I cannot remember my name. I do know that I am sick. I am a very sick man. I have been told by a doctor that I am frighteningly unwell and that things are looking dangerous. I do not remember what his name was, either. He was young. Vibrant. Healthy. I have not seen him in some time.
The nurse, who I see three times a week, instructs me not to leave my apartment unsupervised. She is the only person whose face I can remember clearly. She has a button nose and dimples. Deep bags under her eyes. I find her charming. She has a hard time finding the veins in my arms, but I like that, because it means she’ll spend more time holding my arm. I feel her warmth beneath the latex gloves. I smile at her. I’ve never needed her to smile back.
The colors are changing outside, from blue and grey to yellow-red, through a wash of quiet blues until gold and violet are all that’s left. It never stops being bright. The sounds of cars sweeping, screaming by, the people, all just sound like the ocean in a conch shell. I have a conch by my bed. I love my conch.
I leave the television on in the corner, but the faces, the faces are just as much an ocean as the outside. It’s not enough to turn it off. I like the voices. They always sound so confident, even as they’re pantomiming fear. They say Antarctica is dying. Some part of me is sad. I could have built a city there, been its first and only mayor. I want to be cold again. I want to lose a toe to frostbite.
The nurse tells me I am going to die on Thursday. She says it is about time, and starts to fill out paperwork beside me. I ask if she will have sex with me, as politely as I can. She says that it would be unhygienic. When she leaves, I fall asleep in the shower. It feels like rain.
The people in the morning are talking about a marmoset that bit the President’s daughter. I am going through the dresser in the corner of my room. My clothes are not here. Someone has stolen my clothes. There was a jacket that I liked, a blue windbreaker. I know I liked it. I want to die in it, if I have to die. I bang on the door for hours, but no one comes.
I cannot open the windows. Have they ever been able to open? I slam my face into the glass to try and break it. The glass is thick. My eye swells up, my left one. I cannot see well outside of it. I cannot see well out of the other, but the normal way. I am only a little more blind.
Dawn. The sky is a beautiful yellow. I wish that I could make out where the clouds were, what shapes they suggest. I used to play that game with my little sister. I had a sister. Why did I forget I had a sister? I loved my sister. I took care of her. What does her face look like? What is her name? I have forgotten them. I have forgotten my sister.
I look for a phone, to call my sister. I cannot find a phone, not a single working phone. They killed the landlines, I remember now. They weren’t needed any longer. I start to scream. I scream until my throat is raw. Then I take a shower.
Thursday. They say that it is Thursday on the television. My sister. I need to find my sister. I listen to the conch, the ocean. I remember being calm. Calm is good. The nurse liked calm. When I wasn’t calm, she would use the shackles attached to the bed to keep me calm. I used to try and break them during the night, until I didn’t need them anymore.
I hear voices outside my door. It is Thursday, after all. They must be waiting. If I lose my calm, I may die faster. How am I going to die? No one ever told me. They only ever said that death was coming on a Thursday.
A man in black enters. He asks if I believe in God. I ask him what my sister’s name is. He does not know. I ask if he knows what my name is. He looks uncomfortable. I tell him it is fine. He says that God will love me when I die.
A new nurse takes his place, this one a man. He says he wants to help me die calmly. He seems sweet. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe my sister is dead already. Or she hates me. Why else can’t I remember her? What could I have done? What could I have failed to do? I deserve to be sick. To die.
Everything moves suddenly. The nurse is scared. He looks outside the window. Black smoke, he says. His fear seems real and loud. I get out of bed, holding my conch. I get to the window and see them.
Explosions. Orange clouds making black clouds making dust. The nurse is terrified. He says names of organizations I don’t recognize. I ask him what the problem is. He says that people are dying. I say I know. I am dying. He says that it’s different. These deaths aren’t planned. I say the people who set the bombs must have planned it. This many bombs would never go off unplanned. He says the people being bombed are innocents. Does he mean that I am not innocent? What did I do to my sister? I ask him what I did. He does not pay attention. He is on his phone, a working one. He is ensuring his wife has survived.
I know then that I cannot die without remembering my sister. While the nurse is talking, I grab my conch and move towards the door. I am scared. I don’t remember what the world is like outside. I have to go. So I do. I don’t take time to think too hard about it. Otherwise, I might forget.
The building feels empty. I move through hallway after hallway. Some doors are open. I see inside. Those awake are at the windows, watching the bombs. There is no point for me in watching. I am dying.
I make it outside. The sky is black and brown, fire and smoke. I head towards the smoke. People are running and screaming away. They pay no mind to me. I am glad. I start to laugh. My legs feel soft beneath me. They bounce weakly off the hot pavement as I run. It hurts so badly. I laugh harder. I feel so free.
I trip and hit my face. It is hard to see through all this blood with my good eye, but I keep moving. Slower. I reach a city square. What city is this? I look at the signs for a name, but everything is ocean, blurry, red. I do not remember my city. I do not remember my home.
I see people hiding behind a storefront window, under tables. They are looking at me, motioning. A building bursts with fire on the other side of the square. I can barely see with all this sound.. A woman comes out of the store to grab me. She is screaming a name, a phrase, something. I can’t hear her. There is a ringing in my ears.
I am inside the store. People are all around me. They all care so much. The woman is wiping my face, clearing the blood. Her touch is gentle and warm. She looks so familiar. Young. Short black hair, and moss green eyes. A smile like the cusp of the moon. Like Mirabelle.
“Mirabelle?” I call.
The woman does not react.
The name. Her name. My sister’s name.
I know that I am crying. I feel so weak. I know that I am lying down. Everyone is watching. I motion with my hand for the conch. I ask for it.
They say the conch is broken. I cry harder. I want to hear the ocean. I had the ocean with my Mirabelle, when we were young. We played together on the bay, where the tall ferns grew. She poked the horseshoe crabs with driftwood sticks to see if they were living. I wore a hollowed shell like an Army helmet and barked commands. It had made her laugh.
I want to hear the ocean. Let me hear the ocean. Let me go. It’s Thursday. The doctor said I’m going to die on Thursday. Will Mirabelle still recognize my face?
The stranger holds me until I fall asleep. Today is Friday. The television says that we are going to war.
John Chrostek is a Pushcart-nominated poet, playwright and author who works at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR. His work has been featured in publications such as Artemis, River Heron Review, and Cathexis Press.