IT’S NOT AS if I went to bed one night and woke up
the next morning as the living dead, but that’s how
it seemed at the time. It’s only now that I can piece
together the clues and see the slow, miniscule changes that
transformed me into what I am today.
What can I tell you–I was seventeen with my whole
life waiting. If anyone told me then that men’s eyes
would slide off me, I would have laughed. I was beautiful.
People’s eyes followed me as I walked, their gazes
caressing me as I strode ahead. Men, women, it didn’t
matter. They all wanted me. Men wanted to fuck me and women
wanted to be me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The day that led to the awakening was like any other. I
spent the whole day staring at the ceiling. I heard them
that night. Leah worked the night shift and she would sneak
her boyfriend Dave in. They would shriek with laughter as
they wound their way around the nursing home.
Leah led Dave around the ward and told him about all the
residents. She didn’t go to the ambulatory ward because
she and Sue were feuding. In a forty-bed facility there
were supposed to be two nurses with one in charge. Since
the third resigned six months ago management hadn’t
hired someone else so Sue and Leah split the wards and stayed
in their respective corners.
She gave him the tour of the non-ambulatory ward and they
walked around my room where the six acquired brain injury
patients were, myself included. Most of the patients were
brain dead, but the power of hope is an amazing thing.
Old Marge, in the last bed of my ward, has been in a coma
for 15 years. Her daughter visits her every Wednesday. She
speaks to Marge as if she was still alive, telling her about
her life and acting as if her mother talked back.
Old Marge was the exception to the rule. Most of us were
the living dead. The ones everyone had forgotten about.
Sometimes I wondered how my family spoke about me. Had they
already killed me off by telling people I was dead? Or maybe
they still thought I might come home and instead had told
people I was living overseas?
Sometimes I imagined my fantasy life to pass time. I lived
in London and worked as an art gallery guide, a job that
wasn’t demanding and allowed me to dress well. Every
night I went on dates with different men. On weekends I
went to Paris to check out the fashions and hung around
cafés while handsome French men flirted with me.
With the trust fund from Daddy I’d be able to milk
a good living until I found a rich husband.
I hadn’t received any visitors since I was admitted.
The first three months I was in hospital my mother came
to visit me every couple of weeks. The first time she came
with Dr Harmer, our family physician. He talked to the staff
about my progress. As they watched my unmoving body he shook
his head sadly.
Mum never talked to me the way Marge’s daughter did,
as if I was fully functioning and unable to respond. Instead
she used sit by the bed and I would listen to her muffled
When she left the last time she leaned down and kissed me
on the cheek. I heard her whisper, “It’s too
hard, too hard,” and then she left. It wasn’t
until months later that I realised she meant it was too
hard to come and see me.
When I try to recall her face, I can’t see it. I know
she has red hair and blue eyes like me, but instead of my
mother’s face I see Leah who has the same colouring.
As the person I see every day I know her face better than
I do mine. In another life we could have been sisters.
When she worked day shift until six months ago Leah conducted
physical therapy on me. I watched her as she moved my leg
to my chest and behind my buttocks or moved my arms and
massaged my fingers.
When Leah worked on me it was my one opportunity to actually
see a human being. In the beginning when I managed to catch
her eye she would smile at me. In my mind I smiled back,
but after two and half years I became just another chore.
It’s been so long since I saw myself that I don’t
remember what I look like exactly. My features merged with
Leah’s and we became one. When I imagine my fantasy
life it is her face and body I imagine.
Since Leah moved to night shift I don’t get physical
therapy anymore. The nursing home is understaffed with a
constant rotation of temping agency nurses that can barely
manage the daily tasks.
I’ve become good at recognising who’s speaking,
putting together the story of their lives from the snatches
of conversation I hear. That’s the only advantage
of being considered the living dead. People talk in front
of you as if you don’t exist. Without a voice and
functioning limbs you’re a non-human.
That’s how I heard Leah and Dave on the night it started.
I recognised her quiet murmur and tinkling laugh as they
wound their way through the ward.
“This is Roberta,” Leah told him. “Roberta
has been in a coma for three weeks following a car accident.
She has no brain activity and we’re expecting the
family to turn off life support tomorrow.”
Then they reached me. Leah stood at the end of my bed as
she talked but I couldn’t see her. “This is
Delia,” she said. “She’s been here for
three years. No one knows what’s afflicted her. She
lost all mobility and speech and hasn’t regained either,
but her brain is active.” I heard her take a step. “I’ll
show you something,” she said to Dave.
Her hands were on my face and she turned me. I saw her standing
there in her jeans and t-shirt, her hair loose and mussed.
The nurses were supposed to wear a uniform of dark blue
pants and a white shirt, and have their hair tied back.
Over the past six months Leah had slowly broken all the
Leah peered at me with a frown on her face. Dave stood behind
her and I could see him over her shoulder. “Hi Delia,” Leah
I felt an unfamiliar rush of pleasure at being spoken to.
“Are you having a hard night tonight?” Leah
‘Every night is a hard night,’ I answered in
“Fuck,” Dave said. “It’s almost
like she can understand what you’re saying.”
Leah brushed my hair off my face. I couldn’t feel
her touch and wasn’t able to describe if it was gentle
or tender. I only knew she was doing it because the tendril
of hair that lay across my eye disappeared.
“Yes,” Leah said as she turned my head back
and I was once again staring at the ceiling. “Although
I hope she’s not.” I heard her voice fading
as they walked away. “Can you imagine if she was aware
of the fact that she couldn’t move or speak? It would
be worse than death.”
‘It’s much worse than that,’ I responded.
They came back some time later. I couldn’t tell you
how many nights passed. I had no way of keeping track of
time or any interest. When you have nowhere to go and nothing
to do, time is irrelevant.
“No,” Leah murmured. “I don’t think
“Come on babe,” I heard Dave say. “It
will be great.”
They didn’t talk for a little bit, but I heard moaning,
the rifling of clothes, a slurping noise and imagined them
clutched in each other’s embrace. There were footsteps
as someone approached my bed. Dave’s face appeared
above me, a little smirk on his lips.
“Move out of the way,” Leah said as she pushed
we’re going to do it, we’d better start.” She
lifted the bed until I was sitting up. I wanted to laugh
from joy. I hadn’t sat up since coming to hospital.
Dave leaned on the empty bed across from me. As Leah worked
on placing pillows around me so I didn’t slide off,
he unzipped his fly and took out his cock. It was already
engorged and as I watched it became fully erect.
Leah finished and turned to face him. “I see you’ve
already started, Big Boy,” she murmured as she approached
him. He pushed her down to her knees by pressing on her
shoulders. I saw her head bobbing as she gave him head.
His eyes stayed on mine the whole time.
I guess you’re probably wondering why I didn’t
close my eyes in disgust. If you’d been the living
dead for three years you’d understand. The worse thing
was the absence of stimulation. I’d spent the last
three years staring at a blank ceiling attempting to imagine
myself away. Now that there was something to watch, I didn’t
want to miss a moment.
Dave pulled Leah up and threw her across the bed on her
stomach. He ripped her panties down and shoved himself into
her. She squealed and squeezed the bed tighter. He fucked
her hard, his hips holding her down so she didn’t
fly off the bed. They moaned and squealed as they continued
into the night, changing positions, changing rhythms.
When they finished Leah adjusted my bed. As the bed whirred
and dropped me onto my back, Dave blew me a kiss. Over the
next few (months? years? Eons?) this continued. Until the
night he came by himself.
He turned my head. “Hi baby doll,” he said as
he leaned down. “Leah’s asleep so it’s
just you and me.” He lifted my bed until I was sitting
up. He went to stand in front of me and undid his zip.
‘Oh, great,’ I thought. ‘Now he wants
me to watch him jerk off.’
Lifting my nightgown he revealed my naked legs. As he pushed
it past my hips I toppled slightly forward and stared in
wonder at my pale legs. The nurses washed me in the bed
and moved me around. Sometimes I would see my hand above
my face when they lifted my arm to clean my armpit, but
I hadn’t seen anything beyond that for years. My legs
looked like stringy overcooked noodles. I remembered they
had been lean and muscly.
Dave had managed to push my nightgown up and propped me
back against the pillows. He undid the buttons of my nightgown
and I saw my breasts. “Beautiful,” he murmured
as he touched them.
‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘They are.’ My
breasts had been my pride and joy. They looked almost too
on my long, thin frame. I used to cup them when I masturbated
late at night, marvelling at the smooth, soft skin. Gravity
hadn’t affected them. They were still plump and round.
I saw the top of his head as he bent down and suckled my
breast. I couldn’t feel it, but I imagined it. I remembered
my boyfriend Tommy and the way he had spent long moments
stroking and sucking my breasts. I thought I could recall
the sensation of desire that I had felt, but it faded before
I could grasp it.
He knelt on the bed and I saw his erection up close. The
head was purple, the skin stretched taught. He slipped a
condom on and rubbed it with lubricant. He poured some on
his hand and it disappeared between my legs. I assumed he
was inserting his slick fingers inside me, but I couldn’t
Then he awkwardly bent over me and I heard him moan. I was
jostled in the bed, my arms flopping around like a demented
puppet. I started tipping over to the side. He didn’t
notice until my head was hanging over the side, my hair
floating around my face.
“Fuck,” he muttered as he pulled me back.
He pulled me to the edge of the bed by the legs and lifted
my knees up. I was once again staring at the ceiling as
I was pushed across the bed. Suddenly he was kneeling on
each side of me, his erection bobbing across my neck. I
felt horror as I imagined choking to death, then a moment
of relief as I thought of the end. At least I’d have
a different view.
Instead I was once again lifted. He’d placed pillows
under my back so I was sitting up and could watch him. Typical
man. Didn’t matter that he was performing necrophilia,
he still needed to an audience to do it. He smiled in satisfaction.
He inserted his cock back inside of me and wiped his hand
on the sheet. Then he started rocking again.
I watched his face as he fucked me. His pupils were dilated,
his face jerking as he moaned. Sweat slithered down his
scalp and onto his cheek. It made its way past his gritted
teeth, hung for a moment on his chin and then dropped onto
me. With one last moan and push, he finished.
He pulled out, holding onto the bed as he heaved in exertion.
He took off the condom and wiped me down with a hanky. After
he left I stared at the shadowed ceiling and smiled in my
thoughts. I know what you’re thinking. I should have
felt angry, defiled, outraged.
It’s funny how emotion deserts you when there’s
no way of expressing it. Anyway it’s not as if it
hurt. I was the living dead, impervious to human touch.
He got an orgasm, I got a few minutes of distraction from
the ceiling. Everyone won. Or at least that’s what
I thought at the time.
They came together a few nights later. I was deeply asleep
and the glaring light woke me. “Are you crazy?” Leah
shouted. “Look at her,” she demanded. I saw
her arm extended towards me. “Do you know all the
things that could happen? She could be injured, bruised.
Any mark on her body means that I will be fired and unemployable.
What about her dying from suffocation? She can’t make
any noise if she’s in trouble.”
“Okay, babe,” Dave said. “I was just thinking
I heard their footsteps as they walked away. He was soothing
her, their murmuring voices whispering down the corridor.
I wondered why he’d told her he wanted to fuck me.
Did he want her to watch as he got off? As I drifted off
to sleep I realised she hadn’t sounded the least bit
jealous at sharing him. Her only concern had been about
me and losing her job. I felt a quick burst of happiness.
At least one person thought of me as human. I closed my
eyes and went back to sleep.
In my dreams that night I was riding a horse along a beach.
The horse sped up as he frolicked in the waves and water
hit my legs. Then I was running into the surf and the horse
had disappeared. I was naked and the waves were rising higher
and higher as I walked further in. I bounced up and floated
on my back. The sky was bright blue above me. The sun warmed
my body. As I moved my hands my hair floated around me and
tickled my arms. I was weightless and free.
I lost my buoyancy and sank under the water. I tried to
fight, to move my arms and legs and swim back to the surface
but a force pulled me down. I held my breath but the pressure
built in my chest. My mouth opened and water rushed in.
I knew I was drowning, but felt nothing but peace and relief.
They came back a few nights later and worked wordlessly.
They lifted me off my bed and placed me on a gynaecological
table used by doctors to deliver babies. I watched in fascination
as Leah carefully placed my legs in the stirrups. She placed
a belt around my waist and on my chest above my breasts,
carefully lifting out my arms. She strapped my hands to
the side of the bed in restraints used in the psychiatric
ward. When they finished she pulled out a syringe and injected
me in the hip.
“What’s that for?” Dave asked.
I’d been diagnosed as a diabetic from a young age
and was used to being prodded with needles, but I’d
already received my daily shot of insulin that morning.
“It’s a three month contraceptive,” Leah
rubbed a cotton ball on my skin. “If she gets pregnant
fucked.” When she finished she started to follow Dave
out of the room before turning back. “I read your
charts,” she said without looking at me. “You
can’t feel anything that is done to you so this won’t
be a problem.” She met my gaze. “I pray you
don’t understand what’s going on,” she
whispered, her hand touching my arm before she rushed out.
When Dave returned he had a man with him. Seeing the man’s
hungry eyes as he stared at my nude body I didn’t
feel any trepidation or anger that Dave had escalated his
sexual deviancy by sharing me. I was happy that something
was happening to diverge from my routine of staring at the
“Remember the rules,” Dave told the man. “You
can’t grip her, slap her, pinch her, or move her around.” The
man nodded without looking at him. He already had an erection
and was touching himself through the fly of his jeans.
‘At least this will be quick,’ I thought.
The man dropped his pants and pushed himself inside. With
all the restraints in place I didn’t have to worry
about falling off the table. The man thrust inside me a
few times, his hand gripping the bed, before his eyes rolled
back. He started to collapse on me but Dave appeared in
my line of vision and pulled him up.
“Okay, let’s go,” Dave said.
“But I only had one poke,” the man whinged as
he pulled up his pants.
“One poke is all you get for $50,” Dave answered
as the door closed behind him. Before I could blink Dave
back, another man following him. “Remember the rules,” he
I still didn’t get it, or maybe I didn’t want
to. I looked at Dave for help, but he was counting the money.
He looked over and checked the john’s hands before
meeting my eyes. He smiled, flicking the wad of money in
An endless scream filled my head. The walls crumbled and
the ceiling collapsed under the force it. Dust and mortar
covered me, grinding me into dust.
“Open your eyes,” a rough voice called as my
eyelids were peeled back. The man thrust inside of me, his
sweeping over me as his hands held tightly onto the bed.
I tried to escape to the world I had created in my mind,
but everywhere I turned there were grunting, sweaty men
leering at me as they showed me their cocks. Mercifully
I would slip away in my mind only to return as their hoarse
bellows and moans called me back.
Dave returned alone carrying a basin of water and a washcloth.
I didn’t dare believe it was the end until he started
bathing me. As he rubbed the cloth over my genitals I thought
I felt its damp coolness on my skin. He turned me onto my
stomach and I started drifting off to sleep, wanting to
escape into oblivion.
“Hey,” Dave said. I opened my eyes to see him
tapping his finger next to my face. “It’s my
said, unzipping his pants. He disappeared from view. “I’ve
still got a special place that’s all mine.”
I knew he was entering me anally. I wanted to kick, scream,
punch, bite. Instead I could only lie there as he used me.
When he finished he carried me back to the bed. “Good
night, princess,” he said kissing my cheek. As he
stared into my eyes I mastered all my hate and rage. He
stepped away from me before laughing nervously. “It’s
a good thing you can’t move.”
After that night I didn’t have any trouble telling
the time. Leah worked the night shift on Monday, Wednesday
and Friday and each night was a repeat of the first. While
it was happening I was able to disappear for longer and
longer stretches until I wasn’t present the whole
night. I spent so much of my time out of my body, it was
by accident I realised that the change was happening.
Each night Dave took me anally while I lay on my stomach.
I had been gone for the whole night and came back to a piercing
pain in my anal passage. “Ow,” I whispered,
but wasn’t audible over Dave’s grunting. The
pain was stronger and stronger and I almost couldn’t
breathe from it. I felt every crease of the sheet bunched
up under me. I saw my hands beside my head and felt my eyes
widen in surprise as they clenched. With one last groan
“That was wonderful,” he said and I felt him
press a kiss to my cheek. He turned me over and washed me. “Now,
now,” he said playfully flicking my nose when he saw
my stare. “Let’s be nice.”
After he left I continued clenching and unclenching my muscles.
Each night while they fucked me, rubbing their sweat-streaked
bodies against mine, I stealthily moved, re-learning how
to give commands to my body and have it obey. They were
so consumed with their pleasure they never noticed my movements.
I developed a routine and every night after Dave left me
I spent the hours before the morning round lifting my limbs,
forcing circulation back into them. I worked up to getting
out of bed and then taking my first step, until the night
I could walk all the way down the corridor and back.
All the nights I’d had the ward to myself I’d
used the internet to research how to bring about my revenge
and I’d found my salvation. I’d found out how
and why I’d ended up the way I did, and who had done
this to me.
I continued listening. I heard Leah had handed in her resignation
and was leaving in a month, while Dave warned his clients
that he would be moving interstate. I learned that the night
they were leaving they were throwing a special farewell
party for their customers.
On the night Leah came in beforehand to strap me down. I
kept my arm close to my side, the syringe hidden in the
sheets until she bent to strap my waist in. I thrust the
syringe in her neck. She looked at me with her eyes full
of surprise. I gave her the smile that I’d been giving
her in my head for the past three years. I must have forgotten
how to smile, because her eyes filled with fear.
I’d given her the concoction that she’d been
injecting me with, unknowingly off course, but the result
was the same. She was immobile the way I used to be. I stripped
off Leah’s clothes and put them on before strapping
her down. “You can’t feel anything that is done
to you so this won’t be a problem,” I said as
I patted her hand.
Dave had his back to me when I exited the room. “Everything
set?” he asked as he turned.
I stabbed him in the arm with a fresh syringe. I caught
him before he hit the ground and dragged him to the bed
next to Leah. “I’m going to give your customers
a special treat,” I told him as I lay him on his stomach
and removed his clothes. “A very special treat,” I
patted his buttocks and strapped him to the bed.
When his customers arrived they were happy to be getting
two pokes for the price of one. I’d transformed Dave
into a coma patient by shaving his head and bandaging his
face, leaving two holes for him to breath through his mouth
and nose. I didn’t worry that anyone would recognise
Leah. After so many months of being poked by Dave’s
clients, I knew that they thought of the woman under them
as a piece of meat.
When Dave’s customers had finished for the night I
washed Leah and returned her to my bed. A tear dripped down
her cheek. “Shhh,” I murmured as I smoothed
her hair. “I won’t hurt you. You’re going
to know exactly what it’s like to live my life and
I’m going to know what it’s like to live yours.” With
all the staff changes no one would realise the switch between
Leah and me.
“I have another special treat for you,” I told
Dave as I pushed the trolley down the corridor.
The nursing home was a former hospital and it had its own
morgue and incinerator. I managed to cut off his hands and
his left arm, before he bled out.
I washed myself and took one last walk through the nursing
home. I didn’t want to forget what had happened to
me. I had lost three years of my life and had a lot of living
to make up for.
I recognised their car in the car park by the luggage stacked
up against the back windows. I put the keys in the ignition
and drove carefully. There was one more errand to run.
“Hello Mum,” I whispered as I knelt above her
bed with a pillow in my hands. I gave her one moment to
wake up and
see me before smothering her. Afterwards I trashed the house
and cleared the safe. There wasn’t much money left.
She’d gone through my inheritance.
While conducting my nocturnal runs in the hospital I’d
checked my charts and realised what had happened. Dr Harmer
had colluded with Mum and my insulin had been spiked with
medication to paralyse my muscles. After I’d been
admitted to the hospital the staff had kept injecting me
with the medication Dr Harmer had prescribed. When Leah
injected me with the contraception she’d blocked the
spiked insulin thus ending my paralysis.
I drove to the airport. I’d found Leah’s passport
among her papers. Even with Mum’s spendthrift ways
there was enough for a one-way ticket to London. The john’s
money would help set me up when I landed. I was going to
live my imaginary life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I have placed in short story competitions, been published in magazines,
journals and in anthologies. My short stories Siege and Fuck Me Eyes
have appeared in the 2004 and 2005 Best Australian Stories. Siege
has received review mentions in Australian Book Review “a powerful
and moving story of family dissolution and the suffering, deprivation
and terror of war,” and in Bulletin “Amra Pajalic’s
Bosnian Diary is a masterpiece of broken elegy.” Fuck Me Eyes
has also received a review mention in Australian Book Review as “briskly
narrated” and “interesting and original writing.” My
blog is http://amrapajalic.blogspot.com/
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