Martha, the nurse wakes me up at the crack of dawn. She helps me to the bathroom. She’s holding the IV and I’m dragging the two cheese sticks I’ve got for legs. Every step feels like it’s going to be my last. My bones are non-existent, listless, worthless.
Two cockroaches stroll around the toilet. It bothers me that they consider our bedroom their own property, to do as they please. It bothers me that they touch their antennae and whisper secrets I can’t hear.
Martha leaves me alone and goes to the ward. I’m sure she’ll untie the knots again. I keep telling them that the bed is bent. I slide, my legs fall down, they don’t fit anymore. That’s why I tie my sheets to the headboard; to hold onto it somehow. I’m not crazy. Nobody believes me.
“What a pity! Such a young woman!” said the new patient across from me, when she saw me tie the knots. Pity your ass, I wanted to tell her, but then she coughed so loud, like a volcanic eruption of some kind, that I just covered myself and didn’t breathe a word.
“Nobody’s coming today,” says the nurse.
“Why?” I say.
“Work, school, stuff, you know,” she says. I don’t know but I nod. It’s so boring to be lying on this louse bed forever, trying to hold onto it, keep myself from falling.
I’m having puree and jelly today. There’s nothing else I can stomach anyway. I’m keeping the jelly in my drawer, save it for my kids. Girls. They visit me here. Cute, with the pink ribbons in their curly hair and their soft hands, like fresh dough. The only ones that help me tie the knots. The only ones that understand.
Today my head spins. Mary, the other nurse puffs and pants while she practically hauls me to the bathroom. I don’t know what the hell they put into this IV stuff, but every day I want to puke whatever I’ve eaten or not eaten.
The cockroaches give me the brush-off again. Crammed in a corner, they murmur and mutter, swish and susurrate, so that I cannot hear them. The bitches! Their antennae tie into women’s bows, garlands for a wedding party, gift ribbons. I want to tread on them, crash them like dirt. They’ve trespassed upon somebody else’s land. How dare they?
At noon, my husband John comes. He visits me here. He came one afternoon I was eating my puree, took my hand and said, ‘How are you, Katia?’ Who is Katia, I thought, and who are you, but I said nothing. I let him fondle my arm and wipe my chin. He always looks at me with these beautiful, sad eyes and tells me stories from our lives at home, our kids, our journeys, our parties. Nice stories. I must have a happy family after all, I ponder and smile. When he leaves, I tie the knots again.
Maria, my sister comes today with my little girls. She’s a nice woman. She visits me here. My girls squabble over who will get my jelly. Maria spoons half into each girl’s mouth.
“Get well soon, Katia,” she says. “Come back home, take over. They drive me up the wall!” She gives the girls mock punches in the stomach and they poke their tongues out. They all laugh and I try to laugh, but I guess I cough instead. You seem to be getting around everything quite well, I want to tell her, but when she holds them by the hand and they leave together like this, like girls ready to dance, I grab my sheet and tie the knots as tight as I can.
Today I refuse to get up. My body will crumble like feta cheese, if I move an inch, I’m sure. Something stinks like a dead cat under my sheets. Martha lifts the sheet, pinches her nose and leaves. She comes back with another nurse. They’re trying to clean me up. I don’t know how it happened.
“They should pay for an external, private nurse to look after her,” Martha says to the nurse. “This is not our job.” Private for what, I think, but I have no strength to yawn, let alone speak.
“Turn her, lift her, bend this, put the diaper on, stiff like a log, gosh, I’ll be sick!” I’m sick and tired of them. I fall asleep. Never know when they leave. I dream of the cockroaches. How they touch and dance in the bathroom to a tune I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere before.
In the afternoon, they all come together, John, Maria, my little girls. I want to see them so much but I can hardly keep my eyes open. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. All I want is to sleep. And I slip, deeper and deeper.
“Are you in pain?” John asks.
“No, not at all,” I say. I wish I were. I don’t feel nothing anymore. I can’t even scratch my nose. I look at my little girls. “No jelly today,” I whisper.
“It’s okay, Mum.” They caress my head. The nurse, I don’t know which, calls John and Mary out to speak to them. My little girls wink at each other, grab the corners of my sheet and tie a knot on the headboard.
“Okay?” they say in unison and I stretch my lips into a smile. I see John in the corridor, leaning against the wall. He wipes his eyes. Maria touches his shoulder, fingers his cheeks, wipes his tears away with kisses.
“You have to be strong, babe. For the kids,” she says.
I look at my little girls. They’re holding hands, ready to dance.
“Untie it,” I tell them. They stare at me, openmouthed. “The knot,” I say and they do it. They stand over me like cherubs, holding the bed from the headboard, like a slide, ready to push me, let me slip, fall, leave the dance.
Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkou lives in Athens, Greece and writes short stories both in the Greek and the English language. She holds a BA (Hons) Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her stories have appeared in various literary magazines and anthologies, while others have won in competitions. She’s burnt many family meals due to being totally absorbed in her writing and ended up being fed with takeaway food or chocolates (things she’s always craved anyway).