Matthew Gore was born in Invercargill, New Zealand. He now lives a bit further north in Wellington, where he writes as often as he can. His work explores possible futures and alternative pasts, as well as the paranormal and the strange. His first novel, The Search, was self-published in 2017.
Forget Me Not
You used to make me breakfast in the weekend. Eggs on toast, coffee. Sometimes pancakes. I’d wake to the sounds of you doing the dishes, the pleasant cooking smells. The happiness of food brought to me in bed. But now I wake to the sound of you falling off the bed, the ponderousness of you pulling yourself along the floor. The smell of your rotting flesh on my bedside table. The sight of your expelled organs on the carpet.
It wasn’t long ago that you could keep up with me. We walked side by side everywhere and I didn’t mind you too much. Sometimes I really liked you. Sometimes I felt happy. You were almost normal then, mute but otherwise enough like you for me to believe. Well, you weren’t falling apart at least. But now you trail me, haunt me. You’re a gruesome ghoul dragging its lame legs behind itself as it struggles forward on its scraped and bruised elbows. I almost can’t look at you anymore.
It was your own fault, really. We could have gone on the same but then last week I woke up and there you were, standing over me with your mouth hanging open like you’d lost all control of your jaw, leaking drool like a cracked egg. You must have banged it in the night, dislocated it or something. Those damned eyes of yours too. Never blinking, staring. Like you were trying to suck me in. I just snapped, I guess. I jumped up and pushed you into the wall, not meaning to do it with any force but you hit it pretty hard anyway. You were so light, how did that happen? It was like pushing a mannequin. You sunk to the floor and I saw that I’d caved the wall in behind you and you didn’t get back up again. You just dragged yourself out of the room on your forearms, sheepishly as if you were embarrassed, and your legs haven’t worked since.
Two nights ago I drove my car over you. I don’t know what came over me then either. You were dragging yourself ponderously from the front door like a brainless zombie in a horror movie and I just hit the accelerator and went straight for you. I really don’t know myself lately. I hit you with the front right wheel and went over your chest and I actually heard one of your lungs pop, like a forgotten balloon beneath a sleepy foot, sharp and startling. I never knew that lungs did that, but I guess it makes sense. They’re just bags of air, after all. And you were okay. You just have a caved in chest now.
Every day I sit at my desk at work and you’re there on the floor beside me, like it’s bring your corpse to work day. Colleagues come to my desk and they stand on you and knock bits off you. They don’t notice you. Joel wheeled his chair over to me yesterday and hit you in the head and knocked your left ear off and sent it flying out into the middle of the hall. It lay there all afternoon, out of the corner of my eye. You didn’t do anything about it. People scuffed and squashed it as they went by but you just left it there, I don’t think you noticed its absence. I had to stay late so that no one would notice when I picked up nothing from the floor.
This morning Amy asked: ‘Hey, want to come to a party tonight?’
So I went and you came too, of course. You showed up late covered in dirt and twigs and leaves. Your forearms were shreds of meat from dragging yourself along the footpaths and roads. I felt bad that I hadn’t given you a lift in the taxi, and when no one noticed you, no one talked to you, I felt even worse. Guilty, as if I should be bridging a social gap between you and them. You made no effort at all, though. You just lay motionless in the corner the whole night, your arms dripping blood on the carpet, your eyes watching me as I moved around the room, as I talked to people, as I went to the kitchen to refill my drink. Other men talked to me but even that elicited nothing from you.
“How are you getting on?” one of them asked, concerned sympathy scrunching his face.
“Okay,” I said. “It’s just time. Time is helping.”
“I suppose it’s been, what, a year now?” another asked, more sympathy.
I nodded. “More than a year,” I said.
Fourteen months and three days. I didn’t tell him that, and I didn’t tell him that you were lying in the corner, picking veins out of your arms like they were spaghetti. God that was disgusting. Why were you doing that? You were just making your poor arms worse. I had to leave after I saw you doing that. I made my apologies and everyone understood, assuming I was still fragile, not yet up to it. But I was just embarrassed, more than anything. I felt like I was party to some massive social faux pas, what with you bleeding everywhere from your ruined arms and your now gangrenous legs looking so putrid.
It was never like this before. It used to be that it was more likely to be me embarrassing you. But I never bled on any of your friend’s floors. I never did that to you, at least.
I held the taxi for you. I pretended that I was waiting for a friend until you hauled yourself in, pretended to get a text on my phone telling me to leave without them. I stared out the window the whole way home, pointedly not looking at you, like when we used to fight and I wanted to make you feel bad. I don’t think you felt bad, though. I don’t think you feel anything, generally. Well, I hope you don’t anyway. I can’t imagine the pain you’d be in otherwise.
So now I’m home and I’m sitting here and I’m writing this all out, trying to make it make some sort of sense. I read it back and it really doesn’t make any, but I feel a little more level anyway. I think I’ve let this go on too long, that’s the conclusion I’m coming to. You can’t even get up the stairs now. I can hear you down there, lying on the floor and flailing at the bannister. I don’t think you can grip anything after what you did to your veins. You must have torn out some nerves or something. I had to reach across in the taxi to open the door for you and push you out because you were so weak and slow and ineffectual. You felt cold when I touched you, like a breast of chicken straight from the fridge. It wasn’t pleasant.
I don’t know what the taxi driver thought of this display. He didn’t say anything. No doubt he’s seen weirder things happen in his cab than a girl pretending to push something out of it. He took off pretty quickly though, but that may just be because he had another job to get to, not because I’d freaked him out. I think he ran you over a bit in the process. It sure sounded like it, but I didn’t look back to see. You’d embarrassed me enough for one night.
Maybe if I don’t look, I’ll stop seeing you.
Maybe if I plug my ears, I’ll stop hearing you.
Maybe if I go far enough away, you won’t follow.
This morning when I woke up you weren’t beside me. You weren’t even in the room. I put my dressing gown on and went into the hall and saw that you were still at the bottom of the stairs. You’d given up trying to get up them and fallen asleep, apparently. You were face down and your breathing sounded like someone trying to pump up an inflatable mattress filled with slushy meat.
I went about my morning, showering and getting dressed and making breakfast, and all the while you didn’t stir. It was strange because usually you were so tied to me, so in tune with me, as if we shared some sort of neural connection or something. But you didn’t stir no matter what I did. It was very suspicious.
Finally I stood above you and said your name over and over, louder and louder, but still you lay there with your eyes closed, dragging air into your rotten shell. I got impatient and kicked you and my foot went right through the side of your torso. It got stuck there and I had to wriggle it around to get it back out. When I finally did, I took part of your ribcage with me. And still you didn’t wake up. I’d just ruined half the structure of your chest and you just lay there, sleeping as if nothing had happened.
So I knew then that you were trying to fool me. You must have been. We were playing a game, weren’t we? A game like in the old days. Some of those were fun, and some of them weren’t so much fun. Sometimes we took them too far. No, that’s not quite true. I took them too far, because I always won our games, remember? You always gave up. You didn’t have the patience for it, didn’t see the point. Well, you certainly had a little more patience this time, didn’t you?
I wasn’t having it. No, I wasn’t going to let you beat me, even this one time. I went and got the wheelbarrow and loaded you in it and wheeled you out to the car. It took barely any effort to do this and I didn’t really need the wheelbarrow. You weighed next to nothing. I guess you must have lost most of your internal organs by then, so that makes sense. And probably your bones were hollow too. That happens, right? I don’t know. Anyway, I put you in the backseat of the car and got in and drove towards the edge of town.
I turned up the music to drown out your wheezing as we went, which was louder than before because of the hole I’d kicked in your chest. It was really annoying and I started to wonder whether destroying your remaining lung would finally end this. And then I thought, well why not find out? So I pulled into a deserted car park and stopped behind a skip bin and dragged you out and stomped on your chest and felt your remaining barely functioning lung disintegrate beneath my heel. It didn’t pop like the first one, just sort of fell apart like an eclair someone had sucked the cream from. It was a little disappointing, a little anticlimactic. Your awful breathing stopped straight away, though, and you were silent. But to my disappointment I saw that your eyes continued to move. They followed mine as I moved above you, like you were the Mona Lisa following the eyes of a tourist as they crossed the floor of the Louvre.
Well anyway, it was worth a try.
I put you back in the car. I must have done something really serious to your back during the stomping because you were like a jellyfish, threatening to slide through my arms. You were just a sack of old meat and broken bones. It was only your eyes that contained any hint of anything. Even bloodshot and jaundice-yellow, they were the same eyes I remembered. And they were almost enough to make me reconsider what I was doing, those gross puppy dog eyes of yours, but I told myself that they weren’t really your eyes. No, no part of your decrepit corpse was the person I used to know, because that person was gone, and what you were was an imposter that I’d created and given life, a mixture of sadness and denial constructed into flesh and blood and willed into being. And don’t get me wrong, you’d been a comfort for a while, for which I’m grateful. But I had to end you, the time had come. You understand that, don’t you? It wasn’t healthy. And you were pretty gross.
We left town and I turned down a gravel road. There was an old quarry at the end of it, the one we used to walk around. You’d grown up nearby and we’d visit it sometimes. It was nice. I remember us holding hands, laughing, getting drunk on each other. We talked a lot and I imagined a future with us together. It was a different future to this one, the real one, of course. A happier one, a much less violent one. I could never have imagined any of what’s happened these past weeks.
I stopped the car and got you out and carried you over to the edge, onto the lip of rock that overlooked the teal water in the quarry below. I put you down there and hesitated for a moment, just like that time we were here and we stripped to our underwear and you jumped off and I almost thought I couldn’t. But just like then it was only for a moment. I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me then, and I guess I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me now, disappointed in me for letting this go on. So I looked one last time into your sweet and sad eyes and nudged you over with my foot and watched you fall like a fleshy leaf.