Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
The man wakes with a start, his thoughts riddled with a foggy confusion. He stretches his arm out, trying to get his bearings, only to feel cold beside him instead of the usual warmth. Slowly, the events from the previous night creep back into his brain. The screaming. The bleeding. Trying to grab his lover, only to find that he was grabbing at more bone than skin. The ambulance. The doctors tearing him apart as he screamed, begged to be let into the room. He sinks back into the bed, yearning for the blissfulness of forgetting everything as the enormity of what is to come fills him with dread.
Leaves snap under the man’s feet as he makes his way through a frigid New York morning. The brittleness of the leaves brings a grimace to the man’s face as he is reminded of another type of fragility, one he knows he has to face. Thoughts of abandoning him and escaping the pain of it all flit through his mind as he nears the hospital. He can feel his legs shortening in pace, his body growing stiffer the closer he gets. The sky seems to grow even grayer as he arrives at the doors of the hospital. It envelops him, following him in as he forces himself to cross the threshold.
The man finds himself just outside the door of his lover’s room, the numbers on the wall glaring at him. Lying and sneaking past the information desk was too easy. The result, however, was not. He can feel the pounding of his heart reverberating in his ears as he tentatively reaches for the door handle. Its silver glint seems to mock him. Nothing should be so bright in the face of such darkness. His arm stiffens upon contact with the handle, his body refusing to move so much as a muscle. Moving would mean accepting to move into this future, this alternate life he thought he would never have to live. He’s startled out of his reverie by the sound of a worn yet knowing voice behind him. “Can I help you?” He turns to face a woman, a doctor, whose eyes reveal someone who has been forced to face far too much for a lifetime. His eyes are drawn to another glint, though one indicative of something much more hopeful. A ghost of a smile crosses the man’s face as he takes in the ring on her right ring finger. An unspoken understanding passes between the two, and she says, “I’ll come back in a few minutes. You should go see him.” Despite an initial wave of relief that passes through him, he can’t help but notice the flicker of grief in her eyes as she walks away. He returns to the door, and before he can think about the repercussions of what he’s about to do, he opens the door and walks into the room.
He walks in to find his lover already awake, silently staring out the window. The sight of him in a hospital gown, pale and ghostly, is enough to turn his blood cold. But he keeps walking. He keeps walking as his lover turns to face him. He keeps walking as their eyes meet, and his heart shatters and splinters his insides. He keeps walking until he’s at his bedside, and they embrace. Tendrils of guilt spread within him. How could he have been so blind? How could he have ignored the signs that something was wrong? He had always been afraid of failure, of not making it or not being able to provide himself. This failure is something else, something like a betrayal, and he knows he will not be able to forgive himself for a while, if not a lifetime. As they pull apart, he frantically searches for something akin to blame or hate within his lover’s eyes, only to find the same love he has always found within them. He had never placed much value into that saying about the eyes being a window into the soul, until he had met him. They exchange a few words, mostly assurances from his lover that he feels fine, really, and that everything would be okay. They fall to a hush as the door swings open, the doctor entering with an apologetic smile that quickly fades when she looks down at the results in her hand.
The doctor begins to speak, and a fountain of medical jargon pours out. Immunodeficiency virus. AIDs. No cure. Research is doing all it can, but no results as of yet. No cure. The doctors would serve him to the best of their ability and the resources they had available. Estimates of his time left ranged from several weeks to a few months, if he was lucky. No cure. No cure. No cure. The man can’t help but stare at the clock, its ticking slowly drowning out the woman’s words.
The first few weeks pass by achingly slow, to the point where his lover’s suffering is too apparent, too real. He passes as much time as he can in the hospital, hounding the doctors for updates. Every time: nothing.
The last few weeks pass too fast, like sand slipping down the curves of an hourglass, like something slipping out of his fingers.
What he can remember the most are the nights in between. They would talk for hours on end, about both everything and nothing at all. As the end drew near, his lover’s fear continued to bleed into his thoughts and words until it culminated into that one night. He had been holding him, basking in the city lights and the quiet hum of the hospital, when his lover whispered, “I want to be remembered.” Slightly unsettled, the man replied, “You will be.” A mirthless laugh escaped his lover, who shifted out of his grasp. A heavy silence filled the room, before he asked, “But how will I be remembered?” He paused, before continuing, “You’ve seen how many people this has affected. They’re dying every day, not that the government gives a damn. I’m only one of a long line that continues to grow.” “Don’t say that—” “It’s true! If the government doesn’t see us as human now, acknowledge that we have the same right to love and to exist as them, do you think that will change?” He sighs, and adds, “God, I sure hope it does.” The man joins his partner at the edge of the bed and says, “I do too.” A few minutes pass before either of them speak again. “Do you think they’ll know what we went through?” The man turns to face him again, the soft glow of the lights exposing the gauntness of his face. His lover sees the question in his eyes, and continues. “When they talk about this disease, this time, do you think they’ll see beyond that? The historians? The students? Those who will have no connection to this? Will they see beyond the number of dead? Beyond what they need to extract from this? Do you think they’ll know stories like ours? Will anyone preserve them? Will those who don’t understand us attempt to understand our experiences?” The man is speechless. He doesn’t understand how his lover can manage to think so far ahead into the future, to ignore the tragedy of what is happening here and now. To already see himself as dead. Despite the fear in his heart and the reality of the uncertainty of the situation, the man musters enough strength to adamantly whisper, “You won’t have to worry about that. You’ll be here to see it.” His lover offers a hopeless smile. “I hope so. I hope I’ll be there to preserve our story. All the stories.”
He was not.
Two years after his partner’s death, the man collapses on the floor. He already knows why. He knows what is to come. Before the beginning of the end can officially begin, his lover’s questions flood his brain. He understands them now. He can’t help but ask himself: what would survive, his legacy or the disease? Would he be reduced to a mere statistic? Would he end up as a part of a long forgotten quilt? Would he be stereotyped, dehumanized, defined by a disease that had torn his life apart? Would he be remembered as a human? Will they ever attempt to understand?