The Operation

I

She wakes up in a white darkened room and realises an operation has been performed on her – her legs are amputated. She looks around for things that belong to this room, all of which she hardly knows: a monitor apparatus that is recording critical data of her existence, an empty glass and a filled jug, a capless pen, a dim florescent light, and herself. The light scathes her, as it scathes everything it touches, leaving them with wounds-marked bodies. It scathes the part of her body below her knees most ferociously, creating an abyss of shadow. In the abyss nothing exists but a spread of paleness that is faithfully reflecting the scathing beam of the florescent light. Where the florescent light reaches not is some abstract darkness. She cannot make sense of the concreteness of space any more. Spaces have folded back upon themselves like petals of roses fold in the lightless hours. She wants to fold back upon herself too, like petals, but her missing limbs only let her go halfway, so her body creates this embarrassing arc across the space above the bed.

She has to accept the fact that from now on she becomes involuntarily open to external entities, each, unlike her, having claim to its own integrity. Her present state reminds her of an unclosable closet: all that is within is discernible to the outside; all that is without does not enter. Does anyone desire entry into her anymore? The entry is most likely undesirable. In fact, any sign of life that manages to escape from behind the half-closed doors of the closet is indiscernible. Undesirable. Unwanted to the observer of her condition. Only objects of certain physical form can be made beautiful. How come she never came across this simple thought before? She swerves her eyes to the water glass on the bed stand, and starts imagining it to have grown legs. How inappropriate those fleshy legs would appear along with the unalloyed material of the glass! Her eyes try to find other objects in the room to fasten on. Everywhere they rest, they are confirmed by the obscenity of placement of the legs being anywhere else but the empty space below her knees, which is exactly where they are missing.

Nurses are peeping at their patient as they pass by the large window, through which the room is connected to the structure of the hospital. No words are exchanged among the nurses, only silent looks into the room, and then a glance stolen with the closest one also passing by between errands. She realises that she is under observation by everyone behind that enormous glass window, but no one wants to come inside to take part in her metamorphosis. They must be ashamed of the transformation mirrored on her body of the incompetence of their own humanity. The secret community outside does not so much bother her as the community’s inability to keep itself secret, so it appears to her as parading her banishment. As revenge, she sweeps her hand carelessly over the bed stand, and before a second passes, two nurses, who were most likely observing their patient from behind the large window, rush into the room, adjust the florescent light, and clean up the aftermath of their patient’s inadvertent movements. Between the two pairs of eyes she notices flickering expressions of exasperation and sympathy. She decides that she enjoys these visits, so she commits the act five times in a row, breaking again and again, inadvertently, the recovered glass into pieces. Every time a different pair of nurses, never a single one, comes into the room to clean up the remnants of the little accident. But to her amusement, none of them shows a hint of annoyance, only between them an exchange of silence, and then immediately back into themselves, into their swift collaborative movements. Had she been a normal patient, she would never have enjoyed such privileges – the privileges almost of a king!

When it reaches the ninth time, however, the nurses stop coming in all of a sudden, as if they have decided collectively to abandon her in the room, as punishment for her illusion of self-determinacy. An intact man, who suffers from no illness or physical incompleteness, would not have dared to indulge himself in such an illusion, because he would have understood the importance of submitting himself to the laws of whoever gives him the bread. But she cares not about her bread. All she demands is unconditional care from the other side of the window. She watches how the nurses are whirling around in the corridors like eagles, seeking the next object of their clemency, and she almost wants to confront these objective bystanders by flying through the glass window and shrieking in their faces: “Look at me! Look how deformed I am!” But the monstrous glass seals the room off from the outside to contain the violence of her amputated voice. It makes sure that not even a particle escapes, just like the authority prevents the spread of a plague. You blockade the infected village, you let it die from inside. So that it dies alone, outside of humanity.

She starts screaming towards the glass window. She wants to know who made the decision for her. Who dismantled her like having dismantled a machine? Who without consulting her cut a part of her body off? The part of her she used to feel most rightfully hers, her body, not her mind, is actually not her own. It now belongs and has always belonged to the hospital.

She tries to drag herself with both arms out of the bed, but ends up rolling down from the bed and over the shattered glass. The sound of the fall of her corporeal being echoes in the room, just like the sound of a stone being cast into a pond, bald and assertive. Puddles of warm redness spread across the ceramic floor. Her strong arms are still in the supportive position, raising her torso up from a crowd of poppy flowers, making an arc above the icy floor. For a moment the room is full of silence, of solemnity, until the nurses – this time there are four of them, fly into the room to lift her up from the wine coloured flowerbed and drop her amidst the white sheets.

Snow falls against the window. She turns away from the stitching nurse, to listen to the weight of the snow on the window. She saw death on a sunny snow. A tree fell on her way home. In that instant, existence realised that all along it had been at the disposal of chance. She remembered sinking into the snow. She sank, she sank, and finally rooted in the dark soil beneath the vast whiteness. The morning snow was warmed and softened by sunbeams pouring down from the blue arched roof. Ice wind blew into her hair. She recalled feeling fortunate that she lived.

On the same morning snow, she remembered seeing the beauty of another living being, alongside the beauty of her own, the two looking at each other, each believing that it had seen the most sublime beauty in the world. She beheld dreams in his eyes, he in hers. They exchanged unintelligible words. The words fell to join snowflakes in becoming a soft wholeness, so everything became a part of the unalloyed happiness. They fell, whiteness against whiteness. They fell asleep in the caress of the snow, each only to wake up in the warm embrace of the other. Ice wind blew into their hair. A feeling stole into their hearts through strings of frosted hair; it was the feeling of having already been in love for eternity’s time.

But the past is poisonous, and needs to be let go.

Now, here she is, in a room emptied of all human beings but her amputated body and a nurse. She has such disdain for the normality of life, although that was once all she congratulated herself with – peaceful, lethargic normality. In the dream that haunted her childhood, she found herself in the living room of her parents’ old house, her face distorted with injuries, her mouth tilted to the left, and her right eye covered in blood. But for some reason she was still able to see her distorted face very clearly. Shocked by her own appearance and the life to come with her damaged face, she turned to her parents who were sitting in the living room and watching her worriedly. Then, her mother said to her the most soothing words she had ever heard in her life: “Don’t worry, sweetheart, there are many people who are like you on the streets, armless, legless, earless, deformed in all ways. A war has just started.” It was an affirmation that miraculously makes all the frustration in her heart vanish like the disappearance of a cloud into shapelessness. How she wishes the childhood dream to have come true! That the world outside of this room was filled with armless, legless, earless beings, and yet, they all have the perfect eyes to witness the deformation of each other! To save herself from this nightmarish reality, she would need a spectacular war that deforms, lacerates, and thus makes vulnerable the human beings, so that her deformation would become a new norm of human existence.

The short hand of the clock points to “two.” A crowd begins to gather behind the large window, starting from a group of two, then growing to a group of four, five, eight. They lean against each other mutely, without a single movement, but all staring at the space beneath her knees where nothing is to be seen. Their enlarged eyes dictate to her from the other side the value of her new existence, “Oh, the poor girl, how is she supposed to live without her legs? Nowadays no factories or husbands would agree to take in the handicapped. Who would want to marry and have children with an amputee? She is sure to be a financial burden on the family for as long as she lives!” Her heart responds with a cringe. She swerves her eyes away to avoid the ruthless communal judgment. Somehow seeing her condition through those sympathetic eyes stirs in her much more shame than seeing through her own. She could make herself blind to her own condition, but she has no power over her audience. When she was diagnosed with short-sightedness as a child, she had faked clear vision for two years, before her parents noticed that their girl had seldom spoken of names, but only of sensations. All this time she had only seen feathery beings, dark worms, glooms and sunlight patches – she had come to accept the world as a colourful mosaic, so that she could keep her deficiency to herself, while secretly learning to embrace it. Like poverty, physical deformation is a part of the private individual; it does not belong to the hospital, the government, or to any social institutions – it does not belong to the community.

She says to the nurse standing next to her, “Ask my family to leave.” “Ask him,” she points to a slim figure standing behind the family, “to come in.” He notices immediately the attention from the other side of the window, as if he has been expecting it. The uneasiness in his eyes when they are met by hers comforts her. The blindness once in those eyes now is overflown by the shame of her helpless nakedness towards her observers, as if the nakedness were his own – that comforts her.

The snow has melted on the shoulders of his winter jacket. He must have walked a long way to see her.

“I didn’t know if you’d want me to come.”

“Of course, I’m glad you came.”

“I’m sorry about what happened—”

“No, I need something else, anything else to think about.”

He looks at the white sheets that are covering her lacerated body and quickly looks away.

“I want you to masturbate right now, in front of me.”

“What?! Your family is right there.”

“Look at me! Do you think I care about them now?”

“Don’t say that. You’re beautiful, regardless.”

“Prove it then.”

She emerges from the immaculate covering sheets to let the artificial light shed abundantly on her legless body. Her hand is shaky as it lifts the end of the sheet, making an arc over her lower body, and landing on the other side of her waist. It retrieves to the right side of her body to support her to an upright position while she waits for his response.

Without a word, he starts jerking off, with his back facing the window. He stands erect, like the tree that fell on her way home, forcefully soaring up into the sky. Absorbed in his continuous movement, his continuous metamorphosis, he bites his lips, as if he needs to prevent himself from shrieking, or emitting a word. He plants his feet into the ground like foundation pillars. Maintaining her upright position, she watches him intensely, as he rolls his eyes up toward the burning florescent light.

The family members watching behind the window cover their eyes and flee from the scandal.

“Rub it against my thigh.”

She raises her thighs up in the air, immobile and trembling. He climbs up to the bed and rubs his stiff penis against the exposed cylinder-shaped flesh, until he floods it with white cum.

After he leaves, she asks for some dirt and seeds so that she can plant one into the other, and for them to be put right next to her in a vase. She waters it three times a day with water from her drinking glass.

A bud is coming through the dirt of the vase, attempting to claim its right to life. As soon as it grows into the hardness of wood, she picks up the vase, and pulls the plant out from the dirt that covers its ugly spidery limbs. She cuts those roots with a pair of scissors. The action brings such unnameable pleasure to her beating heart.

 

II

He’s fascinated by this mysteriously beautiful lady sitting across the table. Her beauty is such that he has never seen before: it has a way of manifesting itself to the utmost as if it would perish in the next moment, as if it knew its own death and it knew it only too well. He thought such beauty would never exist in this world, but only under the best writers’ pen as a tale to be told, to be inferred by the eternal symbols. But there it is, there she is, this beautiful creature who knows her own exuberant beauty in the instant.

She never for a second looks around herself at the other guests, as if nothing concerns her apart from the inner substance that’s hidden behind her immaculate features, and that sustains their beauty. She takes her time to tend to her soup, one small spoonful at a time, and then stops for a while to contemplate the substance of the soup in the same way as she contemplates her own, and then she takes another small spoonful. Her movements are minimal. So are the decorations around her face and her exposed chest, he notices. Her hair is tied back away from her face; she does not wear any jewellery, but letting the candlelight and the warm air dance vivaciously on her smooth chest. Her eyes, only her eyes, shine like diamonds through the warm space enclosing her, shielded at times by the lids when their brightness almost becomes overpowering for the beholder, and before the beholder moves his gaze away in search for its next stimulus, her diamond eyes shine with a black light through the dimness of the evening ever more assertively. She looks into his eyes which are misted by curiosity and affection. He is unable to tell her feelings – is she happy, or is she sad? He has a feeling that she merely looks at him in the same spirit as she stares at her soup, emotionless. But the neutrality, empty of secrecy or any other addition, is what makes him not able to swerve his eyes away from this space across the table that is filled by her presence.

Guests sitting near him on the same side of the table, men and women, seem to notice her exceptional beauty too, for they, who have not the privilege to sit right in front of her, which would make her the natural end of their gaze, steal glances of her between their conversations. Not concealing his attraction to her, he smiles at her kindly. For he does not want to disturb the stillness of the air where her beauty resides. She looks back at her soup without responding to his smile, and her bold silence calls to his mind the silence of the sea, the powerful expression of a mute film. Its audience is powerlessly absorbed into it, with fear.

The young girl sitting next to her asks her to pass the salt to someone further down the table – perhaps it is out of the girl’s curiosity of her, and secret looks of her are stolen in the courteous process. He cannot help feeling jealous, and angry at the same time, at this young girl, who has managed to make physical contact with the object of his admiration, while he is now and as always warded off by the unmovable obstacle of the table.

He decides to begin eating. The middle-aged woman sitting next to him introduces herself to him, and asks him if he had eaten earlier in the day, as it took him so long to finally decide to pay attention to his food. To the heartfelt question he replies politely, that no, he has not eaten, and it would be silly of him to fill up his stomach before the last feast prior to his return to the army. The woman seems happy with how the conversation flows, so adds empathetically, that it must be difficult for him to leave his family behind. He replies, that it is not as hard as the first time, for he has learnt his sanity through this whole insanity of a war. Yes, the woman says, war shatters all that is humane. Not only that, he insists, war is insanity. Unable to summon any more agreeable words, the woman retrieves her eyes from his uniform, and fixes them instead on the warm bowl of soup in front of her. To seek beauty wherever one can, and to kill as if blind, for rationalising the act of killing, asking why one causes the others to be armless, legless, earless, would only lead to despair, he continues. Even when the head is exploded into pieces, the heart ripped by a bullet, roofs collapsed, the war will always continue, until the few who initiated it agree on a winner. The listener merely nods.

No one is looking at the three of them, who are complicit in using the activity of putting food into the mouth as an excuse for not speaking. He accidentally drops his napkin on the floor. The facial expression of the mysterious lady sitting across the table from him changes immediately, which he does not notice. When he bends down to pick up his napkin, he eyes the space beneath the seat of the mesmerising beauty. There is nothing. Absolutely nothing, beneath the seat on the other side of the table. As he rises up to a sitting position, he keeps his eyes down, for he senses the burning inquisitive gaze from her. To it he dares not answer, because it demands something he will not be able to offer. He leans towards the middle-aged woman next to him, hoping to initiate a conversation. However trivial a conversation, any engagement that could take him away from her imploring stare would do. But unfortunately, the middle-aged woman is in the midst of a conversation with someone else, so he’s left in the spotlight of her gaze. He glances back at her, wanting to pretend that he saw nothing under the table. But the problem is precisely that he saw nothing!

Only now he notices the metal hand bar on both sides of her chair which he did not notice earlier. All this time he has misunderstood her beauty, which appears no longer mysterious but painfully nude to him. Her face, now full of despair – or has it always been? – mirrors the desolation of the grassland not far from this villa, the grassland that he traversed to leave and come home. To console that desolation, he recalls, was the aim he used to give to his small life before the war started. But now the war has desolated so many grasslands, he can’t even recognise the one that’s his. He searches for her eyes, but they are already shrouded by the lids.

The main course is being served. Chicken drumsticks are piled onto big plates to be shared by the guests. They both look at the cylinder-shaped meat, and at each other, hesitant to stretch out their hands for it. At that moment, someone at the end of the table opens a window to let in some fresh air. All of a sudden, they burst out laughing together. Everyone at the table looks at them curiously, but without a clue. Like children, they cannot endure the exuberant vitality of their life. They have to let it all out to be part of the warm evening air and to gain its freedom through the opened window.

A fork is dropped on the floor from her side. She doesn’t move. He stares at her eyes which are like diamonds in the air. He bends down to under the table, spotting the dropped fork, and just when he wants to pick it up, he realises it lies right beneath the legless skirt. His heart starts to pound. Instead of picking up the fork, he unveils the fabric that is covering the amputated legs: two flesh towers with an abrupt but smooth top reveal themselves to him. He kisses one of the towers. Her hand falls softly on his unruly hair. He kisses the other tower. He then hands the fork to her from under the table, and towards him her beautiful face gleams in kindness.

Love is only for the young, not for the aged who finds themselves, affected by time, not good for love any more. As one ages, the consciousness of time weighs upon one, which makes one trade love for a monogamous relationship with time. But she makes him think that his love for her would reject the seduction of time, that he would be able to stand against its powerful torrent, only to declare his love for her, who was but a stranger to him a moment ago. But now, he feels, they have the whole eternity to be in love.

Q. Lei

About Q. Lei

Q. Lei is a Chinese-born writer and filmmaker currently living in Berlin, Germany. She is the co-founder and editor of BLYNKT Magazine (www.blynkt.com). She is in the last year of her PhD studies in Modern Japanese Literature at Princeton University. Her work has been published in the Centum Press Anthologies, The Speaker, BLYNKT Magazine, among others. Her debut documentary, Berlin Transgression, is scheduled to come out in 2017.

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