Grandpa Climent was sixty years old, schizophrenic, a person abandoned by the world, and a patient in the Rehabilitation Ward. I was the doctor on duty. We were both spending the afternoon before Christmas Eve together. He was dying of melanoma and I was sitting on a chair next to his bed, wondering what to do. Outside, it was warm for December and the dry branches rustled anxiously against the low window with every gust of the strange warm wind. Grandpa Climent was murmuring something quietly and I was thinking about death. His approaching death was making me feel quite lonely that afternoon. The most unpleasant thing was that Grandpa Climent, even though his death was approaching, didn’t want to talk or act clearly, so I didn’t know how to behave towards him. It was hard for me to sympathize with a man who was murmuring such incomprehensible things.
“Placedum – sotirum – sotirus – cries – mother – mom, mom… shhhhhu-t! – mouse – hangman… cat where did you hide the basket,” Grandpa Climent was murmuring, moving his fingers under the bed sheet. His face was yellow and green and contrasted strongly with the white pillow – I was watching him and was thinking about Delacroix and his juxtaposition of colors. I was thinking that if his face was on a background of black velvet, it would have been dramatically pale – like transparent wax. Now, however, it was the color of ochre, like soil in a damp place. In general, I couldn’t sympathise at all with the old man. He was a typical chronic case – completely isolated from the world by his inarticulate quiet words and small rituals. I had observed him over the past few years, the way you observe a weed under the window – with incomprehension. He was not ill, he was just a completely different kind of creature. And just as I couldn’t understand the weed, I also couldn’t understand Climent’s silent murmurs and I wasn’t trying to imagine at all who he had been before he had gotten ill. An actor, as far as I could remember. In the history of his illness, described in a file of completely yellowed sheets of paper, it was mentioned that as a young man, he had worked as a travelling actor. I had no idea what a travelling actor meant. He probably made the rounds of the provincial theatres or played for a pittance in factories and agricultural cooperatives. But now there wasn’t much left of the actor. Maybe just the sensitive, sharp and hysterical nose. Sharp as the tip of an icicle and just as transparent. It’s not a leftover from the actor, this artistic, sharp and transparent nose – I was shaking my head heavily. It’s not a sign of fine sensitivity, but a sign of encroaching death, I was telling myself and was wrinkling my forehead with weariness. The noses of people dying here in the Rehabilitation Ward become just as thin and pale as anywhere else in the world.
So Grandpa Climent hadn’t been sick in a literal sense. He hadn’t even been sick in any sense. He was insane and his insanity did not make him more miserable than others, nor did it disturb his life much. He hadn’t really had any kind of a job for years, he had become a part of the inventory of the Rehabilitation Ward, but when I thought deeply and seriously, when I put aside my prejudice just for a moment, I discovered that he lived just as calmly and probably just as fully as any other man. Actually, a lot more fully than many others. Here I was – thirty years old, working as a doctor, but quite tormented by this job, I didn’t see any sense or prospects in it, the future frightened me. For all that time – now, sitting here next to the dying Climent, and a moment ago, when I had been crossing the brown December park towards the Rehabilitation Ward, and two months ago and six months ago – I had felt like a person who was wasting his time, who wasn’t doing anything significant or real for himself, for people, for the world. That is to say, I had the terrible feeling that my life was pouring out like sand between my dry fingers and there wasn’t the moisture of meaning on them, so that something from it could stick to me. I felt like I wasn’t helping anybody, but just observing with boredom the pitiful progress of random people’s fate while my own fate was unfolding, observed by Lord knows whom. I was hoping that my fate, never mind that it was unfolding without my participation, was being observed by God and that he was pleased with me, but when I stopped to think about it, I would tell myself, wouldn’t it be better if I managed my own fate by myself instead of leaving it to unfold just like that, wouldn’t it be better if I paid attention to my soul and lived my own life, instead of spending my time in absurd and vain attempts to resolve others’ fates? Grandpa Climent was a perfect example of how I wasn’t doing anything significant. Ever since I could remember, he had lived in one and the same way, wrapped up in himself and completely incomprehensible, in spite of fruitless attempts to treat him with medication. Conversational therapy was out the question. His murmuring was completely incomprehensible and his eyes wandered into a different world. And the medicine had as much effect on him as it would have on a mountain rock covered with moss. It was as if I was putting the blue fluperin and the pink haloperidol on the mossy rock and praying to some forest deity of insanity to change it. But it didn’t change. And it wasn’t as if someone wanted it to change. Grandpa Climent was fine the way he was. The medicine in the Rehabilitation Ward was given to everyone so as not to disrupt tradition. The same way one brings cheap flowers to the graves of forgotten relatives.
Now, however, Grandpa Climent was sick. He was really sick and his sickness had nothing to do with insanity. He didn’t get sick much. Three years ago he had suffered from pneumonia, but now his sickness was something else completely: now it was something you really could die from, because melanoma is something you can die from. It is such a malignant cancer that it metastasizes into other tumors. And his melanoma, a spot on his back, had metastasized into all of Grandpa Climent’s internal organs and his whole body was shrinking day by day in proportion to the growing melanoma. Grandpa Climent and the melanoma were inversely proportional. And I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see Grandpa Climent turning into a melanoma, because when the melanoma reached critical mass and there wasn’t enough left of Grandpa Climent, Grandpa Climent would die. And apparently today was the day when there wouldn’t be enough matter left of the old geezer for him to be alive or whatever he was now. A mossy and mysterious forest rock. Yes, now that I was looking at him, with his yellow-brownish cheeks, he reminded me of the rocks, covered with those dry yellow lichen, which are found on the mountain slopes. Grandpa Climent was dying and murmuring: “Stars and rays, stars and rays, they run far… reindeer on the left, right…”
I got up and strolled around the room. I didn’t want to stay with him, but I couldn’t leave him like that. Actually, I could. No one would reproach me if I left him to die in peace, while I got caught up with my paperwork. Actually, this would have been more normal.
The phone in the doctor-on-duty’s office rang and this was a cosy sound, a magical sound, a nervous sound, because it passed through the old walls of the Rehabilitation Ward and snapped me out of my melancholic state, it was like a boiled-over kettle. I swiveled sharply on my healthy doctor’s feet, bumped slightly into the door frame – I was so strong and reckless with my health – and reached the phone in five big steps.
“Doctor Terziyski, what’s happening… are there any problems?” The voice of the head doctor came from the other end.
Let me say a couple of words about the head doctor. Doctor I. G. was an enormous, massive, heavy doctor, in that middle age where probably all people are after youth and before they grow feeble. He was probably around fifty-five or forty-nine, something like that. His belly was as big as the belly of an African buffalo, the same as his head. Also, he himself looked like an African buffalo. The African buffalo is a very aggressive animal, it has always made me uneasy with its brooding rudeness, trotting in its narrow yard in the zoo. Doctor I. G.’s character also reminded me a lot of an African buffalo – he was dark, headstrong and suspicious. He was quite a wise doctor. Wisdom is what I call that heavy resignation, that resignation with a sigh and an energetic meaningless act, the resignation in the face of everything in life that is inevitable, on top of everything. I. G. sighed heavily, made decisions, carried them out, resigned to the endless losses and continued forward like a steam-roller, running over each uncertainty. Just like an African buffalo, as I said.
Every time I. G. called the office when I was on duty I got horribly tense, my heart split and started rumbling rapidly in my throat. Because he quite naturally put my doctorly self-control to the test with his every word and question. Every phone call or meeting with him was like appearing before a military commission. A military commission, where you appear naked. Naked, with painted toenails.
And now he was asking me what was happening. What can I tell you, doctor? – I got mad in the pit of my stomach and at the tips of my hair, which was standing on end, I was so flustered – what are you expecting to happen and me to do – I felt sad and didn’t say anything, I just silently held the receiver tightly with a fist as hard as wood.
“Well,” I said finally. “Grandpa Climent is in a terminal state, I think that he has fallen into whispering delirium, caused by the brain metastasis…”
“Are you sure it’s whispering delirium?” asked I. G. and I could sense dissatisfaction in his voice at my childish desire to surprise him with a strange diagnosis. Whispering delirium was described in the classical textbooks from the beginning of the 20th century. No one used that term anymore – for the state of a clouded mind, where there is a typical meaningless whispering murmur, a sign of approaching death. I. G. didn’t like when someone acted as if they were too educated, using rare terms, like a precocious child. However, he took up the game anyway. We were playing doctor. And what else were we supposed to do, since we were doctors, for crying out loud! He had been in the game of doctor for quite a long time and maybe that irritated him even more, that he had to accept this stupid game at such an advanced age, because of some youngster. To exchange bombastic diagnoses, after it’s clear even to the cooks in the kitchen that Grandpa Climent will die in a day. Or in an hour, or probably not – schizophrenics don’t seem to be in a hurry to die. Except when they commit suicide.
“So… how do you know that it’s exactly… a whispering delirium?” I. G. said the rare term with displeasure.
“Because he is constantly whispering and murmuring something, his hands are moving on the sheet and he is totally torn… I mean mentally,” I answered and my throat tightened from these explanations. Was there any need for these details, when it was clear even to the birds alighted on the warm chimney of the Ward that Grandpa Climent was dying.
“Doctor Terziyski, look now… is the patient in any pain?”
“I don’t think it’s very strong, or at least it’s not clear.”
“Eh! How do you know that it’s not very strong… come on now!” said I. G. with great annoyance and there was the sound of him lighting a cigarette. “If he is suffering a lot…”
“Yes?” I totally stiffened, as though I hadn’t heard what he had said.
“If he suffering a lot…give him two ampoules diazepam… Intravenously…” I. G. blurted out, with light, perfectly measured carelessness. His voice sounded so incredibly careless and natural. Just as if we were brick-layers, building a chapel outside the town and he was suggesting that we abandon our work for the day and go swim in the nearest reservoir, where young female tourists were staying.
“Yes… I see…” I murmured. “However, in his condition… they would oppress the respiratory centre and it’s dangerous… I have no idea, but they might…”
“It’s not a mistake of the art,” I. G. said calmly.
“All right,” I said very slowly and thoughtfully and stared at the wall. I didn’t know what to think at all. I loosened myself from the fatigue and repulsive weakness. “So I will give two ampoules of diazepam intravenously… to Climent.”
“OK… and call me if there are any problems,” finished I. G. and quietly ended the call from the other side – a hundred and fifty meters away from me, at the end of the mute park.
I went back into the room. He was completely quiet. He was murmuring, but quietly, whispering. It was as if his voice had thinned and his whispering had become a thin whimper. It was getting darker outside and in the falling twilight his whimper sounded sad and ominous.
“Hey, Grandpa Climent…” I said quietly, because I felt discomfort at my crazy lonely voice. I felt discomfort, because my voice was not directed towards Climent, but hung just like that – in the air. My words were more absurd than his murmur. He continued murmuring his syllables and I listened, because we had started a dialogue – we were both talking to no one…
“Hey, Grandpa Climent… I will give you a shot now… and you will fall asleep.”
“Stars and rays… stars and rays… nails in the hand, deer in the woods.”
“Do you know who I am, eh, Climent?” I asked him and felt a weak, repulsive terror. I realized that I was asking him because I wanted to know if he knew what I was about to do. A mystical fear in the face of death enveloped me.
“Stars, deer, sack… beds and the winter spreads…” Grandpa Climent was humming. I stared at his face. He reminded me of someone.
“Here, here, knocks, knocks, here… a little sleigh, flies, stars and rays,” the old man was murmuring and was whistling with his chest, with his nose and with his whole body – he was clogged with metastases, death made him transparent and immaterial and I had to strongly differentiate from him and to tell myself: there – I’m alive and he’s not one of my people anymore – he is from the team of the dead and I should not think of him the same way I think of myself… I should not accept him as I accept myself or as I accept the others… I should have drawn the line between me and him this way, but I couldn’t. He really reminded me of someone. I stared at him again.
Yes – he looked like… He looked like me. Me – as a very old man. How hadn’t I noticed it? Of course. Just half an hour ago he was the schizophrenic Grandpa Climent, who wasn’t noticed by anyone. By me, by the world or by people. Only some of the old nurses noticed him. Now that he had become my concern, I stared at him with the painful impressionability of an owner. Half an hour ago he was dying by himself and now I had to participate in this activity. And as I stared at him, I saw myself – as an old loner. Was I ready to kill myself?
“Grandpa Climent… I have to give you a shot,” I said and huffed in dissatisfaction, because it was shameful to talk to him like that, when he didn’t understand me. But it didn’t feel right not to explain to him. I knew that I was not explaining to Climent, but to our eternal Observer, the One, who we all – both the schizophrenics and the normal people – know stands somewhere, constantly observing with his bright eyes.
And I didn’t even try to think about I. G.’s advice. The thing about the two ampoules of diazepam was precisely that – advice, not an order. The old man was dying alone and was suffering and there were a few hours or days between his rest in the heavens and his current whimpering malady that I could eliminate. It’s not a mistake of the art – I. G. had said very clearly. I had not thought of those two ampoules, because of my indecisiveness. I was not concerned too much whether it was murder or not. It would have been murder if I had just stood there and looked at him. Everything would have been murder. So everything was clear. I was just feeling enveloped by a mystical fear. Like the fear of the dark.
“Grandpa Climent,” I said and leaned over him again. “Who do you think I look like?”
“Sleigh clanks, stars, rays,” began Grandpa Climent. “Like me, like me, like me,” he raised his voice.
“Aha!” I shuddered with terror – he had answered me. “Like you… like you? Who do I look like, Grandpa Climent?”
“Stars and rays, like me, like me, like me.”
“Should I give you a shot to sleep, Grandpa Climent?” I asked and exerted myself, so that I could provoke his real answer with my willpower – I had the feeling that the answer to my question depended on my, and not his, willpower. Well he… He hadn’t talked sense in years!
“Give me, give me… stars and rays, it’s snowing outside… you should also come, star rays,” Climent whistled with his chest and nose. And as if before my eyes he had bent beneath his black metastases and started trembling.
“Am I not committing a sin in doing this, Grandpa Climent?” I asked him and exerted myself, because I already knew – he could not answer me – I answered myself, but through his mouth. He had said what I would have said… Or I would have wanted to say.
“Alive and well, death and sin, stars and rays, it hurts a lot, make gifts…” the old man exhaled through his teeth. Besides me, he reminded me of someone else. He reminded me of Santa Claus. An absurd, dying Santa Claus, who was drunk on Christmas cocktails and now hummed about stars and rays in his whispering delirium.
“Should we end it, Grandpa Climent?”
“Yes… stars, yes rays… into the sky you should fall…” And at that moment I saw that he was me and that I was him and with his death I would die as well, because with the death of one, everyone else would die and death was too scary and unnatural to have existed…
“… and if I don’t induce it immediately, it will unleash itself and will destroy everything and the only salvation from it will be to outdistance it and induce it. And that is not a mistake of the art,” I continued out loud, without realizing it.
“Yes be… yes say… star rays, it flies outside…” Grandpa Climent was squeaking, completely feebly.
“Will you be mad, Grandpa Climent?” I asked and felt shocked – I was talking to myself and expecting an answer. His body was a receiver of my thoughts, I was expecting my answer. But when you look at it – could that happen? Could I use the body of the insane Climent to talk to myself? Could he be my doubts and terrifying contradictions? And isn’t everyone like that – the way Climent is right now. Containers into which I pour my content? But no… it’s too complicated, it sounds like simple psychoanalysis. “You won’t get mad, will you, Grandpa Climent?”
“No, son,” Grandpa Climent answered me completely reasonably and I was not surprised. I peered into his face, which had flushed slightly on the nose and cheeks with some unknown pre-death liveliness.
I went to the closed and locked surgery, squeezed like a burglar between the one-foot-wide opening for handing out medicine by the kitchen and went inside. I took two syringes, a needle and two brown ampoules out of the drawer and soaked a cotton ball with alcohol. I squeezed back through the opening, closed the window and went back to Climent. He was crying. He had never cried – the nurses knew that – they would have noticed if he had cried during these thirty long years of insanity. The nurses said that he had never cried, just as he had never said anything sensical and had not expressed anything – ever. But he was crying now. But as I had understood it – now I was crying.
However I wasn’t crying at all. My eyes were dry, I was Doctor Terziyski. I lifted a hand and checked my dry eyes.
I took his hand and found one bluish, pale, weak vein in his yellow little arm. The old man had begun to look like a corpse more than a corpse. I realized that after he died he would be better and would acquire a nicer look. He was silent now. I tightened the orange rubber band above his elbow and tapped on the vein with my middle finger. It swelled a little. I put the needle on the syringe, broke the ampoule and sucked the liquid into the syringe. I broke the second ampoule and sucked up the liquid again.
“Should I give you the shot, Grandpa Climent?” I asked and laid the needle on the vein, ready to usher it in the black blood with one slight plunging slip.
“Stars and rays… it doesn’t hurt anymore… it doesn’t hurt anymore, sleighs and raysm” Climent murmured. Why didn’t he want to answer me? Maybe because I didn’t want to make the decision right at the end. I had made it so far, but I now was hesitating. Climent was hesitating. His empty insanity was talking and I didn’t need it. But then he moved and “End, put an end” he murmured and curled up.
“All right,” I pressed on the skin, the needle entered and I pushed the plunger of the syringe and the diazepam entered the old vein. Towards the black metastases and the old brain, filled with shattered thoughts of stars and rays. The diazepam reached the brain in seconds. My head spun. I got up and staggered. Climent opened his mouth and eyes and stared vigorously at the ceiling and his eyes became somewhat shinier. The sharp gristle in his throat gave a loud snored and began to rock back and forth. And then it stopped.
I went to the mirror and looked at myself. I was pale and tormented. My black beard had sharpened. My black hair had curled with sweat. Red spots had come up on my pale cheeks. My dark face was in strong contrast to the old man’s white beard which was pointed towards the ceiling and which asalso reflected in the mirror behind me. I looked like Santa Claus – as a young man. And lying behind me was me – as an old man. I had given myself a Christmas present. The kind that everyone wants – the kind that we can’t admit that we want, because if we do, we won’t get it.
I looked at myself again. Yes – Santa Claus – as a young man.
I lay down on the bed next to the old man and folded my hands on my chest – just like him.
“Grandpa Climent… Grandpa Climent…” I called him and stared at the ceiling. He, of course, didn’t answer a thing.