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Robin Knabel

Icy raindrops tap against the window. When did I last go outside? Could have been this morning for all I know. Shivering, I tug the small, thick blanket and tuck it under my withering legs. Wheeling myself to the desk, I peer out the window at the dreary morning.

Gray skies offer little light into my room. Fluorescent bulbs zap above, doing nothing but giving me a headache. Fake light doesn’t help my mood, anyway. Happiness fades faster than memories these days. Reaching for the bedside control, I turn off the light. Being swallowed by darkness is fitting.

A metal letter opener sits beside a ball of crumpled paper on my desk. Holding it, I balance its weight in my hands. Like most things strewn about the room, it’s somewhat familiar to me. A picture frame on the desk catches my eye, so I shove the opener in a drawer and forget about the mutilated letter.

Who’s this?

Within the gold frame is a black and white photo of a young woman, smiling and holding a baby. Scrunching my eyes, I try to place her face. Nothing.

Perhaps too many years have passed. Do I know her, why else would her picture be on my desk? A sticker on the bottom corner states her name. “Ginny.” Leaning closer, I squint until my eyes hurt.

“Who are you?”

The reflection staring back at me from the glass has a sharp, bony face. Its eyes are sunken in, deep, as if hiding away from the barrage of unfamiliar things and surroundings. How soon will it be until I forget this face, too?


Knock, knock.

A wash of ammonia and bleach drifts into the room when the door opens, burning my nose. A subtle reminder of my new home.

“Morning, Edgar.” The nurse’s voice is musical, like a songbird, though I can’t place which kind. She wheels a small, mobile pharmacy cart toward the desk and reaches up to open the blinds. “Ready for your meds?”

“Leave it shut!” A sudden anger pulses through my veins.

Dropping her hand from the plastic rod, she allows the darkness to remain and continues her routine. She places a small paper cup filled with pills on the desk and presses a cup of water into my hand.

“Bottoms up.”


A calendar is propped up on the desk, filled with daily reminders of historical events. Over time, it grows thin, like me, as each memory is torn from it daily. For a moment, I recognize the irony of it, then it’s lost on me. Time marches forward, leaving the heartbeats of the living ticking down until silent in its wake.

Most days, I can’t recall what I had for breakfast. But world events from my youth over seventy years ago are as vibrant and alive as they had been back then as I stare at each page.

What I wouldn’t give to experience one day of clarity instead of jagged, hazy moments of uncertainty and fear. Why do I even have this blasted calendar? Did I put it on the desk? Laughing, I launch it into the wall across the room. I hope my parents come back soon. I’m ready to go home.


The hallway is empty. The only sound is muffled chatting at the nurses’ station. What am I doing out here? The fluorescent light buzzes to life as I flip the switch and return to my room, setting my bag on the bed.

What’s that calendar doing on the floor?

Wheeling over, I lean down to pick it up. The pages are dog-eared and bent, and I can’t decide if it’s on the correct date. Every day mimics the last. Nurses enter my room, pushing pills and small talk pleasantries—both hard to swallow. I take my medicine and stop asking the same questions. “Who are you?” “What am I doing here?”

I've grown tired, and I can’t remember the answers.


Knock, knock.


Sitting up on my bed, I turn toward the opening door. A woman enters the room carrying a plate covered in aluminum foil. Her smile reminds me of the woman in the photo. At least, I think it does.

“I brought your favorite cookies,” she says, placing them on the desk. She picks up the picture frame and studies it. “I always loved this picture of her.” A soft smile appears as she glances over her shoulder at me.

“Are you Ginny?”

The smile fades as she places the photo back on the desk. “No, Dad, it’s me. Kate.”

“Oh.” My fingers fidget with the edge of the sheet before looking up at her again. “Have we met?”

Pulling a wad of tissue from her pocket, she dabs her eyes and sits on the bed beside me. Her smile is forced. I understand.

“I’m your daughter. Kate.”

Heat rises to my cheeks. I’m not sure if I’m angry or embarrassed. Emotions evade me as of late. I study this person beside me. This stranger claiming to be my flesh and blood. The jab of an invisible knife cuts through my insides, followed by a wave of nausea. Involuntary hiccups threaten to spill my anxiety, and I cover my mouth with my hands to control it.

Warm fingertips brush my forearm. “Are you okay, Dad?” Her eyes are tender and damp, and I wonder if that’s what love looks like.

“Can you take me home?” My voice catches in my throat. “I don’t like it here.”

Throwing off the covers, I maneuver my legs and place my bare feet on the cold linoleum. Reaching for the wheelchair, I stumble and catch my side against the metal arm.

“Please. Take me home.” Now my eyes are damp.

A tear slides down her cheek as she lifts me into the chair. My flesh clings to brittle bones beneath. As she covers me with a blanket and leans down to kiss my cheek, a light floral scent tickles my nose. Peonies? Lilies? I can’t distinguish them anymore.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The clock on the wall keeps time with the rhythm of our breathing. We gaze at each other in silence.

“Dad, we’ve been through this. So many times.” Turning her back to me, she walks toward the door and rests her hand on the knob. “This is your home now.”

Any hope I held inside drains out as she opens the door. The sting of chemicals hits me again, and my eyes fill with water.

I blink.

She’s gone.


Strangers come to my room bringing food, telling me how much I love it, how much I love them. I’m not sure which of us they’re trying to convince more. Loose photos are shoved into my hands as they point to people frozen in time. Their voices grow louder and louder as they tell me the names of the people, about all the wonderful times we spent together. A smile, a nod. Let them think I remember. Inside, though, my gut twists and bile bubbles. I wish they’d all leave me the hell alone.


A stack of plates accumulates on my desk. Piles of photos fill a shoebox in the closet, names scrawled on the backs of them. Lost treasures to be discovered. And forgotten.

Again and again.

Sometimes I dig out the box and look at the moments in time, wondering where the people are now. In the still shots, their arms swathe my shoulders, the edges of our mouths almost touch we’re smiling so wide. I wish down into my bones that I could experience these moments again, remember the joy and happiness. Holding a photo in my hands, I long for the warm touch on my arm from the woman looking up into my eyes. It says her name is Ginny. Beautiful Ginny. I wish I knew her.

I stare at the framed photo of her on my desk. If she loves me, where is she? My hand curls into a fist and scrunches the photo of us, distorting the image. Shaking, I toss it to the floor.

“Why have you left me here to rot!”

I don’t recognize my own voice.


The television blares. No one in the room is paying attention to it.

A man sits slumped on a couch, drool gathering down the front of a stained undershirt. The light in his eyes dimmed to a mere flicker. Near him, a woman sits at a table. Ignoring the puzzle pieces in front of her, she focuses on scratching her head and mumbling under her breath. She works at a scab, and it falls to her lap, leaving a damp red spot on her papery scalp. Bits of skin build up beneath her yellow fingernails as she digs with purpose. Fluorescent lights above bounce off bald spots she’s forgotten.

On the TV, a man wearing a weathered fedora cracks a whip. A cheerful song accompanies his actions as he evades an enemy and forges ahead into an underground tomb. He’s familiar. Bending down, he wedges a knife into the dusty ground to pry out something hidden in the dirt. A treasure. Raising the gem in the air, he smiles, the corners of his mouth stretching wide.

Wheeling myself back to my room, I hope I’m faster than my forgetfulness.


Sitting at the desk, I pull open drawers and rummage through them in a frenzy. A whine escapes my lips as I toss papers and photos to the floor. Then, it appears. Beneath a smattering of folded letters and envelopes, the sharp edge gleams in the light and catches my eye. I think about the man on the screen and wonder what joy he must have felt when he reunited with his lost treasure.

Holding the jeweled hilt with gnarled fingers, I stand it up on the desk. The blade points skyward like the hands of a clock striking midnight. Behind it, Ginny smiles at me from the photo. Nodding at me. Encouraging me.

Why am I sitting here with this tool?

Looking around the quiet room, I’m surrounded by stark white walls. A hospital bed sits empty, crumpled bed covers waiting to swallow me again and again until I’m consumed.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The clock reawakens me. Leaning my head toward the letter opener, I rest the sharp tip against the corner of my left eye. Taking a deep breath, I exhale and drop all my weight against it. Gasping, I revel in an intense wave of pain washing over me. My heart pounds, a rush I haven’t experienced in as long as I can remember.

When did I last feel this alive?

Taking shallow breaths, I lower myself farther down onto the thin blade. My hands grow warm and sticky as a stream of red seeps from my eye socket. Turning my head to search for Ginny, flashes of bright light spiderweb across my vision. I wonder how long it will take until I find my old memories, the buried treasures hiding inside my dusty, foggy head.


Someone is pulling on my shoulders.

Are those roses?

The letter opener’s hilt dangles from my eye. Trembling with anticipation, I’m dizzy. Light-headed. The room grows dim, and I fall forward onto the desk. A blinding light sears through my head. The scream is deafening.


Scenes flicker into view as a movie hidden away in my subconscious comes to life.

My parents wave goodbye as I leave for basic training. Shrapnel pierces my thigh, and I collapse. Ginny enters the med tent, and I forget the pain. Our eyes meet. A spark ignites.

Moment after moment of our lives together unfold on a screen inside my mind—a simple wedding, a baby girl, a life filled to overflowing with love and happiness. Ginny is aging. Frail, unable to care for herself. Hair ratted, dirty. Pushing my hand away, she refuses to eat. Her body withers away until it’s nothing more than an empty husk. She’s lying on a satin bed, makeup covering a face I don’t recognize. My chest aches as a man in a dark suit closes the lid. Please don’t show me any more.

A loud voice snaps me from my tortured reverie. “Move him onto the bed!”

Hands grab me, and my body is raised into the air. My face stretches into a wide smile.

“I remember.”

My heartbeat slows, failing to keep time with the ticking clock.

“I remember.”

Robin Knabel’s short fiction has appeared in The Raven Review, Hope Screams Eternal, Autumn Noir, Summer Bludgeon, and Still of Winter. Her work has placed in the Writer’s Digest Your Story and NYC Midnight challenges and will appear in a CTP anthology.

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