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lips touched the dry starched linen of the bed sheet. A matted wisp of hair, gray and oily in its disuse, fell in front of her eyes. She had not the energy to brush it away from her face, but let it stay there, tickling²taunting² slowly. Her leg, thin and varicose-veined, dangled over the edge of the bed. The (now faded red) bed sheet twisted round it like a barber¶s pole²red and white, faded dusty color on faded dusty skin. The minutes ticked by, unforgiving soldiers marching on²blindly. Whose orders did they follow? she thought, angrily. She remembered when her legs had been white and not transparent. She remembered when the bed sheet¶s red was not faded, but proud in its garish glory. She remembered all this from a time before. But minutes²days²years²were unceasing soldiers. It had been folly to think that she could fight against them² she, when no others could. Not the belles she¶d envied, whose rich locks of brown and gold had turned to white and gray; not those spry gentlemen she¶d danced with«Dancing. What a word. It was like honeyed water, dripping slowly, torturously before a parched traveler²out of reach, far away²and when you reached for it, gone. A cough forced its way through her frailty. She seized up in pain, then stilled. Moving never helped. A minute passed. Stubbornly she kept her wrinkled eye open, scanning the room back and forth with bad, desperate vision²she was the man on the edge of a cliff barely hanging on, prey encircled by predator with nowhere else to go. Insistently, she did not blink, though she knew sometime, she would have to fall, be killed and eaten. Then she heard the clock tick once more. Wobbling on the bed¶s edge, she allowed²she had no energy to make²her leg¶s descent, sloth-like in its speed, but jarring in its movement, as though she were a rock climber in freefall. Her foot, her useless twisted gray cracked foot, hit the floor. She winced, clutching the sheet as though it were a climber¶s rope. Fondly she remembered those towering peaks her brother liked to climb. They called him crazy then, before he won the medals. Then they liked him. She smiled as she thought of it, and glanced up at the wall where she saw the medals glint.
But what good had they done? Had they saved her brother? Had they paid for his hospital bills? Were they food, water, shelter? Her brother was dead. The peaks he climbed were gone, strip-mined, no longer pretty. Yet those medals glinted, untouched, on the wall²as though to remind her of lost things, as though to say, ³We¶re still here.´ She had no time for vengeance. Her second leg drooped of its own accord, following the first in its drop off the bed. When she had both legs on the ground, that was when she could try to lift her dizzy, weary head. It made her gag the first time. She would have retched, except for that she had not eaten any food. She coughed up blood instead. It made splotches on the bed sheet. Where the red had faded, her blood restored it. The crumpled yellow blouse she wore gained two more stains, one on each side, like small red buttons. She did not care. Her head fell back down to the bed. Instead of lifting her head, she decided to slide downward, off the edge. She knew it would hurt, but it was less energy. She dragged the bed sheet, blood and dust and all, with her as she slid off the hard strict edge²then fell onto her knees, legs bent under in an awkward position. The fall, onto her knees and the cold wood floor, sent pain through her legs and made her faint. It was too hard to stand upright and walk. She would crawl. She was past humiliation, indignation now. She wanted water, and that was that. Feeling halfcrippled, she dragged herself past old dusty stacks of letters from friends (now dead, long ago), past the folded evening gowns that reminded her of dances with spry gentlemen, ballrooms and rich families¶ houses« There, on the old table that had been a gift²from who she didn¶t know, nor care²sat a pitcher of water and a box of pills. The doctor had told her to take them all²with water, he said. Pills, and water, she thought, as she gulped them down hungrily, what a breakfast. She was knelt down on the ground in pain, surrounded by the dusty stacks of letters, evening gowns spun of rich memories, her brother¶s glinting, smirking medals on the wall« The clock ticked by. Seven minutes had passed since she¶d awoke. It had felt longer, just as the minutes when she was young felt shorter, quicker. No matter.
She looked back at the clock though her neck, twisted and painful, told her not to. She looked at it with the calculating glower of a fencer, looking at her enemy in the face, about to begin another duel. Perhaps she had won today, but it had been folly to think that she would win forever²her enemy¶s unceasing, unforgiving minutes²days²years²marched on blindly. Perhaps she¶d thought that she could win? She had waged a losing war. But today²today was her victory.