They stop in front of a closed door. Leo knows she is on the other side. The doctor pushes it open. Eleni lies on a trolley bed. There is blood on her blue shirt; her shoulder is out of joint. There is a graze on her cheek.Now the bomb hits. Something inside him yields and the full implication of events explodes inside him. His blood thunders out of control, coursing through him like a river that has burst its banks; legs shudder and give way at the knees; breath shortens and rasps in his throat. His heart rejects the returning blood and empties itself; stomach locks, sending undigested waste crashing into the colon; anus pulls tight to prevent evacuation. His nose charges with fluid mucus, eyes blink obsessively, vision blurs with tears. He collapses to the floor and screams a high guttural scrape. Nurses three rooms away stop in their tracks like mothers responding to a baby's cry. People come running from all directions. The doctor closes the door. A murmuring crowd gathers outside. Some of the people know what has happened. They are witnesses who are being treated in the clinic themselves. They have been wondering what would happen when the gringo came round and was told his girlfriend had died. 'My God,' they have been saying, 'when that boy wakes up... it is too terrible to contemplate.' And they cross themselves and thank Jesus that they will see their loved ones again.
Leo is sobbing in a crumpled heap. He has never been so alone. Lost in some nameless South American town with his mind half gone. He stands up and goes to Eleni. He caresses her face tenderly.Her skin is still warm. Perhaps she is not dead,maybe she can be brought back to life. He looks at the doctor with a wild stray optimism in his eye. The kiss of life, maybe he can bring her back with the kiss of life. He pinches her nose and opens her mouth and breathes his desperate hope into her. Again and again he pours his life into her. Then he beats on her heart to make it beat. Harder he pummels. He knows that he is hurting her, that she will be bruised, but it is the only way. The doctor puts his hand on Leo's shoulder. But a pathetic tenacious hope has gripped Leo.
'Electric shock. Have you got shock treatment? Er . . . choc electrico. Tienes?'
'No hay, señor. Esta muerta.'
She can't be dead, he will not believe it.He continues to breathe into her.He begs for a miracle and a miracle happens. A low raspy breath comes up from deep within her. It is a sound he will remember for the rest of his life.
'She's alive. She's breathing. Did you hear it?'
The doctor is motionless. Leo is suddenly animated, he doesn't need this stupid, lazy doctor, he can resuscitate Eleni on his own. He fills her up feverishly and each time she responds with a breath.
'Señor, señor!' The doctor places his hand again on Leo's shoulder. He ignores it, his heart is flying, he almost wants to laugh.
'Señor, she is not breathing. It is your breath coming back from her lungs.'
Leo feels for Eleni's pulse. There is nothing. Once more he plummets into despair. He kisses her forehead and whispers words learned from her native Greek: 'Matyamou, karthiamou, psychemou.'My eyes, my heart, my soul.
He strokes her hair as he used to sometimes when she was sleeping. Slowly the heat leaves her body. A minute later he is howling like a dog. How long this lasts he has no idea.
The old doctor looks on from a corner. He battles back his own tears, he does not want to let his feelings conquer his professional dispassion. Later he will return home and weep in his wife's arms and hug her hard for many minutes, savouring her breath, her perfume and her love.
The story has spread through the hospital and the crowd outside the door have been overcome by that unsavoury curiosity that grips people in the face of tragedy. Someone pushes open the door. They see a man ravaged in grief, his face raw and twisted, and next to him a small woman lying gnarled and lifeless on a bed. As one they draw in a sharp breath, and for a moment their faces mirror Leo's.
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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