Nothing beats a fresh pair of socks. Roll them out, slip them on. Let the fabric stretch over your wrinkled and stinking flesh. Allow the softness to caress you like her fingertips used to do. No matter how far we humped those ochre hills, come sunrise, my new socks would feel like a homecoming. The gentle touch, the uncoiling savour of washing powder, soaking up the pus of sand-ringed blisters. Jiggle your toes. Relish the moment. Give me a fresh pair and I could go all day.
I can’t think straight thoughts; they whirl and circle and blast off into space in a shower of sparks and molten lead. They hurtle back down to my brain, colliding as they do, again and again, until only broken splinters arrive in my tiny, locked-up universe. I keep repeating myself. Outside, a breeze rustles the trees; the carcass of a fat fly lies on the windowsill. A black smudge on a blank space. It twitches. They give me stuff to calm down.
My flesh rots. The life-breathing machines beep, the fluid-sucking ones go chug-tsss. Every fortnight, they dig the leftover grit out of my pockmarked skin. They rub balm on my ragged scars, picking away the scabs. They feed me through a straw. I shit in a pan. People are strangers, even when they come and say, my baby boy, and cry.
At sunrise they come on squeaky slippers and take time to unroll the thick, white O’s. I swear, the things look like sterilized prayer caps. Or gauzed condoms. Not that I have a use for those anymore. Up you go, they say, or, it won’t hurt. But it always does when they wrap them around my raw stumps. They smile and say, don’t worry, medicine and miracles. I don’t want them to feel bad, so I smile back. I jiggle my phantom toes, let the tautness sink on a skin that is no longer there. What a homecoming. Every morning, they bring me a fresh pair of socks. I can go all day with them. All day.
Stephan Meijerhof is Dutch, and after many international travels, now resides on the beautiful island of Mallorca, Spain. His work has appeared on Every Day Fiction, with ‘A Touch of Blood’ achieving a Highly Commended in the Winter 400 flash fiction competition at TSS Publishing. Twitter: @smeijerhof121.