She is embalmed in white hospital sheets, as well as a
stiff white blanket that makes her look as though she is wrapped in
bandages. She lies still against a thin plastic pillow, covered with a
crisp, starched case. Every so often her mouth moves, a cavity which is
not really a mouth at all, but a puckered hole without lips or teeth. It
is dry. She needs water. She cannot see.
She is uncomfortable, this barely breathing cadaver. A
tissue of skin. A scaffold of bone with her wild white hair, her
jaundice, her rising scent of decomposition. She is aware of her helpless
state, her parched lips and ancient form, but she is cut off from the
world. It has been years since she could communicate, compose
intelligible sounds...She can only lie here as she is, judge time from
the shadows inside her unseeing eyes.
Her back is stiff. That back of hers, she moves to
speculate, must be speckled with age by now — the skin would be
mottled and creased and thinned out like tissue paper. But who ever looks
at their own back? You never plan on it changing. There are bits of your
body you carry around all your life but never really own. She supposes
that if anyone owned her back, it was her late husband, as he was the
only one ever to see it regularly.
Even in old age she thinks of her husband at least
once every day — something will rear up and remind her of that
brief marriage which in time has come to seem more like an enclosure
she'd stumbled upon, rather than a legal arrangement formally entered. It
is a thought she would rather repress, not relive. He is always, in her
recollections, lying in bed, waiting for her, a presence, a grief, an
ache. But in fact, he had never once waited for her in bed, being
occupied during the late hours in his favorite chair, always reading The
Book. She must, she thinks, get that part right...he had never awaited
But what was his name? What was his name? Her
husband's name? A suppressed pain. Fear. There is something careless
about this kind of forgetting, something unpardonable, a great guilt. Her
husband, her master. His face has the quality of a blurred photograph,
yet she remembers his rough hands. His rough, calloused hands on her soft
body. She shudders.
Feeling foolish, she starts through the alphabet,
trying to associate a name with each letter: Albert, Benjamin, Charles,
It feels as if every last cell of her brain has been
driven into illness. Her lack of memory fills her with silent dread. Not
my mind, Dear God, not my mind! She tries to compose herself.
Letter by letter she continues to analyze the sounds
and impressions. What is this? Dear God!
She begins to suspect the answer is beyond her reach.
She sends out fingers of desire, need, thought — tries to project
them into her past, to pull out something stable. The images seep through
her fingers like fine sand peppered with doubt.
Ian, John, Ken, Lyle...
She has a deep envy of the living. She is tired of her
half-existence. She is tired of being sad, tired of not even minding that
someone her age should grieve. And in the thin bony box of her head she
understands, and accepts the fact that her immense unhappiness is doomed
to irrelevance anyway. Why worry? Why yearn towards a dream that is
doomed to be unfulfilled?
Because it would ease her regret.
The woman can't even express her inner turmoil to
others, apart from holding onto a loud, scratchy moan. She does this, on
occasion, to no effect.
She feels a part of her wanting to go back to the
things she used to like — the feel of a new toothbrush against her
gums, for instance. Such a little thing that the nurses here overlook so
often. She would like to feel the sun on her face, the wind in her hair,
the crunch of sweet smelling grass beneath her feet. She'd like to lick
an envelope, stick a stamp neatly in the corner, drop it in the mailbox.
She'd like to clean her body out with a hoot of honest laughter. She'd
like to sit on the toilet by herself.
She can fantasize about her independence all she
wants. She can pray all she wants, she never was a praying woman and in
the end she will still be where she is. She knows this. It is her station
in life, the resolution of a rather mundane plot. She knows she has every
right to brood, but she prefers to look forward toward her death. Even
now she tries to wish it into existence.
It is going to happen. All this suffering will be
washed away. Any day now...she can feel it. She can hope. She revels in
wonder that she cannot bounce out of bed and go for a run down the
streets of her youth at this very moment. Why is her body so unwilling,
when her heart knows that it can be done? Why can't she even remember her
She does not realize she has lost her place. With
renewed vigor she begins anew:
Alfred, Ben, Chris, Dale...
BIO: Syed Rafay Ahmed is fascinated with life's
idiosyncrasies. Seeking to explore the human condition in his stories, he
tries to create "possible worlds," imagined dramatic
embodiments of experience which allow him to explore basic
"rules" of human nature and the structure of the world. Rafay
has a B.A in Journalism and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in
Social Sciences from the Lahore University of Management Sciences in