The faucet dripped steadily. Gene stood with his toothbrush stuck in his mouth, silent, staring. He tried a third time, twisting, to turn it off. The drip ceased, then slowly started back up again.
There was a knock at the hotel room door.
"Time," said a muffled male voice.
Gene quickly finished brushing his teeth, then splashed water on his face, massaging his skin deeply. In the mirror he saw that it did little to improve his insomnia-plagued visage. He turned off the light, picked his jacket up off the still-made bed and left.
As he entered the ballroom, Gene was greet with thunderous applause. More than a few faces in the audience were wet with tears. He took the platform and was introduced by Mike his agent. A line formed, headed towards the steps to the stage. The first person up was an elderly woman, her eyes milky white and vacant. She was helped by a younger woman, presumably a relative. They were dressed poorly.
"Thank you," she said.
"I haven't done anything yet," said Gene.
"You will. You always do," she replied.
Gene was silent. He gently brushed her coarse hair from her forehead.
"Ya gotta pay first ladies," said Mike quickly. He turned and smiled fakely towards the crowd. "Hundred bucks, c'mon." He held out his hand.
"Will you take a post-dated check?" asked the younger woman. Mike sighed.
"Yeah," said Gene. Mike hit him gently in the back. The woman took a checkbook out of her purse and started filling out the blanks.
"This is one of the reasons we don't take checks--it takes too long to get through everybody, plus we gotta declare it on taxes," Mike whispered to Gene.
"Chill," said Gene.
The lady carefully tore out the check and handed it to Mike. Gene placed his palms over the elderly woman's eyes, and pressed them in. She yelped with pain, then fell backwards. Her companion caught her and laid her down on the carpet. The crowd hushed as the woman lay still.
"I can see!" she finally said. "I can see! Holy hell I can see!"
Her companion helped her up. She waved to the crowd. Gene leaned in and looked at her eyes. They were completely clear. The crowd roared.
That night Gene watched Mike sampling everything from the room service menu and watching pay-per-view wresting on the flatscreen set in Gene's room.
"We got through five hundred and twenty three today," said Mike. Gene watched bits of masticated shrimp fling around in Mike's mouth as he said it. "That's only fifty grand for nine hours. Minus all the free coffee we handed out. I think we should try for ten hours when we hit Des Moines. Maybe rent two ballrooms." Mike noisily sucked shrimp tail from its shell. "We had a lot of overflow today. I booked the ballroom for tomorrow. So we're staying an extra night. Aren't you eating anything?"
"I'm not really hungry," said Gene.
"Try the shrimp. Its not awful." He held the dish out towards Gene. "You'd think seafood would be appalling in the midwest, but it often isn't. No? You should eat something." Mike pulled back the dish and started sucking on another shrimp.
"Can we take a break?" asked Gene.
"What for? We're making money hand over fist."
"It's not what?"
Gene sighed and rubbed his forehead.
"Never mind," he said.
"You need to get more sleep. Okay, okay, we won't do ten hour sessions in Des Moines."
"Thanks," said Gene.
Late that night Gene went to the hotel pool. It was indoor, heated and steaming. He slipped off his terry robe and dove in. The water was warm and comforting. He opened his eyes, the chlorine stinging. He saw a pair of legs. He surfaced, and saw her.
"Hi," she said.
"What do you want?" asked Gene. He rubbed the water from his eyes.
"Just checking up," she said, leaning her back against the side of the pool. She stretched her arms across the times.
"I'd rather you not do that," said Gene. He fell backwards and started floating, looking up at the ceiling. He let his ear canals fill with water, but it didn't drown out her voice. In fact it was just as clear.
"You need to pick up the pace. I'm getting bored," she said.
"I'm not here to amuse you, despite what you think," he said.
"But that's the bargain, isn't it?" she asked. She pushed off from the edge and swam towards him. She stood in the water and leaned her face over his. "You got to do what you most wanted..."
"This isn't what I wanted," he said.
"I'm curious," she said coyly. "What will happen when no one ever gets sick again? When no one has to suffer? Those were your words, weren't they? What will you wish for then? You see, I'm not sure you have it in you to wish for something materialistic. You can't put yourself first."
He turned over and swam towards the pool steps. She followed. When he reached the steps she tugged on his waistband, and he lost his balance, falling backwards into the water. He flailed and sputtered. He reached out for her, to grab her by the throat, but she was already underwater, swimming efficiently in circles around him. She stopped and stared up through the rippling water, laughing without producing bubbles. Then she disappeared. The pool water swirled inwards after her.
Gene returned to his room. He thought about taking a shower but decided against it. He sat in his robe at the end of the bed, listening to the faucet drip in the darkness.