The terror overtakes Tim Ryan, again, more this time, somehow more, a flood on an ocean. In a month, less than a month—oh, no, oh, no, oh, no—he will have to do it again, all of it, stand up on the debate stage again, bathed in the terror. Why didn't the other candidates feel it, feel the fear crushing them, squeezing their ribs like a vise? Why did none of his friends, his family, his campaign team, see the fear in his eyes and relieve him from the nightmare?
Stand there waiting, hoping, an impossible, misplaced hope, that the moderators will not think to call on him. He isn't cold, but he can't help but shiver. He opens his eyes for a minute. He is still on the cold tile of his kitchen floor. Before him, an uncaught shard of kale sits mockingly, defying a broom to come sweep it up.
He is very familiar with this piece of kale now. It is his only friend.
He briefly entertains the thought of shifting his body slightly. His knee is resting somewhat uncomfortably on his arm, cutting off the circulation a little bit. The fetal position was never meant to be held this long against a surface this inflexible. He tries to move but he can't. The arm and knee are no longer his. He has been here too long. Now, he is the floor.
It comforts him, that he is the floor now. As the floor, there is no way he'll be able to do it, get up, take off this suit, put on a clean one, head out the door, and participate in the second Democratic debate. There is no terror if you're a floor. There is only you, you and the act of being a solid plane for bearing loads. A simple life, bearing loads and withstanding forces. But not the worst way to live out his twilight years. Maybe a nice family would move into this house and he could support them and their kids as they grew up.
He closes his eyes, at peace at last. When he opens them, he will still be here, still be the floor. He won't have to be anywhere else. There's no way he could be anywhere else. His friend the piece of kale will still be there. They can live out their days together, in peace.
It suddenly strikes him that kale is biodegradable. And failing that, edible. A sudden vision, unbidden, overwhelms him. A line of ants marches across him, the floor, swarming around the kale. He, the floor, powerless to reach out and stop them. The line of ants, each taking a piece of the kale, a little nub, and carrying it back to the colony, until there is nothing left, not a speck of green.
Terror floods him again. He was drowning in it before, but now he is so deep in it that he cannot even see the sunlight filtering down from above, cannot even tell which way is up, towards the surface, towards safety, towards survival. He is in the Mariana Trench of terror, and he can feel that he is not alone, that here, so incomprehensibly deep in this sea of fear, are alien creatures he has no names for, constructs of apprehension he could not wrap his mind aro—
Who's saying that? Floors don't have daddies.
“Daddy? Why are you still on the floor?”
There is something on him, the floor.
“Mommy says you've been there since the day before yesterday. She says you should get up.”
Who is the addressee? It surely isn't him, the floor.
He opens his eyes, wondering if maybe the piece of kale has a father. But instead of a triangle of green, he sees a child's foot, crushing his only friend from existence. Appalled, he jolts, involuntarily, and as he does, his head moves, tracking up.
He remembers, suddenly, who he is. He is Tim Ryan, Ohio Congressman. He is not the floor, at least not yet. And above him is his son, Brady, looking down.
“Come on, Daddy! I wanna go to the playground!”
Some part of him wants to respond, tries to force out something through his unwilling lungs and vocal cords. But all that escapes is an incomprehensible “mwyrh?”
“Daddy? Are you sick? You can't be sick, Daddy! You're gonna be President! Presidents don't get sick!”
It all comes crashing back, everything he'd forgotten when he was the floor, or thought he was. But now, he knows he's not, can never be the floor. He will always be Tim Ryan, Ohio Congressman, Presidential candidate. He will always have to get off this floor at some point, get up and get back on the campaign trail, get up and get back on the debate stage. There is no escape for him.
The terror washes over him again. How do they not see it? How does his own son not see it, that he doesn't want to do this, that anything else would be preferable? But none of them do. They don't see the fear. Or maybe they ignore it. It doesn't matter. The result on the same. He doesn't move, doesn't get off the floor. He stays curled up in the same fetal position, unmoving, still on the floor, but knowing now that he will never be able to vanish into it.