the short story project


Val Goorha

The Mote of Dust


Motes of dust ride crepuscular rays onto the illuminated, cerulean floor; a tower of lumber, decked with lurid tinsel and dolorous baubles, serves as a desuetude reminder of the holiday everyone has forgotten; a child, with sedulous craftsmanship, adds to a tower of wooden blocks. Everyone is waiting, no one is talking – this room has pried the breath from the throats of its occupants and the air has become brackish mixture of gases.

Fear is hewn into the faces of these people and tears macerate the veneer. A man in sweeping blue enters, and they all stand. The tower of bricks tumble onto the ground. In the corner of the room a girl watches these people. She watches as the older women with the dour expression yanks the little boy into a standing position, her long, clawed nails digging into the skin of his arm. She watches the younger girl – the one with the ripped jeans skirt and camisole – grab the hand of a dark-skinned man whose eyes are coroscating with tears as he asks the question: How is she, doctor?

The girl in the corner of the room contemplates these people with unwavering interest. The doctor whispers words to them, – Tear. Clamp. Surgery. Heart. Unconscious. Sign- before producing a pen and an accompanying paper.

The dark-skinned man grips the pen, his expression reflecting the stygian workings of his mind, and signs, with a shaking hand, the consent form. The older woman lets out of sound, – something between a groan and gasp – before collapsing onto one of the grey, cushioned seats that line the room.

The girl in the corner of the room, who’s watching these proceedings, feels the sudden urge to reach out a sympathetic hand to the woman. She doesn’t. No one is paying attention to her; to them she could simply be just another ornament hanging on the feathery leaves of the tree beside her.

The doctor leaves the room, pulling back his long, nut-brown hair into a surgeon’s cap and tying the hanging ribbons of his scrubs. The occupants of the room slide back into their seats. The little boy grabs a couple of the fallen blocks and takes a seat beside the jeans-skirt-girl, bouncing the wooden things on his skinny legs as if they were action figures engaging in a macabre battle.

The girl in the corner of the room watched him with a small smile; how fun it would be to play with the little boy, to distract him from the despondent atmosphere.

“Melodie put that away,” the dark-skinned man admonished the jeans-skirt-girl. She tucked a phone back into the the pocket of her skirt. The older women glanced at the dark-skinned man and Melodie with widened eyes that seemed to scream: STOP TALKING! To her, silence was an escape from reality or perhaps the silence let the women believe that time had stopped – that whatever news was imminent may be stalled by the omission of words.
“What did they say she had?” Melodie whispered to the dark-skinned man, side-eyeing the old woman, as if to quell her with a rigid stare.

“Pericardial infusion – no, effusion,” the man responded in a throaty susurration. “She has fluid around her heart they said. They need to drain it.”

The man clasped his hands together to stop them from shaking and stared hard at the wall opposite him. No one looked at the girl in the corner of the room; for all the thought they gave her she could’ve been just another mote of dust floating in the illumination of the sun.

“Is she going to die?” the little boy asked. The two blocks he had been playing were lying on the ground now; the battle they had fought had ended in perdition.

“No,” the older women hissed suddenly at the boy, a wrinkle on her forehead standing out provocatively. “Your sister is not going to die. Don’t talk about such things.”

Her back, which had stood out rigidly when she had spoken, settled back into the curves of the chair. The girl in the corner of the room shifted uncomfortably in her own seat. She felt like an imposter amongst this intimate family. She stood up – they didn’t look at her. She walked a few paces into the middle of the room. The dark-skinned man seemed to stare through her, maintaining his intense gaze with the obverse wall. She stepped over the pile of fallen blocks and walked towards the exit, but it was blocked, quite suddenly, by the doctor from before.

His nut-brown hair was stuck to a sweaty forehead and his eyes gleamed rather forcefully as he looked past the girl next to the exit and stared, instead, at the family. He ignored the girl and walked over to them.

The girl next to the exit, taken aback by her lack of acknowledgement, cleared her throat – at least she tried to. Nothing but a soft guttural sound escaped from her lips and even that was not noticed. She tried to remember who it was she was waiting here for – no name occured to her. She tried to remember her own name – no name occured to her.

“… and I’m very sorry for your loss,” the doctor was saying to the family. The older women’s lips were clamped shut – she had broken her silence and the inevitable news had come. The dark-skinned man stared unblinkingly at a spot a few inches right of the doctor’s head – the tears that had soused his eyes had been frozen by the brackish air.

“We did everything possible but we were unable to save Hadley. I’m very sorry.” The doctor left the room, and the girl next to the exit tried to reach out to him, to call for help, but she couldn’t move. She just watched as he walked away, surgeon’s cap in hand, the incarnadine ropes of his scrubs swinging helplessly.
Melodie was holding the little boy, whose face was red but not tear-stained like the rest. His youth protected him from the news – his sister had died, but no one had told him that to die meant to lose the macabre battle against death.

The girl next the exit tied to speak. She opened her mouth. Nothing came out. She was scared, so she screamed, loud and wide. Crimson seeped from her mouth – dark red and black globs spattered onto the ground. No one looked at her, but she knew now, intuitively, that she was no intruder in their life. She did not recognize their faces but she knew that she had once belonged to them. She had once been intrinsically entwined in their lives – once been the Hadley that they weeped for at this moment. But now she was nothing more than a bauble on the desuetude tree in the corner of the room; nothing more than a mote of dust floating in the dimming sunlight.


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