Does a Ghost Remember What a Body Never Forgets by S.M. Fedor

Punk Noir Magazine

CN: Sexual Abuse

 

The purifying stench of industrial bleach and antiseptic vapours assailed me as I entered the room. The disinfectants did little to mask the smell of sick decay that seeped from every pore of the man resting on the hospital bed. It was as if sour milk and raw meat had been left in a field, simmering beneath the blazing sun for days, and then moulded into the approximated shape of a man. Licking my lips, I tasted his wasting disease.

He was the man I’d feared most in life, but now I’m unsure if he’s even still human. His eyes opened and tracked my movement. Colourless orbs that displayed an utter lack of interest or recognition to my presence. Within moments his lids lowered, returning to their sedated-closed state.

He would remember me. I would not let him forget.

I lived with his shadow haunting me. Memories of He carved fresh lacerations across older, deeper scars, ensuring the wounds festered and refused to heal. 

I’d shut the door to the unit, muffling the distorted speaker announcements and cacophony of the hallway. The sound that remained was the rhythmic expulsion of puffs of air forced through narrow tubing and the chirping bird-call love songs of his monitoring devices. A screen displayed a series of broad square-wave pulses on one of the devices. Below the shape, erratic numbers sequenced, an equilibrium seemingly never found.

The thread-bare, pale-blue gown the hospital staff dressed him in was several sizes too large, although perhaps it had fit him only a few weeks prior. When the time came, it would be easy for them to extend it beyond his head for conversion to mortuary sheet.

His identifiers were written on a plastic-band strapped about his wrist. I had no need for their information. I could never not know this man. No matter the space I’d put between us, his malignant presence lingered. The man’s existence contaminated my psyche, consumed even the smallest of joys.

His skin stretched thin and gravity gathered it into curtain folds; a husk, worn like a tattered nightgown on bone-shaped hangers. The sheath had turned gelatinous as if attempting to slowly flee, to escape the black corruption that resided in his soul. Neither his flesh nor my soul, could run a distance that subverted his influence.

“Remember me, you bastard,” I said.

Listless eyes reopened slowly. Pupils constricted, taking in my image. His mind burrowed through mislabelled filing cabinets of forgotten memories. His recall was a cassette-tape over-written ad nauseam until all that remained were fragmented ghosts veiled beneath static hiss. He surrendered and stared at the ceiling, his mind recessing into the comforts of the tiny black dimples punctured in yellowing tiles.

I stepped to the grey plastic visitor’s chair and removed my overcoat, neatly folding it and setting it upon the seat. I undid the buttons on my shirt and placed it atop the jacket with the same neat care. My feet eased from the grip of brown leather loafers. I arranged them beneath the seat, aligning the heels between the gap of the aluminum legs.

Steady. Neat. Orderly. Organized. Controlled. The things I could, because life I couldn’t.

My undressing garnered his attention. He watched me through slatted eyes with curiosity. A sign of cognizant recognition of who I was had yet to befall him. For him, this act was a shiny new experience. Undressing before him was not a memory for me; it was an act that existed in perpetuity.

I turned my back to him, inhaling deep, calming breaths. I unbuckled my belt and unfastened the button of my trousers. The hook of my thumbs pressed to the elastic waistband of my briefs and squeezed within their interior. Wavering, as if floating toward the ocean floor drowning, the remaining coverings sank. I bent over, my bare buttocks arched, kissing the sterilized air. I gathered the last of my discarded clothing. The garments were once again methodically folded, then stacked on the pile.

The chirping-bird sang a new song on the monitor. A fastening trill. The beast’s pulse quickened, its hunger emerging from its slumber, readying to devour the sacrificial lamb. 

Wearing nothing but a dangerous smile, I turned to greet the face of the monster I’d known. Prepared to look into the fiend’s eyes with its false dullard’s mask discarded. Instead, I found myself reacquainted with the same befuddled mind as before. My jaw snapped shut in frustration, cutting my tongue in the process.

“Remember,” I shouted at him.

My arms crisscrossed against my chest, hands working up and down, massaging bared shoulders. A subconscious behaviour of agitated release.

Every follicle of hair had shed from his body. As if an effort were made to become swifter, more hydrodynamic. To swim from the evil lurking within. 

We shared that physical trait in common.

My own naked flesh was also without trace of hair. I scoured my skin until it shone red with bristle pads, at minimum, thrice daily in the shower. A constant cleansing of that which is filth. It never washed away.

“You will remember me,” I seethed, moving toward the foot of his bed.

My height towered over his frail, prone form. When had he become this small, broken thing? The man always stood large, his reach great. An immovable shape blocking out the light.

This was a trap. The monster concealed itself. Pretended to sleep. Like a crocodile in the depths feigning a log, awaiting an innocent morsel to naively seek safe-harbour inside its open mouth.

From a sleeve attached to the frame of the bed, I removed a thick manila folder overflowing with scans and graphs.  

His lungs looked like houseplants my black-thumbed mother once kept—shrivelled, emaciated branches that would never again bloom. The slow, rhythmic pump near his head and the clear plastic tubing forced down his throat performed the necessary breathing labours for him now. Additional images showed diffused blips, where modern science had forged titanium hips and joints. Strange, the things doctors could fix and what they could not.

On the final scan, shades of grey and white delineated the outline of his cruel brain. Inky black fingerprints smudged the indentations and contours of the organ, smoothed puckered hemispheres. The stains were not the work of a careless intern or nurse with filthy hands. Rather, there was a darkness burned into the photo itself. A blackness grown hungry. A cancer. One discontent to live caged in a single location. It had explored his body, devouring all organic life and shitting out necrotic cells in its wake. Those hollowed, empty shades were where I existed.

You’d always been covered in a twilight of disease though. They’d simply refused to detect it before. They’d refused to listen.

I placed the images back in their folder and returned the package to its slip. I pressed close to the edge of the bedding, sliding toward the head. My bare legs brushed against warmed plastic. His waste product fed into bulging bags hung from aluminum rails on the side. Traces of red clouds danced in the catheter’s collection pool.

I wrenched his limp arm, compressing an intravenous tube against brittle bone. I felt his pulse quicken, throbbing beneath the pressure of my fingertips. The ventilator hissed like a terrified cat. I traced my hand down to his withered, gnarled fingers.

“Remember me,” I whispered.

His hand in mine, I drew his fingertips to my navel.

“Remember me.”

Our hands moved southward, past where pubic hair could have grown if not scoured clean.

“Remember me.”

I bent his fingers into a cupped shape. My scrotum settled in the palm of his hand. My soft skin against his calloused. He could not forget this. A plagued memory no therapy purged. This was who he was. He could not forget this. Anguished tears I promised not to share crested. Men don’t cry. He could not forget this. Suffering etched into heavy stone, a boulder he’d shackled to my legs. He could not forget this. He deserved to know that pain. He could not forget this. The suffering of a lifetime incapable of trust, to love another. Myself. He could not forget this. He should be the one to nourish this shame. To live with it. To die with it. To carry the weight into the abyss. He could not forget this.

Remember me

Our eyes locked together. Blue against grey. I hunted their depths. Searched for a sign of recognition from the man, the monster, that I knew resided within. Cataratic storm clouds occluded the window to any soul that might extend some form of absolution to my fractured spirit. 

The monster refused to offer relief, even in defeat. He operated through ingrained predatory instincts. Devouring forward, never glancing back in doubt. No trace of guilt, nor remorse. No explanation that dissipated self-incrimination.

I leaned forward, grasping the hose stretched between the ventilator pump and his mouth. I twisted and pulled on the phallic shape until the flopping tip drew past the flaked skin of his parched lips. I listened to the sound of air, fleeting and strained through yellowed teeth—the last gasps of a dying man.

His pupils rolled to hide behind weighted eyelids, displaying the bloody veined whites. His body spasmed, and the corner of his mouth twitched, almost like a smile.

The machinery learned a new song, this one a continuous high-pitched alarm like a disconnected dial-tone.

And I’m left standing here naked and alone. Naked and picturing that final twitch, that almost smile. Naked and alone, wondering if that almost smile meant he’d remembered. That he cared. Because how could he forget?

“Bye, Dad,” I whispered.

I could not forget.

S.M. Fedor has published with Punk Noir Magazine, Burning Love & Bleeding Hearts, and the forthcoming Mickey Finn vol. 2 from Down & Out Books. Scott splits his time between writing neo-noir & new-weird influenced crime/horror thrillers and creating award-winning VFX for film/TV. He resides in Montreal and is currently at work on his debut novel. @s_m_fedor & smfedor.com