Artistic webzine on migration, borders, human rights
“How do you forget where you come from? How do you forget where you are going, before everything stopped moving, and you, with it?” A short story by Teodor Reljic on suicide and identity, as macabre as it is endearing. Illustration by Iella.
There are bones in the earth and they’re not heavy. The sun boils down; each ray is like a liquid jet of heat on my back but when I dig my hands into the soil and scrape my fingers on the scattered, brittle bones, all is cool, and all is relief.
I knead the soil like dough to keep my fingers cool, and then I contemplate spreading it over my face. It’s the closest thing I have to water.
Then, a thought: I could sleep here. The bones would scrape and cut at my skin but it won’t matter. The body goes away, they’re proof of that.
The body goes away, and I could do with some peace.
She is like a rich smell. Coffee. The movement of silk on your skin first thing in the morning. These are memories that glide past me and I don’t mind them. They’re ghosts I can live with, and it’s heartening that I won’t be alive for very long – not here. But her face. How do I get rid of her face?
The night is cooler, at least. The hole I’ve had the strength to dig dips only enough to accommodate my buttocks and legs. The bones tease me now, their sharp, jutting protrusions a figure of endurance, of strength. This may well be a desert.
Under the moon, yes – the forest is nothing but a brown-black desert. Each beautiful tree becomes a superfluous silhouette, and the bushes are nothing but noises of danger.
How do you forget where you come from? How do you forget where you are going, before everything stopped moving, and you, with it?
“My body would instruct me,” I would think, before I came here.
But it’s only during the day that my mind is numb – with the sun, the fatigue and the hunger. During the day my body is too busy ejecting sweat, and the forest is active with sounds that don’t sound the least bit dangerous only because there are so many of them at once. It’s the continuing chirp of community, and though this is exactly what I came here to avoid, at least it keeps me away from my thoughts.
But at night, now in this bed of bones, all I can think about are the encircling memories and images that have driven me here in the first place. It’s unbearable, to be beset with the thing you want least, all the time.
With each night I continue to believe that I will never die, and this instantly compromises my resolve, with the sharpest of cuts. “I will never die,” that little voice tells me. “Because I can imagine anything, it means these thoughts will go on forever until I die…”
I imagine them floating ahead of me into the crystal-blue sky. The stars would suck my thoughts in as if they were viscous water. Would they take a part of me with them?
I entertain myself by attempting to make my body fit the circular cavity of soil I dug up earlier. When I attempt to spread my frame over the entire space, my shoulders jut into the soil, and it’s a moment of relief rather than frustration – I realise that I shouldn’t even have bothered to dig that little hole. That I should have just dived in and rolled around like a pig, and given in to the cool film of soil… I haven’t slept for days, and being so abandoned to my thoughts makes more and more sense until all I can think of is a tangled nothingness…
It’s the sudden crack of bone on bone that brings me back to myself. My rib makes contact with another bone (could it be another, larger rib?) and I let out a reedy, feminine sigh.
It’s no wonder I hardly recognize myself. Neither my voice nor my skin are familiar to me anymore. My ribs have never felt so exposed. I never imagined that the layer of skin which drapes me would be so brittle. Neither would I have imagined my voice to be so prickly and unpredictable, its wavering, thinning rhythms impossible to control.
And it is only then that I realise that it’s finally happening. My deteriorating body is making me forget myself.
If only I would fall ill. Dawn is coming soon. I want to meet dawn half-blind with fever, my head and throat swimming in phlegm. I want my death to be hard, heavy and slow. So that not a single thought is spared, for home.
I didn’t want to end things suddenly, that’s why I came here.
For me, the point of suicide is not to snuff life out in the blink of an eye. For me, suicide means that you let death pervade your consciousness and body so that every pore reeks with it. That you enter death’s domain fully marinated in it.
If I ended things suddenly all they would say would be the mundane things that reduce me to nothing: “The war took everything away from him”; “He was forced to flee, so he ended it all.”
“He watched his wife die, and all he can hear now are her screams…”
She wasn’t young when I married her. I know the smell of death thanks to her. I would wake up in the middle of the night and hear her snore, and I would swear that the stench was the smell of encroaching death, and that every snore signaled her spiraling further and further away from me.
There is a wholeness in that stench. There is a power. You will forget the smells of pretty flowers but you do not forget the stench of a person you love. That stench needs to be left to live for as long as it can live. That stench will fly up to the stars like the idle thoughts that I think here.
But not if it’s cut short on its way. Not if death comes too quickly.
If only this were a desert. Not the nocturnal brown-black shadow space, but a sandy yellow sprawl of dunes orbited by vultures. I would love to see them circling around the noonday sun. How thrilling it would be, to watch them swoop down on me and claw and snag at my weak skin while I was still able to watch. The pain would not allow any thoughts. My death would be nothing but bodily torment, and I would be glad.
A fresh wash of heat reminds me that it’s dawn. I manage to lift my eyelids to greet the pure blue skyline, and nothing more. I know my body is mildly impaled all over, that I’ve slept on bones and that I’m probably bleeding. But I feel nothing, and this is good.
In the afternoon, I am making shapes of her face in the soil.
Teodor Reljic is a journalist and film critic at MaltaToday, and co-editor of Schlock Magazine. His debut novel is forthcoming from Merlin Publishers. He has recently discovered a fondness for little dogs.
Iella is a creature with an uncontrollable tendency to draw on things. Based in London, it dabbles in illustration, sequential art, doodling people on the tube and some traditional fine art.