“We die from the moment we’re born, but only say
we die when we’ve reached the end of that process, and sometimes that end
lasts an awfully long time.”
Thomas Bernhard, Breath
It’s been four years since I last heard my name. I’d almost forgotten what it sounded like. Someone knocks on the door three times. The last time I heard it was on a Thursday, four years ago, as I was leaving the office. It was my last day of work. I resigned. I finally mustered the courage. The decision was a little hard to make. Just a little. I’d done the math carefully. I’d saved enough money. I could take an extended vacation. What was the plan exactly? I didn’t even know myself. But it certainly wasn’t this. Sitting in front of the TV all day. Nope. It was OK at first. But it’s been four years.
That Thursday I came home early. Relieved. Good-bye routine, I thought. I didn’t have an appetite. I went straight to the couch. I wrapped myself in the daily news. The president's proposal to increase the budget. Problems on the border with the undocumented. Oh, well. Same old stuff. I started to think about dinner. Chinese food or Mexican? Mexican. I tried to stand up to get the phone. And it happened. A thick heat. In the middle of my chest. The weight of a huge animal settling down to watch TV with me. The heat slithering toward my neck. A tight collar. Then darkness. As if someone, suddenly, turned me off. As if I were a disconnected appliance . . .
When I could see again (I won’t say and then there was light), I noticed that my eyelids wouldn’t close. My legs wouldn’t respond to my will to get up. My body sat patiently in front of the TV. I was alone, the enormous animal no longer stalking me. All I had before me was the TV station that went about announcing the time, the day, the unbiased passage of time. One second after another. My cells were aware of the progress. My body began to swell, teeming with fluids that wanted to escape. I was aware of everything that was happening to my tissues and organs. The slow process that fluctuated between stiffness and liquid, followed by softness and stiffness again. Still, I didn’t suffer. Or feel any pain. Not breathing was a little strange, but if we consider the olfactory result of everything that was turning into liquid inside me, it’s for the best.
The body’s time can be very different. Luckily, the news allows me to keep track of the date, of the days and weeks that passed one by one. I’m thankful for the news, but I can’t stand some of the updates anymore. The shootings in schools and universities. When they occur (and they’re becoming more frequent) I know they won’t talk about anything else for a week. It seems that the station wants to squeeze every last drop of suffering. They interview everyone but the walls. The person responsible for the most recent shootings was a seventeen-year-old boy. The same age as David, my first (and, to my knowledge, only) nephew. I haven’t seen him since he was five. My sister and he live in another state. I don’t know how, or remember why, but we quit talking to each other. She didn’t call me, I didn’t call her. Maybe we were both really busy. My younger brother moved to another country as soon as he finished college. I didn’t hear from him either. And my mother . . . that’s another story.
They continue to knock. Call out to me. It must be two men because this voice is different from the previous one. Maybe they’re here about the almost neverending mortgage. I’d arranged for the utilities to be paid automatically. My body had its own time. The banks too. There is a flow of things that progress and follow their course without anyone intervening in them. They say we’re mere cogs in a great mechanism, but I don’t even believe that. A green spot appeared on my stomach early on; little by little it invaded my entire skin. My vacation was devoured by the bills. Fluids drained from my body. Luckily, the electricity and cable didn’t stop working; but maybe the mortgage payment bounced. If I do the math, it’s probable that my savings have been exhausted over the last four years. At home, everything had continued to operate as if I could still breathe.
My vertebrae have softened. I hope they continue to support me. A couple of months ago there was a promising piece of news. If I’d been able to pop some popcorn, I’d’ve been happy. A plane had disappeared in the Indian Ocean. There was no record of communication with the pilot, although a change in course had been recorded. It was a mystery. I automatically thought about my favorite series: Lost. Could it have been hijacked? Were they taken to an island for experiments? The problem with my body took on a serious dimension. I pleaded not to disintegrate. For my vertebrae and increasingly stiffer skin to hold on. For my head not to fall off. What position would I end up in if that happened? Would I be able to continuing watching the news?
The station did the typical family interviews. Some of them called the passengers and their phones were still ringing (or so it seemed). More than likely they were dead and that was completely useless. As for me, no one has called in four years. My phone bills were still paid. Nobody called me before. Nobody calls me now. No one from the office. Or my mother. Seven years ago I received lots of emails and an invitation sent from my sister. My mother was getting married for the second time, and they wanted me to go to the wedding. No. I didn’t go. She knows perfectly well why. I won’t talk about it now. Death doesn’t change anything. I never loved anyone. No one loved me. I’m at peace. After a month, they stopped covering the lost plane due to the lack of updates.
That’s the third time. I hear footsteps. More voices. I can’t answer. My jaw and my teeth are still firm, but frozen. They break down the door. They came in. Two policemen look at me astonished and a little scared. Another man comes in with them. They approach me.
“Mummified,” the one who’s not a cop says. His voice displays no emotion. As if being a mummy were part of a bureaucratic process.
One of them calls the ambulance. Another checks the other rooms of the house. Everything you’re supposed to do in these circumstances. They’re here to collect my mortgage. After a slew of commercials, one for a new anti-depression pill comes on. A black dog jumps over a rainbow, but the rainbow grows and engulfs him. Smiling flowers sprout from the grass. The pill is very effective but can cause infections, heart attack, or destroy your liver and kidneys. One of the men cleans the dust that accumulated on the screen. The station announces that there are updates on the missing plane. At last! Just then the paramedics come in, pushing a gurney with wheels that need to be oiled. Two of them pick up my body. Not now, please. Not when I’ll finally discover what happened to that damn plane. They have difficulty separating my body from the couch. They struggle, grow irritated. One succeeds, but my spine gives way. My skull rolls on the floor. Damn it. Someone stops it. The same person picks it up and puts me into the black bag with the rest of my body. I hear on the TV that they found the wreckage in . . . But they close the zipper and I can’t hear anything else. The peace is over.
"At Peace" © Claudia Salazar Jiménez. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2015 by George Henson. All rights reserved.