by Nicholas Rixon
They came, just like they always did, early in the morning. The collective sound of their hooves perfectly suited for that time of day. The shepherds, one at the back of the herd and one in front, not having to do much as they drove their sheep to the greens. I kept thinking of that as the man with the stethoscope touched my wrist and my forehead. There was someone behind me. It could’ve been my daughter or her seven-year-old son.
Even though I hadn’t sat up in days, months, I knew my legs and back had holes in them. Every day, my daughter cleaned them out with earbuds. What I really wanted to do was talk, say something, to let her know I could take it, but all I could do was scream. At night, when it was quiet, she’d whisper to her husband — of the pus and how much pain I was in — and I think of their wedding day. How I’d stood in the front row, knelt in the front row. That was six years ago and though I don’t remember what I’d been thinking then, varicose veins were certainly not on my mind.
The cold metal of the bedpan was a relief because it felt like my body was nibbling itself from inside. I could feel my flesh tingle underneath. It was an itch I didn’t have the strength nor the will to relieve. When she’d take away the bedpan, I’d strain my ears and listen to her heavy footsteps reach the kitchen and then the bathroom. Listen for the water flowing from the tap. The one I’d fixed when it started spraying one summer afternoon and my grandson had run to my room to call me. It’s flooded, it’s flooded, he said and laughed. I made him hold my toolbox.
Now they were all around the bed. Faces looking down at me. Too many to remember but I knew I’d loved them, once. And I loved them for being here now. But I hated them, too. The man with the stethoscope was doing the same thing. My daughter beside him, beside me and I wanted to hold her hand but nothing was moving. I close my eyes and I remember the time I took my grandson aboard a steam train. His head barely reaching the top of the control board. His smile filling the steamy driver’s compartment with air clean enough to breathe through all that smoke. They say you see a light at the end of the tunnel but they’re wrong. There is no light. There is no tunnel. There’s a blackness coming, loud as a whistle, soft as a blanket. It’s wrapping me up and I’m ready to leave. I can see my daughter’s face but it’s closing. I blink. I open my eyes. I blink. I open my eyes.
Nicholas Rixon’s short stories and travel non-fiction have appeared in The Statesman’s 8th Day, Penguin Unplugged, Scroll, Hindustan Times, The Wax Paper and Spelk. He currently lives in Calcutta and is working on his debut short story collection. His published work is online at nicholasrixon.tumblr.com.