This week, we take you on a journey into the thoughts of a trapped mind, where reflection and heartache go hand in hand. Karima Kanji’s short fiction piece ‘The Letter’ captures the morose musings of an ageing narrator stuck in a nursing centre—and in thoughts of days long gone.
I’m writing a letter to myself in a room I share with another patient in Lakewood’s Nursing Centre. My room is quaint. The wilted potted plants, the stark bare window sill, the view of the ravine from my bed and the soft, melancholic hum of the highway are comforts to me. Destiny is fixed, fixed like the position of your heart, our heart that is slowly dying. Fate cannot be altered by a secret letter to a part of yourself from the past, the you that has already existed, but still longs to exist. Exist.
Regret. A strong word to associate with life, but all life bears regret, all life bears suffering; sweet, silent, soulful suffering. During the day, usually after my bath, or after I’ve eaten my breakfast of fluffy scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast I feel futility trickling into my soul, into my bones and into the very depths of my being. Pieces of my past have gone missing, have vanished and all I have left to remember are moments, mere moments, but even these are diminishing from my mind. The memory of my childhood is fading. What I miss most is my mother with her sad, puffy eyes and my father bending over his work. One day they will be dead and you will still be alive.
There will be a point in your life where you will lose love. A girl will give you her heart and you will destroy it.
Destroyer of love.
In conversations, in moments of quiet and solitude you will hear her voice, her laughter. You will look at women in the streets and you will search for the outline of her body, the glint of sunshine on her hair. You lost love. You lost it.
I am given medication by the nurses here. They are sweet girls who wear crisp green uniforms and their hair is tied back in ponytails. Some smile and others look sad and aloof. Their aloofness baffles me, a cold distant stare. A nurse once worked here who resembled her. I thought God had given me a gift from heaven to mitigate my loneliness. I wanted to hold her, to be held by her. I would stretch out my arms when I’d see her and she would think I was crazy, mental, a patient of this home without feelings, without love. I am driven mad by the desire to be held. Perhaps God wouldn’t be repelled by my body, he would hold me in my final moments, Jesus, with his aching, tender palms.
But, there is no God in this place. There are the white pills, the pink pills, the nurses, the dying and you realize that it’s no different than the life you have always lived. The bars, the shackles, the facelessness of control, it doesn’t change, but shifts form. You become accepting, acceptable, die-able. You find yourself quietly waiting for death, and you realize you were doing this all your life. All your life waiting, all your life waiting for your own eventual dying.
I don’t have any teeth and the dentures rub against my gums when I eat. My bones are brittle. It hurts to walk. They place my wheelchair in front of the television in the afternoons and I watch silly talk shows. Show after show of the same, hour after hour of the same, and in this redundancy I find myself becoming numb and withering away like the pink roses on the side table, limping into earth’s gravity.
Luckily, there are parts of my brain that have rejected the notion of television watching.
Love makes you forget the coldness of metal on your skin, the sound of chains rattling. I am shackled to all things that leave me, even to my own sun dotted body.
On the bright side, you won’t miss parts of your body. The hair on my head, what was it for anyways. Vision who needs it, what is there to see anyways. Hearing, I’ve heard violins in my mind that sound more exquisite than anything the earth can offer. When I close my eyelids at night, I hear nightingales singing and my cat who died thirty years ago cuddles next to me. She sits at my feet and lays her head down and falls asleep as I fall asleep.
They will try to take away everything you have with their drugs, with their television, with their fake and complex intentions. You can escape with your mind. The power is there. Use it.
The truth lingers here, in this nursing home, behind the closed doors, behind the solemn goodbyes and the cheerful greetings. This place where we come to die, this earth, my room with its pale scent of urine, the morning showers with the cool exchange of soap, the deep dark sewers underneath, bellowing. We are all robbed of something.
Hope. I have created hope.
The more my body disintegrates, the more alive I feel. My gums feel silky and smooth against my grainy tongue. I touch the wrinkles on my finger tips and I remember when I used to write poetry late at night and read it to my mother in the mornings over tea. My poems made her sad so I stopped reading them and over time I stopped writing them. I long to read them now, but they’re gone.
How could words just disappear? But they do.
I remember a long drive in autumn. She was sitting next to me in a beige trench coat and her black leather gloves were on her lap. Amber leaves swirled like slow tornados and the body of a crushed animal would make her wince in agony. She said it was because of their innocence, they didn’t deserve such a death.
What would she think of her own death?
She was also innocent, my mother, of all horrible things she was clean. In the hospital, before she died, her small body looked like a child under the white, sterile sheets.
Would you live your life differently with this knowledge? Is it not better to experience death on a long stretch of road, in the open air, similar to the squirrels, the raccoons, the tiny incandescent birds, whose hearts are flattened against the cool cement. I still remember the crisp leaves that gently twirled and fluttered. That is death, nothing is hidden, closed, delayed.
I will always remember how she looked on that pale bed, with those terrible machines surrounding her. The morphine button, pressed to drown out pain, or is it memory, or is it something much deeper like the soul that is afraid not to let go of the body but of the people surrounding it.
The memory of her cannot be expunged, even if everything else is taken, lost, removed. Her memory exists deep within you, permanently etched into your soul.
After I was notified about her death I sat on my porch steps. I had a hot cup of coffee sweetened with honey and I watched a man in front of me mow the lawn. He was dressed in dirty clothes and the last thing he wanted to do was mow this lawn with its tall blades of grass and wild dandelions. In one hand he held a cigarette and with the other hand he started the machine. The sound of the lawn mower hurt me. Fragments of cut grass, wispy slivers of green floated around him like a soft shower of sprinkles and even the grating noise of the machine diminished. In the deep, yellow glow of the sun the flying blades of grass looked like gold dust. It made me forget everything, even the taste of honey on my lips.
I dream still, of lost forbidden things, in the layers of the night when silence snuggles into my limbs.
This piece perfectly captures the sense of loss and melancholy felt by the protagonist slowly waiting for death to find him or her, and leaves the reader wondering—is the narrator truly writing this letter for him or herself, or is it really meant for me instead?
Join us again next week for a new piece of creative ingenuity!