I woke up in spurts. The room remained hazy at first, a swirling mixture of whites, in the middle of which was a black spot that would soon turn out to be a missing ceiling tile. At the moment, this spot was still the agent of my unconsciousness, which swallowed reality with my closing eyelids and spread out before me as the canvas of my confused dreams. Again and again I was startled up from my sleep, the darkness shrank to a hypocritical little spot, and just when I thought that the contours of the room were beginning to appear, it suddenly overwhelmed me again. It went on like this for hours or minutes or years or days, until at some point the darkness crept into the back of my mind and finally allowed the image to come into focus.
I find myself in a hospital room. Stark, uninhabitably sterile whiteness surrounds me, except for the aforementioned missing ceiling tile, which provides a glimpse into the dark abysses of the hollow roof, and, ironically, appears to me as a glimmer of hope and comfort now that I perceive reality as so hostile. I am lying on a hospital bed. Instead of a blanket, several leather straps cover me, binding me tightly to it. They seem entirely unnecessary to me, as despite my best efforts I am unable to move a single muscle, except for my eyes, which still dutifully roll around in their sockets, force-feeding my useless body with information. As I turn those eyes on that useless body, I am deeply frightened: my arms and legs are sinewy and thin, shriveled and the color of a raisin; my left leg is completely mangled, there are burn sores all over, some wounds still seem fresh. This is definitely not the body of a young, athletic intellectual. This is the body of a burned corpse. Panicking to find the cause of my wounds, my eyes race around the room: on a bedside table to my right, a petunia is drowning itself in a glass of water; further back, I can make out the heave of a door frame. To the left of the bed are strange machines and a good twenty droppers, all of which have sunk their needles into my arm. I am the only patient present at the moment, though it looks like there would be space for two beds, if not three. There are no windows. The only light source is a flickering linoleum lamp that casts pure white light from above onto the equally pure white tiles that uniformly cover the floor and walls of the room. On the wall opposite the foot of my bed is a row of linked, uncomfortable looking chairs, of the sort found in waiting rooms and train stations. A young woman sits on the second one from the right with her legs crossed, flipping through a magazine, visibly bored.
I try to decipher the writing on the cover, but can't make out anything except for the word "knitting," which is printed in large red squiggles at the top. Below the title is a black and white photo of a vase with something decidedly unplantlike peeking out, which the woman covers with her fingers. I try to make myself heard to her, hoping for an explanation, but my efforts to form words only result in guttural croaks. That seems to do it, however, as the woman now lowers the magazine to her lap and looks over at me. She leans forward slightly and squints her eyes, a strand of her shoulder-length brown curls falling into her face. When she has ascertained my condition, she turns to an inconspicuous device on the ceiling, which I previously thought to be a smoke detector, and says in a voice that reminds me of the monotonous beeping of a heart rate monitor, "He's awake. You can come in now." The device on the ceiling turns toward me, and I can make out a lens in it, whirring as it adjusts its focus and then pauses - pointed at me. The woman ignores all further attempts on my part to establish communication and returns to her reading. I take my attention away from her and stare into the lens. The lens stares into me, and suddenly I feel sorry for it: the lens can't help it, it must reflect itself grotesquely distorted in my eyes, because external powers exploit the will-less machine to feast their eyes on my body. The lens is as innocent as the police dogs of a fascist regime.
After some time passes like this, I hear muffled footsteps behind the wall to the head of my bed, several pairs of feet, at first quiet and distant, approaching from the left; suddenly a shrill laugh stabs my skull, followed by complaisant giggling. Irritated, I take all this in and am certain that the persons will pass by my room, since it really does not seem to me like a place for laughter, but in fact the footsteps pause at the level of the doorframe, the doorknob turns, the door swings open, and ten important-looking men, all wearing the same brown suit with the same short haircut, enter the room in single file. The fourth, giggling, shoves the third, who retaliates in feigned indignation. They look like a class of elementary school students on their way to a photo shoot, and that's exactly how they now line up in two rows before the foot of my bed, with the first row getting down on their knees. They tug a little at their clothes, push each other a little to the right or left, and then, straight-backed with solemn smiles, fixate a point above my head, except for the middle one in the first row, who looks me in the eye and addresses me in a reverent voice:
"Good evening, Professor Cabrera! We are most pleased to inform you that your research into cryostasis has finally borne fruit." Cryostasis...? I'm familiar with the term, it refers to the freezing of living beings for the purpose of preservation, should future medical discoveries make resuscitation possible, but I don't know what it has to do with me. I certainly can't recall doing any research in this area. "For twenty years, despite the ridicule of most of your colleagues, you spent every waking minute working out the freezing process, firmly believing that through similarly hard work it should be possible for the physicians of future generations to warm up the blood of your patients and bring them back to the light of life..." Twenty years!? I had only turned twenty a few years ago! But... how many years ago, exactly...? "Well, the time has finally come, we have the technology to bring back those frozen while alive, in the state they were in at the time of freezing. So we thought you, as a pioneer and patron saint of cryostasis, would be the ideal pilot project, and here you are, just as you were so many years ago" - how many years ago, damn it?! - "when you crawled into the cold chamber with your last ounce of strength after the explosion of your laboratory, having the most fervent faith in its preservative abilities and the most fervent faith in us, the scientists of the future. Well, your faith was not misplaced!" Here he pauses for a moment, describes an arc with his arms, and grins smugly. The other men laugh in a well-rehearsed manner. "Thanks to state-of-the-art medicine, we can keep you stable in this condition and present you at gatherings all over the world as living proof of your - and our - achievements. You will finally take your rightful place in medicine's hall of fame, and bring great honor to this God-blessed country!" With the last words, his voice rises, as does his hand, which he places as a fist on his chest. The other nine do the same and start singing the national anthem, with the volume and tonality of a football stadium. I try to gather my thoughts in spite of the racket. So, if I'm forced to assume, given the state of my body, that the man in the brown suit is telling the truth and that I started researching cryostasis sometime after the point to which my memory extends... How had I come to this, as a political scientist? To devote twenty years to an activity so alien to my actual field - one would have to speak of an obsession. What could have triggered this...? The men are through with all eighteen (eighteen?!) stanzas of the hymn and now form queues on both sides of the bed. One after the other, they take one of my limp, numb hands and shake it around a bit, grinning in the direction of the lens. The process is complicated by the strap that binds my arms to the bed about six inches above my hands, forcing the men to buckle their knees a bit and bend my hands at an angle that I'm sure would hurt me a lot if I still had the slightest bit of feeling left in them. Suddenly I remember my daughter.
Lisa, my poor Lisa! A little girl in my memory, she must have already been in her twenties at the time of my freezing, God knows how old now. Her mother and I had had a big fight, she left us, in the end I was given sole custody... How had my daughter fared during my twenty-year obsession? Had I continued to care for her adequately? Hardly. I had abandoned her, entrenched myself, first in my laboratory, then in my cold chamber, leaving her completely alone in this world gone mad, where the national anthem has eighteen stanzas, without even having the grace of letting her conclude with me, her raven father. For I had never died. There had been no funeral. My body had always been within reach for her, in the storeroom of some hospital, as alive as Schrödinger's cat. I see her in my mind's eye, an old lady with a face furrowed by life, quietly slumped in front of a store window, waiting to die. I want to jump up and run to her, reach out to her, but my body doesn't obey me; I want to call out to her, but my voice isn't loud enough. So I cry. Tears spill from my eyes like blood from a breast from which a knife has just been pulled. One rolls down my cheek into my open mouth and burns my tongue, wich seems to have some feeling left in it; as this is the first physical stimulus since I woke up, the senation is incredibly intense. The pain beats more tears from my eyes, which also run into my mouth and in turn bring forth more tears. The men had meanwhile moved on to shaking hands with each other. One of them notices that I am crying and exclaims delightedly, "There, look: Tears of joy! No wonder, how vindicated he must feel!" The other men sigh rapturously and incline their heads. Then they quickly move aside so the camera can zoom in on my tears. I give it a show. I cry my heart out, my sobs sounding more like the rattle of a prison chain across a flattened rock floor than anything a human could produce. In the long run, this even seems to dampen the mood of the men, who, without having gone through all the possible handshake combinations, leave the room after a short while. I'm left alone with the lens, which had shut off again, the woman, who didn't look up once during the entire visit, and the regrets of a life I can't remember. I close my eyes and continue to cry.
At some point I hear a sound: a flicking, a gentle striping. Paper on cloth. I open my eyes. The woman has put her magazine down on the chair to her right and is looking at me with a softly furrowed brow. When our eyes meet, she asks me, "Could you please stop blubbering like that? It's really starting to get on my nerves." In response, I fall headlong into a particularly violent sob that sounds like the rotten drawbridge of a besieged castle being lowered for the last time. The woman groans and rolls her eyes. "All right. You'll get another lullaby, then." She closes her eyes, turns her head toward the ceiling, or perhaps the heavens, and begins to sing:
"Oh Theseus, do not weep!
Dry your tears
on your skirt,
stained with my
The pain is forgotten!
Now that the thread is torn,
we are both outcast sons of man,
fraternized in our
Knit a pillow from Ariadne's thread
and lie down beside me
In the dead grass.
When the ants come
Her voice is as airy, light, and pure as the sheets in detergent commercials that sway in the wind above lush green fields. Slowly, my crying fits subside. The desire to cry is still there, but those tears, which I hold back so as not to offend my siren's wishes, would be tears of sentimentality. How beautiful it would be if it turned out that this young woman, this angel in human form, is Lisa! Isn't she too young for that...? No, no; after all, I hear my daughter's voice in the song, forgiving me and assuring me that she's fine! I apologize again and again, and one last time the tears burst from my eyes, this time actually tears of joy. Finally, I embrace the tattered woman in front of the shop window, pat her on the back, we both cry without restraint, and a third figure joins our embrace: an old friend, the darkness, comes crawling out of the hole in the ceiling and encloses us with its pleasantly warm coat...