Rite of Passage by Nicholas Matthews

On July 8th, 1993, the countdown began.

As I frolicked in the fluid, a long tube pumped essential nutrients into my swollen belly. The sounds of muffled cries reverberated through my chamber of solitude, then the walls started to shake around me. I buried my face in my gut and clung to the sticky film of my pouch. I was scared, for all I knew was life inside these walls. Then a piercing light shone through. My wrinkled hands gripped tighter and tighter and tighter, until my sac burst and I made my journey into the unknown. Of course, I don’t remember every single detail of my birth; I was just playing with my imagination.

They say the first words that you’ll ever hear stay hidden deep inside your subconscious until you hear them again. The words trigger a familiar nerve impulse in your cortex, signaling an alarm to your temporal lobe, where the sensation is detected as a past memory. But since the memory is so deep-seated in your DNA, only the ones who are thinking of their birth at the same time can hear the alarm go off. “Hand me the scalpel.” In an anesthetic-induced stupor, I heard my surgeon mutter these words. My cerebral nerves rung sirens through my head and I remembered. “Hand me the scalpel.” Of course! The doctor delivering me must’ve needed a scalpel to cut off the umbilical cord… and now my surgeon is using it to slice my insides. So why was I thinking of my birth when I was so close to the end? Because…

On March 19th, 2060, the countdown began.

Three days before the surgery.

I was eating mushy food. Mushed chicken. Mushed pork. They even mushed my peas. “God dammit woman, I can chew my own peas.” She didn’t listen, No one did. Every meal she served, Joyce did the catwalk. Sashay, sashay, twirl and never look back at the gawking crowd. The crowd, who secretly longed to engage her eyes, but instead, suffered the manikin’s blank glare.

I found a hair in my pea pudding. Probably from Joyce’s long mane of curls or maybe it was one of her fake eyelashes; they were both similar in length. I hate hair in my food. All servers should wear hairnets, especially at a hospital, where they preach sanitation. Everywhere I go in this damned infirmary there are disinfectants in little squirt bottles for those nurses, yet they let us eat their own head lice. I ate my meals alone in my private room. Gripping my spoon, I edged the thick paste slowly into my mouth. I tried to swallow but instead I gagged and spewed the paste back onto my tray. How embarrassing, I couldn’t even choke down mushed peas. The next day they hooked me to an IV to pump essential nutrients into my swollen vein.

My only daughter, Dianne, came to visit me today. I waited and waited to see her beautiful face and gentle form. Her visits were the only thing keeping me going. As soon as I heard her footsteps in the hallway, I wriggled out of my bed covers. For fuck’s sake, I told Joyce to stop tucking in the damn bed sheets. I slithered into my slippers and waited restlessly for the door to swing open. But instead the footsteps faded and all I could hear was muffled sobs from outside my walls. They echoed in my room, tormenting me. I knew the doctor had caught her just before she could waltz in with her mask of exuberance. The doctor briefed her my report. My condition was terminal and my surgery could turn fatal. He was blunt but he counseled her through the pain. You could tell he has been death’s messenger and birth’s bearer. The voices vanished and the door never budged. I could understand if she didn’t want to view me in my open casket, it would only make her more upset. I hate when she sees me in my hospital gown anyway. It’s so undignified; I don’t want to die with half my ass exposed. Ahh, what better way than a tangent to suppress any unpleasant emotions?

That night I couldn’t sleep, I was alone but I felt death’s presence lurking over me.  So I listened to my Sounds of the Ocean tape. I pretended I was on the Hawaiian coast sipping on strawberry dakaris and dragging my feet through silky smooth sand. I imagined the shoreline creeping up on my fragile body and drifting me out to the sleepy sea. But instead of floating along the waves, I was being pulled down by the undertow. Pulling me deeper and deeper into unconsciousness.

I woke up with my pillow in my mouth and all I wanted was a last meal before the execution. I just wanted a nice tender steak, I didn’t care if it had to be grinded to a bloody pulp and served as a smoothie. But no! There’s no food twelve hours before surgery. What’s the difference if I’d rather die choking on grizzle than my own blood?

“Mr. Smith, they’re ready for you.” Joyce has been my nurse for two years and she still doesn’t call me by my first name. And I had a feeling it wasn’t out of respect. Ahh, seniors: the prophets of yesterday’s society and the lepers of today’s society. Well, we were all deformed and discoloured with hunches, crooked joints, blemishes; you name it. But that doesn’t mean our souls are decaying too. In the words of Sir Oscar Wilde, the soul is born old, but grows young. And the body is born young and grows old. The tragedy is we treasure our livelihood more than our life force.

They put me under the anesthetic and the walls began to shake until I became docile. I buried my head in my shoulder and clung to the covers of my operating table. I was scared. For all I knew was life on earth. “Hand me the scalpel.” Sirens shot off. The memory. The doctor made the incision and I became lost in a trance. Everything was dark, ‘til a piercing light shone through. I gripped tighter and tighter and tighter, with my wrinkled hands until my heart burst from exhaustion. And I made my journey into the unknown.

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