Authors: Bryan Healey
I have been quite still
as I lay, years passing by me gently and without fanfare or care; my
eyes stay closed, my body sunken, and my muscles withered and
useless, a soft, seductive, persistent beep-beep-beep of
life-sustaining machinery always echoing, perched somewhere just
behind my head.
I don't know why I am
kept here, or why I am kept alive at all; and yet I am. And those who
put me here, who keep me here, they come and go, night and day, men,
women, children, even an occasional pet; nurses, doctors, family,
friends, strangers; they talk to me rarely, sometimes to themselves,
and frequently to each other, or to no one and to nothing. And they
have very much to say, I have found.
And they don't know that
I can hear them.
But I can...
"What a morning," a
Perhaps it doesn't
"I know," another
...if I can never get my
mouth to move, to make words; if I die here, alone in the void, in
the darkness, with my eyes still sealed, and my muscles still wasted,
their trusted secrets will die rattling inside my frothing mind,
safe, isolated. Whenever the delicate machinery ceases to whir, the
meaning of each encounter will fade to decaying organics, as
meaningless as the body that houses my thoughts and musings.
"The traffic was
terrible, wasn't it?"
Memories lost forever...
"Unbearable. I was on
route four for an hour."
...but even that being
my future, for now, as I lay here, I can yet hear, can consider, and
can wonder at the lives that seem to swirl around me like a furious
tempest, some of whom I have always cared deeply for, and some of
whom I am finding I care suddenly.
"Were you late this
They bring me my only
"A little. No one
seemed to care."
They bring me my only
sense of sanity.
"I hope the road's are
They bring me my only
dose of reality.
I treasure them...
"Hello," a soft,
familiar voice echoes. It's warm, gentle, somewhat somber. It is the
familiar resonance of my wife, Jennifer, who comes to me every day,
or so I believe, usually just after the first nurses leave. I don't
know what time that truly is; time means nothing to me anymore. I now
only know the weaves of routine...
"Hello," says a man.
...and when they
"How is he?"
"The same," the man
now exhales from another point in the space of my room, off to the
right, about level with my head; my doctor. He never says much worth
hearing, but he is always writing furiously, the sound of his pen
grating against a stack of paper is unmistakable. How I wish I could
see the strokes his pen was making, the etchings across the page...
What is he writing about
"Good morning, my
love," now beside me.
I like to believe that
she is touching my hand, wherever it rests, but I, of course, can't
really feel it if she was. Sometimes I like to pretend that I can,
even if only for a moment, but rationally I know it likely can never
be true. I delude myself often, a trick to keep my sanity as best I
"How are you today?"
The same as I always
I loved that she asked
I pretend I had
answered, and ask her...
What's new with you?
"Brian came by the
Did he? How nice!
Brian is our son. I
can't say for sure quite how old he is now, but I know that he is in
college and lives away from home, surely in a dormitory of some kind.
His life, as a father would hope, has continued on without me,
reaching for his dreams, destined for great things; far more than I
could ever have done.
I must be old now.
I wonder if my hair is
"He is doing well."
Good to hear it!
"He just finished his
last required math class-" and so he must still be in college-
"says he hated it."
He always hated math...
"His grades are up,
though, so that's good. He'll be graduating in the spring."
My son, the college
"He has a girlfriend."
Oh? "Julie," with a hint of whimsy; I am flabbergasted! My little
boy, now with a girlfriend, the first I've ever heard mentioned. I
only really ever knew him as a child, innocent, unknowing of the
world that awaited him. And now, that starstruck adolescence has
evidently discovered women; he best be a gentleman toward her!
I never explained sex to
"I met her."
Did you? Must be
How is she?
I wish I could meet
"I'll bring her by
here to meet you sometime, maybe, if I can, if she'll come." I
laugh at the merging of minds, a peculiar laughter, without any sound
or use of muscle. It doesn't resemble the laughter I remember in any
way; me and Jenny, cozy and drunk, sitting beside a fire in a wooded
cabin we didn't own, no distractions but our own humorous stories of
broken limbs and mismatched socks. Her laughs echoed in that cabin
like a perfect tuning fork, and I soaked in every decibel with
absolution and abandon...
She's nearer me now.
I can hear a change in
the pitch of her voice as she speaks, softly and quite slowly,
carefully. "I hope you can talk with her... someday."
I'd like that.
"My sister is going to
stop by next week."
Mary? Mary is coming
My goodness, I haven't
heard her voice in a great long while...
It would be nice to hear more of the voices of family; I hear
far too little of them. The only voices I know well enough to know at
first resonance are Jenny, my night nurse, my brother, my best
friend, and my mother. My son rarely visits, and even my parents were
here with decreasing frequency.
I need more voices; it's
all I know...
"She misses you."
I miss her, too...
"She said she would
bring Robbie with her, but you know how he is." I hadn't heard his
voice in the term of my memory, although I'm sure he's back there,
somewhere, buried in the neurons and tissue and blood that seems to
continue giving me life.
"I wish you could talk
to me," she mumbles.
I wish that, too...
"You know, they tell
me it's not good for me to come here everyday, to talk to you like
this. They say it's not healthy, that I need to move on."
What... Why would they
"I can't help myself,
If I could, I would
Can I blush?
I imagine I'm
"I love you, Max."
I love you, too, Jenny.
I would trade my soul,
surrender my salvation, to be able to lift my arms, to clasp her back
and grip her with the ferocity afforded by years of neglect and
desire. I need to touch her face, to
her face, to feel her lips, her arms, her fingers, her thighs, her
back, her neck... I want to love my wife, more fervently than I even
want to live, paradoxically as that may be...
as always, I listen...
listen as she rises from whatever it was that she used to sit beside
me, walk to the other side of the room, to the window, and throw open
the curtains. I am sure there is sunlight across my face now, but I
can't see it or feel it. My world has no concept of light; it is
always the same dull gray, devoid of texture, of beauty, of color;
only the void of nothing that consumes all but my ears, of which I am
eternally grateful to still have.
would surely be mad without them.
morning, Mrs. Aaron!"
is the voice of another of my nurses. I hear her particular voice an
average of two times per week, but I don't know her name. She is now
going to attend to me, to check my machines, check my catheter, check
for shit and blood, read my vitals and write them on some paper,
perhaps my chart.
exactly, is a
won't be able to feel any of her working, of course, but I will be
able to hear the shuffling and clanging of sheets and metal amongst a
vast sea of additional unrecognizable noises, and it all embarrasses
me. No one should need to attend to me like this, I should be able to
care for my own body without assistance. It is my body, after all...
is always polite...
are you today?"
surviving," Jenny mumbles.
how is our Max?"
same, as always," a wisp of sadness.
vitals are as strong, as usual," with a touch of hope she retorts.
I, as always, recognize her tone as fake and empty, and I have no
doubt that my wife did as well, but we all choose to believe her just
the same. It is the delicate dance of group deception, designed to
calm the grief of knowing that I am almost sure to never see them or
say anything again.
he has good color today."
Jenny mumbles, suddenly closer to me. I hadn't heard her walking from
the window back to me, which seems odd. I usually notice such things.
I must be distracted... "He looks so handsome."
do? I look handsome?
he does," and shuffling noises suddenly begin. I think the nurse
has begun her efforts, but it sounds... different... than what I am
used to hearing; I have no way of knowing exactly what she is doing.
wish the weather would improve, just a little bit," my wife
grumbles, once again further from me, clearly back in her usual
corner; I presume on a seat of some kind. She is walking softly
today. Perhaps she is wearing new shoes.
sure they're beautiful...
know. I miss the sun."
sun, it seems...
was wrong; my face is dark.
be glad when spring finally comes."
don't know how much more of this snow I can handle. It feels like
it's been snowing every day for weeks. It's too much."
beautiful, though, isn't it?"
wife always loved the snow...
annoying, is what it is..."
miss the snow...
been a little bit excessive," the nurse concludes, and
they say no more on the matter. I wish they would; I need their
descriptions. I am as a child trapped in his room during a furious
storm, no power, only candles for illumination, relying solely on his
youthful imagination for any sense of reality. A good book in hand,
words have only meaning when the mind can give them life, but the
words are still needed to guide the birth. Without the words, there
is nothing for the mind to do, no world to create.
was my death...
what is given me by those around me, I can experience nothing but
what I am able to cobble together using old memories and my old
knowledge and my old beliefs and ideals, and the product always lacks
the pull of the sonorous echo of Jenny's ever melodious words,
drifting into my ears like rose petals against a stiff breeze. Her
voice makes me see color, see music, to see a lively painting,
rolling fields of yellow and green cast across a blue, formless sky;
she reminds me that there is a world, and at least part of it still
cares that I am here.
is my life...
have to go," I hear her say, and I suddenly want to cry, but have
not a way. I hate when she leaves me, and when she must, I always
wait diligently for her return. Of course, what else would I do? What
else is there for a man such as me? "I love you," she almost
cries to me, as she does nearly every day.
love you, so dearly...
then her steps, tapping against what I assume to be a typical
linoleum floor; then the door, a soft ring of metal on metal, and the
deepest of silence.
mind is a blank canvas now; some times the nurses will leave
something running noisily in the background, whether it was a
television or a radio I had no way of knowing. It may even have been
something else entirely; it has been years since I was last kept
informed of the latest technology. What could the world look like
devices of entertainment could be today?
no matter; there was no noise this day.
is these times of solitude that my mind drifts about, flitting
carelessly from thought to thought, from memory to memory. I have no
concept of sleep; I don't think I even
sleep. I just go
from one state of being to the next, little to no transitional
process to cushion the awkward shifts, interruptible only by the
sudden noise of real world routine.
are my memories all that is real?
memories are not reality, as perception can tell, but only a hint of
oldness to them. Sometimes they feel as I remember dreams used to be,
either vivid and palpable, or confusing and fantastical. And yet,
they are as real as anything I have now, and it is the only thing I
can really and truly
so I treasure them...
now on my way to Vermont.
is the first winter weekend after I graduated. Freshly married, Jenny
and I head to the northern range for a refreshing intake of mountain
air, our skis strapped securely to the roof of our car, a terrible
little sedan that I purchased from my neighbor just after high
school, now our only protection from the harsh world beyond the