It was there the last time she looked. But this time –
Where the hell did it go? Where did it all go?
She stared at the moulded plastic thing on the counter: gleefully orange, punctured with rows of neat little holes in and around its curved bottom. Cauliflower? Something like that but not that. Panhandle? Nope, not that either.
Brain fog. Stupid name, she thought. As she stood, something up there in her head desperately ran around rooms which used to contain ordered stacks of names, neatly labelled. Now those rooms were either empty or just odd random and, in this case, useless words scattered on the floor.
Nothing foggy at all about whatever this is. Fog you can see. It has a distinct colour even, you could argue, a consistency, as well as a beginning and an end. She had a memory of the sea fret at the beach. Thick, heavy cloud that even in mid-summer descended from nowhere and formed a solid wall between the sand and the shore. Nothing nebulous about it. You couldn’t go through it, you probably could go around it, and it most definitely was there. No, this, whatever this was, was not a fog. This phenomenon was much more cosmic; something that was slowly and steadily swallowing everything she had put together in the world. Science called it a black hole, but it wasn’t really that either, just the closest she could get to it – the absence of anything. Everything.
The twists of pasta in the pan on the hob were dancing on top of the boiling water, some of them leaping out and sliding down the sides.
“I think it’s ready.” Her husband appeared by her side, removed the pan, and poured the steaming yellow bits into the orange thing which he had moved to the sink.
Sieve? No that’s still not it.
She had offered to cook, being that today was a reasonably good day. Something simple. Well, once simple but now planned way in advance with time units allocated to each task – a project plan worthy of a Gantt chart that once upon a time she was paid to produce: –
Rest – 1 hour (at least, bed preferably)
Get ingredients from cupboard and fridge (pasta twirls, one onion already chopped earlier by husband, tin of tomatoes already opened by husband, bottle of olive oil and dried herbs) – 5 minutes
Rest – 5 minutes
Get pans out of cupboard, put pans on hob, put pasta in pan – 1 minute
Turn on hob, put oil in pan, wait a bit, add onions, cook – 2 minutes
Add tomatoes and herbs, cook on low heat – 5 minutes
Fill, boil kettle and add water to pasta – 3 minutes
Rest – 8 minutes
Stir sauce into pasta- 2 minutes
Eat – 20 minutes
Rest – 1 hour (at least, sofa if ok)
As part of this careful operation her husband would have to take over to lift the pans and add the sauce to the pasta. She had tried doing that herself, at first, but that had led to two days in bed unable to move, limbs on fire, and any light escaping from the blinds scything through her head.
Her husband had returned the pasta to the pan and added the sauce, ready for her final cursory yet symbolic stir.
“Smells lovely,” he said. “Can’t wait.”
She was still staring at that thing. Something up there was still running around in her head looking for its name. That in itself was exhausting but she couldn’t stop. This time it felt like if she couldn’t find it, it wouldn’t be long before she lost it all. Like this stupid overly bright orange nameless thing was the only object left in orbit, straining to avoid the overwhelming gravity of that black hole.
“It begins with a C. I am sure of it,” she said to the something tasked with finding and bringing her the word. Maybe that nugget of remembrance could help her hold on. “Maybe try words beginning with C.” It was a technique that she used to use to remember words in another language once. More than one language even in those days. “Ca..Ce..Co…CO. That sounds familiar. The something up there in her head raced around some more, a renewed sense of hope and excitement that it was homing in on –
“Rachel?” Her husband nudged her arm. “Do you want me to finish up?”
Her something somewhere up there in her head stopped. Its instructions were now lost. It’s function…its function…what was its function again?
She stared at the orange thing lying in the sink, but this time couldn’t remember why she was staring at it, or why she was standing there, or why she was in the kitchen in the first place. She could, however, remember being on the beach looking out at that thick grey wall where the sea used to be, hearing hopeful gulls above circling, as they shared a big bag of chips with wooden forks below. August 12th, 2017. She even remembered the date. He was wearing grey shorts with dark-blue stripes, and she was wearing her completely different coloured but still blue maxi sundress with thin straps. Both of them were shivering, now only eating the chips for added warmth.
The sauce bubbled up and fat spits of tomato flew out of the pan.
“It’s ok. I’ll do it.” Her husband gently moved her out of the way and closer to the sink.
She picked up the orange thing and placed it back on the counter. Her arms ached and something in her head began to hammer on something hard and metallic. Her calves felt heavy and the world began to sway. Everything straining to pump upward very predictably drained back down her body, relinquishing its pointless fight with gravity. Being vertical was no longer an option.
She retreated from the kitchen to the sofa. She sat back, raised her legs up onto the footstool and lay her head amongst the strategically placed cushions. She closed her eyes, waiting for the approaching sleep, as the remains of her good day were swallowed whole.
Her mind drifted between awake and asleep. She moved from making pasta on a beach to floating in the far reaches of space. There, she saw a neon-bright orange object circling a vast expanse of nothingness. All she could do was watch and witness this one thing in her existence as it desperately attempted to evade the pull of the void.
After a second or a century, the neon-bright orange object broke its orbit. It moved towards her and, across its path, stars flickered back into existence. Each one faint, but definitely there.
Something somewhere whispered from within: “Colander!”
She opened her eyes. In front of her, on the coffee table, her husband had placed a bowl of pasta. It sat there sending out soft puffs of steam. Her husband was sitting beside her, eyes focused on the TV in front of him.
“Eat up,” he said. “It really is good”.
This short fictional piece depicts a typical example of my experience of living with moderate M.E. For more information about living with M.E. and the devastating impact it has on people’s lives and ability to participate in life, please visit my page Living with M.E.
Written for #MEAwarenessWeek 2023. If you like this and find it helpful, please share.
5 thoughts on “Drained – a short story for M.E. Awareness Week 2023 (5 min read)”
Oh my love!
This is such a thought provoking piece. It truly brings home how your life must be. Turning simple – for most – everyday tasks into literal minutes on one end of a (kitchen) scale, and much need rest & recuperation into the counterbalance on the other!
It was so visceral.
BTW. I didn’t get colander until the “ca, ce, ci, co”. I was headed for sieve all the way…
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Thank you sweetheart. 🙏💖
It’s a mini-mystery novel for people with M.E! 😅 Glad you liked it and you were able to see what it is like for pwME xx
You’re so right. Brain fog isn’t descriptive enough for something that literally steals your words. ❤
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Thank you for taking the time to read my story. 🙏💖 Yes I think brain fog is too inoffensive. It doesn’t capture the violence of the experience xx