Gone and Gone Already

Fiction by Amber Sparks

img_1222Kay keeps lists of everything; it’s her illness. So when she told me she has a List of Attempted Suicides, I wasn’t surprised. She says most of the women here are on it. They are failures in everything, even in this one last thing.

I avoid them, those women. I call them the remnants. They seem miles away from being anything like Kay and me, but maybe that’s because we’re young and losing time and they seem old and ancient as icebergs. Maybe it’s because we can’t stop talking and they can’t seem to start. Those remnants are mute and locked behind their own mental glass, even at the tables in the lunchroom. Even when they dress up for visiting day, they seem engulfed in nightgowns. Their smiles scream apologies. They seem always to be waiting, just hanging in the hall like houseplants.

Kay says there are other old women, like her grandmother, who wear capes and laugh into their wrinkles and swim forward, not backward. There are old women like that, she says. The kind of women who are stout and loud. Those are the kind Kay and I plan to be, if we ever get out of here.

Today the women seem especially strange to me. I’m at the clinic’s counter selling cigarettes, and they keep wandering up like the dead, waving their arms and mumbling at me in some flat, weird language. The oldest, Beryl, keeps saying something about giving birth to the world. Usually you can’t get the remnants to talk for anything, but today they won’t shut up. They won’t buy any cigarettes, either; they just seem agitated, like animals before an earthquake. They just seem to want to talk at me.

Kay wanders behind the counter and plants herself on one of the stools. She starts making faces at the remnants, pushing her tongue out and crossing her eyes. You’re not supposed to be here when I’m working, I say. You know that, Kay. You’re going to get me in trouble.

She shrugs. What trouble? So you go back to your room. So then we can work on the lists. Good.

I hate working on the lists. It’s boring. So I ignore Kay and wait there, hoping one of the remnants will buy some cigarettes or candy or something from me so I can ring somebody up. But they’re more agitated than ever. Kay seems to have angered them. There’s a buzzing, buzzing coming up from their ranks, and Beryl has emerged from the pack again and is tapping her long yellow nails on my counter. The attendants all make fun of Beryl, because she still fancies herself a looker, a knockout, even with her withered tree-face and bald scalp. She’s forever flirting with the maintenance man, trying to seduce him with her bony-hipped walk.

Beryl waves her skinny finger in my face. I know, she says. I know about Kay.

You shut up, I say. Or I’ll never sell you another cigarette. Beryl has smoked since the beginning of time. Since the beginning of tobacco, anyway.

I’ll tell, I’ll tell, she says. You need to learn to respect us. You need to stay here and learn.

I feel myself turn yellow and red and finally white, all the color and feeling out of my face. I’m terrified. I don’t want to stay here forever. I want to go back to the outside. But Kay is angry. She grabs a pack of cigarettes and shoves it, hard, into Beryl’s open mouth. The old lady’s eyes go huge and then narrow, and a thin gurgle-filled scream rises in her throat and spits itself out with the cigarette pack onto the tiled floor. All the remnants go quiet.

Then Kay starts filling the silence. She is shouting–she is cursing Beryl—she is calling her a horror film, a history book, a thing that’s done and should be gone and gone already. Then the attendants are dragging us away, me and Kay, Kay and me, and I am shouting, too, at the remnants, yelling They should fling you all into the sun, and I mean it, I do, and Kay is/I am/we are never leaving here now because Beryl will tell and they’ll know, they’ll know about Kay. The remnants will stay solemn and still as statues, as guards, while Kay and I wait in my room for the old to grow on us.

Amber Sparks’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in various publications, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, PANK, Wigleaf, and The Collagist. She is the fiction editor at Emprise Review, and can be found online at www.ambernoellesparks.com.

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5 comments for “Gone and Gone Already

  1. February 9, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    ‘Their smiles scream apologies.’ Great image! Really enjoyed this story. Thanks 😉

  2. Ahmad Abdul mulindwa
    December 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Really nice story. Am amused about how Beryl thinks she can seduce anybody with a bony hip. But hey, thanks for such a nice story

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