The aides care for me with their perfect hands. They rub my back and shave my chin. When they are done I thank them. Two words. That leaves me with thirty-eight.
They both smile and tell me, "It's no problem, Mr. Darcy".
They use physics to lift and pivot my six-foot frame into the chair. I am surprised every day by this feat. They are small, but the physics never fails. My door remains open. I can see the flat brown carpet and the corner of a notice board. I hear moaning and the rattle of dishes. They dump the water and wipe down the side table. I watch as they rearrange my tissue box and newspaper. The paper is folded twice, once midway and once again, a neat rectangle. Maria opens it so I can see the stories above the main fold. I do not thank her, but she smiles just the same.
"Here you go. How's that?"
I nod. The stories in the paper are all propaganda now, useless. My government-numbed fingers can no longer write, and while my current audience is attentive, my opinion no longer matters.
They will bring the drugs. I can't bring myself to call them medications. They will numb my body and steal my words. I am allotted forty words a day during my incarceration. Many of the others were restricted to fewer, so I am lucky. I still spend time writing, but it's all in my mind. No way to defy, subvert, or inspire. In those first days of defiance before I fully understood, I swiftly ran out of words. Chemical castration of tongue. Impotence.
Ten minutes pass. The technician sweeps into my room.
"How are we today, Mr. Darcy?" She bends over to scan my wrist. I look down at the nape of her neck. She rises and makes eye contact, and I smile at her. I can't help it. I am lonely.
"Good." The word slips out before I can stop it. Damn. Thirty-seven, but it was worth it because she pauses a moment to pat my hand.
"I have your medicines here. Are you ready?"
I consider the two cups she has placed on my table, one big and one little. I begin the palsied waltz of my fingers to maneuver the cup of pills to my mouth. She shifts her weight to the left leg, and her hip leans out. The pills are smooth and bitter. She has the other cup ready and close, and for this I am grateful. I swallow and swallow. After she goes, I sit with the aftertaste. It reminds me of late nights laden with red wine and cigarettes when we thought we knew the way to revolution. We were so young.
Another caretaker brings my breakfast. He feeds me with precision as we sit in silence over a tray full of memories. The toast is my mother, the boxed milk and cereal is a day of primary school, the eggs are the spotless mess hall, and the juice is my honeymoon. There is no coffee, but it would have been the start of my day at the office.
The light outside moves toward noon. The newspaper is full of words, but none of them matter to me now. My wife will visit soon, and I will spend that hour carefully filling the space between us with my remaining thirty-seven words.
Julie Reeser lives at the bottom of a stone bowl in Montana. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Black Denim Lit, Zoetic Press, Mirror Dance Magazine, FrostFire Worlds, and others. Her poetry chapbook is titled Terracotta Pomegranate.