If you wanted to set your life on fire, there wasn’t a better combination. You have been summoned, by an overbearing and solicitous elder brother, by a timid and diminished mother, by a sick father you haven’t spoken to in days, months, years.
You work yourself up into a mass of anxious nerves, into a ball of gastric reflux. You imagine the conversations and the awkwardness, with people you try hard to not remember. You travel many hours and reach the hospital. You enjoy bureaucracy; you want more forms to fill, more bills to pay, more doctors and nurses to speak to. You ignore everyone who waits for you to comfort them, you have nothing to say. You buy for them water bottles and give them your sullen face, ashy and dehydrated.
Your pity is the only kindness you extend. A long time ago, you were what they made you, and this makes you return to them, even if you must drag along your grudges and disdain. You have the money to isolate yourself, to keep away the petty grievances of people you no longer associate with, to remain numb to prejudices.
Your elder brother is everything you refused to become: he stayed close, he married and reproduced, he didn’t run when presented with a chance, he spent his life as a dutiful and virtuous son, brother, husband, father. Your mother annoys you, with her whimpering, her desire to remain in the shadows, her refusal to think of her own happiness. Your father—
To him, you are the daughter who left, who does not remember anyone with fondness, whose contempt scorches everything it touches. You left because you couldn’t stay. You communicate in remittances and through others. You walk along the corridors of the hospital and your fantasies are out of place. You dream of biting your partner’s ear and what you will cook when you go home.
And me? I watch. I could make it easier for you, painless. I could be benevolent. It is largely in the realm of my power to end all this ungainly suffering, to provide you with relief, to excuse you from having to maintain charades you have no interest in. I could stop the laboured breaths from fogging up the oxygen mask. But I don’t. I make the minutes stretch and the agony last. I let you look on, through the glass, as your father holds on to a life that has lost meaning. I demand you to submit to the grief I expect when I make my presence felt.
Prompt #1: “If you wanted to set your life on fire, there wasn’t a better combination.”
Prompt #2: Narrator point of view: Death