Hope is the Last to Die

Anna Heinämaa


I don't know what made me become so strongly attached to it. Maybe it was the alien city, which had become more and more hostile, or the heat wave that had lasted for several weeks.

I wasn't seeing anyone any more, except for a couple of my regular customers—and of course Justin, who came by once a week to collect the rent. Every now and then I wondered why he still bothered to take an interest in me. He had other girls too, and he didn't even seem to particularly enjoy the whole business. But on the other hand, Justin must have guessed that I was no longer earning as much as before. Perhaps he thought that it was better to get at least some sort of return on his investment.

"I thought we settled that matter," Justin said as he pulled the sheet over his hips and looked indolently for his cigarettes on the night table.

"They're in the kitchen," I said. "I'll get them."

It was slightly cooler in the kitchen. I stood looking out the window trying to decide whether Justin had been earnest about my keeping it or whether he just wanted to torment me. It didn't make very much difference—in any case I wouldn't part with it, not any more.

When I returned to the bedroom, Justin had already gotten dressed.

"You should eat more," he said, after lighting a cigarette. Justin gave my body an appraising glance. "If you get any thinner," he continued, "no one will want you any more."

"I wasn't planning to do this much longer," I said, trying to avoid his eyes. "I've been thinking about leaving here."

"Sounds familiar," Justin answered. His mouth was laughing, but I wasn't sure about the eyes. They were looking at me with amusement and perhaps with just a trace of hostility.

"Well," Justin said, shaking his head, "it's your body and it's your life, what do I care?"

I stood in the doorway of the bedroom and waited for him to put on his jacket.

"All right," he said, "I guess you can keep it. I'll die in any case."

"We all die in any case," I answered.

"Right," Justin laughed as he opened the door to the corridor.

* * *

At night it had convulsions again. I tried to keep it still, but it didn't seem to help. Its forepaws twitched unsteadily and its head lolled in my lap. It slobbered and urinated so that every little while I had to wipe off its mouth and wash it.

It calmed down only after midnight and lay quietly but still didn't go to sleep. Even in the darkness I saw that its eyes were staring past me, somewhere further away—at the tattered wallpaper, past the wallpaper to the wall, past the wall to the next room where I no longer knew what was there. It never complained or whined, it only whimpered softly.

I had found it in the street. For a couple of days it had just slept. Then it had started to eat, first warily and suspiciously, but gradually it had gotten used to me. Its fur began to take on a shine and a couple of times it had even tried to play with an old tennis ball which I had found in a corner of the clothes closet. Then suddenly it had become lethargic and listless. It had hidden under the bed and merely stared at me when I tried to persuade it to come out from there.

"It won't make it," Justin had said when he saw it. I hadn't believed him.

"Why not?" I'd asked. "How can you be so sure?"

It seemed it wasn't the only one. Justin said that he'd seen them before. The poor people brought them to the city to sell, stood around the front of the subway stations and the large department stores and pressed them on passersby. It must have been sick already, and therefore no one had wanted it. It might live for a few more weeks but hardly any longer than that. The disease was slowly advancing through its body. If it was stopped when it was just in the blood then it might… but usually it reached the nervous system, entrenched itself in the brain and infected it, so that life became impossible. Even when the disease didn't prove to be fatal, life became impossible.

I sat down on the floor beside it. I was tired. I hadn't been able to sleep because I'd been thinking about Justin and whether he would really let me keep it. Then I had stayed up all night listening to its soft whimpering, hoping that it would be able to get at least a bit of rest from its convulsions.

I could keep it, I thought, looking at its body weakened by the disease. The fur was no longer glossy and big bunches of it had come loose. In places, pink blotches of skin could be seen. I could keep it only because it would die anyway.

I got up and decided to leave it alone for a while. Perhaps it could rest more peacefully if it could be by itself. Besides, I had to eat and later to try to feed it, too. It hadn't eaten anything for three days and even vomited the water it had drunk.

I wasn't hungry, but I forced myself to drink a cup of tea. I had become noticeably thinner in recent weeks. Perhaps it was due to the heat wave—or the sweetish odor of the excretions, which I couldn't get out of its fur or off my hands in spite of washing. This city was sucking me dry so that finally there wouldn't be anything left of me.

Again it refused to eat. It didn't even bother to turn it head away, it just stared.

* * *

The heat had become unbearable. It seemed to become even worse toward the evening, rather than easing off; the sweat and body heat of millions of people hurrying home from work had made the air condense into a muggy, oppressive humidity. During the night the heat diminished slightly, but then everything started again from the beginning, as in a familiar film, which was rewound again and again for lack of anything better.

I had been sitting and waiting for so long that I began to fear that it would die in my arms. Its breathing had become spasmodic. I'd had to carry in all the way to the clinic because no one had consented to give us a ride. One car had stopped, but when I put it down on the back seat, the driver had changed his mind.

"It stinks," he'd said.

In addition to us, there were only three people in the corridor. A drunken woman, who had probably come inside to take shelter from the heat, and an old man and a little girl. In her lap, the girl held something small and motionless, wrapped in a blanket. She peeped inside the blanket every now and then, turned back to the old man and said something in a low voice. The drunken woman had gone to sleep.

I was still afraid that it would die before our turn came. It was breathing so weakly that from time to time I pressed my ear against its side to make sure that its heart was beating. If that soft beating movement suddenly stopped, I wouldn't wait any longer. I would rush right through the door and force them to look at it, to do something, to say no, of course it wouldn't die. It was in bad condition, to be sure, but enough rest, liquids, care…

But if it did get better, then what would I tell Justin? If they really were able to do something, maybe Justin wouldn't let me keep it after all but would order me to take it back where it came from.

The door of the reception room opened and a woman in a white coat peered out.


The pungent odor of medicines invaded the corridor. Then it sounded as though someone had opened a window inside. The woman went away and left the door open.

It lay quietly in my arms. I would still have to carry it inside through the door. It had kept up its strength this far, surely it could go a bit longer. Of course they’d know what should be done for it. Trained people would certainly think of something. It was possible that Justin had been wrong, that the disease hadn’t advanced very far and it could still be arrested. And I would persuade Justin, I would say that he could do anything at all to me... Then when it had gotten better, I’d take it with me and leave.

I raised its head and supported its thin body against me. I tried to stand up as carefully as possible so that it wouldn’t wake up. It had whimpered at first, then squeaked a couple of times, but now it seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

As I closed the door behind me, I knew already that it would get well.

Translated from Finnish by A.D. Haun
© Anna Heinämaa 2008