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Anesthesia. Empty Anesthesia.

on 2018-05-18, 7:25 am

Help me.

I am drowning in the recesses of my own mind.

I am light-footed, afraid. Breaking. I am quiet.

I cannot remember, and it chills me to the bone.

“You were away for awhile,” he says. He is gentle. He passes me a cup of hot tea. “But virtually everything is as it was the day you went to the hospital. I’ll show you around later, if you like.”

He is a kind man, and I nod. For a few moments neither of us know what to say. Then I reply,


This seems to give him courage and he smiles. “Okay. I need to make a few calls, Gene. I’ll just be in the other room. Call me if you need me.”


My name is Gene Fairfax. I am twenty-seven years old. I live in Toronto, Canada. My husband, Niall Fairfax, is completing his education to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. He often goes to New York for work. He is twenty-nine.

Three months ago I awoke from a coma.

My coma had lasted for two years and three months.

I cannot remember anything.

The walls and the desks are empty. The place is clean, spotless. “Were we very neat?” I ask.

He does not respond right away, and his smile tip-toes around the words. Were, neat, very, we. “No,” he says. “No, I suppose my neatness kicked in after—after the accident.”

“I was messy?”

A grin breaks through. “Yeah.”

Light dust on the desks, a sprinkling of time on my fingertips. I take it in, try to memorize. Dark wood, white walls. A stretch of white walls. Tiny lights embedded on the ceiling, little eyes watching me. Waiting. Expectant. Wondering if I will recall them.

The question is right there, looming overhead.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I can’t remember any of this.”

He is not facing me.

“I’ll show you to our room. I can sleep on the couch until you—”

“Remember you?”


There is a contradiction here. Niall told me that our things remained the same on the day of the accident. Then he said his neatness kicked in.

I do not feel comfortable asking him what he means.

A little about Niall: He seems as if he is made out of something very translucent, luminescent. I wonder how someone like him could operate on hearts.

He has snowy hair with golden shadows, and almost-red eyes.

His beauty—calm, serene, and alien, is unnerving. But he is kind, very kind.

“I don’t usually sleep these days,” he informs me. “Too much work.”

“I understand.”

He sits at his desk, visible from the doorway of the bedroom. The sight of him, angled before a lamp, was comforting. Beyond him, a wall of glass looks out over the city. I watch him. He knows I am watching. At intervals he turns and smiles, gives a little wave. I smile back, but do not wave.

Niall Fairfax, husband.

The golden ring on my finger is flawless—calm, serene, alien, unnerving.


This is what my apartment feels like.

It is clean and straight, everything in a line. The lights are soft and cream-coloured, the air is perpetually in fall. The shadows are meek.

Every now and then, the white of wall splits into an oil painting. They are all abstract. Niall appreciates art. He tells me I—did, also. Three walls are made of glass. We are on the seventeenth floor.

It feels like muted elegance, sensible conversations, hot cocoa before bed, contentment.

I wonder who this Gene Fairfax was, how content she was.

Sleep was an enemy. I was terrified, terrified of the dark, terrified of the depths that I might find or worse—terrified of the nothingness, the vast nothingness.

Eventually, I surrendered.

I am standing before a great expanse of green and blue. The sky is dark brown. I float inches above the water. There is nowhere to go. In the open endless everything, I am trapped. I wait for something, I know not what.

For a long time I am still.

Suddenly, a bird flies overhead.

I cannot breathe and in horror, I realize there is nothing beneath me.

Niall is making bacon, eggs, and coffee. I walk out, sleepy. I am wearing socks and an oversized shirt. He is wearing a velvet robe. “Good morning, Birdie.” He comes over to kiss me, spatula in hand and not knowing what else to do, I halfway oblige. His kiss lands on the corner of my lips. If he noticed, he acts like he did not and I am the only nervous one.

“How was your sleep?”

“Fine,” I murmur. I want to say more, but am unable. I do not know how, a rock lives inside my throat. I try. “These eggs are real nice, Niall.”

“Thanks,” he says cheerfully. “Poached are my specialty.”

I make gestures that I hope seem appreciative. “What do you like to do?”

He thinks for a while. The sizzle and pop of cold bacon meeting pan triggers a sense of coziness, security. I watch his back. The sun clutters his colourless strands of hair. Through the glass, I see the city is awake.

“Music,” he says, finally. “I love listening to music. Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven. Coltrane. Cohen. Um, some Radiohead.” He turns the bacon over. “I also like puzzles. Any puzzle. We would split the paper. You would take World News, and I would take the crosswords.” He scoops the bacon onto a plate. “And,” he says, placing the plate before me. “I like to cook.”


aide-mémoire **”memory aid”
1. Position paper
2. Something that acts as an aid to memory, such as crib notes or mnemonic devices

Today, Niall takes me out shopping. He is wearing a big grey coat, a white scarf, black jeans and brown loafers. Around his body he has slung a brown leather messenger bag. I am wearing a red coat, a white dress, and white shoes. Niall tells me I bought that dress one week before the accident and I never got to wear it, that it was still new. He has clasped a pearl necklace around my throat. He tells me I am beautiful, and looks at me with eyes that I cannot quite read.

We are on the train. I catch him glancing at me sometimes, but in his mind, he is far away. He has a habit of crossing his left arm around his waist, and resting his right elbow upon it. His left hand is a fist.

“Do you remember these trains?” he asks, almost hesitantly.

I look around. “Yes… and no.”

“Alright,” he says. “Alright. Well, we only have one more stop before we get off. Are you feeling hungry?”

“Not really.”

“Would you like to walk around a little?”

“Yes, that would be nice.”

“Alright,” he repeats, and he makes an effort to squeeze my hand.

Who is this man that Gene, the old Gene, fell in love with? How did they fall in love? What was it like to love him enough to marry him? What was it like for him, to fall in love with her?

A tumult of words, a sinking chest, stomach rife with vicious sharks.

Questions that cannot be asked, lest the sky collapse.

“Niall,” I say, fingers still entwined, “I don’t like diamonds.”

The way his head turned reminded me of rays reflecting off a magnifier—in an instant, he was staring at me.

“What?” The box in his hand is teal-coloured and freshly paid for. The clerk looks slightly awkward. A frozen smile.

I try to speak quietly. “I don’t really like diamonds. You don’t have to buy me this. It is lovely, but…”

For a split second he squints, lips parted to speak—then, a pause.

“I’m sorry, Niall.”

“It’s okay. What would you prefer?”

“You really don’t have to.”

“I insist. It’s been too long.”

“How about these, Mrs. Fairfax?” asks the clerk, a bright urgency bubbling in her words. “These are quite lovely, they would suit your complexion wonderfully.”

She motions to a tray of yellow gems, topaz. I do not want to anger Niall so I say, “Yes, I would like this instead.”

“Really?” He edges on incredulity.

“Yes,” and I am being truthful.

He nods to the clerk, and in a few minutes, we leave with an expensive topaz keepsake.

“I’m sorry about before,” I say. We have walked through three underground plazas and now we sit across from each other in a restaurant. “I didn’t mean to cause a scene.”

“It’s fine,” he replies. “Really.” He smiles. He looks handsome and I feel ashamed. “I’m sorry I reacted so strangely. I’m glad you told me.”

“The anklet is wonderful.”

“It’ll look wonderful on you.” He takes a forkful of pasta.

I smile. “Do you often buy me very expensive things?”

He swallows, drinks, chuckles. He looks out the window.


It is past midnight. We have walked around the city all day, I am a tourist here in a place that I call my home. Niall wants to make me feel at home.

Our last stop was at a club. He did not let go of me. My heart was beating out of my chest and I wanted to be a million miles away and I am so afraid and I cannot let him down, he is an angel sent to me to help me come back, I cannot let him down.

His lips in my hair, how shy he is.

We are back on a train and I am sleepy, my cheek rests on his shoulder.

“Do you like me?” he whispers, fragile. His words hang in the air; clouds over the cold.

I am silent for a while.

“Yes,” I say, and the train rattles on, and the city is covered in wings.

I am standing before a great expanse of green and blue. The sky is dark brown. I float inches above the water. There is nowhere to go. In the open endless everything, I am trapped. I wait for something, I know not what.

For a long time, I am still.

Suddenly, a bird flies overhead.

I cannot breathe and in horror, I realize there is nothing beneath me.
They are like rolls of film in negative, floating through the door of my mind. They are delicate and they overlap, just faded evidence that I can’t really make out, you can’t really make out, let’s make out, after this is all over.

After this is all over.

During my months between the hospital and rehabilitation centre, I was told that I might suffer from gaps of memory during the day, and from occasional seizures. I have only suffered from one seizure since then, and am on various forms of medication. Today, however, was the first memory gap.

I do not recall waking, showering, dressing, or walking to Niall’s desk. But here I am, hair damp blackberries and a sapphire dress, and here he is, slumped over, asleep. Papers, a crude blanket on wood. His palms are slightly arched, a pen has descended from them, his red-bow lips are faintly parted. He does not snore, and I can barely hear him breathe. The dawn has not fully blossomed.

He looks like a child, a crystalline lung.

I pull a seat across from him, arms against the table, a reflection. My chin rests on my folded hands and I try to learn him by rote. Around my ankle is his topaz. He is asleep, and he smells as a topaz should, shimmering, sharp, opulent. Everything that surrounds him takes on an atmosphere of restrained prestige. A charming sort of endurance.

Niall Fairfax, husband.

We never had children, and he never speaks of extended family. We are a distant bubble floating above our city.

There are sunflowers on his desk.



A second thought occurs to me as I continue to memorize Niall, chest forever edging on panic.

I was trying to memorize the sun.

“Tell me a story, Niall.”

“Once upon a time, there were two flowers on a field. One was gold and new and seemed to drink the sunlight in its radiance. The other was worn, brown at the edges. He had been stepped on many times by passerbys but still, he stood.

The two flowers had never spoken to one another. After a day when the sun had scorched the ground, the golden flower turned to the brown one and noticed that in a short time, he would die. She stretched out as far as she could, enveloping him in her leaves, hoping he would live a few moments longer.

‘Please don’t die,’ she said, straining to give shade. ‘Please don’t leave me.’

The brown flower, shuddering in the burn, lifted his weary eyes and said, ‘Why do you cry? We have never spoken until this moment.’

‘I feel you every day. Your presence is louder than words. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t die.’ And she wrapped herself around him.

‘It will make no difference when I die, beautiful. You may feel my life, but you will not feel my death.’

‘Do you not understand?’ She held on tighter, and her voice broke. ‘Our roots are intertwined.’”

My second memory gap occurred one month after the first.

I found myself curled up beside Niall on our couch, skin smelling like sharp stars and velvet robes.

When the first landing party went to Krakatoa after the 1883 eruption, the only living thing they found on the entire island was one spider, who was spinning a new web.

Today, I rise from our bed (I say our bed because Niall sleeps with me now) at 5:19 a.m. Niall is not here. Assuming him to be in the bathroom, I go to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water.

I am but two inches from the door when I hear a low moan. I stop. Then, a shudder, an aching shudder, and a glass clattering onto the steel counter. Inhale. Exhale. A deep, hollow sob.

I back away, frightened at the well of emotion and the door is left untouched.

When Niall had begun to sleep with me, my nightmare about the sea vanished. After hearing him cry, it was replaced by a new one.

I am standing outside the Hagia Sophia. Behind me a choir sings, airy voices, washed out. All is black and blue and white.

I run out the door, it is imperative that I do so.

A man stands there, his back to me.

I run towards him, I am inches from him and I stop.

Suddenly, a gust of wind blows my hair, it is long and blows past him on either side of his body. He is enveloped in my curls.

“Look at me,” I beg. “Look at me.”

He does not move and I say one more time, “Look at me.” I am crying.

And he remains unmoving, and I am gripped by dread, and the world grows larger at an alarming rate, and it does not stop.
It happens a second time, four nights later. At 5:19 I rise, and he is in the kitchen, and it frightens me that he is sobbing—low, deep, hollow. I want to dispel the crumbly net of magic that my nightmare leaves behind so this time, I do not leave. I wait. I wait outside the door, and I do not know what to do with my eyes, my hands, or my feet. They are too big and too small and my head is floating away from me.

I wait.

Eventually, he stops. He does not cry for a long time, maybe three minutes. I hear him pick the glass back up. I go back to bed before he opens the door.

The third time. I am stupid. I accidentally bump my toe against the wall. Immediately, the shudder stops cold and he says, “Gene?”

I am stupid. I reply, “Yeah.”

“Don’t come in,” he says, and I have to strain to make out the words.


I turn to leave, face aflame and then he says, “Don’t go, either.”


So I sit on the floor, and lean against the door, and somewhere in the distance, before the dawn breaks, I hear him sigh.

Tragedy resists simple explanation.
Bennett & Royle

The fourth time. I sit, spine against oak. It has been four months since leaving the hospital. Niall has cried only three times. Today all is silent, just the clink of glass on steel. Sixty seconds pass. Four minutes. Five. Then his footsteps.

I stand, thinking he is about to exit the kitchen, but instead, I hear a shuffling and against my open palm, the door eases with his pressure. So I sit down once more, and we are on the ground, nothing but the door between our respective vertebrae. My shoulders hurt, from the weight of him.

I wait tentatively, listening for sobs. None come.

Finally, he speaks.

“You feel like all the wars in the world, Gene.”

Heart beating so slowly, I say nothing. He continues.

“Two years. You were gone for two years and I—”


“Sorry. I’m still here. It’s just difficult.”

“It was so sudden, one moment you were here and the next, you were gone, you were in the hospital, wires coming out of you, face all shades of purple. I got a call in the middle of class. I thought you were dead, Gene. I thought you were gone.”


“Two years, not knowing whether you’d live and why it had to happen, I don’t understand, I just…”

Sharks in my stomach, eating my insides.

I can’t breathe.

The sun is rising, my chemise is black. Silk, satin, lace, an item. Non-living, inanimate, on me. Mine. Not me.

Not me, these items are not me, these walls and these floors and the door that separates Niall and I, they are not me.

But my legs are me.

My neck, my ears, my eyelashes. They are me.

But I am not them, I am panicking. I am apart and I am panicking and I am smaller and smaller. I want to cry and Niall is talking. He tells me I did not usually leave the apartment alone. He tells me I took the car and I never take the car. He tells me I crashed into a street light. He tells me I was going too fast, much too fast.

The black chemise is burning into my back.

“I need to wash the dishes.”

“What?” He almost chokes. He grows quiet. “What?”

“I need to wash the dishes.”

Some moments pass. He stands. I open the door to his face, angular, haggard, confused. I walk to the sink and find the sponge, the detergent.

“You’re really doing this?” he says.

I say nothing. The water is warm and there are bubbles.

“I want to meet your mother,” I say.

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.
Anaïs Nin


That strange sensation of becoming an observer to your own being—an odd, floating dislocation to the gut, a subtle numbing, a zooming out a thinning a lightness a flight that your mind cannot comprehend and there is no time to analyze, only feel—

“Are you ready?”


Niall has taken me seriously. A few nights after I washed the dishes, he was on the phone with his mother. Dolores is her name. Dolores Buckington-Fairfax.

“Where does she live?”

“New York.”

I am surprised that she lives so close. We are staying for three days. Niall does not want to drive so we take a plane. We arrive at 7:20 a.m. We have first class seats, Niall says. During the flight he orders white wine and salmon, leafs through pages of watches. “What do you think of this one?” He asks me. He is back to his calm self, as if airplanes soothed his soul and I find it slightly humorous, slightly endearing. I oblige him and look at the watch. It is silver, elegant. “It looks like you.”

He grins. He ends up purchasing it.

“Retail therapy,” he confides, voice low. I roll my eyes and chuckle. He kisses my cheek.

We act like a happy couple.

‘Act’ is the wrong word. It is a strange thing. It is I, staring at a map of an unvisited country. The country cannot be accurately gauged until the map becomes real, until the lines of ink and splotches of colour are transfigured and made colossal around you. Until the map, one day discarded, is nothing but a tool—

“Are you awake?” He whispers into my ear, fingers stirring mine.

“Yes,” I murmur.

“We’re landing soon.”


“Tell me something else. Tell me something you have heard recently.”

Warm breath on my ear, smiling into my neck. His voice is lovely and smooth, a voice that could call the wind forth and the wind would think nothing of it, would naturally obey.

“Josie Schoel said: There is a love intrinsic in things that nobody can explain and nothing can understand.”

I look out the window as our plane descends. I am met with clouds of blinding white, migrating across the sky, a monolithic exodus.

I feel the earth turning.

I am relieved that Niall seems happy. After that night, he spoke very little. This morning was different, the Niall after the telephone call was different, as if he had come to terms with something.

“Does seeing your mother make you happy?” I ask, curious. We have just walked through baggage claim, straight to Starbucks and now make our way outside.

He shrugs. “I guess…”

I press further. “Well… were these happy times for us? Flying and seeing your mother?”

He runs his fingers through his hair. He walks slower. “Flying, yes.” He takes a sip of coffee. He stops walking. “But you’ve never met my mother.”

He kisses my forehead—his lips linger.

“This is your first time.”


She is a tall, statuesque woman who looks nothing like Niall. The eyes and height, maybe. Other than that, nothing. Her hair, deep black. Her lips, wide and thin. Her cheekbones seem of fine china. She must notice me staring because she smiles and says,

“Unfortunately, he looks just like his father.”

I do not know what to say so I smile in return. Niall wraps her in a large embrace. It is strange and wonderful, two statues embracing.

“Yeah, yeah. Glad to see you too, mother.”

There is light banter. She welcomes us. The house froths with lace and marble.

It is silent.

We hear the echoes of our footsteps.

There is a hefty black cat that stares, sleepy. Pointedly, Niall avoids it. “Severn II,” he mutters. “That cat hates me.”

“Who was Severn I?”

“Is,” he corrects. “My brother.”

“Did I know him?”

He is quiet as his mother leads us into the parlour.

“Actually, Gene—I’m not sure.”

“Is he here?”

“I really don’t think I would have bought you if he was.”

She serves us tea and scones, and is a little disappointed that she has run out of cream. “She can’t get the English out of her blood, you see.”

“When Niall’s father died, I made a choice. I would not move back to England.”

“Why not, Mrs. Fairfax?”

“Please, Delores.”


“My sons need me here.” She took a sip of tea. “Hence, to make up for the loss, I try to keep my history as alive as possible.”

“Lineage, so on and so forth.” Niall’s eyes twinkled. “Our family has an affinity for keeping dead people alive.”

A memory lapse. We are walking across the veranda, Dolores and I. She is beautiful, there are lines on her face and they are beautiful too. She leans close and says, “I believe Severn has something of yours.” She is not looking at me. Down below, the traffic trickles endlessly. I am taken aback.

Is she aware that I remember nothing? I do not know how much Niall has told her.

But at that moment, between the spiderweb breaking with dew, between a leaf detaching and melting into the ground, Niall appears in a flash of silk and cologne. “We’re going to get settled at the hotel, mother. We’ll pick you up for dinner around six. Is that alright?”

“Yes,” she says, and I feel afraid, as if the wind would blow her away, hurtling four storeys below.


“Tell me about Severn.”

We are in a taxi. Niall is clasping my hand. “What do you want to know?”


“Where should I start?”


“Well, he’s my brother. He’s thirty-three. Works a desk job, politics, I don’t really know what he does. He never talks about his job. Robotic, but a little too smart to be safe. Likes cats.”

“Was he the one who named Severn II?”

“No.” Niall grins, boyish despite his discomfort. “I did.”

We are, all of us, walking war-zones.

One: A great big grandfather clock in the waiting line. Black carpet.

Two: A tall, thin man who looks like a violin. Table for three? No, Delores replies. No, we are with Mr. Fairfax. Ah, says the violin. Right this way. Niall freezes. Mr. Fairfax, he echoes. He stares at his mother.

Three: A soft swirl of burgundy, starch white, gold, silver. Voices, the clink of glasses. I am strange. The haunting anonymity, the dark voices sliding against my skin.

Four: Stars with little hats, gathered about the glass walls, waiting. I am strange.


One day, you’ll forget me.
Or worse—the memory of me will become common.


“Severn, so glad you came.”

I remember my vision folding in upon itself. I scream in gray.

Heartbeats in the soles of my feet.

I am standing outside the Hagia Sophia. Behind me a choir sings, airy voices, washed out. All is black and blue and white.

I run out the door, it is imperative that I do so.

A man stands there, his back to me.

I run towards him, I am inches from him and I stop.

Suddenly, a gust of wind blows my hair, it is long and blows past him on either side of his body. He is enveloped in my curls.

“Look at me,” I beg. “Look at me.”

He does not move and I say one more time, “Look at me.” I am crying.

And he remains unmoving, and I am gripped by dread, and the world grows larger at an alarming rate, and it does not stop.


I am crying. My lungs push through my neck.

Help me.
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