11 months ago, part 2
Two weeks later, David came home to find the physicians in the apartment again, this time accompanied a person who was the equivalent of a constable in New Dorf. Elise’s health had been spotty at best. She’d been able to go to school on most days but had come home early twice this week for feeling ill. The teachers had asked David to keep Elise home, and she had been for the last two days. Elise hadn’t seemed that ill to David. She’d developed a persistent cough, but beyond that there was only the occasional fit of fatigue. There was one more day in David’s work week before his day off, at which time he’d planned to take her to the physicians. Here they were, in his uncle’s living room, apparently having an argument with the old drunk.
The largest room in the apartment, the living room, was illuminated by two head-high lamps sitting in opposite corners of the room. The one near the apartment door was always left off, so David immediately noticed the extra light coming from his left as he walked in. He noticed the bedroom door on the left wall (where he and his sister slept) was left ajar. This was odd, because Ol’ Ephraim liked the room door to be closed when the children were in the room. The entrance to the apartment was sat on the longest wall in the living room, and perpendicular to the far wall with the room’s only window. Knives stuck out from the long wall where Ephraim had thrown them from the couch, and there were no pictures or decorations on its face. Beyond the protruding knives, two shelves full of books sat perpendicular to each other, filling the corner at the far end of the room.
Ephraim sat on the couch (near the center of the room, only slightly closer to the window), and two collapsible chairs had been pulled to its sides for his “guests”. Nearest the couch was a short statue of a portly, bald man holding a tray, and the tray was littered with empty bottles, old food and trash. A small table in front of the couch was covered in the same décor. This room was as junkie as any other in the apartment, with trash and piles of books cluttering the floor. Anywhere one walked quickly began to feel like navigating a knee-high maze. Dr. Leah and Nurse Dennis sat in the collapsible chairs and Ephraim sat looking uncomfortably reclined on the couch.
The constable (a woman David recognized but didn’t really know) moved through the room observing the mess with obvious derision. The term “constable” fit her position for all intents and purposes even though she wore no particular badge. These positions were usually given to the cousins, nieces and nephews of New Dorf’s largest clan. They could detain people and bring them in front of the council for crimes but were far from a judge or jury. Most of their power came from the residents’ knowledge that the village council was comprised mainly of matriarchs and patriarchs of New Dorf’s major clans. Since most of New Dorf were people escaping the New Democracy, the most terrifying punishment was typically exile.
Upon seeing David, Dennis immediately stood and mad his way through the mess to the tired teen. He slowed as he approached, putting one hand on David’s shoulder and making a calming motion that looked to David like he was patting the head of an invisible child. “David, we’ve sent for some carriers. We’re moving Elise to our offices for a while.”
“What’s going on?”
“We’re concerned about her, that’s all. Her condition isn’t getting any better…”
David couldn’t help but notice the anxiousness in the nurse’s voice, “How is she? Is there anything I can do?”, he was already moving toward the bedroom door.
Dennis took a step in his direction and lifted a hand in caution, “I want you to see her, but she’s resting now. Try not to disturb her much.”
David continued to the bedroom, only casually listening to the discourse that continued in the living room but left the door open so he could hear what they were saying. Dr. Leah said something under her breath and Ol’ Ephraim stood to protest but was cut off by the constable’s firm, somewhat gruff voice.
“…The increase in youth with the stuff suggests that they’re getting it from somewhere local. We keep a tight lid on that stuff, you know.”
“We had to put in an official order for permission to give it to Elise.” Dr. Leah contributed, “It’s not like there’s a free market for it in New Dorf.”
The constable cut in, “But you know that all too well, don’t you Ol’ Ephraim?”
Dr. Leah continued, “We’ve been checking on Elise’s condition for weeks now, and she’s not getting any better.”
“Barbara at the pub told us you’d been putting word out the last couple of weeks. …telling some of our unsavory characters that you’ve got supply.” The constable was beginning to lose her patience and didn’t at all mind the obvious contempt in her voice.
Ephraim crossed his arms in front of his chest defensively, “I would never sell to any kids… not that stuff!”
“You sold to Lee Hernandez and she rolled on you. You’d better hope that Elise pulls through or you’ll be facing punishments much worse than exile.”, the constable put extra emphasis on “worse” as she spoke.
This whole conversation was happening in the background for David as he crept forward to peer at his sister. He had never really suspected that his sister wasn’t taking the medicine, she’d never mentioned anything like that to him. If Elise wasn’t taking it, why wouldn’t she have told him? An anger was building within him, and he tried to keep his focus on his resting sister. The room she lay in was quite still, and a curtain had been pulled over the window, blocking the rising moon. Elise lay with her face turned toward the wall and her legs pulled into an almost fetal position. A thin, rough blanket (lilac, but deep purple in the rooms shadows) covered most of her, leaving her head and feet exposed. David observed her for a few quick moments before sitting next to her on the bed.
In the next room, the conversation continued with the constable ordering Ol’ Ephraim to produce coin to pay for the girl’s medical expenses, “it’s not like you don’t have a few extra laying around, Ephraim. …Or did you already drink it all up?”
Ephraim was sputtering, “You… you don’t have to do that, Samia. The girl will be okay… D… Doc here is going to take her and everyth- thing will- ”
“You’re coming with me Ephraim!”, she had all but completely lost her patience, “Bring out the coin!”, to Dr. Leah, “We’ll stop by Stever’s and let him know what’s going on.”
“You’d better hope she’s all right, you ol’ drunk!”, Dr. Leah said, “That poor boy’s already lost the rest of his family. She’s all he has left! Did you think of that when you selling her medicine for some quick coin? Skies only know what harm you’ve brought to others with that stuff…” The doctor had remained seated throughout the entire conversation and Ephraim was making his way to one of the bookshelves in the corner. He shakily retrieved a hidden box from the shelf and pulled out a small cloth sack.
From his position on the sleeping mat, David was just able to view the ex-soldier through the bedroom door. He turned his attention back to his sister and put a comforting hand on her sweat-covered head. She felt…cold. Unbelievably cold for her head to be covered in sweat. “Elise?”, David touched his hand to her throat, also quite cold, to get a feel for her pulse but here was none. “Elise!?”, he shook her gently, but her body responded limply, and Elise didn’t respond at all. “Dennis!”, he turned his sister’s head as he called for the head nurse and was frozen by his sister’s eyes.
For his immediate family, David’s skin and hair were uncharacteristically fair. His father’s skin had been on the lighter side of olive and he’d had thick brown hair with natural golden streaks. His mother’s hair and skin had been lighter still, but David could have conceivably belonged to a different family, he was so light. Elise had grown long, auburn hair to her waist; her skin was somewhere between the hues of her parents, but her eyes…
Elise often got compliments on her bright, brown eyes with specs of green. They were sure to stand out and people would often stop to compliment them. David tended to think of his own eyes as boring and used to wish that his eyes were more like his sister’s. They were one of his favorite features on Elise, but something was missing in them now. David found their unfocused stare terrifyingly haunting.
His sister’s eyes were locked open, and David couldn’t pull himself away from their gaze. “Dennis!”, he choked the word out as his vision began to get watery. Not knowing what else to do, he pulled his sister’s body into a tight embrace and began whispering in her ear. Suddenly, he felt himself pulled away from her by firm hands. Dennis shoved the boy backward as he and Dr. Leah rushed to Elise’s side. A stethoscope seemed to materialize out of nowhere as the head physician examined the Elise that once was. David stood back, horrorstruck and hoping that his little sister would stir. After a few moments, however, the physicians stood and glanced at each other with grim expressions.
Turning to David, Dennis said, “She’s …gone,… David.” As if suddenly struck with a flash of fatigue, Dr. Leah fell into a sitting position on the bed. She held her face with one hand, as the other went to her heaving chest. She seemed to stare at the floor through the stacks of clutter that obscured it.
“You’re gonna pay for this…”, only now did David notice the constable in the room. She stood at the head of bed, looking down at Elise though it was clear she was addressing the shame-faced, terrified man in the doorway, “…exile won’t be an option.” The way she spoke loudly, but still under her voice, made it sound so much harder, “Tell him what you did.” Ephraim gasped as he looked up at David, but David had followed the constable’s gaze to be raptured again by Elise’s eyes. Those eyes…
He was amazed by how the light from the doorway reflected in them like two twilight stars in the deadness of her face. Her stare ignored surroundings, focused only on oblivion, but David felt those stars seemed to shine right at him. In one moment, he was affixed and staring into those hypnotic suns, then rapidly his rage began to consume him. David’s glare turned to Ephraim and the old drunk began backing out of the door. The constable was just beginning to turn away from Elise when David dashed for Ephraim, and the war veteran turned and ran into the living room. He made his way to the bookshelf while David tripped and fell over a stack of books.
The constable, startled by David’s dash, ran after the two while the physicians followed. Before she could grab hold of him, David had returned to his feet and was making his way toward Ephraim. Ephraim had gotten to the shelf and retrieved the hidden box again. He held up a fairly large bag of coins and shook them at David invitingly. “This… the rest is for you…”, he pleaded with David, “This is the rest of all your parents gave to me, now you can make your own way.”
David was right in front of him and approaching more slowly. He seemed to not even hear anything the whimpering man was saying. The constable had just caught up to the young man and put a firm hand on his shoulder. “He’ll go down for this!”, the constable said resolutely, “Step back. Let me take him in.”
The boy seemed to wake from a daze suddenly. David paused, turning his gaze from Ephraim to the cluttered floor. He turned his head and looked at the constable, “He deserves the worst…”, tears were streaming down his face, “…the…worst! …of ANY punishment!”
“I didn’t mean no harm… I’ll split the money with you…”
At the sound of Ephraim’s voice, David awoke to his rage again. He struck the old drunk clean across the chin before he knew what he had done. Ephraim staggered backward, and his butt suddenly went through the open window. He seemed to be sitting half-way out the window for a second, before his body folded forward like a long snout suddenly snapping shut and he slid backward into the night.
The constable dashed to the window and peered out at the three stories before the swampy waters. David didn’t dare to look but fell backward in shock; half landing on the couch and half landing on the cluttered floor. From the corner of his eye, he could see Dennis standing to his left. The nurse’s mouth was agape with disbelief and he was glancing from David to the window and back. Later, when David would think s memory, he would never remember the sounds of the man’s splash.
The constable turned from the window to look at David. Her face seemed to be filled with an immovable peace. She looked past David and said, “You two had better head into the bedroom. There’s… She’s not going to need the doctors anymore.” David craned his neck to see two men near the apartment entrance and carrying a stretcher. They stood there openmouthed, seeming to be confused about the events they had apparently just seen. One of them looked at David with a mix of horror and sympathy, until the constable woke them from their stupor with an urging wave. After returning their jaws from the floor to their face, they hurried into the bedroom. The constable stepped over to David and helped the young man to his feet. She pulled the young man into an embrace and held him close. David wept.