Stuck

Artwork by Barney Bodoano

Artwork by Barney Bodoano

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

The alarm sounds off loudly in my room, the noise echoing down the hall towards me. My brain feels fuzzy. I must’ve nodded off on the couch sometime last night. The stupid thing’s more comfortable than my bed. Best damn purchase I’ve made since buying an apartment across town from my ex. He never would’ve let me buy a leather sofa. He used to say the material would stick to his legs if he wore boxers, and that it would heat up like an oven if the sun got it. He used to say a lot of things I didn’t agree with. So I don’t care about him or his sticky legs anymore. 

I don’t feel like getting up, I don’t want to move, but the noise is making me crazy. I open my eyes... are they already open? The room looks blurry and out of focus. My eyes feel dry, sore, and I’m so tired. I didn’t know people could sleep with their eyes open. I’ve never done that before, or I don’t think I’ve done that before. It doesn’t seem like something I’ve done. 

I go to blink, but I don’t. Why don’t I blink? I try to do it again, but nothing happens. It feels like there’s dust in my eyes and I want them to water. Nothing happens. Something should be happening. Why isn’t something happening? I’m still trying to blink without success. The alarm is still ringing and now I want to turn it off. I will myself to blink but it’s impossible. I try to roll my eyes and get them to move, but they’re still. Something’s wrong. Really wrong. I’m pulling down on my eyelids with as much mental force as I can, but it’s not working. Why isn’t it working?

Are my eyes broken? That doesn’t make sense; eyes don’t break, or they don’t break like this. I don’t understand, why aren’t they moving? Why isn’t anything else moving? My heart should be racing, but it isn’t. I can’t hear it doing anything. Is my heart beating? It has to be, because I’m here panicking, but I can’t hear it. Did I go deaf? No, I’m not deaf. I can still hear that fucking alarm. I really need to turn it off.

I go to get up, but I can’t get up. I can’t move. I should be moving. Why am I not moving? Am I paralyzed? Maybe I fell asleep wrong. Maybe I fell asleep with my head resting awkwardly, and then when I turned in the night I pulled a nerve or snapped my own neck. Did I snap my own neck? Is that even possible? That can’t be possible! I don’t remember snapping my own neck, but I don’t remember falling asleep either.

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!

Oh my god. Oh my god. Move. Move! Just move! Pull an Uma Thurman and wiggle your big toe. Easy peasy. I’m giving it my all, but it’s not moving. No matter how hard I try to move my toe, blink an eye, my body doesn’t want to listen to my brain. They’ve been disconnected, separated, and I can’t do anything about it. I need help.

I try to call out, but I can’t move my lips. My tongue feels heavy and big. It’s like a limp piece of meat stuck in my dry mouth. I can’t say a word. Just like I can’t stop looking up at my damn ceiling or listening to my stupid alarm clock. I try to make a sound, try to push air from my lungs up into my throat. I’ll settle for a gurgle, even a ghost of a noise, but the room stays quiet. I stay quiet.

This is a dream. This has to be a dream. This isn’t real because it can’t be real. People don’t just wake up one morning to find themselves stuck. It’s definitely a dream. A very scary, a very real, a very horrible dream. I want to wake up. How do I wake up?

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Bang? My alarm clock never bangs. What’s banging and why isn’t the noise waking me up? Maybe this isn’t a dream, maybe this is real. This can’t be real, but I think it is. There it goes again, more banging. There’s muffled shouting, but I don’t know who’s shouting. I recognize the voice, but I can’t remember. My head is still fuzzy and it feels like sleep is trying to pull me away. Except I don’t want to go away, I want to stay here. I need to stay here. I need to fix this.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I know this banging! It’s a hard fist hitting the harder drywall. The walls of the complex are thinner than rice paper, and every night I can hear my roid-rage neighbour sleeping with the girlfriend of his roommate that works nightshifts. If I can hear them, they can hear me. They can hear the alarm clock, and they can come help me.

“Dude! Can you shut that fucking thing off? Some of us work evenings, jackass!”

Nightshift neighbour! No, I can’t turn it off. I can’t do anything. I need you to come help me. Please, come and help me! Get the landlord, or get the fire axe and chop down my door. I don’t care what you do, just do something. There’s more banging, but then it stops. It’s been stopped for a long time. Did he get the landlord, or the maintenance guy who stares at people?

BANG! BANG! BANG!

It’s at my front door. The door ten feet behind this couch. There’s someone ten feet from me, and they can help me. Stop hitting my door and get someone. The alarm stops. It shouldn’t stop. I know it turns off on its own after a while to preserve power, or in case someone forgets to unplug it when they go on vacation, but it can’t have been long enough for it to give up. Don’t give up! Keep yelling at me! Keep yelling at the neighbour! Don’t give up on me yet, I still need your help. Isn’t the point of an alarm to get you up? So get me up!

The neighbour’s footsteps seem farther away. Don’t go away! Please don’t go away! No, come back. You can’t leave, I need you here. I need your help. His door closes. Why are you closing your door? You should be here, yelling at me for waking you up, not going back to bed. Please don’t go back to bed.

Everything’s so quiet. I’m so quiet. I can’t feel my pulse, and my heart should be thumping against my ribcage in fear. My palms should be sweaty, and my chest should be heaving, but they’re not. I can’t feel my chest rising or falling with breath. Am I paralyzed? If I was, I wouldn’t be able to feel, right? And I can’t feel, or I don’t think I can feel. I must have snapped my neck. I can’t believe I snapped my neck. But I did, or I think I did. No, I did. I definitely did.

How are they going to fix this? Can they fix this? I don’t want to be stuck in a motorized wheelchair for therest of my life, with my brain plugged into a machine that tells my body when to blink and swallow. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life eating from a tube. How am I going to work? Public relations means having to talk, and if I can’t talk, I can’t work. I need to work, it’s my life. They’ll just have to fix me.

There’s a tiny bell. A soft clinking of metal on metal making its way towards me. Deliberately. I can see a tuft of white fur out the corner of my eye. It moves out of my line of vision, but then all at once appears in front of me. There’s a light pressure on my chest from where it’s standing and the little bastard doesn’t even bother to sheath its claws. It’s looking down at me. My cat. Actually, Charles’ old cat that I ended up with is looking down at me. He got all the appliances, and I got his stupid fucking cat. Why is it purring? It always hated me too much to show affection. It rubs its face against my chest, and I know it’s getting its ugly white fur on me. It’s still purring. Stop purring.

It looks me in the eye, and even though cats can’t smile, I’m sure it’s smiling. It looks too happy to be doing anything else. It knows I’m here, helpless, and it’s enjoying it. The furry little fucker is actually enjoying this. I hate cats. They eat their owners if the owner’s dead and the cat’s out of food. But he has plenty of food, and I’m not dead. So why does the cat look like it’s licking its lips? If it eats me, I’ll kill it. Get off of me. Get the hell off me, bitch!

It leans in and licks my cheek. It’s not cute, it’s not sweet, it’s a taste test. The cat’s sampling me for later, wetting its chops in anticipation. It wants me to die here so that it can eat me, not out of necessity, but out of fun. It’s looking at me like a lion looks at a gazelle that’s been taken down by the pride. It licks me again, its whiskers brushing against the side of my nose. Get off of me, you ungrateful, hairball hacking, catnip loving, sneaky little…

That’s a key. That’s a key being put into a lock. My lock. My lock on my door. Someone’s about to come in and save me. The hinges moan in protest as the door slowly swings open. Who is it? I can’t see who it is. 

“Shina, you home?”

Yes! I’m home! David, I’m here. Walk forward and look down. That’s where I am. Find me. Come over here and find me!

“I saw your car in the parking lot, so I figured you’d still be here. And, because I have a late start this morning, I thought you might be in the mood for breakfast out, or something, if you had the time.”

He makes his way forward, slowly. I can hear the soft ticking of his watch. I’d recognize that ticking anywhere. It’s from the old watch he wears everywhere, no matter how outdated it is. It’s the same one I saw him wearing at the company Christmas party my husband had dragged me to. David had worked as a sales rep back then. He still did.

“Shina?”

Even when he isn’t looking for me to answer him, he always says my name like it’s a question. I can’t help but wonder if he has a hard time remembering it. Maybe his wife’s name is on the tip of his tongue, ready to jump out of his mouth when he least expects it. I hope mine does when he’s with her. At least it’ll finally give him a reason to leave her. The same reason his name had given me to divorce Charles. My husband. No, my ex.

He shakes me, and my head rolls uselessly from side to side. He shakes me harder. I can’t answer him, I try to but I can’t. I want to scream, cry, fucking blink, but I can’t do anything. He takes my face between his hands, and stares into my eyes. He looks desperate, wild. Why hasn’t he called for an ambulance? Why is he just looking at me? You can’t do anything, so get someone who can. Help me!

He drops my face and backs away quickly. Now pick up the phone, and call 911. He looks at me horrified, breathing fast. Pick up the phone, David! He wipes his hands on his suit jacket madly, like he’s trying to erase me from his skin. What are you doing? Why aren’t you calling? He sits down on the window ledge, and puts his head between his knees, breathing deep. He takes out his phone. Good, call. He dials a number. The number’s more than three numbers. Who are you calling? Call fucking 911! He waits for them to answer. I wait for him to help me.

“Rick? Rick! Fuck, man, I need your help. I don’t know what to do. I’m so fucking screwed. You know what chick I’ve been banging?”

Chick you’ve been banging? Chick? Me, it’s me, Shina! I’m not some chick, I’m the woman you said you were supposed to end up with. I’m the woman you said you’d leave everything for, not some slut you’ve been sleeping with.

“She’s dead. She’s fucking dead.”

I’m what? I’m not dead. I’m not dead. I can’t be dead, I’m here. I’m here you idiot! I’m right here, I’m talking to you! I just can’t move, that’s all. I’ve broken my neck and I can’t do anything. I can’t speak, but I’m not dead. I’m not. No. I’m here, I’m alive. I need help. I can’t be dead! People don’t just die like this! I didn’t die like this!

“I’m at her place right now, and I don’t know what to do. If I call an ambulance, they’re going to ask what I’m doing here. They’re going to ask how I got in, why I have a key… Fuck. And if Elizabeth finds out, then we’re over.”

I’m not dead! I can’t be dead, because it doesn’t make sense. I’m fine. I’m not fine, but I’m not dead. Maybe I’m dead. No, I’m not. I’m just stuck, just trapped. I just can’t move. I’m not dead. I’m dead. No I’m not!

“I don’t want to lose her, Rick. I just, I just don’t know what to do.”

You don’t want to lose her? You told me you were leaving her! You’re not leaving her? I’m not dead. We’re over. Once I’m fixed, we’re over. And I’ll be fine, because I’m right here, I’m alive, and we’re over.

He hangs up the phone, and takes a long pause before calling 911. He lies to them. He tells them I’m dead on my couch, but that’s not true. I know it’s not true. When he hangs up, he puts the phone down on the coffee table and just watches me. Why are you watching me? Stop watching me. I don’t want you looking at me, and I can’t look away from you.

This is the man I used as my excuse? You were the reason I got a divorce? I knew my marriage was heading nowhere fast, but to give it all up for you? Charles may not have loved me, but he wouldn’t be useless like you. He wouldn’t give up trying. I don’t think he ever did give up trying. What’s he going to say when he finds out I’m dead. Not dead, paralyzed?

How are you going to tell him, David? Are you going to say we were just friends, and that you were meeting me for breakfast? What kind of lie are you going to come up with, to explain your key? Or are you too worried about losing your job? You’re pathetic. I can’t wait until they fix me. I can’t wait to take apart the lies you’re going to invent, or to tell Charles that it was you I slept with. And I will tell them, because I’m fine.

I will be fine.

Except I’m starting to think I’m really dead. I can’t hear my own breath, or feel my heartbeat. I can’t move and I feel cold. I can’t be dead, but I feel dead. I’m not dead… probably. Why is it taking so long for them to come and help me? The ambulance should be here by now. Why isn’t it here yet?

I can hear footsteps from the hall. Who is it? Is it the paramedics? I can hear them talking to each other. They’re getting closer. I’m in here! David hears them and gets up to go meet them at the door. They’re all coming closer now, but none of them seem to hurry. They need to hurry because I need them to help me. They need to fix this.

The one with the skinnier face comes close to me and shines a light in my eye. I stare straight into it. He puts a finger on my writs waiting to feel my pulse. He frowns. Don’t frown. He looks back at the other one, and they roll the stretcher closer to the couch. Good! They know I’m broken, and that they need to hurry to reverse this. One of them leaves to get something from the truck. Shouldn’t they have everything they need with them? The rat faced one calls it in to the dispatcher.

They’re bringing in a body.

That’s not right. It’s not. I’m not a body. I’m alive. Why can’t they get it right? Why can’t I hear my heart? The other one comes back from the ambulance with something black. He lays it on the stretcher while the other one consoles David. Then he unzips it and I realize it’s a bag. It’s a body bag. It’s my body bag. I’m not dead!

They slide the stretcher next to the sofa, and place me on top of it. Don’t put me in the bag. Please don’t put me in the bag. Please. Please! Oh god, I’ll do anything not to go in that bag. There’s a mistake, a big mistake. They wrap the edges of the bag around me, the cold plastic rubbing against my skin. Don’t do it. But they’re doing it.

They zip the bag almost closed, leaving only my face out of the plastic. The rat faced paramedic comes closer and reaches his gloved hand out towards me. What are you doing? He puts them on my eyelids and begins to close my eyes. Stop! I want him to stop but he’s not stopping. My eyes are closed, and everything’s too dark. I want to scream. I can’t scream, but I’m still trying.

They’re rolling me down the hall. I can’t hear David anymore. Is he still in the apartment? I can’t hear much over the sound of their heavy boots on the floor. I catch snippets of them talking. They’re discussing hockey scores and Chinese food. The wheels on the stretcher squeak, and my body slides forwards a bit when they accidentally roll me into the elevator wall. How can these gorillas in work boots be so careless? They pull me along until the floor becomes too bumpy to be a floor. It’s pavement. I’m outside. Cars are rushing by and people are talking in low voices, or I think I can hear people talking. They shove me into the back of the ambulance and slam the doors shut.

I can’t hear anything anymore. Everything’s quiet. No, the engine revs. They’re driving. We’re going to the hospital. The back cabin is filled with the clinks of machinery and emergency response equipment bumping around. Are we stopping for coffee? I can’t tell for sure, but I think they just stopped for coffee. They still haven’t put the sirens on. They still think I’m dead, and I’m starting to think they’re right, but they can’t be right because I don’t want them to be.

The ride to the hospital takes forever. They wheel me down the halls, and into another elevator. The plastic still feels cold and this gurney keeps whining and creaking. They push me through the doors of another room. There’s no sound except a faint humming. Why do I know that sound? They come to a halt and I hear a door being pulled open. It’s a sucking kind of sound at first, and then I recognize the noise. My fridge. They’re dumping me in a morgue. They’re putting me in the people friendly version of a big Maytag.

My back is put onto a freezing slab of steel. They’re making a mistake, but I can’t tell them. I can’t do anything. They slide me into the cubby. I want to cry for them to stop. I want to cry. I don’t belong here! The walls radiate cold and I’m shivering. Except I’m not shivering, I just feel like I should be. The door closes behind me, and I’m left alone with nothing but the humming. The humming and the cold.

I’m healthy. I workout, I eat right. I’ve never had a history of heart disease, or anything for that matter. Unless you count chronic failed relationships as a medical condition, which I don’t. How could I have died? I was fine when I went to bed. I wasn’t feeling faint, or sick, or different. I was just plain old me, falling asleep. Now I’m here, in a fridge. Alone. Oh god. What if everyone in this fridge is like me too? What if they’re all stuck and screaming, but no one can hear them either?

I’m in the cold for a long time and then someone comes for me. I hear the sucking sound of my compartment door, and the high pitched scraping of metal being pulled out. My bag is opened and the warmer air feels nice on my skin. I’m transferred to another gurney and then another metal slab. Where are they moving me?

Someone is taking my clothing off. Why are they stripping me? Stop it! Get off of me! I can feel the cold scissors gliding against my skin as they hack away at my dress. The man sings along with rock songs from the ‘80s. There’s something wrong.

Something’s wrong! It hurts! He’s cutting into me. Oh god, stop it! Stop! It hurts! He’s slicing my chest open. He drags the knife deep through my skin, ripping it open from my chest to my navel. Please make it stop. Just stop it! You’ll kill me! He puts something cold and metal in my chest, and hums to Bon Jovi as he uses it to pull my ribs apart. He’s killing me. He’s tearing me apart and I can’t even scream. Stop! Stop! Stop! STOP! His hands are in me and he’s playing with my organs. He’s pulling them out! Stop pulling them out! I listen to the wet splatter of something inside me slapping against the metal table. I’m in hell. I’m dead and this is my hell. I’m in agony and he doesn’t care. He’s mutilating me and no one cares. Why isn’t anyone stopping him?

A power saw. I can hear it before I can feel it. He’s cutting deep into my temple. I want to die. I want it to stop. I want him to stop sawing into my skull, to stop cutting me to ribbons. But it doesn’t stop, and I know I’m really dead. I should be unconscious, but I’m not. I can feel everything, and I’m still here. So I’m dead. Dead and trapped.

It finally stops. He sews me up, and washes me down before putting me back in the fridge, naked and sore. The next person who takes me out is the mortician who’s going to make me look pretty before they put me in the ground. She brushes out my hair while talking on the phone. She tells whoever’s on the other end that she wishes she had my eyebrows. I want to tell her that I wish I had more time. She tells them that it was a cerebral aneurysm that killed me. A blood vessel in my brain must have broken when I fell asleep, and I bled to death internally. She does my nails and applies enough makeup to keep L’Oreal employed for the next ten years. She layers it on so think that it feels more like paste than foundation. She wrestles a dress onto me. It feels like the canary yellow one Charles bought me on our honeymoon to Paris. It’s completely inappropriate and beyond uncomfortable. I’m going to be buried in a dress I hate with caked on foundation. If I was alive, I’d probably die of embarrassment.

They set me up in a casket holding flowers that don’t smell real. People shuffle into the room awkwardly. All of them talk of how much a shock my death is. They don’t understand how someone as young as I am can drop dead like that. I don’t understand how I dropped dead like that. I want more time. I should have more time! Old people are supposed to be here, not me. Everyone says they’re upset, but I don’t hear anyone wailing over my body, begging me to come back to them.

“He must be so upset. He really loved her,” someone close to me, Jess, says.

“Yeah. The dress Charles picked out for her is beautiful. Someone told me it’s the one she wore on their first date,” another girl says. I can’t tell who it is. Whoever told them about the dress is wrong; I wore jeans on that date.

“He must be so devastated. You know, he never saw the divorce coming,” says Jess again. Is it Jess? It might be Dana. They sound exactly alike.

Didn’t see it coming? He knew we were getting a divorce before I did. He told me he could feel the distance growing between us for a long time. Who told her he didn’t see it coming? Who told them about the dress? They’re getting their facts wrong.

“I still can’t believe she was sleeping with David,” says the mystery woman, “and for him not to even turn up for her funeral...”

David isn’t here? After everything, he’s not here? He told me he loved me and he can’t even come out to this?

“I know! When Charles found out... You should’ve seen his face. I think he always wanted her to come back to him. I think he knew he made a mistake ending it with her, and he was waiting for her to realize that too.”

They move away, talking to themselves. My friends still gossiping about me, even after I’m gone. No, after I’m dead. I’m not gone. I’m still right here. Right here, and wishing I could go back. I wish I could undo it all with David. I’m not saying Charles and I would’ve been happy or even married much longer than we were, but at least David wouldn’t have been my reason for ending things. He wouldn’t have been the one I was so quick to toss it all away for.

“It’s such a shame, that’s such a beautiful dress. Do you think they could cremate her in something else," someone jokes as they walks by my body.

Cremate? I’d always wanted to be buried in the same cemetery as my parents. What do they mean cremate? I don’t want to be set on fire. It’s a mistake. Just another wrong fact, like the one about my dress. That’s all.

Except it isn’t a mistake.

I can hear the crackling of fire as they open the door to push me in. My feet are warm, unpleasantly so. There’s one hard push and then a loud clang of the door closing behind me. The fire crackles beneath me. I must be on a grate, or a shelf. Something to let the fire up, and let me slip through to the bottom. It’s hot. Too hot. The fire is closer now, and I can smell the coffin burning. I can smell my skin burning. I can feel my skin burning! I want to tell Charles I’m sorry. I want to do a lot of things that I’ll never get to. It gets hotter, and I feel my skin crackle and burn, flaking off into ash. The flames devour my body, breaking it into a million flakes of dust. I try to scream.

But everything stays quiet.