THE MIND AFTER A SHARP BLOW TO THE HEAD IS LIKE A HOUSE after a hurricane:
unrecognizable shards, shreds and splinters.
Fragments of memory lie scattered in the wreckage. All the pieces are there, somewhere but the landscape is so distorted that, stumbling across them, the brain has no idea what they are or where they are from.
'Where is Eleni?'
'Muerta,' says the doctor.
Leo's eyes close, he is oddly calm watching the bomb hurtle towards him. One last look before he is swept away. He searches his mind and does not recognize the view. A thick fog smothers everything; he can just make out a few faintly familiar shapes. Muerta. He already knows she is dead. At the point of asking he had no idea but when he hears the answer it sounds like the confirmation of a memory he can't seem to bring to his mind. Something lurches out of the blur into sharp focus. Eleni. Droplet brown eyes, rich mane of ebony curls, bundle of electric energy, singing.Always singing, like others breathe. For a fleeting moment he feels her brightness and warmth. They were like a single atom, indivisible.
The bomb is almost upon him. The atom is about to be split. The energy to be unleashed, ferocious and uncontrollable.
'Can I see her?'
'No es buena idea.'
'Where is she?'
'Here, in another room.'
A game is being played. The doctor doesn't want the patient to see his dead lover at least not yet. He is saying, 'Let's pretend she is not really dead. Muerta it's just a word.' This is a game of damage limitation. Leo plays along. He doesn't know where he is or how he got there. He has no memory of recent events. He knows only that he loves a girl called Eleni and that he must see her at all costs. He senses the panic in the doctor. If he shows any sign of cracking the doctor will keep them apart. So he plays calm.
'Please let me see her.'
The doctor clocks the steely determination in Leo's eyes and seems reassured; maybe the boy can cope after all. He doesn't know the story of these two young foreigners. He doesn't know the strength of their relationship.
'Venga,' he says softly and indicates the door.
It is only then that Leo realizes he is lying on a bed and that he must have been unconscious. His waking words were for Eleni. Something of that delirious soup lingers with him.Why does the doctor speak Spanish? The question hangs in his thoughts like a piece of string whose other end is lost in the haze. He pulls it and a thread emerges from the fog. A memory clings to it. I'm in Latin America. I came here with Eleni. But where? Guatemala? No, we flew to Colombia from there. Colombia then? No. He tugs at the string harder. No, not Colombia. After Colombia came Ecuador. Ecuador, what comes after Ecuador? Where were we going next? He pulls harder, the twine is fraying. Peru. From Ecuador to Peru. How? How did we get to Peru? The string snaps. No memory of getting to Peru. I must be in Ecuador or Peru. Probably Ecuador. I can't remember Peru. He contemplates the broken thread; he has no idea where to find the other end.He is at the edge of a hole whose size is as yet unfathomable. He stares into the void like a senile man who in a moment of lucidity knows that his mind is lost.
He pulls himself to his feet. His head swirls and he puts his hand on the bed to steady himself. He blinks hard and tries to focus on the enamel basin on the wall opposite. One of the taps dribbles annoyingly; it must have been leaking for years because the water has left an ugly brown stain in the sink.Wherever he is, it is in a state of neglect. The paint peels from the walls and thick spiders' webs hang undisturbed in the corners. A solitary gecko surveys the scene from the ceiling. The doctor takes him by the arm and leads him down a corridor.
From Random Acts of Heroic Love. Copyright Danny Scheinmann 2008. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the pubilsher, St Martins.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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