Topman

by William Powley

Stop it, Topman says.
Topman tells Kola, his wife, that on the roof he
laughs, coughs, and dances, but now he is crying.
Water from the previous rainfall runs down the
gutter and cars zip by on the wet street. It is noon,
light outside . But on the inside, where Topman is, it is dark.
He only thinks that he is on the roof of his house .
Today, Kola is visiting Topman at the institution. She sees that
he ‘s acting like he’s on the roof, so she tells him he looks good and
rubs his shoulders.
Please stop talking, he says.
Kola says, I’ll stop it when you say you’ll come down .
As a youth , Topman made jars for Messex Inc. Topman
imagines he has a jar full of rain on the roof. He says the jar is kept
in a steel case. Topman believes that drinking the rain in the jar
will make him live longer.
Topman lives in an institution, but he doesn’t believe it.
Topman’s jar sits on the window sill, absorbing the sunlight. He
also tells everyone that he can hear them think.
Topman says, Can’t you stop your thinking? I want to live .
Kola says, Do you want me to come up there?
He says, Please go back inside.
Kola is an Idahoan, a nurse who has been doing volunteer work
at the hospital for the last few years. Topman reaches out for his
jar when he says he’s coming down off the roof.
He says, I’m going to drink these three new inches of rain .
Kola sits on the chair next to Topman’s bed and waits for him
to tell her how much he loves her. She wants Topman to care for

her. On their honeymoon, Topman rented a Motel 6 by the beach
and they watched the tide twice a day. Kola wants Topman to act
like he ‘s at the beach, to spend time with her like he did with the
seashells. All she wants is for him to care for her, so she can
be happy.
She says, Will you?
He says, Can’t you wait until it’s my turn to talk? You keep
intruding into my thinking. Stop it. Go back there .
Topman has been ill like this for a few months and Kola is
worried. Before he was sick, he cut the lawn and watered it in the
morning. In the afternoons, Kola would send him to get bananas
or ice cream. On weekends, Topman would meet with old friends
and have a beer and laugh about their wives, talking nonsense all
night. Topman never went a day without eating french fries and
onion rings. Topman can’t do these anymore. He knows this. He . . wants it to ram.
Kola wants to take him to Linda, his nurse, to see if this
problem can be solved, but Kola can’t take him anywhere unless
he knows his jar is safe . Topman looks at his jar in the room and
measures the water line. It was like this at the beach when he
measured the seashells, put the open end near his ear, and listened
to the playfulness of his heart.
He says, You can come in, Kola . I say you can come in and
be quiet, if you think good things about me. This is my jar and
no one else can touch it.
Kola wanted it to be fun at the beach, but Topman would
not let her go into the water. Topman says he knows Kola doesn’t
want to visit him. He puts his fingers in the jar and plays incy
bincy spider with his fingers. She remembers burying his body
in the sand that day at the beach. He loves to feel the whole jar
and touch the water, then drink it, saying he is a young man
agarn .
Kola wants to take him to Linda and leave him with her.
He says, Don’t think that. You really don ‘t know how much
this is bothering me. Don’t you know that I can hear you think?
It’s because I drink the rain that is in the jar. I won’t go see Linda
because the last time she made fun of me . I went home crying.
That’s why I was on the roof crying. The jar is mine . Even if you
drive, I’ 11 know what you ‘ re thinking. I’ 11 be able to get out at the
stop light before it turns green.

Kola wants to tell him that he is insane and that he can’t think
straight. She must take him to see Linda. The last time, Linda made
him cry, and he said that the water in his jar had frozen overnight
and when he touched the ice he felt young.
Topman wants to see the girls at the Bifo like he did when he
was eighteen . He wants to see them sway to the music .
Topman says to Kola , Do you have “Jailhouse Rock”?
He tells her that he can’t stand it when Linda examines him
and he has to answer her. Linda usually sits him down on the table .
She touches him-he feels cold .
At Linda’s office, Topman asks, How long has it been since
I’ve seen you?
Linda says, You should know. You were the last person I saw.
Lift your leg up.
Topman can ‘t remember when Linda last saw him. He will show
her his jar if she gives him a good report. He can remember Linda
from when he was a teenager; she gave him his only physical.
She touches his skin with the cold stethoscope and Topman
bounces and flops on the table . She looks, crawls. Turns his back .
Presses down cold. His feet dangle . She pushes and smiles. She
wants his heartbeat. He sits on the table like an egg that’s blown
out. Linda taps his knee.
Kola sits in the waiting room and reads Better Homes and
Gardens. She eats a Baby Ruth and reads about home improvement
and floor decorating. She thinks about remodeling and getting new
carpet for the upstairs and downstairs family rooms. She must tell
Topman the truth, so she does not have to listen to him talk about
being on the roof. But, if she does tell him what is wrong, he may
not believe her, and then things will be more complicated.
Topman used to know Linda when they both lived in Omaha.
Her father was president of Beneficial Life . That’s where Topman
got the idea of making jars and putting them on roofs. Topman
knows that if he drinks the rain in his jar he will live longer.
He says, You said I was all right last time . I cried . You made
me cry . I’ve been crying on the roof. I told you never to do that
again. Are you going to make me cry? Please don ‘t.
She says, Of course not.
Linda makes Topman happy all over again when they finish
the examination. What Kola doesn ‘t know is that Topman is sitting

on the table loving Linda . He wants to be with Linda, but he
doesn’t want Kola to find out.
Topman says, Am I going crazy? I think I said some awful
things to Kola today . I think she is offended. I told her I knew what
she was thinking. But I can . I really can. Linda, I know what you’re
thinking. I really do . You know I could say that I really do read
minds and not remember ifl said it. I can’t remember what I say.
It’s true . If I ever had a problem I’d call your father. Right now
I’d ask him if there’s a way not to drink the rain that’s in the jar
on the roof and still live .
Topman lies in bed and pushes the buttons that make his bed
go up and back. Kola watches him turn in his bed and tell the
nurse that he is sitting on the roof waiting for it to rain . Topman
continues to look up into the air. He says he sees the clouds and
the sky; but when Kola looks to see if he is telling the truth, she
sees only a lightbulb and a crack in the ceiling.
Kola can see the jar on the window sill, but Topman insists
it is on the roof in his steel holder.
Please be quiet. Don’t talk so loud, Topman says.
He says to himself, Maybe it’s my thinking that’s making me
tell myself that I’m talking and then I talk to tell myself to be quiet
and stop talking.
Topman says, Stop laughing. You’re making fun of me. You’re
telling me I’m crazy . I’m not crazy. Don’t tell me that. Where’s
my room?
He says to Kola, They tell me you are living with another man.
Please stop talking. Why is this happening? Cut out the noise .
Linda and Kola are at the edge of Topman’s bed . Plastic tubes
run into his nostrils. The television plays Andy Griffith . Topman
needs a bath. He tells them to stop adjusting the curtains. He
a.ttempts to get up, but the bed is tilted back too far. He feels for
the buttons, but he can’t find them. He tells them about his jar
and they nod their heads. The jar remains motionless on the
window sill. They fool with his bedpan. Topman is helpless. He
thinks they’ve come to take him away from this place.
I told you never to come unless you called, he says.
They are cleaning his room. They hang his clothes and fix
things so the room looks tidy . His hands dangle and wave. Kola has a dustcloth . Suddenly, she picks up the jar and wipes the sill.
Linda squirts Windex on the window.
Topman watches Kola handle the jar. Kola feels the bottom,
the edges of the rim where the top fits. She holds it up to the light
and looks at the water inside . She listens for the sounds of the ocean
and only hears her heart beat. She tilts it to see how far the water
will go to the edge without coming out. Kola smells it. She puts
it in her palms and rocks it back and forth .
Topman can’t believe she is touching his jar. He tells her to
put down the jar. Kola smiles at him and sets his head back on
the pillow.
Kola moves closer to the window sill and continues to clean
and to hold the jar. She draws her fingers over the glass part that
says MESSEX. She cradles the jar against her breast.
Linda says, Let me hold it.
For this moment, Linda and Kola hold the jar together and
stand in front of Topman ‘s bed , making thumbprints on the
outside. They look inside .
Topman tells them that to touch the jar is dangerous.
Stop, he says.
Kola smiles as she reaches inside the jar, dips her finger in the
water, takes her finger out, and puts it in her mouth.