A short story I wrote several years ago about an elderly man. I’ve considered sending it out to publications before. I choose here. Thank you for reading!
I cannot remember my name. I do know that I am sick. I am a very sick man. I have been told by a doctor that I am frighteningly unwell and that things are looking dangerous. I do not remember what his name was, either. He was young. Vibrant. Healthy. I have not seen him in some time.
The nurse, who I see three times a week, instructs me not to leave my apartment unsupervised. She is the only person whose face I can remember clearly. She has a button nose and dimples. Deep bags under her eyes. I find her charming. She has a hard time finding the veins in my arms, but I like that, because it means she’ll spend more time holding my arm. I feel her warmth beneath the latex gloves. I smile at her. I’ve never needed her to smile back.
The colors are changing outside, from blue and grey to yellow-red, through a wash of quiet blues until gold and violet are all that’s left. It never stops being bright. The sounds of cars sweeping, screaming by, the people, size of ants, all just sound like ocean in a conch shell. I have a conch by my bed. I love my conch.
I leave the television on in the corner, but the faces, the faces are just as ocean as the outside. It’s not enough to turn it off. I like the voices. They always sound so confident, even when they’re supposed to sound afraid. They say Antarctica is dying. Some part of me is sad. I could have built a city there, been mayor. I want to be cold again. I want to lose a toe to frostbite.
The nurse tells me I am going to die on Thursday. She says it is about time, and starts to fill out the paperwork beside me. I ask if she will fuck me, as politely as I can. She says that it would be too unhygienic. When she leaves, I fall asleep in the shower. It feels like rain.
The people in the morning are talking about a marmoset that bit the President’s daughter. I am going through the dresser in the corner of my room. My clothes are not here. Someone has stolen my clothes and not bothered to tell me. There was a jacket that I liked, a blue windbreaker. I know I liked it. I want to die in it, if I have to die. I bang on the door for hours, but no one comes.
I cannot open the windows. Have they ever been able to open? I slam my face into the glass to try and break it. The glass is thick. My eye swells up, my left one. I cannot see well outside of it. I cannot see well out of the other, but the normal way. I am only a little more blind.
The nurse wears a low-cutting shirt for my benefit. I get hard in front of her and apologize. She says that it is fine. I ask to touch her breast, and she says yes. I squeeze it gently. Her skin is so warm. I start to cry. I cannot stop crying. She shakes her head, says she cannot do this, and leaves. I do not think she will be coming back before Thursday.
Dawn. The sky is a beautiful yellow. I wish that I could make out where the clouds were, what shapes they suggest. I used to play that game with my little sister. I had a sister. Why did I forget I had a sister? I loved my sister. I took care of her. What does her face look like? What is her name? I have forgotten them. I have forgotten my little sister.
I look for a phone, to call my sister. I cannot find a phone, not a working phone. They killed the landlines, I remember now. They weren’t needed any longer. I start to scream. I scream until my throat is raw. Then I take a shower.
Thursday. They say that it is Thursday on the television. My sister. I need to find my sister. I listen to the conch, the ocean. I remember being calm. Calm is good. The nurse liked calm. When I wasn’t calm, she would use the shackles attached to the bed to keep me calm. I used to try and break them during the night, until I didn’t need them anymore.
I hear voices outside my door. It is Thursday, after all. They must be waiting. If I lose my calm, I may die faster. How am I going to die? No one ever told me. They only ever said that death was coming on a Thursday.
A man in black enters. He asks if I believe in God. I ask him what my sister’s name is. He does not know. I ask if he knows what my name is. He looks uncomfortable. I tell him it is fine. He says that God will love me when I die.
A new nurse takes his place, this one a man. He says he wants to help me die calmly. He seems sweet. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe my sister is dead already. Or she hates me. Why else can’t I remember her? What could I have done? What could I have failed to do? I deserve to be sick. To die.
Everything moves suddenly. The nurse is scared. He looks outside the window. Black smoke, he says. He looks at me with fear. I get out of bed, holding my conch. I get to the window and see them.
Explosions. Orange clouds making black clouds making dust. Several. The nurse is terrified. He says names of organizations I don’t recognize. I ask him what the problem is. He says that people are dying. I say I know. I am dying. He says that it’s different. These deaths aren’t planned. I say they are. He doesn’t understand. I say the people who set the bombs must have planned it. This many bombs would never go off unplanned.
He looks scared. He says the people being bombed are innocents. Does he mean that I am not innocent? What did I do to my sister? I ask him what I did. He does not pay attention. He is on his phone, a small one. He is making sure his wife has not died.
I know then that I cannot die without remembering my sister. While the nurse is talking, I grab my conch and move towards the door. I am scared. I don’t remember what it is like outside. I have to go. So I do. I don’t take time to think too hard about it. Otherwise, I might forget.
The building feels empty. I move through hallway after hallway. Some doors are open. I see inside. Those awake are at the windows, watching the bombs. There is no point for me in watching. I am dying. I need to be.
I make it outside. The sky is black and brown. Fire and Brimstone, I think. This is what I get to see me off.
I head towards the smoke. People are running, screaming away. They pay no mind of me. I am glad. I start to laugh. My legs feel soft beneath me. They bounce weakly off the hot pavement as I run. It hurts so badly. I laugh harder. I feel so happy.
I trip and hit my face. I bleed easily. It is hard through my good eye to see through all this blood, but I keep moving. Slower. I reach a square, a city square. I am in a city. I look at the signs for a name, but everything is ocean, blurry, red.
I don’t know what city I live in anymore. I see people hiding behind a storefront window, under tables. They are looking at me, motioning. A building bursts with fire on the other side of the square. Everything is so loud.
A woman comes out of the store to grab me. She is screaming a name, a phrase, something. I can’t hear her. There is a ringing in my ears dulling out the other sounds.
I am inside the store. People are all around me. They all care so much. The woman is wiping my face, clearing the blood. Her touch is gentle. She looks so familiar. Young. Short black hair. Vibrant green eyes. Like Mirabelle.
“Mirabelle?” I call.
The woman does not react.
The name. Her name. My sister’s name.
I know that I am crying. I feel so weak. I know that I am lying down. Everyone is watching. I motion with my arm for the conch. I ask for it.
They say the conch is broken. I cry harder. I want to hear the ocean. I had the ocean with Mirabelle, when we were young. We played on the bay. She poked the horseshoe crabs with driftwood sticks to see if they were living. I wore a hollowed shell like an Army helmet once. It made her laugh.
I want to hear the ocean. Let me hear the ocean. Let me go. It’s Thursday. The doctor said I’m going to die on Thursday. Will Mirabelle still recognize my face?
The stranger holds me until I fall asleep. Today is Friday. The television says we are going to war.