Amazons Teetering on the Edge of a Black Sea
Take a moment. Pause. Breathe. Don’t get up. Stay under the duvet, warm. Safe from the heartbreak about to wake in the bed beside you as opposed to your camp bed that has become the norm because it is the only way each of you can sleep, however imperfectly. No sound, no whimpers leak from Andromache – was a woman ever more aptly named? She sleeps still under the shield of medications and exhaustion. But it won’t be long now. The pain will claw her into wakefulness.
Drift a while into the dreams born of fatigue and fear and the need to believe this day, this life is not the reality. Before her nightmare became yours. The lover she once was, who captivated and celebrated you, you, you. Take this moment of selfishness. Remember fingers which know how to please, caress and ask nothing in return. Recall lips uttering words of love, whispering in your ear, on your neck, asking nothing in return.
Take a moment. You love her. Of course, you do. That hasn’t changed. But nothing about love makes this easy. Quite the opposite. Running away is not an option. Nor would you want it to be but…oh, some mornings it is so hard. Breathe. Before you swing the blind fools that are your feet out into the cold to seek the slippers kittened on the floor. Before your bare arms pull on the pilled cardigan littered with holes you should really mend. But you are tired of mending everything. Having to. Nobody dies if you don’t fix them. No one else notices. Those holes are your indulgence. Your bit of wilful neglect. You know, if you gather those pulled threads, and darn those moth-eaten holes and weakened seams, then all your routes of escape will be stitched closed.
You don’t flip on the light because you crave a few more minutes of solitude.
Who would have thought the two of you would come to this?
Years ago, when you met, clicked, fucked and then loved, declaring forever despite opposition and disapproval. True Amazons striding arm-in-arm through the years, showing the bullies and haters public laughter, hiding private tears.
Remember her endearments uttered in her mother Greek – αγάπι μου, καρδιά μου, ζωή μου – my love, my heart, my life. Words you repeated with a crappy accent that made her laugh out loud. You are still all those things to her, except now you are more: Mother. Nurse. Advocate. Protector. Liar. Guardian of her life.
Who would have thought?
This simmering resentment for the freedoms long since signed away. Both of you shackled by a life together. By a faithfulness from which neither of you can, or want to walk. By love.
Who would have thought?
All the fucking and laughing flew away on the back of diagnoses, surgeries, radiation, pain and chemicals so toxic it made her flesh wither, her bowels boil and her hair fall.
Take a moment to be patient. Be kind. Be gentle. Enough hate eats away at the body you once called your own personal garden of heavenly delights.
Together you tried everything. Conventional medicine, brutal and wanting, failed to halt the progress. She sought traditional medicines: Maori, Chinese, Mexican. You accompanied her because she is your wife. In her desperation and with your cynicism, she searched and followed and paid for every space cadet regime going. Treatments, meditations, diets—no sugar, no grains, no meat, more protein, less fat, cook, don’t cook (a blessing alcohol was never forbidden; as if every guru and his mother knew it was the best panacea)— oxygen, ozone, more, less. Regimens you both embraced (her in hope, you in solidarity) to wage an extreme and aggressive guerrilla war.
You light the fire and set the tea water (that’s all she can keep down now) to heat.
She calls. The pain in her voice assaults you with the same intensity her hands once brought you to pleasure. Like her knowing caresses, her agony initiates with a prickling of your scalp, ends with a curl of your toes. If you had time, you’d explore the puzzle of two opposing stimuli creating the same reactions.
You go to her. Night sweat, leaked urine dark and pungent fear rise envelop you when you pull back the covers of the love of your life. Ever the love of your life you think as you pull down her scrunched, damp nightshirt, because if not why would you still be here?
Gently you carry her bony body (she weighs nothing now—no sugars, no fats, no carbs, no meat), yellow with jaundice, rank with her dying to the bathroom. Perched on the toilet, her skeletal ribcage shunting out deep difficult breaths while you run the bath, perfumed with her favourite lavender oil. Water ready, you ease her up, steady her, lift one leg then her other and lower her into the water and for a few moments everything abates—the pain, the anger, the smell, the terrors. Water laps her body as you fill the blue sponge and trickle the water over her sparse sharp shoulders. As you pass it gently over the scar on her chest, broken with pain and inadequate lungs she recites the words of her beloved Sappho:
Come to me now thus, Goddess, and release me
From distress and pain; and all my distracted
Heart would seek, do thou, once again fulfilling,
Still be my ally!
She turns to you, the water on her cheeks is tinged not with lavender but salt.
I’m sorry, she whispers. To be this. To ask this.
You smile, kiss the top of her head, inhale her once luxurious titian hair now sparse and colourless. My Amazon, you tell only your heart.
I’m not, you whisper into her ear, the one you’ve licked and kissed a million times.
And you speak the truth, as you hold the soaking sponge firmly over her mouth and nose because she is your love, your wife, your life.
Shannon Savvas is a New Zealand writer who divides her life between New Zealand, England and Cyprus. Winner of Reflex Fiction (2017), the Cuirt New Writing Prize (2019), Flash500 flash fiction (Summer 2019).Shortlisted 2020 Bath Flash Fiction/Short Story Awards. Published in print/online including Headland, Into the Void, Gulf Coast, Fictive Dream, Ellipsis, Reflex Fiction, Anti-heroin Chic, and a clutch of anthologies.