When it's over
Written by Five
This work was last updated February 12, 2019
Note: Not edited lol. Just scraps from a work I can't be bothered to fully write out. Hit me up if you see a typo.
The funeral is a simple, understated event. Klim hadn’t lived long enough to rack up the number of acquaintances I’d grown accustomed to seeing at these events. I’d only been to those of my grandparents, anyways.
Most people were strangers to me, but they milled around like old friends. Karen told me I was the only person Klim had bothered getting to know since his illness started. Apart from an extremely awkward chance encounter, I had never met anyone from Klim’s old life.
The photo on the coffin didn’t look much like the version of him I knew. His hair was short, darker. His smile was wider, his skin more tan. He was already leeched of colour when I met him. Only his eyes were the same vivid green, the grassland we never got to see together.
I remember the first time I saw him. He looked for all the world already a ghost. It was almost like a fever dream. I was so tired after an all-nighter but also unable to sleep from the energy drinks I’d slammed to get through it. There was a caffeine-induced fog hanging around me, making all my movements feel like they were happening before my mind could catch up.
He floated into the dojo like some sort of spectre while I was wrapping my hands. He was so pale, from his clothes to his skin to his hair. There were only three splashes of colour to him. Purple, his belt ranking; green, his eyes, like springtime but without the same promise of hope; and red, dripping from his hair ties, rimming those cold, cold eyes, dusting his lips in a yet unnoticed splatter of blood.
I didn’t know he was dying then, the first time I met him. Or the second, or the third. It’s not like people introduced themselves like ‘Oh hi there, I’m Klim. I have an incurable terminal disease so rare it’ll probably be named after me. You’ll see me around for the next few months and then never again.’
Waking up next to a dead body was… strange. I knew what had happened the moment I opened my eyes and felt that the arm draped around me was cold. I slid gently out of his embrace and brushed my lips over his cheek, like he was still sleeping and I didn’t want to wake him just yet.
I went to the kitchen to put the kettle on. I called the hospital and quietly figured out the arrangements.
“We’ll be there within half an hour,” said the voice on the other side.
I hung up, not really registering the words. Mechanically, I stripped my clothes and got into the shower. I couldn’t keep from shivering as the water warmed up. It felt like the coldness from Klim’s body had seeped into my bones. I felt numb.
I turned the water up to scalding, hoping to feel something. Anything. The heat started to work its way to my core, goosebumps evaporating in the steam.
The kettle whistled as I started to cry.
It was a genetic disease. It ran in his family, killing his grandfather mere days after his son was born. In a period of civil unrest, his father was murdered before the disease took grip, finally prompting his mother to move here.
So it wasn’t until Klim that anyone got to study the illness and its symptoms. It was rare enough that there was a good chance it’d be named after him.
“I don’t want to be remembered by the thing that kills me.” His voice was terse, words clipped.
“Ok,” I said slowly. “Then how do you want to be remembered?”
“I don’t,” he said flatly.
The next morning was the worst. I woke up and forgot the world had ended. Half asleep I reached for the other side of the bed. My hand met emptiness and I froze, feeling very much like I was teetering at the edge of a cliff, arms pinwheeling to keep me from falling. An unexpected sob tore from my throat, the force pushing me over the precipice.
When you have a terminal illness and your death is expected, there’s no investigation. No one questioned the empty packet of sleeping pills on the nightstand. But I knew. In his state, a full packet of sleeping pills contained enough drug to depress his weakened autonomic nervous system just long enough to be lethal.
I threw away the empty packet with trembling hands, wishing he left enough for me. I’ve forgotten how to fall asleep alone.
It was one of the good days, where he could breathe easy and even laugh without getting winded.
“Let’s go to Mongolia this summer! We can hit up Ukraine on the way too.” I already had the airline site open, scanning for early deals.
“Sure,” he promised easily. “I don’t really want to go back, but we can do Mongolia. I’d like to see the steppes. And we can hit up Japan as a side trip instead.” He playfully smacked with with my white belt. “See what you’re really made of, No-Stripes.”
I ignored the jab. I don’t think I had ever been so excited. “You’ve never seen so much green in your life.” I bit my lip before I could say the next words and come out as too cheesy. It’s like someone used the grasslands to paint your eyes.
I ask for the night shifts at the hospital since I can’t sleep anyways. Not in the dark, not alone, without the beep of his heart monitor and the rasp of the ventilator mask.
I can’t bring myself to wash the sheets, because that would mean it’s really over. I cleaned up some of his things already. Just the big glaring things. I returned all the medical equipment to the hospital. Boxed his clothes that screamed ‘no one will wear me again, at least no one that matters’.
We used different brands of toothpaste, and he was nearly done his tube but I went out and bought another one. I don’t like the minty flavour but it’s almost like tasting him again.
I miss him in all the stupid little things. When I burn my tongue on coffee and he’s not there to laugh. When I put on a face mask and there’s no one there to hide in mock horror.
I feel his ghost in all the empty spaces he used to live. The gap between my neck and the bed where his arm should be. The blank slot in my schedule that was date night. The nail on the wall where he hung his gi. My jacket pocket feels bigger now, without his hand holding mine in it.
I remember his absence by the milk carton that takes two weeks to finish now, not one. I always cook too much rice out of habit.
I had entered into the relationship knowing full well that it had an expiration date. It’s just – I thought I had longer.
I saw him growing colder with the weather. There was frost in his words, ice slowing his movements. His kata was no longer a flowing river but a rusting automaton struggling through a form programmed long ago.
I had hoped an early spring would thaw him. There were times I even dared dream of a summer with him. I felt stupid now. Klim was a cold man, and the only sunlight I could imagine him in was the weak blue-tinted rays that reflected off snow.