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From Within

by Tere Alliende 2 months ago in Short Story

A Journal

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

First Recording

Brief static, a hard muted noise

Is this thing working?

Rubbing on the microphone

I hope so.

Hum… today is March the twenty-sixth. I’m Carlos, and if you hear this, I’m either dead, or you’re a snoop, and I’d die out of embarrassment. That’s on you. Better stop listening then. Please do stop.

Silence

I’m taping because my psychologist told me to keep a life journal to “give pace to my thoughts,” as she said, and well… I’m blind, recently blind. I mean, eight months, give or take some days. So this is the only way to do so.

I suppose I have to start from the beginning, or what I thought was the middle of my life and turned out to be almost the end. A hell of a timeline. I don’t know, I’m not having a good day. I have scarce good days, bad days, and awful ones. And I curse a lot now, for anything, I didn’t use to do that.

Anyway, here I go.

Long stop.

I remember thinking a while ago how lucky I was: had Fran, the kids, a roof over my head, a good enough job, but above all, happiness. And I had still so much ahead. It filled my heart thinking about it, to the rhythm of deep breaths, while I drew in my mind everything I had to be thankful for. Now, looking back, I’m quite cynical about it all.

A couple of months later, my vision was a bit blurry, and a persistent mild headache was bugging me, exhausting me to the core. Sometimes, during the day, little light dots appeared on my peripheral range of vision. I went to the ophthalmologist, there was nothing wrong with my eyes, so he sent me to the neurologist, who told me to go and have an MRI.

We were at the neurologist’s office, Fran and I, seated in front of him, with a wide melamine desk in the middle as a frontier. I knew from his face it was something important. She did too, so she held my hand tight. The doctor said something like:

‘Carlos, the scan shows a mass growing around your optic nerve. For what you have told me and the lapse of time since you have been experiencing symptoms, it seems to be growing fast. It’s what we call an Optic Glioma, and it’s quite rare on adults.’

Fran asked with a thread of voice, ’Is it cancer?’ Maybe she said something else, too. I don’t recall. I was distracted by a bonsai this man had at the corner of the table. I couldn’t tell if it was plastic or real. There was something about the leaves, so excessively intricate, exuberant, and a smell of chickpeas stew at eight o’clock in the morning that made me sick. I felt like I was sitting without being there.

Doctor Nuñez answered long.

‘Fortunately, it’s possible to perform surgery. It seems to be encapsulated, for now, so we should be booking an operating room for any day now.’ I do remember the excess of words in his sentences. I would have changed the whole syntax, throwing words away, picking them from the air like paper planes coming out from his mouth. ‘After surgery, we will know with certainty if it’s cancer or not, we must perform a biopsy immediately after. Then we can discuss treatments and add an oncologist to the team. But it has a good prognosis.’ He talked about odds, percentages, almost in a cheery voice. That felt ridiculous and offensive at the same time. Now I find it sad, really.

I barely had any conscience of hearing what I was being told, and it didn’t sink in. Talking about what was coming ahead felt like looking through muddy water while swimming. The only thing clear was that I didn’t want to look at Fran because I couldn’t bear to meet her flooded eyes. I’d rather stay with the plant. I concluded that it was a plastic replica: its branches ended abruptly at the same fixed width each. But who would want a fake plant of that kind? I wanted a neurologist who could grow a damned bonsai, with his own hands and shears.

I looked up and said:

‘So I’m going to be all right, then. I mean, I’m functional now.’ A denial. The voice of thought, not an answer.

The doctor alternated his gaze between, baffled.

But Fran… she was looking at me with her soft and calm smile because she knows me that much. I wasn’t alone; she was sitting next to me.

Static. End of the recording

Second Recording

Static, a click

Today is March the twenty-eighth.

I think I left it at the surgery.

It was a couple of days after we spoke to Dr. Nuñez for the first time. I came to the hospital with a severe headache, and I was ready for anything that could release that pressure that drowned, suffocated my mind. They admitted me in and scheduled the operation.

I don’t recall much of the surgery itself. I was sedated but kept awake. A nurse was asking me questions every other minute to make sure everything was going according to plan. My eyes were covered with some kind of heavy cloth; a circumstantial darkness that wouldn’t even let a shadow pass.

The surgeon was just doing his job. He didn’t had to say a thing. I can tell when something stopped working. The last thing I saw and that I will ever see was an impossible gleam under the blindfold's darkness: the exact moment when he cut the nerve. Sometimes I dream with that glare at night, it gives my sight back, and colors come —I can see my kids’ faces again. It’s so hard to get up after those ones. I can’t bear to remember that light so clearly, but not their faces anymore.

An induced coma made me sleep. It was some sort of hallucination, so heavy and intense. I was afraid from within. The fear I hadn’t recon until then overcame me. I felt an enormous, and unknown loss, over and over again —loneliness. It felt like an overwhelming battle against a deep labyrinth.

The weariness and physical pain distracted me from the dark when I woke up. Those first minutes were a full-bodied grievance. I wasn’t aware if my eyes were closed or not. It seemed like months since I had the surgery. I knew I was alone, and I thought it was the middle of the night. Slowly, I started to realize where I was. I felt the bedsheets, I could sense the shape of my body leaning over the plastic mattress. The metal rail of the bed, an IV connected to the back of my right hand, a heartbeat counter on my left index finger, the connection beeping.

If I made a sound, I could sense each muscle reverberate, even my brain. And I could feel the reach of my entire body; beyond that was the inert, the sheets, air. Something or anything. The pain was inside those same limits, the mass of my body. I heard my heart, loud and clear, systole and diastole having an accelerated conversation by the abrupt awakening experience. They slowly took the pulse of the seconds on the clock. Tick, tack. I recognized the sound of each of my days, starting before the number of my years and nine months. It will stop one day, maybe soon, maybe not. Back then, I felt it was nearby.

I remember asking the air, What time is it? It must have been a whisper; my throat was scratching. I kept repeating the same question, each time louder. What time is it?

Then it hit me. Hospitals are filled with lights and machines; even if it was the worst night, I should have been able to see something. I reached for my eyes, push them hard inside their orbits with my fists. The cloth was not there. I couldn’t see a thing. It was as if someone was pressing my chest angrily, standing with both feet over me. I could barely breathe. And I cried from deep inside.

Who knows how much time I spent like that. To me it was an eternity.

I managed to calm down, convincing myself that I had to find someone that could explain it all. A nurse came in, and it was hard to come to my senses, I just…

Moves around

I don’t want to keep going.

Static, an object passes by the microphone. End of the recording

Third Recording

Today is March thirty.

Ambient noise. Microphone settles over a surface. A sigh.

I’m supposed to speak about chemotherapy.

Brief silence.

I have to start a cycle again by the end of the week, and I don’t want to.

That catheter hanging, pulling my skin down like an aseptic tick, makes me want to rip it off with a slap, even if I bleed out. It’s impossible to hide it away; I know it’s showing over my bones. The confirmation of sickness, ruining the day.

Chemo made the anger come out. I may have repeated a thousand times, Why me? Even aloud. Why not me?, was the answer. Why the hell not.

That thing about feeling miserably bad one day after another, without hours in the clock, all of them confused in one. Sleepiness dragging though each moment, as a chain mooring you to the floor. Disorientation.

The one that had to put up with all my crap was Fran. She heard my endless complaints sitting by my side, and managed to block out so many hurtful sentences. She even hugged me afterward to help me sleep. I know I would have left myself. But her stubbornness was what kept me going. And the memory of her brown eyes. Of our family.

In the middle of it all, I asked myself many times what kind of disease is this, that you can feel inside how the treatment is also killing you. And in such a clear way, clearer than what the tumor was doing.

That’s waiting for me on Friday.

Static. End of the recording

Fourth Recording

Static, rubbing, a thud. Outdoors ambient noise.

April the twentieth.

I was here at the patio yesterday after lunch. Since days are starting to get cold, I was getting some sun. I felt the shadows from the leaves moving over me with a pace given by the breeze. Birds were singing, like now. Those that haven’t migrated yet.

I don’t know if it was their sound or the smell of the recently watered garden what triggered my memory. But I was transported to the gallery stairs in front of my Grandparents’ home. It was an ancient, long house made from adobe bricks, dark and fresh inside, filled with the echo of many generations.

My Tata was sitting just above me, leaning forward, elbows over his knees and a straw hat well fitted to his forehead. I can’t recall how he got to be seated there with me but it felt like something special, because he was always working the fields at that time of the day. He was talking about trees and new recollection technologies that were coming ahead.

When he was over with the explanation, he looked at me eagerly. He was hoping for a reaction, a hint of curiosity for his machines. But I dropped one of those big questions only small children can ask. I said:

Tata, how can people make things that last so much time, even more than themselves? Things that last forever, like the Pyramids or some bridges.’

He sat straight, raising his abundant eyebrows and laughing a little. He took off the watch he was wearing and showed it to me. He said:

‘My father gave me this watch for my sixteenth birthday, your great-grandpa. Have you ever seen inside a clock?’

I said I hadn’t, so he opened a lid at the back of it with his fingernail. All of the gears and ribboned springs were adjusted by the millimeter, moving in an intoxicating sequence. That rhythm felt like the music the world was dancing to.

He noticed I was hooked, so he went on.

‘This amazingly perfect and tiny thing was invented and made by a person like you and me. If you want, I can show you one day how does each part work. But for now, all I want you to get is that there is an impulse of force inside it that turns each jagged wheel you see just like the one who made it intended so that the clock's hands move and I can tell the time. Incredible, isn’t it? Our bodies are like this clock, but much more complicated and wonderful. Each part works like the one who made them intended, which is God. It’s by far the most amazing creation for me. And this box, our body, is made to keep something immensely valuable inside: mine is to keep me, yours is to keep you. Everything you are and all of your thoughts. Do you think such an intricate box, even more complex than the Pyramids, is just to keep safe something that lasts some years and fade? I wouldn’t think so. We were made for eternity, forever. Our box might brake down, this body of ours. Like a clock. But what is meant to last is what it’s inside. That’s not just for this world, it’s for a better one, and we are preparing for it here. The Pyramids and big bridges stay here, they are only things, and they were built for that.’

I had talked about death with my parents before, hearing the answers that come from a faith they were given since the cradle. But what my Tata said with his caring face and real amazement made me imagine and somehow believe it. I still do. I want to believe. That life is short, but I’m eternal. I want to believe it.

Silence. Birds on the back. Static.

End of the recording.

Short Story

Tere Alliende

Writer, editor, Creative Writing teacher from Santiago de Chile. Her work explores how everyday life is weaved with human connections, and search of meaning. Her prose guides us into her world with evocative and poignant descriptions.

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Tere Alliende
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