To the readers...
This is not really the kind of story I write, even if somewhere in my head there appears to be an area reserved for this sort of mood that comes out in weird flashes of fantasy. Mostly very brief flashes.
I wrote this story in less than three days. It came to me while I was drunk and listening to a song. I don't even remember which song; I just remember a mood. This story came out fully formed from start to finish and flowed quite easily, vivid and seemingly tangible. It feels as though the words chose themselves, apart from a little editing done by me. Beyond that, there's not much to say about it, other than it feels weirdly quite personal to me.
But anyhow, I thought I'd share it and I hope you all enjoy it.
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I am 31 years old.
I'm in this bed and the only thing happening in my mind right now is a long back and forth over my entire life to all of these different moments I didn't even realise were stored in my memory. More than I could have imagined. The thing is, these aren't just moments that are spread out over everything in my life. This isn't me looking at all the squares of a blanket of memory wrapped around my entire being. This is me looking at a long silken scarf wrapped around my hand and her hand, trailing a link between us. The threads are fine and undamaged. They glow brighter than the blanket.
If the long silk scarf was ever a blanket, then all the squares were her.
I am thinking about this because I am 31 years old and I'm already close to death.
I know it's warm outside because all of the windows are open and I feel the slight breeze now and then on my arm. My arm looks thinner than it was; the muscle I'd spent months building up, finally disappearing fast. I feel weak in general.
The bed is comfortable enough for me to want to stay still. I feel warm here and almost safe. I did feel completely safe around thirty minutes ago but then she walked into the room. It's not quite an invasion. I'm too glad to see her for it to be an invasion. I'm just surprised because it feels like the scarf is stronger than ever before. It's blinding bright. She's looking at me and there's just the touch of a smile on her face.
I can't say anything after what she's just said to me and the reason for this is simple. I can't say anything because all of the memories of me and her that are streaming through my head right now would hijack my voice and start coursing through the air outside of me. She'd hear it all. She'd know how I felt too. I couldn't confirm that.
The trouble is, I've already been quiet so long by now that it's an answer in itself.
"It's okay," She says.
I just stare at her. Then I look at her girlfriend, Dana, who's sitting next to her and she's got this neutral expression on her face. She's looking at me really carefully. I don't know what to say to her and I can't even imagine what she's thinking. But to my surprise she gives me this slow, kind of awkward smile. She gets up and she walks over to me. I'm frightened at first, but that smile is genuine. It's warm and it's affectionate. She looks sad too.
She leans over and hugs me tight. I'm a little too weak to hug her back with any real pressure, but I try anyway. I manage to get my left arm up and over, slowly. I have to strain to do it and it hurts but it's worth it. I've missed her hugs.
I hear her whisper into my ear, "I'm going to leave you two alone to talk this out. Okay?"
She moves back and looks at me. It's all I need to know that she's not angry at me. She's still my friend. She'll be one of the people who'll miss me when I'm gone. I nod to her. She smiles and she leaves the room.
That leaves Lucy in the room with me. Lucy is sitting on the chair beside my bed and she's still looking at me. She looks as beautiful as ever. I try and think of the last time I saw her and it surprises me to know it's been four months. I suppose when you think about someone every day, it messes with your concept of time a little. Maybe that's all time is. It's just this flowing river we slow down by filling it full of stuff. Filling it with thoughts about people, about things. Filling it with memories; frozen snapshots of space-time getting distorted by all the things in it like black holes with their gravitational pulls.
Lucy has long, thick black hair and it's longer than I remember. Her eyes are a scary piercing green which make me think of cats because they're almost too bright to be human. Every time I see her eyes, I'm convinced she's looking past the face I present to the world. I told myself over and over that she couldn't see past it because I did absolutely everything I could to keep that part of myself hidden. But obviously I failed.
She's got pale skin and full lips. She's slim and she curves in some places. Most people might not look twice at her until she smiles. And then she's warm and inviting and she makes the air around her dull a little bit, just the right amount so that it's like she's tethered to the atmosphere around her and she's suddenly something a little more than she was before. Like she's more real, or something.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" She asks quietly. The smile is gone now. This is serious.
"Because it would have changed everything."
"You don't know that."
"Yeah, I do," I tell her. I try and put a bit of conviction into that. The truth is, I have no idea if it would've changed everything because despite the fact I've loved her for five years and known her even longer, she still manages to surprise me.
"No, you really don't."
I look down at my hands and make a fist. It feels weak. If I tried to hit anything with those fists, my fingers would probably break. The skin would bruise, maybe even cut. I'd feel that sharp shock of pain radiating around my knuckles as it shoots through my fingers, into my hand and wrist and maybe even up to my elbows. I relax my fingers and I look at them carefully.
It's funny. I always wanted to lose weight. Now that I have, I'd love to have it back.
"So, it's true then?" She asks. I sort of knew she'd do that. She needs me to say it to her so she knows it's coming from me.
I don't know if I'm quite ready to give up at this point. The memories are streaming back stronger all of a sudden and I'm thinking about when I first met her.
"You remember when we first met?" I ask.
She smiles. "Yeah. Of course."
"What do you remember about it?"
She frowns for a moment and then her eyes daze over for a few seconds while she thinks about it. She and I both know why she's taking her time. Memory is unreliable.
"We were learning about memory," She says.
"We were learning about how inaccurate it could be."
"You barely made eye contact at first. I had to instigate every bout of conversation we had in those two hours. It was strange. I wasn't used to that."
"Yeah. I think I was still getting used to the idea that you just started talking to me out of nowhere. Especially when we were supposed to be doing work."
"We got it done! In the end."
"It didn't take long anyway. Not with the two of us. Super geniuses we are, after all," She says with a grin.
Just for a moment I feel like we're back in university together and she's trying to make a joke. Lucy seemed to be one of those people who only ever knew things we were supposed to learn for the classes until one day she decided to walk down with me to the main entrance and just to fill the silence, she started talking about all manner of things. The first time she walked with me, she decided to talk about that old question of whether a tree makes a sound if it falls in the woods and no one hears it.
Lucy wasn't trying to answer the question though. She was telling me about how pointless it was. Then she asked me what I thought. I told her that the tree made a sound. I remember her look at me at that point. She just shook her head and smiled and shrugged.
"Fine," She said. "The tree made a sound. But it's still a pointless question."
"Yeah, but everything is pointless. That's why everyone's so afraid of living. If they live, they think it's for nothing in the end, deep down."
"You really believe that?"
"So you're a cynic."
"How disappointing. There's so many cynics at uni. You'd think everyone here has already lived a lifetime."
"How long is a lifetime?" I asked.
"As long as it needs to be."
As long as it needs to be. I'm thinking about those words now as she's looking at me, the smile fading again. I know this means she wants me to say it to her.
So, I think about it again. I'm 31 years old and I'm close to death. And I'm in love with Lucy; a woman I'll never have and the only woman I ever wanted.
"So, I guess that's why you started avoiding me, hmm?" Lucy asks.
"Yeah, it is." It is an easy admission.
"I really missed you, you know?" Lucy says.
"I missed you too."
"It hurts to see you like this." She always was honest.
I don't know what to say to that. I could tell her it hurts to be like this but that might make it worse somehow. I'd rather just be frozen as an earlier memory, but even that's not really an option now. It's funny how when the person you love is in front of you, part of you still feels like you need to be this almost perfect being in their eyes, especially after they've seen all your failings and all the shit you carry around in your self. You want total acceptance. That's the perfect part. Acceptance is perfect; it's what makes us perfect.
I feel tired. I want to close my eyes and sleep but at the time I just want her image burned into my brain so I have this picture of her as she is now. She looks beautiful.
"How long have you been in hospital?"
"Nearly three months."
"About a month after we last saw each other then."
"You could have rang me. Sent me an email. Something."
She's quiet for a moment and I'm trying to figure out what she's thinking about. Just for a quick moment, her expression looks pained and she looks to the side at the floor like she's trying to hide it. But she makes it looks like a natural sort of fidget. It nearly works, too, but she's just not quick enough. She looks back at me, her face neutral again. I realise that she's hurting more than I thought.
I think back to the words she said right before Dana decided to give us space; I know you're in love with me.
"So..." She starts, but she goes quiet.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you."
"It's okay. I know how hard it must have been for you."
I don't know what she's referring to when she says that.
"How long... have you got?" She asks slowly. That must have been what she wanted to say before.
Her eyes fill with tears pretty quickly at that point, but they don't go down her cheeks. She nods, looking away just for a moment and then blinking, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. I hate seeing this happen.
"Happens to everyone, right?" I say. I don't know why I say this. It sounds inappropriate when it passes my lips.
But she simply looks at me and nods, wiping her eyes again and taking a deep breath to compose herself. She stands up and walks behind her chair and pushes it close to the bed so that it's nearly touching. Then she sits down again on the chair. Now she's much closer. Her knees are touching the bar right next to the mattress and her hands settle on the bed next to me. She leans forward a little.
She looks up at me and I'm seeing memories of a time when she was sitting next to me in the car while I drove her to get ice cream after she had a fight with her girl. She was so upset that day. In the memory I can see her looking out of the passenger side window with her hand against the window and her fingers making little patterns on the glass. In the memory her eyes are a bit red because she's been crying. In the memory, it's the first time she's called me up on the phone and stayed silent for a moment because she isn't sure what to say or how to say that she wants comfort and she wants it from me. In the memory, I can still hear the echoes of her voice asking if I can go and pick her up and take her for a drive. And I can still remember agreeing to do that because I wanted to see what she was like when she's sad. Isn't that a part of it? You want to see what someone's like in their entirety. You want to know if they're like what you imagined sometimes in the dark of the night, or if they're better or worse or totally different.
Lucy, when she's sad, is quiet and wistful. She looks into space and she's distracted by the tiniest of things and by the most fleeting of thoughts. She doesn't try to think her way out of being sad. She lets herself feel it because it's easier for her that way. It passes quicker. It makes her feel human.
She's looking at my hand now. I watch her hand reach out and tentatively grasp my fingers into a loose grip. I wonder if I feel cold to her. She certainly feels warm to my touch.
"So how long have you known?" I have to ask.
She shrugs. "I spoke about it to Dana. She kind of made me see it. Several weeks ago now, I guess."
"Oh." Maybe I hid it from her after all. But not from Dana.
"She's on the outside, after all. She saw things I wouldn't."
"Like what?" I'm too curious not to ask.
Lucy looks me full in the eye. "Like the way you'd look at me sometimes. You'd slip. She saw it and she didn't know whether to approach you or me. You're so fucking respectful that she just left it alone. You've never said or done anything inappropriate to me or her. She loves you for that, you know?"
"I did everything I could to hide--"
"I know. And she knows too. We don't care about that. Don't you get it? We care about this, right now. This; you being here."
Her touch feels like it's warming me up. It makes my hand feel less weak.
"When you started saying things like you were busy, you had things to do, you couldn't meet up, you had to rush off somewhere, all of that, all the time; that's when she decided she had to say something. I didn't believe her at first, I guess. And we didn't know you were ill," She says. She pauses for a moment and shakes her head. "You should have said. You should have."
"I wanted to."
"Why didn't you?"
"I don't know," I tell her. That is the truth, more or less.
"No. Don't be."
The conversation has just the slightest touch of awkwardness. For a moment, I hate myself. I know it's there because I've been hiding from her. Hiding from myself, in a way. She breathes deep and keeps looking at my hand. One of her fingers strokes over one of mine. I feel a bit of pressure from it and I watch her fingertip slide along one of my fingers, up and down, almost like she's trying to feel something in it. It takes me a moment to realise she's thinking about how thin it's looking.
"I had this whole thing planned out," She says.
"The things I was going to say if you confirmed it; how you feel about me. But you haven't said it yet. You haven't actually said it."
"If I say it, will you say the things you wanted to say?"
"I don't know if they'll come out how I want them to," She says. "Maybe it's better that way. I think when you want to say something to someone you really care about, maybe the best thing to do is not plan it so it comes out in a really honest way. What do you think?" She asks, looking up at me. Her fingers stop moving on mine.
"I think your idea has merit."
She nods in a non committal sort of way.
I know that once I say it, there's no taking it back. "So, Lucy... I've been in love with you for around five years." My heart is hammering when the words come out. As soon as they leave me, I have to breathe deep to calm myself down a little. It's hard to do that with how weak I'm feeling.
Of course, she notices all of this and her fingers grip mine tighter, as if she's trying to calm me.
"It's okay," She says. She said that before and I'm not sure now if she's saying it for me or herself. Maybe both.
My breathing is a bit better and my heartbeat is slowing down. My eyes close for a few seconds and I open them again when I feel her squeeze my hand.
"Hey, you okay?"
I nod at her. "I'm just tired. Really tired."
"You need to rest?"
"Kind of, I guess. I end up napping a bit a few times during the day."
I don't want her to leave but I have no idea how to say this.
"Well, you get some rest. I'm going to go and find Dana," She says. I feel a pang of sadness at this but then she carries on. "I'll get her to take a cab home and come back here." She pauses. "That's if that's okay with you." She seems nervous when she asks that.
I don't want to seem enthusiastic about the idea even when I feel it so strongly. I nod at her once. "That's fine."
She doesn't say anything more than that as she stands up and walks to the door. Before she's even done closing it behind her, the world turns dark and I'm drifting...
I wake suddenly. There's a flash of memory or dream that sparks me out of sleep. For a few moments I'm in a daze and I'm trying to figure out where I am and then everything comes back to me. I look to my right. Lucy is in an armchair that she obviously had someone bring in from the day room. She is curled up in it, her hair splayed out over her cheek as it runs down her shoulder. She's sleeping peacefully.
For a while I watch her, wondering why she's here and when she will wake. Then I look at the time and realise that the nurse is coming in soon to take a record of my status. I don't know whether to wake Lucy to warn her of this. It doesn't matter a moment later as she stirs and slowly opens her eyes and looks at me.
It occurs to me then that the last few hours have actually happened. She moves her hair out of her face and keeps her head tilted, leaning on her arm. She's still looking at me.
I feel the urge to sit up and slowly I push my body up and forward. She gets up immediately and comes to my side, using her hands to steady me as I rise. She helps me.
"Hey," She says.
"Hi. I need to go to the bathroom."
"Oh. You need help?"
"One of the nurses will be in here pretty soon to take my obs. She'll help."
"I can help."
She slows for a moment and then thinks nothing of it. I'm sitting up now and Lucy moves away, but she doesn't go back to sit down. She stands there with her hands on the bed. "We need to talk, don't we?"
I guess that was always inevitable as soon as she walked into this room. All I can do is nod.
The nurse comes in. She grins and moves around busily, equipment in her arms, greeting Lucy briefly and asking me how I'm doing. I tell her I'm as I always am. She nods and moves forward. She wraps my arm to take my blood pressure. Lucy moves back to remove herself from this scene between me and the nurse. She sits down on the armchair again and watches it all happen; a spectator.
My blood pressure is as expected. My oxygen levels are just about okay. I need to go to the bathroom, I tell the nurse. She says she'll send someone in to help me out within the next five minutes. I watch her leave the room and Lucy stands up again and comes to the bed.
"What do you want, Lucy?" I ask.
She looks at me in surprise.
"It's not that I don't want you here," I try and explain. "It's just that... I don't really know how to deal with this situation. I don't know what you want. I don't know what I want. I feel confused. I feel kind of lost. And I don't know what you want to say or do and I have no idea how to be here with you when I'm so aware of you knowing how I feel about you. I need guidance."
Lucy's about to say something to this but another nurse comes in. She moves out of the way for him and stays silent while he helps me up onto my feet. It hurts. I have to put my weight on him and he helps me hobble across to the door of the bathroom. It's awkward. He helps me sit down and then leaves. I know he's waiting right outside. I do what I need to do and I can hear him chatting to Lucy. I call out to let him know I'm done. I'm helped back to the bed and while I'm walking, while I'm climbing back into bed, I'm looking at Lucy and she's looking at me. The nurse leaves and Lucy comes to sit by my bed again. She looks at my legs and nearly reaches out to touch them.