IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
The Things We Need
Monday, April 13, 2708
Better, better. I move from mat to mat and see clean, healing wounds--by some miracle of God I managed to maintain enough asepsis to give these kids a decent chance. (Oh God, oh God, the pain, the pain! I curl in around it, every part of me curls around it, and I can't for now remember any cause, any reason I ever had to hit the road, I can't remember why I ever took the path to lead to so much PAIN!) Color flushes cheeks and lips again as they fight back from anemia. I love that faint brush of rose better than all the flowers of Alonzo Valley in the spring back home.
Remembering my year in the Valley, I recall Sra. Valdez cooking up liver-broth for a hired hand who'd sustained a bad gash in a reaping-accident; I recall wrinkling my nose at the smell and wondering why she'd give such sickening stuff to somebody who already felt bad. I'd always hated liver as a child, but now I bring around a soup from the organs of every animal hunted or butchered in this compound, and I relish the heavy aroma of it because it brings healing, it brings life. (I need to eat, I know I have to eat some time, but it hurts so bad, my punctured stomach can't bear to do anything anymore except to burn with pain, and the herb doesn't help anymore.)
But then I come to Yeshu's mat, and push the bowl aside. He won't have any, I know. (God, please! I feel like I'm tearing right in two! Is this it, is this the time that kills me?) The bullet went right through the colon, contaminating the entire abdominal cavity. I'm not a surgeon, not a doctor, not even a nurse. I'm an agent of the TiliŠn, trained pretty well as a field medic, but I don't know anything near to touching this. (God won't help me; I deserve this. I might as well have held a gun to my own belly and pulled the trigger.)
I don't even uncover the ugly wound; I don't want to see what it looks like, I couldn't do a thing about it anyway. Alysha already gave the orders: no supplies wasted on this one, only pain relief when available, but we've run flat out of narcotics, we have nothing left but chaummin to ease the pain and he can't drink that. (It's the chaummin that does it, way too much chaummin, but God help me, I can't sto pit anymore, I can't go back, I can't undo that fateful New Year's party. We all determined our paths long ago, and the crossroads lie so far behind me that I could never find my way back again. No, it was written, and so I follow the script laid out for me, step by agonizing step. No! IÖI donít know what I believe anymore.)
I watch him, curled up and groaning, always groaning, a weak sound but it roars through me like I could faint but I won't, I'm not the fainting kind. I push the cushions around to support him in the position that he has to maintain. I keep a rag dipped in liquor to sponge his mouth with, hoping he can absorb enough through the membranes to stupefy him a little bit, at least. (It's supposed to kill the pain, the dark drink, the stingingly fragrant dark syrup drink, but nothing kills the pain anymore.)
I find myself clutching my own middle, as though I could bear some portion of his suffering; at times I could almost double over it seems so real. And then I remember myself, my unharmed body, and I see all these children around me, needing me to keep my head. (Nothing has gone right, could possibly go right, since I lost Deirdre.)
So I wipe the sweat from Yeshu's brow and I move on, to the ones that I can help. Let's get some more of this soup into the kids who can hold it down before it all goes cold. (So it's really Deirdre's fault, you know.)
Tuesday, April 14, 2708
(It feels strange to work in clean and comfortable surroundings again, with tiles under my feet. But the Lord of the Plantation has a tooth that pains him far too much to tolerate the several-day's journey to the nearest town big enough to have a full-time dentist's office, and he heard about me from a maid.
I clean my hands in the chilly rush of his pristine sink, under a gilded faucet, as I apologize for the state of my equipment. No more need be said than that; he gestures for a pen and checkbook and writes off for me more money than I've seen in a year.
"Buy yourself a local drill for now," he mumbles from his anaesthetized mouth, "to hold you while I send for better equipment from the TiliŠn. They make tough and portable gear specifically for dentists on the road, like you."
The maid dries my hands and puts the check in them. I stare at it and suddenly find tears coursing down my face, tears like I haven't allowed myself to weep for years.
"I understand that you've been doing good work among the poor," he says. "We all should support such work."
I stutter something out, profuse thanks, I babble. The little slip of paper trembles in my hand but I hold on tightly to it. For the first time in so long I can't remember when, I don't feel hungry.
"The servants and the fieldhands could all use some dental work--we live far from the conveniences of town. Could you stay with us awhile? I will pay you well.")
* * *
I wake up in my library hammock with tears on my face, but I can't remember what I weep over. At any rate it seems like a bright and hopeful morning now, the sun flooding in from the big, impractical windows and diffusing its way through the dim canyons between the cliffs of shelves, reflecting off all of the golden motes of dust that sparkle on the air.
I look over the edge of the hammock into Lufti's face. I have no idea how long he has waited there, my leash in his hands, his face as eager as a dog who wants to go for a walk.
"You said today. You would start teaching me to read today." He looks from me to all the mysterious books around him, from floor to far beyond his reach, to every side, and then looks back to me. "We can't study tomorrow--you got debridements to do."
I yawn and stretch. "Okay, but after breakfast. You learn better with something on your stomach."
"No! Our chores begin after breakfast. We have to do it now." And he jerks the chain, choking me briefly. Foolish sleepyhead, to forget who can and canít set the times around here.
Through the door I smell how the eggs, fresh eggs laid that very morning, already hit the grease--I can almost hear them sizzle and the thought makes my mouth water. And the coffee--they serve coffee with every meal here, till after awhile its bitterness becomes rich to you, it becomes something you expect.
"Very well," I say as I lower myself down from the hammock. "But at least first take me to the outhouses, please." I think I could use some of that coffee right now, in fact.
Wednesday, April 15, 2708
Oh God, diary, it's finally dawning on me, now, what it means to die. I had it bad yesterday; I thought for sure I'd spew out the last of my life like something noxious that God Himself couldn't stomach.
And then it hit me--we're talking about life here. I mean consciousness, existence, the stuff of dreams and nightmares and everything, the eye that can count the colors in the spectrum, the ear that can hear all the world's melodies or all the world's screams or both at once in a brave and horrifying cacophony--but hear! Taste, smell, touch! Oh sweet heavens, touch! Child in mother's arms, sex on a hot summer beach, tickle of grass on the feet, sharp-bright tingle of rain in the face. Touch. Sight. Smell. Sound. Taste.
I've numbed myself to all of that. I'm throwing it all away.
Well, enough of that! It's never too late, I can pull myself together, reclaim my life. Except that the bottle rests ready against my leg, already uncorked and waiting, as I sit beside the road, Cici gone down to the river with buckets for our needs. And I wait, and I stare at the bottle beside me, and my stomach won't stop burning. And I stare anyway.
I look down on my hand, and I watch it shake, and I know I won't make it through the break. I have to grip one wrist with the other hand, both elbows braced against my knees, to write all this. I know, Diary, I know that by the time Cici returns from fetching water for the animals that I will be drunk again.
But that's not all I see in this, my hand. I see the ice-white nails. Anemia. Little by little my life-blood bleeds away.
Death. I don't really know if there's a heaven or a hell. The only thing that I can know for certain is that everything I know now will cease, for me. I am so, so very much afraid! I cannot tear my eyes away from that damnable bottle, cool against my leg. I have only one cure left for my fear.