Short Fiction ~ Susmita Bhattacharya
First Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 8
Your hands are stroking my face – I feel a sensation of a weight dragging across my cheek – not the familiar caresses I’m used to. Or wake up to – usually. I miss your lips – the warmth of them pressing against mine, morning breath mingling with strong coffee earthiness. Freshly washed hair against the dampness of sweat-soaked sheets.
The machines tick and the tubes rattle. There is a heaviness against my throat. Something is thrusting, in and out, in and out. Gurgling like a simmering pot. Promises of a vegetable stew, with an abundance of summer’s carrots and potatoes that we grew in our allotment. I’ve lost track of the seasons. The months. The days. The hours. The machines remind me of every second that I’m alive. Every moment you talk to me, but I cannot respond. Your tears fall over my face and slide down my cheeks. I want to catch them in my palms and bathe my face with them. I want to tell you I’m still here.
They say I’m a score 1. No responses. No reactions. But I can feel you. I can sense your presence.
Yesterday I had a visitor. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. It was Missy. She walked all over me, her paws treading on my chest, her purrs rumbling against my heart. She sat on my belly and sighed, and sighed. Her eyes never left mine. Our Missy. I searched her body for any signs of the accident. That awful night we had to rush her to the vet’s. Her quivering body covered in blood and fear. But no, her fur was glowing. Smooth. She was sassy, as she had always been.
Can you not see her? Perhaps not. Like you can’t see me. But we both are here, looking at you with such longing. Just hold us, once. Take us in your arms. And we will be whole again.
They say I’m a score 1. No responses. No reactions. But I can see you. I watch you in my mind’s eye.
You’re in a yellow swimsuit. We’re racing each other on the beach in Mallorca. I win, of course! You’re in your pyjamas. We’re having our first ever argument and you are winning. I fell in love with you that day. Like seriously in love. Even more than the day I had proposed to you? Exactly at the moment you told me to ‘eff off’. Did I ever tell you that? You cut your hair last year. Pixie cut. I didn’t speak to you for a week. And then I cut mine to match yours. People said we looked like sisters, and we laughed so much. Is it so hard to accept us? Do you remember those little moments? I have all the time in the world to go through all the moments – big and small.
The machines keep ticking and gurgling. I feel my pulse throbbing where the cannula pierces my arm. I can hear you. Your pleas for me to wake up. They echo inside my brain.
You say you have cooked my favourite meal. You promise to feed me fresh-roasted corn on the cob, rubbed with lemon and chaat masala. You say you won’t drink G&T again – that you will wait to have it with me. My tongue is coated, sticks to the roof of my mouth. There is no taste, no smell, no touch. Nothing in this void.
The machines keep ticking and gurgling. And as long as I can feel that throb, I am alive. You will wait for me, won’t you?
They say I’m a score 1. No responses. No reactions. But I am taking tiny steps forward. And each step brings me one second closer to you.
Susmita Bhattacharya is an Indian-born British writer. She won the Winchester Writers’ Festival Memoir Prize in 2016 and her novel, The Normal State of Mind (Parthian/Bee Books) was longlisted for the Words to Screen Prize at the Mumbai Association of Moving Images (MAMI) festival in India. She has been shortlisted for, and won, numerous prizes and awards and her work has been commissioned by magazines and for BBC Radio 4. Her most recent collection of short stories, Table Manners, was published by Dahlia Books (2018). It won the Saboteur Short Story Collection Prize in 2019, was finalist for the DLF Hall & Woodhouse Literary Prize and will be serialised for BBC Radio 4 Extra in January 2020. She lectures at Winchester University, facilitates the Mayflower Young Writers workshops in Southampton (An ACE funded ArtfulScribe project), and is a mentor supporting BAME writers for the Middle Way Mentoring project. Currently, she is working on her second novel.