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In his fever, the attic is a stomach full of acid. The locked door is the mouth that swallowed him down, the wooden floorboards are the tongue, and the window sitting high above his bed, crying white light into its dismal interior, is the solitary eye of the beast he resides in. If he had the strength to rise, to scale the impossibly tall wall of his hell, he would escape.
As his mind’s calefaction smothers his lungs, Isaac dreams of air. His eyes cling to the stream of light too far above him, and he imagines it in his throat, cool, refreshing, healing, like winter, though he’s admittedly forgotten what that feels like.
Red paints over his sore eyelids, and he can feel the backs of his eyes burning with the rest of him, quaking in their sockets, but he knows better than to cry. He knows that, should he cry, he will be met with a heavy hand across his already bruised face. His father will hear him, unlock the door, and unwittingly allow him a glimpse out of his cell before emerging entirely and shutting the panel behind him with a slam. He will bellow, “Cryin’ in my house, boy?” in a timbre that rattles Isaac’s brain, and he will approach the boy’s deathbed to strike him.
So instead, Isaac succumbs to the haziness his illness brings. He lets delusions of divine punishment cloud his perception, and rather than asking why, he wallows in his suffering, feeling it with near-unbearable severity. If he hurts enough, he won’t cry. If he feels every facet of his pain, he thinks, he will survive, and he will become his father’s masterpiece, an ode to strength and fortitude, a man. He will become a man.
To become a man, you must first regress into bone, it seems. Isaac can feel his flesh melting under the sweltering heat. His will wavers, and his stomach twitches, itching to cry out and plead against his fever, but he keeps an iron grip on his resolve. Although his body is trying to kill itself in its mindlessness, Isaac has conceived the notion that his suffering is for a purpose. With purpose, a man can do anything.
A man. What is a man? Is it the wisps of air that fight through his throat? Is it the searing of tissue, the feeling that you are being eaten alive? Is it the red figure he thinks he sees at the foot of his bed, dancing and cracking with laughter? What is a man? What is it that he wants so desperately to be?
Something in the attic clicks, hardly registering past his swollen eardrums. Something creaks, and then slams just as soon. Someone approaches his bed, a dark and massive character.
Isaac hears no words, but when his father’s thick, dirt-encrusted hand rises above him, it seems to happen, miraculously.
He becomes the myth that is a man when his burning fingers dig into his father’s wrist, and his arm yanks him down onto the deathbed, and his palms, just as quickly, slam themselves into his jugular. The powerless leviathan beneath him writhes; he tosses punches as he chokes, but they land on an unfeeling, bloated face. His neck is thick between fingers of bone, but still, the skeleton squeezes, his heart battering his ribcage as breakneck speed. His body still stands to ruin itself, but it is just as determined to take this beast down with him.
When his mighty father finally falls, succumbing to the comfort of death, Isaac laughs perforce. He laughs as red flurries into his vision, because there are tears in his father’s eyes.
His stomach spasms, gutting itself, and he falls face-first into his covers as his body convulses with laughter. His fever laughs along, shaking the inside of his head with ceaseless guffaws.
Rivulets stream down his cheeks and lips. He notes with euphoria that the white beam above him seems so much closer now. The fallen Goliath collapsed beside him, Isaac rejoices into sleep over a heaven he can finally reach.