January 9th, 2024

In Passing
Short story by Yasser El Sayed | May 2023

Music low, you danced in your nightgown across the bare floor. Hugged your shoulders, sang the words to the songs. I watched until the aching made me fall back into the shadows of the doorway.

Outside, the sound of cars reverberated against the walls, and a river of ice coursed through my veins. It’s been six months and usually I can forget the engines, but at night I am immersed in their clamor, and in my mouth, I taste only things metallic.


We slept in the same bed when I first got home, but I grew to hate the nights. And so I’d sleep sitting in my chair by the living room window looking out at the Canada Dry sign flickering in the midnight across the river, or I’d wheel myself to the kitchen where it was warmer in winter.

You protested at first. “I love you Andrew. Nothing matters except that. Come to bed.”

“And I love you,” I’d say, letting you see only my profile, seated, immobile.

In the rehabilitation center you came to see me every day. All the nurses knew you by name. They’d wheel me to the window overlooking the entrance so I could watch you getting out of the cab and cross the street in the gray winter light. Sometimes you’d see me by the window and wave. Once inside you would kiss me until one day I turned away, looked out the window, and you stepped back.

“Why Andrew?” You said.

My silence weak, selfish. You lowered your eyes to hide your frustration.


This morning I was seen at the clinic. You came with me. You helped me undress. The doctor’s hands examined my abdomen, probed where all feeling stopped, where sight and touch abruptly divorced. He looked through my chart again.

“At some point you may need a bladder augmentation and a colostomy,” the doctor said.

“Is all that really necessary, doctor?” you asked, a tone of desperation barely concealed.

He turned to you, a thread of impatience in his voice, “If his bladder and bowels can’t do their job, and all other alternatives fail, well then his kidneys will get damaged. He’ll get infected. Septic.”

He started to describe what would be involved, but then stopped abruptly. “I’m not saying now,” he said more gently. I sit between them, their voices arcing over me.

At home you drifted to the bedroom and I heard you crying. I heard you crying for a long time, and then it was quiet and I imagined you asleep.


Outside, an endless stream of headlights from the night traffic.

You are naked under the nightgown. My body which desires but cannot respond, fails me. You stopped dancing. You looked at me across the room.

“Andrew, I don’t like that doctor. I won’t let him mutilate you.” You turned the music off. “It’s so stuffy in here,” you said. “Andrew aren’t you warm?”

“No,” I said. My hands are cold. My face feels cold.

You threw open the window. I am filled with the sound of engines.

“I am suffocating,” you said, taking in big gasps of air. “I can hardly breathe.”

I looked out the window, at the immense dark of the night sky.


You loved the sea. And once we came upon the shore completely by accident. I took one turn and there it was, clear, blue, vast. I ran after you into that warm water. I could feel the warmth everywhere. Running I remember the blood that pounded to my neck, the thud of my feet on the sand, the tightening of my back; my muscles which were then, still, alive. In the water we climbed the peak together, and I stood for a moment at the edge and exploded in a way that is now only a memory.

You have gone to bed, and I wheeled myself to the open window. The sound of engines was everywhere. With each breath I smelled only gasoline.

I will never forget your scream. Sometimes when you sing I can hear it in the background, like another voice coming to the fore, thin and shrill. You were saying something when the car turned over. Then your voice became a scream that wouldn’t stop. There was a lot of noise, and I remember trying to stop the noise, but when I tried to move I couldn’t. In my mouth I could taste only metal.

Outside, desperate flecks of starlight against an inky black sky. I imagined letting myself slide into the realm where legs and nerves don’t matter. I would keep my eyes closed, afraid not of seeing the expression on your face which would fade in the distance, but of the shadow I would cast as I fall. Huge and rigid, descending without movement. Dark. Almost extinct.

About the author: Yasser El-Sayed was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and is a physician and professor at Stanford University where he specializes in high-risk obstetrics. He was a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, 2016, and his stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories. His short story collection “The Alexandria You Are Losing” was published by Red Dirt Press in 2019, and the Arabic translation was released by the Cairo, Egypt based SEFSAFA Publishing House in 2021. He is currently working on final edits of his upcoming novel, “A Storm Over Tripoli” set largely in Tripoli, Libya. He is represented by Julia Kardon at HG Literary agency in New York.