Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 159

   

“That’s verra sensible of ye, Sassenach,” Jamie said, sounding faintly surprised that I was capable of sense. For that matter, I was a little surprised myself; my thoughts were becoming more fragmented by the moment, and it was an effort to keep talking logically.

Jamie saw it; he patted my hand and stood up.

“Ye dinna trouble yourself about it now, Sassenach. Rest, and I’ll send Marsali down wi’ some tea.”

“Whisky,” I said, and he laughed.

“All right, then, whisky,” he agreed. He smoothed my hair back, and leaning into the berth, kissed my hot forehead.

“Better?” he asked, smiling.

“Lots.” I smiled back and closed my eyes.

56

TURTLE SOUP

When I woke again, in the late afternoon, I ached all over. I had thrown off the covers in my sleep, and lay sprawled in my shift, my skin hot and dry in the soft air. My arm ached abominably, and I could feel each of Mr. Willoughby’s forty-three elegant stitches like red-hot safety pins stuck through my flesh.

No help for it; I was going to have to use the penicillin. I might be proof against smallpox, typhoid, and the common cold in its eighteenth-century incarnation, but I wasn’t immortal, and God only knew what insanitary substances the Portuguese had been employing his cutlass on before applying it to me.

The short trip across the room to the cupboard where my clothes hung left me sweating and shivering, and I had to sit down quite suddenly, the skirt clutched to my bosom, in order to avoid falling.

“Sassenach! Are ye all right?” Jamie poked his head through the low doorway, looking worried.

“No,” I said. “Come here a minute, will you? I need you to do something.”

“Wine? A biscuit? Murphy’s made a wee broth for ye, special.” He was beside me in a moment, the back of his hand cool against my flushed cheek. “God, you’re burning!”

“Yes, I know,” I said. “Don’t worry, though; I have medicine for it.”

I fumbled one-handed in the pocket of the skirt, and pulled out the case containing the syringes and ampules. My right arm was sore enough that any movement made me clench my teeth.

“Your turn,” I said wryly, shoving the case across the table toward Jamie. “Here’s your chance for revenge, if you want it.”

He looked blankly at the case, then at me.

“What?” he said. “Ye want me to stab ye with one of these spikes?”

“I wish you wouldn’t put it quite that way, but yes,” I said.

“In the bum?” His lips twitched.

“Yes, damn you!”

He looked at me for a moment, one corner of his mouth curling slightly upward. Then he bowed his head over the case, red hair glowing in the shaft of sun from the window.

“Tell me what to do, then,” he said.

I directed him carefully, guiding him through the preparation and filling of the syringe, and then took it myself, checking for air bubbles, clumsily left-handed. By the time I had given it back to him and arranged myself on the berth, he had ceased to find anything faintly funny about the situation.

“Are ye sure ye want me to do it?” he said doubtfully. “I’m no verra good with my hands.”

That made me laugh, in spite of my throbbing arm. I had seen him do everything with those hands, from delivering foals and building walls, to skinning deer and setting type, all with the same light and dextrous touch.

“Well, aye,” he said, when I said as much. “But it’s no quite the same, is it? The closest thing I’ve done to this is to dirk a man in the wame, and it feels a bit strange to think of doin’ such a thing to you, Sassenach.”

I glanced back over my shoulder, to find him gnawing dubiously on his lower lip, the brandy-soaked pad in one hand, the syringe held gingerly in the other.

“Look,” I said. “I did it to you; you know what it feels like. It wasn’t that bad, was it?” He was beginning to make me rather nervous.

“Mmphm.” Pressing his lips together, he knelt down by the bed and gently wiped a spot on my backside with the cool, wet pad. “Is this all right?”

“That’s fine. Press the point in at a bit of an angle, not straight in—you see how the point of the needle’s cut at an angle? Push it in about a quarter-inch—don’t be afraid to jab a bit, skin’s tougher than you think to get through—and then push down the plunger very slowly, you don’t want to do it too fast.”

I closed my eyes and waited. After a moment, I opened them and looked back. He was pale, and a faint sheen of sweat glimmered over his cheekbones.

“Never mind.” I heaved myself upright, bracing against the wave of dizziness. “Here, give me that.” I snatched the pad from his hand and swiped a patch across the top of my thigh. My hand trembled slightly from the fever.

“But—”

“Shut up!” I took the syringe and aimed it as well as I could, left-handed, then plunged it into the muscle. It hurt. It hurt more when I pressed down on the plunger, and my thumb slipped off.

Then Jamie’s hands were there, one steadying my leg, the other on the needle, slowly pressing down until the last of the white liquid had vanished from the tube. I took one quick, deep breath when he pulled it out.

“Thanks,” I said, after a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he said softly, a minute later. His hand came behind my back, easing me down.

“It’s all right.” My eyes were closed, and there were little colored patterns on the inside of my eyelids. They reminded me of the lining of a doll’s suitcase I had had as a child; tiny pink and silver stars on a dark background. “I’d forgotten; it’s hard to do it the first few times. I suppose sticking a dirk in someone is easier,” I added. “You aren’t worried about hurting them, after all.”

He didn’t say anything, but exhaled rather strongly through his nose. I could hear him moving about the room, putting the case of syringes away and hanging up my skirt. The site of the injection felt like a knot under my skin.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Well, ye should,” he said evenly. “It is easier to kill someone to save your own life than it is to hurt someone to save theirs. Ye’re a deal braver than I am, and I dinna mind your saying so.”

I opened my eyes and looked at him.

“The hell you don’t.”

He stared down at me, blue eyes narrowed. The corner of his mouth turned up.

“The hell I don’t,” he agreed.

I laughed, but it hurt my arm.

“I’m not, and you aren’t, and I didn’t mean it that way, anyway,” I said, and closed my eyes again.

“Mmphm.”

I could hear the thump of feet on the deck above, and Mr. Warren’s voice, raised in organized impatience. We had passed Great Abaco and Eleuthera in the night, and were now headed south toward Jamaica, with the wind behind us.

“I wouldn’t risk being shot and hacked at, and arrested and hanged, if there were any choice about it,” I said.

“Neither would I,” he said dryly.

“But you—” I began, and then stopped. I looked at him curiously. “You really think that,” I said slowly. “That you don’t have a choice about it. Don’t you?”

He was turned slightly away from me, eyes fixed on the port. The sun shone on the bridge of his long, straight nose and he rubbed a finger slowly up and down it. The broad shoulders rose slightly, and fell.

“I’m a man, Sassenach,” he said, very softly. “If I thought there was a choice…then I maybe couldna do it. Ye dinna need to be so brave about things if ye ken ye canna help it, aye?” He looked at me then, with a faint smile. “Like a woman in childbirth, aye? Ye must do it, and it makes no difference if you’re afraid—ye’ll do it. It’s only when ye ken ye can say no that it takes courage.”

I lay quiet for a bit, watching him. He had closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair, auburn lashes long and absurdly childish against his cheeks. They contrasted strangely with the smudges beneath his eyes and the deeper lines at the corners. He was tired; he’d barely slept since the sighting of the pirate vessel.

“I haven’t told you about Graham Menzies, have I?” I said at last. The blue eyes opened at once.

“No. Who was he?”

“A patient. At the hospital in Boston.”

Graham had been in his late sixties when I knew him; a Scottish immigrant who hadn’t lost his burr, despite nearly forty years in Boston. He was a fisherman, or had been; when I knew him he owned several lobster boats, and let others do the fishing for him.

He was a lot like the Scottish soldiers I had known at Prestonpans and Falkirk; stoic and humorous at once, willing to joke about anything that was too painful to suffer in silence.

“You’ll be careful, now, lassie,” was the last thing he said to me as I watched the anesthetist set up the intravenous drip that would maintain him while I amputated his cancerous left leg. “Be sure ye’re takin’ off the right one, now.”

“Don’t worry,” I assured him, patting the weathered hand that lay on the sheet. “I’ll get the right one.”

“Ye will?” His eyes widened in simulated horror. “I thought ’twas the left one was bad!” He was still chuckling asthmatically as the gas mask came down over his face.

The amputation had gone well, and Graham had recovered and gone home, but I was not really surprised to see him back again, six months later. The lab report on the original tumor had been dubious, and the doubts were now substantiated; metastasis to the lymph nodes in the groin.

I removed the cancerous nodes. Radiation treatment was applied. Cobalt. I removed the spleen, to which the disease had spread, knowing that the surgery was entirely in vain, but not willing to give up.

“It’s a lot easier not to give up, when it isn’t you that’s sick,” I said, staring up at the timbers overhead.

“Did he give up, then?” Jamie asked.

“I don’t think I’d call it that, exactly.”

“I have been thinking,” Graham announced. The sound of his voice echoed tinnily through the earpieces of my stethoscope.

“Have you?” I said. “Well, don’t do it out loud ’til I’ve finished here, that’s a good lad.”

He gave a brief snort of laughter, but lay quietly as I auscultated his chest, moving the disc of the stethoscope swiftly from ribs to sternum.

“All right,” I said at last, slipping the tubes out of my ears and letting them fall over my shoulders. “What have you been thinking about?”

“Killing myself.”

His eyes met mine straight on, with just a hint of challenge. I glanced behind me, to be sure that the nurse had left, then pulled up the blue plastic visitor’s chair and sat down next to him.

“Pain getting bad?” I asked. “There are things we can do, you know. You only need to ask.” I hesitated before adding the last; he never had asked. Even when it was obvious that he needed medication, he never mentioned his discomfort. To mention it myself seemed an invasion of his privacy; I saw the small tightening at the corners of his mouth.

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