Authors: Hanya Yanagihara
The officer saluted again, and David saluted back. Then he took my place at my husband’s left side. “Oh, you silly man,” he said to my husband. “Let’s get you home.”
None of us spoke until we had crossed Sixth Avenue. “Who are—” the blond man began, and then, “Thank you,” and David, no longer smiling, shook his head. “If we pass another officer, let me handle it,” he said, quietly. “If we’re stopped, no one should look worried. You have to seem—exasperated, all right? But not scared. Charlie, do you understand?” I nodded. “I’m Charlie’s friend,” he said to the blond man. “David.”
The blond man nodded. “I’m Fritz,” he said. “I’m—” But he couldn’t continue.
“I know who you are,” David said.
The blond man looked at me. “Fritz,” he said, and I gave him a nod to show I understood.
We reached home without being stopped again, and once he had closed the front door behind us, David handed me the thermos and then picked my husband up in his arms and carried him up the flights of stairs. I didn’t understand how he did this, as they were about the same size, but he did.
Inside, he took my husband to our bedroom, and even through everything that was happening, I felt a burn of embarrassment, that both David and Fritz should be seeing how we slept, not touching, in separate beds. Then I remembered that they already knew, and felt even more embarrassed.
But neither of them seemed to notice. Fritz had sat next to my husband on his bed and was stroking his head again. David was
holding my husband’s wrist and looking at his watch. After a few moments, he gently laid my husband’s arm down by his side, as if he was returning it to him. “Charlie, will you get me some water?” he asked, and I did.
When I returned, David was kneeling by the bed as well, and he took the water I gave him and held it to my husband’s lips. “Edward, can you swallow any? Good; good. A little more. Good.” He set the mug on the floor next to him.
“You know this is the end,” he said, though it was unclear to whom he was speaking: me or Fritz.
It was Fritz who answered. “I know,” he said, quietly. “He was diagnosed a year ago. I just thought he’d have a little more time.”
“With what?” I heard myself ask. “Diagnosed with what?”
They both looked at me. “Congestive heart failure,” Fritz said.
“But that’s treatable,” I said. “That can be fixed.”
But Fritz shook his head. “No,” he said. “Not for him. Not for relatives of state traitors,” and as he said this, he began to cry.
“He didn’t tell me,” I said, when I could speak again. “He didn’t tell me.” And I began to pace, to flap my hands, to repeat myself—“He didn’t tell me, he didn’t tell me”—until Fritz left my husband’s side, and grabbed my hands in his own.
“He was trying to find the right time to tell you, Charlie,” he said. “But he didn’t want to worry you. He didn’t want you to be upset.”
upset,” I said, and this time it was David who had to take me and sit with me on my bed, and rock me back and forth, just the way Grandfather used to.
“Charlie, Charlie, you’ve been so brave,” he said, while rocking me. “It’s almost over, Charlie, it’s almost over.” And I cried and cried, even though I was ashamed to be crying, and ashamed to be crying for myself as much as for my husband: I was crying because I knew so little, and because I understood so little, and because, although my husband had not loved me, I had loved him, and I think he had known that. I was crying because he
love someone, this someone who knew all about me and about whom I knew nothing, and I was crying because this someone was now losing him as well. I was crying because he had been sick and he hadn’t thought to tell
me or been able to tell me—I didn’t know which, but it didn’t make a difference: I hadn’t known.
But I was also crying because I knew that my husband was the only reason I would have stayed in Zone Eight, and now my husband was dying, and I would not stay either. I was crying because we were both leaving, to different places, and we would be doing so separately, and neither of us would ever return, back to this apartment in this zone in this municipality in this prefecture, ever again.
We waited the rest of the night and all day Friday for my husband to die. In the early morning, David had left to register all three of our absences from work at the center. Fritz, who was unmarried, also lived in Building Six, just as David had said he himself did, and so we didn’t need to worry about his spouse missing him, as he had none.
When David returned, he gave my husband a little more of the liquid in his thermos, which made my husband’s face relax and made his breaths deeper and longer. “We can give him more if he really begins suffering,” he said, but neither Fritz nor I said anything in response.
At noon, I made some lunch, but no one ate it. At 19:00, David reheated the lunch in the oven, and this time, all three of us ate, sitting on the floor in my husband’s and my bedroom, watching him sleep.
None of us said anything, or not much. At one point, Fritz asked David, “Are you from the Interior?” and David smiled, a bit, and said, “Something like that,” which made Fritz stop asking questions.
“I’m in the Finance Ministry,” he said, and David nodded. “I guess you knew that already,” Fritz said, and David nodded again.
I suppose it would be natural to wonder if I asked Fritz about how and when he and my husband had met, and how long they had known each other, and if he was the person who had sent my husband those notes. But I did not. I thought about it, of course, over many hours, but in the end, I didn’t. I didn’t need to know.
I slept in my bed that night. David slept on the sofa in the main
room. Fritz slept next to my husband in his bed, holding him even though my husband couldn’t hold him back. When I heard someone saying my name, I opened my eyes to see David standing over me. “It’s time, Charlie,” he said.
I looked over to where my husband was lying, very still. He was breathing, but barely. I went and sat on the floor next to his head. His lips were a faint purplish blue, a strange color I had never seen on a human. I held his hand, which was still warm, but then I realized that it was warm only because Fritz had been holding it.
We sat there for a very long time. As the sun began to rise, my husband’s breathing became harsh, and Fritz looked over at David, who was sitting on my bed and said, “Now, please, David,” and then looked over at me, because I was his wife, and I nodded, too.
David opened my husband’s mouth. Then he took a piece of cloth from his pocket and dipped it into the thermos, and then wrung the cloth into my husband’s mouth before wiping it around his gums, the inside of his cheeks, and his tongue. And then we all listened as my husband’s breathing became slower, and deeper, and less frequent, and then finally stopped altogether.
Fritz was the first to speak, but it was not to us, but to my husband. “I love you,” he said. “My Edward.” I realized then that he had been the last person to speak to my husband, because when I had finally seen him, on Thursday night, he was no longer responsive. He bent to kiss my husband on his lips, and although David looked away, I did not: I had never seen someone kiss my husband, and I never would again.
Then he stood. “What do we do?” he asked David, and David said, “I’ll take care of him.” Fritz nodded. “Thank you,” he said, “thank you so much, David. Thank you,” and I thought he was going to cry again, but he didn’t. “Well,” he said. He looked at me, next. “Goodbye, Charlie,” he said. “Thank you for—for being so kind to me. And to him.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I said, but he shook his head.
“Yes, you did,” he said. “He cared about you.” He sighed, a long, shaky sigh, and picked up his bag. “I wish I had something of his,” he said, “something to remember him by.”
“You can have his bag,” I said. Earlier, we’d looked through his bag, as if it might contain a cure, or another heart, but there had only been his work uniform, and his papers, and a small twist of paper holding a few cashews, and his watch.
“Are you sure?” Fritz asked, and I said I was. “Thank you,” he said, and carefully placed my husband’s bag in his own.
David and I walked Fritz to the door. “Well,” he said again, and then he did begin to cry. He bowed to David, and then to me, and we bowed back to him. “I’m sorry,” he said, because he was crying. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I loved him so much.”
“We understand,” David said. “You don’t need to apologize.”
And then I remembered the notes. “Wait,” I told Fritz, and I went to the closet and took out the box and opened the envelope, and removed the notes. “These are yours,” I said, as I gave them to Fritz, and he looked at them and began crying again.
“Thank you,” he told me, “thank you.” For a moment, I thought he would touch me, but he didn’t, because it wasn’t done.
And then he opened the door and slipped out. We listened to him walk down the stairs, and down the hallway, and then there was the sound of him opening the front door, and letting it fall shut behind him, and then he was gone, and everything was silent once more.
Then the only thing to do was wait. At 23:00 precisely, I was to be waiting at the banks of Charles and Hudson Streets, where a boat would meet me. This boat would take me to another boat, a much bigger boat, and that boat would take me to a country I’d never heard of, called Iceland. In Iceland, I would be placed in isolation for three weeks, to make certain I wasn’t carrying the new illness, and then I would board a third boat, and that boat would take me to New Britain.
But David would not be meeting me at the shore. I would have to do it myself. He had some things to finish here, and so I wouldn’t see him again until I landed in Iceland. Hearing this, I began to cry once more. “You can do it, Charlie,” he said. “I know you can.
You’ve been so brave. You
brave.” And finally, I wiped my eyes and nodded.
In the meantime, David said, I should stay inside and try to sleep, though I must be careful to leave with enough time. He would make sure my husband’s body was picked up and cremated, although not until after I had left. We were lucky the weather was cooperating, he said, but he still fit my husband into his cooling suit and turned it on, though he left his helmet off.
“It’s time for me to go,” he said. We stood at the door. “Do you remember the plan?” he asked. I nodded. “Do you have any questions?” he asked. I shook my head. Then he put his hands on my shoulders, and I flinched, but he held on. “Your grandfather would be proud of you, Charlie,” he said. “I am, too.” He released me. “I’ll see you in Iceland,” he said. “You’ll be a free woman.”
I didn’t know what that meant, but “I’ll see you,” I said in return, and he saluted me, as he had saluted the officer on Thursday night, and then he left.
I went back to my husband’s and my room, which was now my room, and which tomorrow would be somebody else’s room. I took three of the remaining coins from the drawer beneath my bed. I remember Grandfather telling me that certain cultures put gold coins over the eyes of their deceased, and some put coins under the dead person’s tongue. I can’t remember why they did this. But I did the same: One coin over each eye, one beneath his tongue. The rest of the coins I put in my bag. I wished I had remembered to give the extra chits we had to Fritz, but I had forgotten.
And then I lay down next to my husband. I put my arms around him. It was a little difficult because of the cooling suit, but I was still able to do it. It was the first time I had been so close to him, the first time I had touched him. I kissed his cheek, which was cold and smooth, like stone. I kissed his lips. I kissed his forehead. I touched his hair, his eyelids, his eyebrows, his nose. I kissed and touched him for a long time. I talked to him. I told him I was sorry. I told him I was going to New Britain. I told him that I would miss him, that I would never forget him. I told him I loved him. I thought of Fritz saying that my husband had cared about me. I had never imagined
that I would actually meet the person who had written my husband those notes, but now I had.
When I woke, it was dark, and I was anxious because I had forgotten to set my alarm. But it was only just after 21:00. I took a shower, even though it was not a water day. I brushed my teeth, and put my toothbrush in my bag. I was afraid if I lay back down I would fall asleep again, so I instead sat on my own bed and stared at my husband. After a few minutes, I put his cooling helmet on, so his face and head wouldn’t begin to rot before he could be cremated. I knew it didn’t make a difference to him, or to anyone, really, but I didn’t want to think of his face turning black and soft. I had never spent so much time around a dead person, not even Grandfather—it was my husband who had overseen his cremation, not me, because I had been too upset.
At 22:20 I stood. I was wearing a plain black shirt and pants, as David had instructed. I put my bag over my shoulder. At the last minute, I added my papers, which David had said I wouldn’t need, but which I thought I might if I were stopped on the way over to the western banks. Then I took them out again, and put them under my pillow. I thought of the petri dish of pinkies I would now never be able to retrieve. “Goodbye, pinkies,” I said aloud. “Goodbye.” My heart was beating so fast that I was having trouble breathing.
I locked my apartment for the final time. I slid the keys beneath the door.
And then I was outside and I was walking west, almost like the walk I had taken just two nights ago. Above me, the moon was so bright that, even when the spotlights had arced away, I could still see where I was going. David had told me that after 21:00 the majority of the Flies would be diverted in order to form clusters around the hospitals and monitor high-density zones, in anticipation of tomorrow’s announcement, and, indeed, I saw only one or two, and instead of their normal drone, there was only silence.
I reached the banks by 22:45. I sat on a dry patch of land to keep myself from pacing. Here there was absolutely no light. Even the factories across the river were dark. The only sound was of the water slapping against the cement barriers.