement. If I could, I would thank them.

 

I don’t know the others all spread out in the room here with me. They don’t let us talk to each other, and we don’t wear name tags. They don’t let us look at each other, either, so the name tags would be a waste of time anyway. Once I tried to look up while I was in the middle of chewing a bite of my lunch and I felt a lash across my back. No one said anything but I knew what it meant.

 

I never swallow my tongue, and only once or twice has someone stuck fingers in my mouth to keep me from doing it.

 

If I had to guess about the people all spread out here I wouldn’t. I don’t like to make guesses because they are uneducated.

 

If you were to ask someone else, they might say they are all hard luck cases like me.

 

I was made to drop out of school early on. I think I almost finished one of the middle-grades, but that was as far as it went.

 

I assume they are all men, too. I don’t know why I assume this, but I do. It seems wrong if one of these people were a woman.

 

What makes this day noteworthy is that the one who I could hear choking wound up choking to death. This one was the first of us to go, but I’m sure more will follow.

 

Doubtless the ones laughing were the supervisors. They are heartless and sadistic, meaning they are regular people like you can find anywhere.

 

Who I wouldn’t thank are those who do not step around. Sometimes people kick me when I’m flopping around on the pavement like this. Sometimes after they kick me they rifle through my pockets and steal my wallet. The kicks almost always hurt but sometimes it’s like they are jumpstarting the breathing, hard as that might be to believe. The worst part is that I bruise easily so I always have black and blue bruises up and down my ribs. Some of the bruises turn yellow after a time. I’m talking about both sides of my body up and down. I don’t know why they turn yellow, but they do, so fuck it.

 

I do like women, but I’m glad they’re not here, if the other ones spread out in the room aren’t them, which I assume they’re not. One of the reasons I don’t think there are women here is what I can smell during lunchtime. Women always have a particular and pleasing scent surrounding them, and no one here smells like that.

 

What I like about women is how they look and feel, mostly. I sometimes like how they sound if they have a nice voice, which is usually a fifty-fifty proposition.

 

I almost never fight back because it’s pointless. You can’t have an attack like this and fight back at the same time.

 

You can’t smell the food because it is odorless. I think they do this on purpose. The food is also tasteless, therefore it is impossible to enjoy, which is probably the point.

 

Otherwise, it’s because of the other people, the supervisors and heartless bastards. I think if I could remember how to breathe or if there weren’t the other people some of the things that have happened wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

 

Surely you’ve seen the other people. Some of them are men and others are women. Some are tall or white or black or bald or have tits. A lot of them have tits, about half of them probably, but none of the ones who are here, eating lunch and choking over it like I do every day, including the one who died, rest his soul.

 

How I know he died is the laughing stopped well before it usually does. And then there was the sound of people rushing around and people talking into telephonic devices. Then one of the supervisors ushered us out of the room and we didn’t reconvene for two or three days.

 

I’m talking about the outside world. We are allowed out every other week, and it’s nice. We are free to act like normal people and go into shops and stores. We are allowed to see the picture show if one is playing. It’s true we are supervised during these outings, but the supervisors are instructed not to interfere with our behaviors and interactions.

 

I have only seen the one picture show, and it was a war picture. I couldn’t tell who was at war, but they all meant business. There was a battery or a battalion dug in and another marching toward them. They were all spread out and on opposite sides of the trench. A commander went up and down the line and told everyone to hold their fire. He said they had to wait. Then he told them to ready, aim, fire, and that’s what they did. Then he told them to reload, and then he said, fire at will.

 

This is when I yelled out, Which One’s Will, but no one laughed or admonished me.

 

Of the ones I’ve seen so far. I’m talking about the other people, not the tits. There are usually two, one on either side of the chest. I like these people best, meaning women, but not by much. I mean I like how they usually step around me when I am on the ground gasping for life. What I mean is I like their tits, but I’d rather not discuss it. And I’m not even sure I do like their tits half the time. I look at them and think what’s the use anymore.

 

We are part of a team, but we aren’t teammates. They are keeping tabs on us and how we chew our food and swallow it. It is okay if one of us dies because that means they will learn something. I think it is probably an honor to take part in this. I think maybe we should count ourselves lucky.

 

They will probably keep this study going until all of us dies.

 

After lunch they put is in our own rooms to do what we will. I’ve never been in anyone else’s room so when I’m in mine doing what I will I assume they are in theirs doing likewise.

 

Surely you’ve seen the tits, particularly this time of year when they are in season.

 

I’m not sure I can help because this is all I know.

 

I haven’t come close to dying, I don’t think. But I don’t know what it means to come close to dying so I can’t say for sure.

 

I thought maybe they would let us go after that first one died, but they didn’t. They didn’t say anything about it, and the truth is I can’t say for sure that the man actually died when he died.

 

I never think about leaving because I don’t think it’s possible. I think the supervisors are too diligent to let anyone leave.

 

I can’t remember where I was before I started this project or what I was doing. I do remember that I consorted with other people and some of them had tits and I would chew food and sometimes choke on it until I passed out in the middle of the street.

 

Sometimes people would step softly around me and other times they would have at me like it was open season.

 

I’m not sure if this happens to other people, including the ones spread out across this room with me. I’m not sure what can be learned from all this, but I’m sure it’s beneficial.

 

We aren’t allowed to ask questions and even if we were I wouldn’t know what to ask.

 

My name isn’t Will, in case you were wondering.

 

I’m not going to say what my name is because I don’t want to be held responsible and because I can’t remember what it is.

 

I don’t think anyone has called me by name for too many years.

 

So, it’s better to think of me as the one who was choking but not laughing.

 

Think of me as the one on the pavement and maybe I’m shaking or convulsing at the same time.

 

It’s up to you whether you step softly around or not.

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