Passing Days

Fiction By Ezra // 9/4/2009

The wound was worse than Dr. Holiday had expected. Carefully, he pulled the blood-soaked tee shirt away from the break, showing the protruding bone and the swollen, sullen red skin around it. There were several long gashes as well, one of which ran from the ankle almost to the back of the knee.

He looked up. Melinda’s head was pressed back against the ragged, blue-green futon, and her clothes were soaked. A sheen of sweat also covered her face, dripping down her thin cheeks and ears and seeping into the cloth of her mattress. The wrinkles of a thirty-seven year old Micronesian villager showed clearly above her eyes, which were squinted in pain. He grimaced, looking back at the wound. There was an evil, dark yellow color seated inside of the gashes and around the break.
 
“I am so sorry, Ethan,” She said, then, lifting her head slightly. Her words were unsteady, quiet.
 
He replaced the tee shirt gently.
 
“If I – I’d been here…” he mumbled, sitting back.
 
His hand was shaking.
 
A nineteen-year-old girl with weary, reddish eyes was seated beside Melinda, nervously dabbing at the woman’s forehead with a folded bandana.
 
“Mandy,” Dr. Holiday said, turning toward her.
 
She stopped.
 
“Please wait for me outside.”
 
Mandy stood to leave, setting her bandana on the edge of the futon and walking toward the doorway of the tin-roofed hut. When she reached it, she stopped and glanced hesitantly back at him, as if expecting some further word.
 
He looked away, and in a moment she was gone.
 
“I’m going to give you something to ease the pain,” he finally said, turning back to his patient.
 
Reaching into the canvas pack at his side, he produced a small, silvery tube tipped with a needle. A typeset, red-lettered label on its side read, “Solution of Morphine Tartrate. E. R. Squibb and Sons, New York.” He broke the tip off of the needle and slid it under the skin of her arm, slowly squeezing until it was empty. After this, he slipped the used tube in a side pouch of his pack and looked back up at her.
 
“It’ll be a few minutes until the medicine sets in, Melinda,” he said. “I have to go outside, to speak to Mandy, but I’ll be back very soon.”
 
She nodded slightly in return, and he placed his hand on hers briefly before standing to walk outside.
 
A steady breeze had picked up since he had gone in, and cool air from the sea washed across his face when he stepped onto the path beside the hut. A loud rustling sound filled the scene as long blades of grass on either side of the mud-clay trail swelled back and forth with the wind in endless waves. The nineteen-year-old girl was standing there, across from the hut, fidgeting with her hair comb and watching him.
 
He removed his glasses and let out a long sigh.
 
“Mandy,” he said, running a nervous hand through his thin, grayish hair. “We’ll need water.”
 
Mandy did not move.
 
“Mandy,” he said again, forcefully.
 
“You can fix Mama’s leg?” she suddenly asked. “Like you fixed Adu’s arm?”
 
Something in her voice made him afraid to answer. Had she noticed his shaking hand? Or had he flinched earlier, when he saw the break?
 
“All things are in God’s hands, Mandy,” he replied, looking away.
 
For an instant, they were silent. Then Dr. Holiday replaced his glasses and looked cautiously back at Mandy.
 
“I’ll get some water, Grandfather,” she finally said, in a wavering voice.
 
He watched as she turned and began walking toward the center of the little village through houses of rusty tin and termite-ridden boards, which were arranged along the clay path and interspersed with coconut palms and mango trees. There was a government-built pipeline which ran to the center of the cluster of shacks, supplying rainwater from a large tank higher up on the island.
 
He looked around. There was an old palm stump by the path-side across from the Melinda’s hut, and he was weary from his hike to the village. He stepped over to the stump and eased himself down, wiping a hand across his forehead.
He could see the village chief from where he sat, an older man with a round belly and reddish-black teeth, propped up against the side of his house and clutching a half-empty bowl of betelnuts in his hands. The chief’s wife was also out, following a small boy about the path as he explored. Beyond them, several younger men were sitting around a fishing net, conversing distantly as they mended it.
 
“It’s not good, Becky,” the doctor said suddenly, still staring down the path. The grass around him continued to rustle, and the palms still stood above him in silence. “I’ve seen bad. But the infection is so deep, and the fever... I don’t know.”
 
He removed his glasses again, and ran a hand across his face, glancing out toward the sea. The water beyond the island’s reef was dark, moving in huge, solemn rollers which crashed into the coral in massive cascades of foam before they could reach the island’s beach.
 
“She was our first,” he continued, and something like a smile passed over him. “Do you remember it, Becky? Nothing for five years, and then that day she came up to us and told us, we had never known such joy. You didn’t even sleep that night, and you kept looking over at me and asking me if it had really happened.”
 
“Grandfather,” a voice called, abruptly, and his thoughts were interrupted.
 
Mandy was coming back down the path, and she was followed by a young man who was carrying the bucket of water.
 
“Grandfather,” the young man repeated, hurrying past Mandy. “I would have come if I had seen you. I can help if you need.”
 
Dr. Holiday replaced his glasses again, and stood.
 
“Thank you,” he said. “Yes. I would be grateful for your help, Noah. Please.
 
“We will need to heat some of this water. Do you remember when I showed you how to use my stove? It’s in the hut, in my pack. Use the chief’s pot, if he will let you. Mandy, I will need two straight branches – palm frond tips will work. Take Adu’s machete if you have to. Your mother’s medicine will begin to work in a few minutes, and then we will start.”
 
◊◊◊
 
It was about a quarter of an hour later that all preparations had been made. Dr. Holiday was kneeling on the floor of the hut beside Melinda’s bed, along with Mandy and Noah, and a gas lamp had been hung from the rafters to provide illumination in the twilight. The small, single-burner camp stove that the doctor carried with him was also lit, and topped with a tin pot which held steaming water and several medical instruments.
 
“Melinda,” he said quietly, touching her shoulder.
 
She looked up at him with groggy eyes. “Ethan?” she asked.
 
“It’ll be alright, Melinda,” he replied.
 
She nodded slowly.
 
He turned to Mandy, who was by her mother’s head.
 
“She is ready. Can you hold down her arms and shoulders?” he asked.
 
The girl nodded, fearfully.
 
“Noah.”
 
“Grandfather?”
 
“Her good leg?”
 
“Yes, Grandfather.”
 
The three moved into position around Melinda. Shadows from the stove and the lamp were flickering from the corners of the futon and casting vague shapes of the room’s occupants against the wall. Dr. Holiday shifted himself to the foot of Melinda’s futon and knelt.
 
Taking her bad leg, he lifted it slightly and then lowered it, straightening out the knee as he did. Melinda groaned slightly as he rested it back onto the futon.
 
“Hold her now,” he said, looking up at Mandy and Noah.
 
Then, bracing himself, he placed both hands around Melinda’s ankle, and pulled. The sudden action caused Melinda to strain against her holders, sitting halfway up and trying to free her arms from her daughter’s grasp. Then, suddenly, there was a strange pop, and Melinda relaxed, allowing herself to be eased back down into her bed. The leg was straight.
 
Dr. Holiday looked up at Mandy, who was still holding her mother’s shoulder with one hand. The other hand was shaking as she wiped it across her eyes.
 
Noah had let go of his grip, and was looking questioningly at the doctor.
 
“Is there more, Grandfather?” he asked, and he nodded toward the little stove.
 
“Yes,” Ethan replied, and realized that he was still holding Melinda’s ankle. He let go.
 
Melinda’s skin was still hot, and she had begun to shiver.
 
“Yes,” he said again. “We must drain as much of the poison out of her leg as possible, and perhaps she will be able to fight through the rest.”
 
◊◊◊
 
Several hours later, Dr. Holiday was sitting wearily on the floor next to Melinda, who seemed to be sleeping. Her bad leg was covered in bandages and splinted between the two palm frond tips which Mandy had cut. The stove was off, but the gas lamp still burned, hissing slightly as it illuminated the hut. Mandy and Noah had gone outside on Ethan’s orders, to rest.
 
There was now a pile of filthy rags and gauze material sitting on a banana leaf in one corner of the hut, and an empty vial of penicillin had joined the used morphine tube in the doctor’s pack. He had just begun to close his eyes when she spoke.
 
“Ethan?” she said, and her voice was quiet, as if there was nothing behind it.
 
His eyes opened, and he leaned up from the wall to face her. “Melinda?”
 
“Ethan?”
 
“Yes?”
 
Melinda paused, gathering herself to speak.
 
“I know you loved her,” she said. “I know you loved her so much. And when she left us, I cried because I missed her, but also because I could see that you were in such pain.”
 
Ethan said nothing.
 
“And I never forgot what you taught us, even when you left, and John died, and it was just Mandy and I.”
 
“I should never have left,” Ethan interjected, looking away.
 
They were both silent for several moments.
 
“I remember when you and Becky first convinced me to keep Mandy,” Melinda finally said. “She has been my joy. She and Noah will marry soon, too, so I go to the Lord without worry.”
 
“You’re not going yet, Melinda,” Ethan interjected.
 
“I am going,” Melinda insisted, and her voice was barely audible.
 
At this, Ethan shifted back to kneeling at her side, and took her wrist in one hand. The skin was cool, though still damp from sweat, and the pulse under her skin was weak.
 
“Melinda, I’m so sorry,” he said suddenly.
 
“You have been a blessing, Ethan,” she replied in a whisper. “From God.”
 
For a moment after this he stared at her, feeling her pulse grow slowly weaker. Then he called sharply for Mandy, who came running in several seconds later, followed by Noah. When she saw the Ethan’s face, she jumped to her mother’s side. There were tears in the doctor’s eyes.
 
◊◊◊
 
The funeral was very simple. Dr. Holiday read a few verses from the epistle of Hebrews, and Melinda was laid in the ground by the clay path, in a clearing right before the village. Mandy and Noah were married in that same clearing, several weeks after the funeral.
 
In 1977, ten years later, another grave was dug by the path, and a silvery-haired accountant named Michael Holiday came out to the islands to lay his brother to rest. A singular gravestone was placed there, on the path side, with this inscription: “Here lies Ethan Holiday, who gave his life in service. Of him, the world is not worthy.”

Comments

Wow...I really don't know

Wow...I really don't know what to say. Amazing....

Just curious, is this based on a true story?

Ariel | Fri, 09/04/2009

*****************************************
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it." -- Herman Melville

Beautiful...and sad. I've got

Beautiful...and sad. I've got tears in my eyes. Is it true?

- Laura

Anonymous | Fri, 09/04/2009

Excellent

An excellant use of imagery and emotion...very vivid and moving.

Julie | Fri, 09/04/2009

Formerly Kestrel

Wow, Ezra. This was

Wow, Ezra. This was beautiful.

Erin | Fri, 09/04/2009

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

I second OFG's question...

I second OFG's question... and where does this take place? 

I really liked this - once I read it again skipping over most of the medical stuff. Guess you could say I have a really weak stomach. There are some parts I don't get, though - what exactly happened? Why wasn't Ethan there?

Kyleigh | Sat, 09/05/2009

Hmm...I was trying to say

Hmm... I was trying to say alot with a few words, but I may have used a few to few. Can you tell who/what Becky is supposed to be?

As to the basis of the story, no. But the main character is based loosely off of several people I have known/known of.

Ezra | Sat, 09/05/2009

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

This was lovely, Ezra--it

This was lovely, Ezra--it felt at once legendary and realistic, if that makes sense.  And I am supposing that Becky was Ethan's wife.

Annabel | Sat, 09/05/2009

Yes

Is it obvious that she died, then, or is that part confusing?

Ezra | Sat, 09/05/2009

"There are no great men of God. There are only pitiful, sorry men whose God is great beyond measure." - Paul Washer [originally Jonathan Edwards]

not in the least

I'm just speaking for myself, of course, but it seemed very clear and smooth to me.

Annabel | Sat, 09/05/2009

Well done, Ezra.

This short story was well thought out.  I could almost imagine it happening where we used to live.  It must be in the Republic of Palau, because of the name "Adu"...

James | Wed, 09/09/2009

<><~~~~~~~~~~~~><>
"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

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