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A Story for Nicholas

PP Fourie

He asks me to tell him a story.

He is tired of speaking, clearly, and smiles dimly before he closes his eyes, and slightly touches my hand as I offer some water from the bottle with the straw on the table next to him. He lies back and — suddenly exhausted — frowns his almost imperceptible frown before his breathing goes regular, then longer, and he sleeps.

He is quite polite. He loves me, you see, and it would be rude to tell me that he is grateful for my visit, but would I mind if he succumbs to the liquid they give him to make things bearable. So as he always does when it becomes too much, he asks me to tell him a story so that he can go to sleep in the embrace of my voice, or the intimate tap of my fingers on the keyboard. That way he remains part of the present — of my being awake. It is less rude. There is no abandonment.

He is in the arms of a chemical Morpheus. I sit alone, next to him in a semi-dark room. The glow of the outside eight o’clock dusk is blue, beautiful and sinister, and for a second I think about waking him to show him, to look at it together — like we used to. He still has the painter’s eye for colour, and he would love this blue.

I don’t wake him, of course. His rest is precious, as is my solitude. I have always been jealous of those who can go to sleep so easily — the loneliness of the insomniac is quite acute, the most desolate. I won’t sleep tonight.

Instead of waking him, I open the laptop, take a sip of his water while the software boots up and the screen comes alive, and then I ponder what to write to my love as he mumbles a bit in the darkness where he drifts — please God — beyond the parameters of the pains that plague him in wakeful, brave hours. There is no need to be brave now.

Nothing comes. There has been no spark these last few weeks. Or rather, there has, but the inspirations have seemed obscenely out of place — inappropriate to the horror that he is experiencing.

But it is almost over, my dear. The neverworld that you are drifting towards will liberate you from the discomfort of the present. You deserve it. And I hope that it will be soon; praying that it may never come.

The nurse — I think her name card reveals her to be Rita — comes in quietly, checks his life signs (I hate that term), and makes a note on the chart hanging from the end of the bed. She smiles at me — a sweet smile meant to alleviate my uncertainty. Of course, she will tell me that he is resting soundly, for the evening; that I can go home and sleep in our beautiful white bed. But of course I won’t. She knows I won’t. But she suggests it anyway.

She is polite, and leaves a hot drink for me on the table by the window. I’ll let it cool down for a few minutes. I just want to watch him for a bit, remain suspended with him in that beautiful blue light filling the room.

I sigh, and move my shoulders to get rid of the spasm that has been growing there. Then I empty the glass of water and wipe the moist ring on the mock wood with the side of my palm before I turn to the screen, the keyboard, to tell him the story of what I’d done that day.

I do love him. And I miss him so much that I wish I could tell him a story of utter redemption. Of a future with white beds and our garden at home, of our blue bedroom where all is well and warm and full of cats and cosy. But I can’t. For a moment I consider a prayer, but the old bitterness fills my throat and I remain obstinate. Against whom I do not know.

I could tell him the story of my day. Would it be cruel? I could tell it to him like a fictitious confession. So I turn to the keyboard and I write about that evening — for myself. To write something is to transform it — in naming, describing something, you kill it, in a way. And God knows, this evening must be killed. Though maybe he would understand. Some things are better left unsaid, so I will write it instead.

I’d cheated on him earlier that evening. Was it cheating? Of course it was. It happened at the Laundromat. The youth was using the machine next to mine. He was sitting with his back against the window. He was a thing of beauty, and utterly aware of it. I took the chair outside — with my back resting against the window at exactly the same spot where he was resting his on the inside. A most erotic moment; I could feel his warmth through the window — it burnt me as I watched the hospice’s roof in the distance. I was reminded right then to buy the white tulips that he’d asked for the night before Ö I wouldn’t forget.

We fucked in the men’s restroom. And when our liquids were spent and the salacious smiles turned self-conscious, he was dressing quickly, and he hesitantly looked at me and asked,

“While we were doing it, why did you call me Nicholas?”


I had forgotten about the tea that the nurse had left me. It must be quite cold by now.

Goodnight. Goodnight. I love you.

Pieter Fourie teaches Politics at RAU University.

boontoe / to the top

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