In the darkness of her room she lay with a perfect stillness in her electronic wheelchair watching the digital wall clock, the glowing red digits and letters seeming to float out there in that vespertine blackness like some apocalyptic vision — 11:49PM DEC.31.2018 — those two dots beating out the seconds in silent and grimly patient pulsations. As though measuring like a metronome the cruel monotony of manmade chronologies.
She yawned. She stuck out her chin to toggle the lever hanging above her face and the wheelchair slowly reclined at an angle acute to the floor. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, calling to mind by force forms of animals long unseen and almost forgotten, she herself no longer able to discern the real from the illusory, what remembered and what imagined, gaps in the memory filled in perhaps by vestiges of tales from her youth brought to surface by her subconscious.
She waited a while and at last sighed and opened her eyes. She could not sleep, those visions of prancing flocks of oneiric creatures refusing this time to form and congeal into determinate patterns that normally transitioned into the dreamstate. Instead she continued to contemplate those numbers glowing red on the wall clock.
Witnessing those final expiring moments of the year measured out in that clock’s steady pulse seemed to slowly let loose those memories she’d long repressed those past nine months (she well aware of the violence they would do to her sanity), much like how the few final drips agitating the water surface cause the entire to dam to burst. There was no stopping them now. The walls have broken, the flood has been let loose. Her eyes clouded with tears. The angry digits on that clock blurred and sprayed out in starry refractions, like heavy and glowing and red
…car headlights. They blear in and out of focus, overpowering. Her head throbs sharply and she must squint her eyes. She feels a kind of heaviness in her body, like the numb grainy sensation one feels on the arm after having slept on it. Except she feels it throughout all her members.
Sweet? she calls out. No one answers. Sweet? she says. Julia? Samantha? No reply.
When she brings her hand up to press it against her aching temples, no hand comes up. Again she tries. When she looks down she sees that her shirt is matted thick with blood, the source of which unknown. Her arms and legs rest on the car seat, inert and unresponsive as though she were looking not at her own limbs but at appendages of some external vestment. As though the corporeal wire-ends that connect volition to execution have been severed beyond repair.
With much effort she strains to move her head to the side, lumbering and slow like the swiveling of a wooden mannequin. On the driver’s seat her husband sat inclined, his face mashed against the stirring wheel as though he’d decided to take a spontaneous nap. No movement nor breathing.
Sweet? she says. She watches her husband and waits. As if there remained yet the hope of his waking, his rising, all this just some cruel jest played at her expense. Though she cannot turn her head to look behind her she sharpens her hearing as if to somehow elicit a response from her two children behind her. Just a word. A small sigh perhaps. That subtle but palpable warmth of being that emanates from all human presence. There are none of these.
She hears someone talking from outside on the passenger’s side of the car. Although the window has been shattered open the voice to her is distant — not inaudible, but detached, floaty and ponderous like curls of smoke — seeming to come from an altogether alternate dimension that’d somehow pierced through a chance rupture in the ether. Hang on, said the voice. My wife’s gone to call an ambulance. Hang on.
The rest go by in episodic flashes quickly fleeting, as though she were contemplating them from outside like browsing photographs in an album, she but an unimplicated spectator of the events there, the events themselves not experiences but mere portrayals and representations. Surgeons looking down at the operating table with faces dark and solemn like celebrants of a ritual on some holy altar. The doctor showing with feigned congeniality and warmth how to operate the electronic wheelchair with the movement of the chin. The burial of her husband and daughters whose bodies she has no longer seen after the accident, now reduced to wooden caskets opaque and uninspiring as though they were but mere memorials or monuments, the fact of the bodies’ presence inside or otherwise rendered irrelevant. Her sister-in-law introducing her to the new caretaker who is to stay and live with her, she herself explaining by long-winded and well-rehearsed discourse that she cannot be the one to care for her recently deceased brother’s wife given her own demanding circumstances with her own family. I express to you my heartfelt and sincere apologies. Goodbye for now. The caretaker — a plump and silent middle-aged woman with whom she never holds a conversation of more than a few curt words — undressing and dressing the body, that body which she herself, the supposed owner, felt as detached from as the caretaker, that inert atrophying body which by the lack of disuse has now morphed into a vile inhuman shape as though what lies on the wheelchair is no flesh and bone but stale dough. The cold silent hours spent in her own room, the windows and blinds closed, the darkness of sleeping and that of waking inseparable and indistinguishable, the passage from day to day to day confounded in benumbed and senseless continuum. The
…door of her room opened just slightly. A slender pencil of light ripped into her enclosed sphere of darkness. Like some sudden haltstitch in the order of things long accounted and prearranged to be so.
“Yes?” she said.
“Ah,” the caretaker said. “You’re still awake.”
“What do you want?”
“I just wanted to come in case you wanted to know — ”
“Happy New Year. It’s twelve o’clock. I just thought maybe you might want something. To celebrate, I mean.”
“Celebrate. I mean it only happens once — ”
When the darkness had been restored she lay there with a bitter smile on her face and mouthed out those words to herself — Happy New Year — repeating them like a hollow litany to saints nonexistent.
She remembered how exactly a year ago she’d stayed up together with her husband and her daughters in their living room counting down the final seconds of that year. And when the clock had struck twelve they wished each other the same — a Happy New Year — unknowing of that terrible fate which was to befall them all. She remembered how on the first day of that year they shared their new year’s resolutions with each other. Resolutions to be unfulfilled but for reasons they’d not expected. To be left forever suspended in a limbo between act and potency.
Thinking about new year’s resolutions now made her almost burst out in laughter. What, she thought, would she possibly make a resolution of? She — barely a person, a mere state of consciousness left floating in a state of passive contemplation, its self-destruction kept beyond the reach of its own power — what could she resolve to do? Absurd. She smiled at her own folly.
The door opened again. The silhouette of the caretaker’s head peeped into the narrow crack of light. “Sorry, ma’am,” she said.
“What is it.”
“Excuse me, ma’am. I just thought you might be having some trouble sleeping. And maybe there was something you might need that I could get you.”
“I’m perfectly fine.”
“Alright. Sorry to disturb, ma’am.”
“I just… Thank you.”
“I said thank you.”
The caretaker’s lips jerked in a small smile. “Oh,” she said. “Right. Well. Don’t mention it ma’am.” The caretaker slowly withdrew from the door.
“Linda,” she called.
“Something else, ma’am?”
“What do you still do here?”
“You don’t have family?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do. A husband. Two sons.”
“Why aren’t you with them? New Year only comes — ”
“Once a year. Yes, ma’am.”
“Once a year. And you’ll never know which one is the last.”
“I can’t leave you here, ma’am. I wouldn’t be doing my job right. What if something happens to you? No, I can’t think of it.”
She considered this for a moment. She replied, “Invite them here, then. Your family. Have your own celebration here in the house. In the living room.”
“Ma’am, we can’t — ”
“Why not? No one longer uses it. And I’ll just stay here. They won’t have to see me. And I won’t be disturbed. I can just stay here and call you if I need something.”
“Ma’am — ”
The caretaker smiled. “Well then,” she said. “Alright ma’am. I’m sure they’d be delighted.” She left the room and closed the door gently.
The woman on the wheelchair lay there in the darkness of her own room and before long she’d slept profoundly with a faint unconscious smile traced on her lips and dreams of her own husband and daughters together in what appeared to be the suspension of an eternal present, a dim but nevertheless real reflection of perpetual joy.