I crept down the corridor after him, hoping not to be seen, and when I came to Zella's room I skirted it and then snuck back and peeked in the window.
He was sitting in what seemed an absurdly small chair, all that weight on those spindly chrome legs, his coat hitting the floor in folds around his ankles.
The woman in the bed looked as if she'd been there all her life. But for some reasonmaybe because she'd been there so long, removed from the stresses of lived life, taxes and sick kids and getting to work on timeZella looked radiant, her face smooth of wrinkles, her skin white, her hair carefully arranged, to the point where I wouldn't have been surprised to find that someone came around every morning to clean her up. As I peeked in further I saw the woman from the photographs, the one always in the background, aged so much I wouldn't have recognized her except I knew she'd be therethe private nurse Görbe had been paying for who knows how long to look after Zella. For a second it seemed to me that the nurse, with her thinning hair and withered face and bent back, was somehow paying the price, physically, for Zella's radiance. Closing my eyes I leaned against the wall and listened to her and Görbe. They were speaking Hungarian. It was the first time I'd heard Görbe use the language. The nurse's name was Zsuzsa, and what they spoke of was Zella's condition, how often the orderlies shifted her body to prevent bedsores, whether there was anything Görbe needed ("No" was his reply, though he thanked Zsuzsa for her concern), how his next book was coming along ("On time as always," was his tired reply), and whether Zsuzsa needed anything ("You've looked after me just fine," said the old woman). Then, after a short pause in which both of them seemed to be avoiding the next topic, Zsuzsa asked Görbe if he'd reconsidered "the treatment" proposed by "Dr. Norris." He replied so loudly I heard every word: "I've told you, I'm not ever going to agree to that. It's too risky." Zsuzsa's silence made it plain just how much she disagreed, or how little she believed that the "risk" was for him the only, or even the main, consideration.
"Can I help you, sir?" I was startled out of my eavesdropping by a nurse. I opened my eyes to find her standing in front of me, her hand on my shoulder as if she was worried I'd fall down. "Are you okay?"
"Oh," I said. "I'm just tired. A bit dizzy."
"Come over here." She did as I'd hoped and led me away from Zella's room to another waiting area, returning a second later with a glass of water. "I was on my way to see Dr. Norris," I said.
"Oh, he's not in today," said the nurse. "Did you have an appointment?"
"Well, no . . . I'm a writer. A journalist. I heard he's been experimenting with some new treatment and I was thinking maybe there was a story in it."
She looked at me strangely. "Well, I'm sure I wouldn't know anything about that." She got up and smoothed the fabric of her uniform on either hip, and said, "I hope you're feeling better." I told her I was, and the minute she was gone I rose to leave as well. I
It didn't take me long to look up Dr. Norris and discover he was a research physician at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center working on an experimental procedure for patients with "severe catatonia resulting from schizophrenia." I didn't have a lot of use for the articleit was filled with technical jargon I didn't understandexcept it gave me the window onto Görbe I'd been looking for. Zella was schizophrenic, the disease had worsened over time, and the reason Görbe lived in such poverty was because he spent all of his money on her care, and it didn't matter to him, because without Zella there was no life for him worth spending money on. I sat in the Bobst Library with the research in front of me and wondered what I was doing, how I'd come to this, obsessing over the troubles of a man who'd gone through more suffering than I could conceive, and beside which my own failures in New York amounted to nothing. I wondered, too, why Görbe had not taken up Dr. Norris's offer, for it seemed to me that neither he nor Zella had anything to lose. I'd seen her on the bed, so vegetative that whatever position they moved her body into it stayed there, like a mannequin. Even death seemed better than that. So why didn't he agree to it? And I think it was this, the hopelessness of Görbe's situation, his inability to do what he knew he had to do, that made me get up and call him.
Excerpted from Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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