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A Heart dies a slow death (revised) by Natalia Clarke

© Natalia Clarke

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1

Who was to know that the life of a child born that evening would be as dramatic as events, which brought it into the world? She will grow into a constant reminder of what had been lost, but how great a gain it would be, Alexei was yet to find out. The love he felt for his wife would transfer into his daughter and grow stronger with each moment he spent near her.

In the evenings the temperature fell to forty degrees below zero. Nature stood still with white cover on trees sparkling in the evening street lights. Eerie silence in the frozen November air, no car engines heard or people visible.

Maria lay dead on the table. She looked at peace, but Alexei couldn’t help asking why? Why her? Why now? Tears fell down his expressionless face, stone-cold like the air in the room. A stare fixed on her full of devotion trying to penetrate the white skin, sharp as a laser searching for signs of life, for some warmth and hope, but all in vain. He stretched his arms towards his wife, but his feet remained still. Paralysed with grief and a complete inability to understand what had happened in this room he resisted the thought of a harsh reality entering his mind. Everything that was him in the world was taken away in an instance and no reason would ever be given. Alexei couldn’t bring himself to come closer, he knew that he would never let go if he moved another step, but he had to let her go. How absurd and impossible that idea seemed to him.

Tears heavy in his eyes, unable to sob or scream Alexei quietly rocked backwards and forwards. He never knew how his wife had felt for the last months of her life. He realised how alone she must have been and what a journey she’d made in pursuit of a baby she wanted so desperately. Perhaps, he could have done more? Guilt pinched at his heart and left a stinging feeling. He felt nausea rising to his throat.

They had met on a summer afternoon at a friends' house. Alexei paused in his conversation, as Maria walked in giggling with one of her girlfriends. Young and carefree the sun caught in her golden hair and Alexei’s heart was lost. Her eyes met his and they both smiled, captured in a moment of joy and belonging. Nothing could separate them from that day forward. They married soon after. Alexei adored her. Maria was gentle and affectionate, generous and tender. They longed for a child, however their hopes were crushed again and again after many months of agonising losses. It happened three times, the loss of their babies, all within a space of two years. They carried on determined to build a family that would wrap them in a precious gift of love and togetherness.

That dream was now dead and connection broken forever. Alexei struggled to take a breath. The lights in the room where Maria lay went out and he felt his whole being entering the darkest lonely place. He closed the door behind him and walked over to the room next door. The little bundle was moving in a cot, making noises completely unaware of the turmoil in her father’s heart. He picked her up gently pressing her against his shoulder, warm and so alive. “Just you and me, my love.” He called her Lena after his favourite Siberian river.


2

Alexei Dumov was a gentle man with eyes of intense cornflower blue. Every emotions expressed in his eyes. Sadness, compassion, determination, but what you could see the most of all is love. Always alive with a spark in his heart, a hope to so many. He was very respected by people. His endless energy was directed towards helping those in need.

The trauma of Maria's death made the spark dimmer, only to be lit again full force when he first laid eyes on Lena.
“You have done everything you could Alexei, you know that, don’t you?” his best friend tried to offer some words of comfort.
"Have I? I am the one, who brought this child into the world and killed Maria by doing so,” his voice was shaking with despair. "She wanted this baby more than anything. I did too, but now I want Maria more, I want her back, Oleg.” He broke down and Oleg knew that there was nothing he could say that would help make any of it better. A dear, old friend held Alexei's trembling body feeling sad and helpless.
“Why her? She was the best thing that this world could have had. She’s...,” Alexei felt a painful grip on his heart.
“I know, I know, but you mustn’t blame yourself. You have got a child to think about now, your daughter.”
“A child?” he looked at Oleg in bewilderment as if hearing it for the very first time.
“Yes, yours and Maria’s. Your wife is gone, but left behind the most precious thing for you, a hope, future, a new life.”
“I can’t.”
“Yes, you can and you will. She needs you, she’s got no one, but you and you’ve got her.”

It is quite bizarre how absurdly beautiful such vivid, raw, open suffering can be. Openness and intensity of emotion creates an honest atmosphere where you can’t help but wonder if one is capable of living with such strength of emotion and not being afraid to display it. Self-indulgent, intense and, oh, so courageous. Alexei’s love for Lena turned into something like that and the way he loved would implant that strength of feeling in his daughter. A blessing and a curse!


Their life was good and steady. Lena was growing up fast. She was a determined, bright child. He could never look at her without a piercing feeling of joy and love shone through his whole being. He would pick her up and tenderly sitting her down on his lap would look at her with that unconditional feeling. She felt it always. He rocked her to sleep at night singing old songs his mother used to sing to him. He had a rich voice that spread like velvet in the air of the room. He took her to hospital with him when she was a bit older and there she saw her father, a doctor, at work. He worried a lot, but that feeling soon overpowered by a reassurance of Lena being near. They travelled together when his work took him around the country. Waiting on the swings with a book of fairy tales on her lap Lena looked content in knowing her father would come out soon. And sure enough Alexei would run out in the interval between lectures and presentations with a worried, impatient look on his face, fix her undone plats, hold her for a minute and disappear back in again. Lena used to think her father was a superman, the best person in the world. Afterwards they would have tea with lumps of sugar in it and sausages covered in tomato sauce in a nearby cafe. Those were happy times for both of them.


Lena

My mother died giving birth to me. That’s what they had told me, but it was never talked about. Not at all. I always felt from then onwards that I had to find my own version of my mother somehow. It was up to me to bring her back into my life, to connect. I wanted to. I loved her even without knowing her. Music was the link that thread us together.
I was five when music entered my life. Oh how I waited for the moment, for my passion to be seen by the world. My eyes shone bright and I felt the warmth all around me. My favourite sensation I decided a year ago. We prepared. I sang and sang as hard as I could as if songs would run out. They never did. One day I discovered an old piano in the garage and touched its keys with my five-year old fingers and music came out. The piano belonged to my grandmother, I learnt later, a dream of hers never realised. The beautiful instrument stood there in the shadows just waiting to be discovered.

Finally the day arrived and my father took me to the music school for an entrance audition. I walked proudly through the door ready to sing for a teacher waiting for me in one of the rooms. Everything was shiny and noisy around me buzzing with promise. And then a plump woman with a warm smile and gentle face invited me in. I felt my father’s anxiety, as he let go off my hand and I disappeared behind the door. I did not sing. Only minutes later I stood with my head low in the corner I listened the teacher talking to my father. Irina Vasilievna was her name. She smiled at my father and with some sort of curious disbelief and warm sympathy she said,
“Your little girl won’t sing for me. I tried a few things, but in fact, she won’t even speak.”
“I don’t understand it, Alexei looked concerned and nervous. We have been practising for months. She sings very well and loves music, ever since she was a small child. Please can you try again, please?” There was so much hope in his eyes that the teacher couldn’t turn him down and I felt bad.
Irina Vasilievna gently led me back into the room, but it was hopeless, not a sound came out of my mouth that day. I felt my stomach tighten from wanting to be in this place so much, but not wanting to sing. It was a mixture of fear and excitement that stopped words from coming out. And then a miracle happened, well, I thought of it as a miracle for many years after.
“I tell you what. All right. I will take a chance here and accept her. The teacher said with seriousness in her voice and some confusion, as if not knowing herself why she made that decision. I don’t know why, but I have a good, strong gut feeling about your daughter. This might seem strange, but there you go. People say I can smell musical talent in people. How about that?”
She laughed out loud tapping my father on his shoulder. I held my breath. How did she know? Could she know I wanted this so much? My father remembered my sweet teacher’s laugh for a long time spreading across a long corridor of the school where he came again and again to pick Lena up or sit at one of her yearly exams. There was so much kindness and hope in that booming laugh he couldn’t help but feel relieved and grateful and sure of great things to come for me, his daughter.

“See you next week for your enrolment young lady, she stroked my head gently with her plump hands. Here is a biscuit for you and thank you for coming.”

Irina Vasilievna was right and Papa loved repeating it over and over to himself and others folding his hands doing it as if trying to preserve something previous in his palms. I loved watching him be happy although he wouldn’t admit it, but always say, “Oh how much I love you, Lena”. I knew.
They said I had a gift from God and that in Irina Vasilievna’s whole career she had never came across such a talented student, no one even came close and she doubted it would ever come again. And a brilliant musical career was quickly mapped out for me. The day I never sang - that’s how my father would remember it always smiling and shaking his head in disbelief remembering. I didn’t really understand it, I was five. All I knew was that when I played I could breathe easily and fly like a bird and most of all I could hear my mother.

Years went by, full of concerts, practising sessions filled with musical professors and musicians and many musical contests. My life was full of music and it was as natural to me as breathing. I never wanted it to stop. There was nowhere I would have rather been than lost in another world my piano provided. I thought of it as magical, the way my fingers would take me there, to the world beyond our small town flat. When I played I knew my father was behind the door listening whenever he could. It was as if he was afraid to interrupt the flow of what was happening to me while playing. I knew he cried listening and waited till I finished when I threw myself around his neck to let him know I loved him. They said I had a gift of feeling my music. They said it was beautiful and gripping. I think I understood that because all that existed in me was a feeling when I played. It was bigger than me and I let it spread around my body, mind, heart, everything. They said it was like a symphony of emotion every time. My teacher always knew my mood and how I felt just by listening to me play and so I felt my way through the music school in good times and bad with music as a constant companion.

“What’s his name, she asked me one day out of the blue not turning away from the window. I stopped playing and said nothing. I think you will sing soon, let alone speak, my dear. Love is not too far away.” Irina Vasilievna's eyes sparkled mysteriously like two shiny black buttons when she turned around and waved her hand to let me know I could carry on playing. I admired and even feared my teacher. She was strict with her craft. So wise and carefree, a grown-up and a child all in one person. That was unique for me. Her laugh was my favourite. Whenever I heard it I felt home somehow and knew everything would be ok.

“Come here and tell me, how your day was. You look tired, did you even manage to take a break?” I loved it when my father and I were alone like this.
“ Papa I don’t have time for breaks, you know that, not really. I need to be here at nine and there at eleven and so many plans are made for me constantly that I feel a bit lost sometimes. It is hard, but I can't imagine not ever doing it.”
I did wish occasionally I could slow down and do something other than music, but somehow it was stuck to me like the most familiar and favourite dress, something I couldn’t imagine not ever wearing.
“I still have school to finish and they are already talking about conservatoire. Sometimes I don’t think they realise I am only twelve.”
He smiled softly at me taking me into his heart once again.
"I know it must get all too much for you sometimes, but just think about how brilliant your career will be." He couldn’t help but dream about my future. I did too. We both talked while imagining polished grand pianos in grand concert halls around the world filled with people ready to admire.
“I know, Papa and I can’t wait, honest, 'but in the meantime I have to do my homework, can you help me with math please?”

Some evenings we sat together after dinner and talked about anything and everything. But sometimes I wanted to ask questions he found difficult to answer.
“Papa, do you think happiness is something I will have, does everyone find happiness in life? I have been thinking again, I often think about things I haven’t experienced yet and wonder what it would be like.”
“Happiness is a difficult thing to explain. You can be happy just for one split second, a minute, an hour, a year and it would never be repeated again for as long as you live, but somehow that would be enough. Happiness can be taken away in an instant and never returned. Most people never find happiness or able to see it, to catch it and for various reasons let it pass them by."
“Why would they want to do that?”
“Oh they don’t want to, but some circumstance might be stronger than what people want. Happiness is a choice sometimes, for some it is natural, for some it is hard to make it and for some it would never be possible.”
I stroked his hand gently looking at his face intently.
“You ask serious questions, Lena. How quickly you are growing up.”

“What about love, Papa?” something told me I took him by surprise with that question.
“Love. Well. There are different kinds, you know,” sadness covered his face.
“I think I understand,” I quickly nodded wanting for the question to go back where it came from. I didn’t want to upset him by talking about my mother. He always spent days in a sad trance after we talked about her, although he always denied it, I always knew it was never going to be easy for him. He would sometimes say how beautiful and gentle she was and how she always smiled and made him laugh and how she wanted me so very much, how I was just like her. Those moments were rare like a spontenous narrative that sometimes had to come out, but he never really talked about her, not really. It filled him with pain and joy all at the same time.
I couldn’t bear to see him like this, so didn’t bring it up as it woke the sorrow up within him. I didn’t know but hoped and felt that the gaping hole in his heart was filled by me being near him. I often felt if I was around nothing bad would happen to him and vice versa.

I had no sense of my mother, no understanding or perception of what she looked like, sounded like. How did she walk? Was she tall or short? I felt bereft of knowing her.
“Do I look like her, Papa?’ he would walk straight out of the room and later I would see him sitting on his bed with his head in his hands, rocking. In moments like this I didn’t know what to do, how to feel, but I felt a lot. One thing I knew somehow was that my mother, Maria, could sing. I just knew.


3

Things changed over the years. My careless childhood was replaced by dark, uncertain times of complex politics, chaos and criminality. Russia in the 90s. New feelings awoke in me, a new anxiety came in. I didn’t know what to do with these feelings that unsettled me.
There was so much freedom but so much chaos. I felt it in my body all twisted and uncomfortable. Situations out of anyone’s understanding and out of control happened every day and we lived with it not noticing the absurdity. A couple got murdered the other day in the flat next door and no one asked any questions, just something, which fed old ladies’ gossip outside the blocks of flats, just another thing to talk about ‘what a shame, what a waste’ and then life carried on and everyone hoped it wouldn't be them tomorrow. There was no reason or explanation for anything anymore, just one absurd, dark reality with uncertain future.

Fear was constantly present in our lives. We were afraid to go out and many became prisoners in their own homes. There didn’t seem to be an end to it, so we accepted it and carried on. All we saw around us are bars on every window and heavy iron doors with bolts bigger than anything you had seen anywhere. Papa came home one day announcing us also having a new flat 'armour' the next day. “How expensive safety had become these days,” I heard neighbours talk and yet again, one joined in the chat to find the best price and place to get that protection. Would we ever be safe again? The state of mind we were in on a daily basis was absurd, fear lived in us like norm and it felt like we would never think or feel anything else for as long as we lived. I feared for my father and him spending long hours at work. I told him I loved him more as if to ensure the foundation of that was to remain unshakable, to comfort him, to make him feel better. He smiled at me with his blue oceans for eyes, brush back his silver-touched hair and with a swift kiss would disappear out of the door. His smell of cigarettes and sunshine would linger for some time where he last stood and I would pause in the space as if not willing to let go.

This oppressive state of things and ridiculously ironic state of our minds, living in a constant fog made me angry. The knowledge of everything being so wrong never left my mind and the idea of surrendering to the absurd reality didn’t seem an option either. Was there a different way? Another life? Seeing everyone’s submissiveness and acceptance of the situation made things worse. There was nothing to talk about but safety, not in the way you would, but in terms of prices, taking time off work to install iron doors, which would seem ridiculous, yet so vital to our lives.

In spring the snow would melt and flood the streets, which would make walking around without having anything, but heavy rubber boots on impossible. I saw young girls at a distance trying to cross a road in high heels and it seemed hopeless, yet they tried to find a dry patch somewhere ending up covered in mud despite the effort. How symbolic of swimming against the current, which only made things look more absurd. People attempted to cheat the weather and not accepting the fact that you could not walk the streets in high-heeled shoes and not look ridiculous. They would rather try to make it look normal somehow disregarding the fact or even a possibility of looking ridiculous. This was a reality people lived in, pretending that it was all ok and acceptable when it was not. People were avoiding looking inside themselves too. Why do that, it was best buried and forgotten. By doing so, one would only cause oneself a greater harm.

My friends and I often got together during those uncertain times. We talked about literature and all the great people of the past; poets, musicians, who thought so deeply and showed in their masterpieces how right they were about the state of things to come. Philosophy was another way to escape, as we could theorise about things for hours temporarily forgetting the facts of lives outside our iron doors. It was easy and the most enjoyable pass time of my adolescence. We wrote songs about love and loss, sang them gathered round the piano and at that moment everything was all right. It was our happy escape, but we did know that there would come a time when we would have to go out into the real world again. We knew all too well that a safe shelter that music and books provided was only a temporary luxury. It was as if every time we were preparing ourselves for going to war. Later on we would hear stories of horror and some of us would experience first-hand harsh realities of burglaries, drugs, rape and murder.

I had another friend, a special one. When I was thirteen I spotted a boy when looking out of my window. I did that a lot, observing. I enjoyed looking out of my window, from a height, seeking details of daily life, watching, bemused by peoples’ mad dashing around. I remember thinking, oh, I never saw you before. He was tall and older than me. Where did he come from? Peter Morozov. My awkward girlfriend introduced us mumbling my name to him on a flight of stairs on evening. “This is Lena. She likes you... I think,” my friend blurted out. He smiled broadly and said, “Well, it is nice to meet you Lena. I am Peter.” I didn’t know what to do with myself, but couldn’t take any of it back or wanted to, so Peter and I became something whole, something for me to rely on and hold on to. He was all about unwavering loyalty and integrity.

He looked at me with such warmth from under his beautiful eyelashes. I felt their touch on my face when he held me. I felt safe with him and completely relaxed. His devotion to his sick mother inspired admiration in me and I often looked at him in awe and wanted to be like him, wanting to have a mother to look after. I cried with him often. He listened patiently holding my hand. I could tell him anything and his soothing voice always had a sort of medicinal effect, like a nectar relieving old wounds of their oozing.
“It must be tough, Peter,” I would say to him.
“Not at all. She is my mother and my home, all that I have.”
We sat on a bench outside the flats hand in hand, silent and reassured by each other’s presence. I felt the warmth of his body next to mine and I knew he loved me. I loved him too, but not in a way he wanted me to and I felt bad about that, yet drawn to him regardless we carried on in our connection. Something bigger kept us together. “When I look at you, he would say sometimes, I feel there is no limit to this life, this experience. You are like cosmos that keeps me breathing.” I would laugh at him gently slapping his arm and see a hint of sadness in his face. I felt bad, so I would hug him tightly around the neck to let him know I was there and was happy to be his cosmos if he wanted me to be.

I thought of love what felt like always to me, for most of my life. I was born from it somehow and had to find out what it was, question it, search for it, understand it. Was it a thing that made my father sad or something Peter carried in him like a precious stone, so strong and unwavering? Was it a smile of my mother when she realised she was having me? Was it a feeling in me when I imagined I was somewhere else, in a land far away, flying free like the wind? Oh how I wanted to fly away? What was I seeking? It excited me to think there was a future that I didn’t know the look of. I dreamt of it, but deeply knew there were things to come, as teenagers often do. Daydreaming of adventures and freedom and far-away lands. It scared me too thinking of my father and Peter and our little world in this small Siberian town with forest for borders. Would I not miss it? Although happiness and joy of my childhood was real there was always something I wanted to run away from, something pressing on my chest, which brought up dark moods from within me. For days I would walk submerged into a place of not knowing, not feeling. It scared me too. My father knew that place well and that was where we met together holding one another in an old arm chair in silence, which he would break with a song sometimes. A lullaby of sorts, but sad, with a heartache in its centre. I liked how it matched what we were in those moments, together, being with it all. That was how I learnt to feel, openly, with no consequence or judgement, together with my one parent left to keep me safe.

"This is grief, my father would say, you feel this way because you miss her." That made sense to me and I was no longer afraid of the feelings that came often uninvited. "Do you miss her, Papa, like I do? I was careful to mention it to him at any other times, but when we were curled up in our world of feeling together I felt it was allowed, it was safe. "Very much so." We didn’t speak much afterwards and carried on with our day-to-day and in time both came back to life again like the sun rises from behind the dark clouds after the rain.

Was it time to leave, but how? Everyone thought about it, but it always felt like a dream. I yearned for a change and a faraway place with no oppression in the air. Just to get a glimpse of something new, something different. I wanted to leave this ‘wonderland’ so dear to my heart, where my mother’s bones lay. I felt the damage in the land I loved with no possibility of a repair. Oh how I wanted to erase that taste of constant fear and emptiness in exchange for stability and a bit of normality. Forgetting would be an impossible task. After all this, place held everything precious to me, a place that taught me how to feel. The very vivid memory of this life would make me go through life knowing how it could be and realising how it should be.

During those times I never knew what lay ahead and one might say ‘grass is always greener’, but no one knows for sure until you try. Is it always the way we imagine? Perfectly structured and neat with vibrant colour spread all over it? I hoped so, but is dreaming something useful really or a simple imagining of a future we don’t know? And I didn’t know, how could I? What I dreamt about then would turn out much different. All my intentions would be overtaken by fate and ask me to make choices I didn’t imagine existed. I did yearn for a different type of freedom, without chaos, a freedom place where things could be done, a freedom of choice, and possibilities, which could be turned towards creating a better world. I wanted my music to be heard far and wide and imagined huge concert halls filled with souls seeking whatever was relevant to them at the time. Music healed, I knew that. It also made our wounds awake and bleeding. My heart wouldn’t’ ease up on wanting a chance to try.

4

On my eighteen’s birthday I was home with all my university friends. We gathered round the table covered with familiar food and drink. Rosy cheeks with smiles on ready for a heart-warming celebration all around me yet something was amiss. I could feel something rising from my stomach to my head making me dizzy. Papa gave me a present in the morning before he left for work. It was a gold necklace, an old one, in a shape of a tulip. It was a beautiful piece, delicate, but strong. Something that withstood the test of time and now wanted to be handled gently. Passed to my father from his grandmother, to his mother, my babushka, and then was given to my mum on their wedding day. Now it was my turn to have it.
“It belonged to your mother, keep it safe,” that is all he said to me leaving the room and looking back with a brief smile. See you tonight. He never came back that night or the night after that. I didn’t know then that I would not see my Papa again for a long time.

Friends left quite late and I didn’t know where he was. Standing in a narrow hallway attached to a telephone receiver I kept on dialling the same number with my fingers trembling and my heart sinking deeper into my stomach. Something was wrong. There was a constant engaged tone on the other end of the line. I knew he couldn’t call when he was on duty and I wanted to run to him, to feel his presence as the world within disarrayed itself more and more, minute by minute. I took a deep breath and waited.

My father’s work took most of his time. Highly respected in medical circles and successful in many areas of reorganising the health system he was a friend and colleague to many, but most importantly he was my Papa, one and only, who held me just the right way when I hurt and spoke the way only he knew how. A man of strong values. Community trusted him, as he was one of the rare breed of humans, who always looked after welfare of less fortunate than him. I think he felt deeply grateful despite his losses of the past. I liked to think of myself as his comfort and tried my best to show him. Protective, I suppose, the one person mine and only mine.

Elderly and children were my father's weakness. Whenever he passed a begging child on the street, he would approach wanting to comfort a poor creature, but every time there would be a mother or a father, not far away, who would play on his weakness using their child to get money. They were only trying to survive, forgotten by the country, having no choice. He always gave, but it did make him shiver with anger. A state of things in the country penetrated through him like a very blunt knife, not quite injured and not yet dead. “I feel a monster rising from the depth of despair and soon it will hit us all,” he would say to me and I come closer try to smooth out his lined forehead, as if to make things better.

There were often elderly women selling potatoes on street corners, looking very frail in the cold wind, which seemed to penetrate their every bone filling them with even more discomfort, physical to add to the emotional. They would never give up hope, however, that someone would come and buy a few vegetables, which would be enough to buy some bread and milk that day. That someone would be Papa and I witnessed him buying the whole display from these women again and again. “I feel safer knowing they will eat tonight, or so I hope. What are we without hope, nothing, just objects circling around in the vacuum of life.” He saw the elderly as the most helpless members of this society, which had no future with their lives behind them, hard lives. He would see them too often in hospital abandoned in their beds quietly dying. His work as the head of an emergency department could have taken him places, opened doors. Opportunities were thrown at him from everywhere. He could have easily been elected into a local government for a position of a health deputy and may be even a place in parliament. He didn’t want it. He gave up gynaecology soon after the death of my mother and got a job where he could forget his own pain and work all hours.
“If it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I could ever see the sun for what it is, warm and nourishing, he’s say to me often, poetically. For me not to drown sometimes all I need is to hear your voice and all is good again in the world.” I smiled at him and tucking myself into his shoulder inhale his well-established hospital smell.


At about 10.30pm on Lena’s birthday, when Alexei was on his way home to spend time with his daughter and get ready for their weekend away, her birthday treat, the ambulance trolley came crashing through the entrance door. The look of two men behind the trolley, two skinheads in leather jackets, didn’t feel right. Alexei threw his coat off rushing towards them trying to have a closer look at a screaming man on a trolley.
“Stand back please, he shouted, get him in here quickly.”
It didn’t look good. A gun wound clearly presented itself when Alexei opened up a young man’s jacket. At that moment and before Alexei had a chance to say anything, the two skinheads in leather ordered everyone, but Alexei, to leave shutting the door of a resuscitation room behind startled staff.
“You, listen here, one man spoke to Alexei with a wild look in his eyes. Do everything for him, keep him alive, do you hear, or.... ” He reached into the pocket of his blood stained jacket and Alexei could clearly work out a shape of a gun inside.
“What’s happened? How was he shot?” Alexei asked quietly trying to compose himself.
“None of your business. Your business is to make him better,” one of them spat on the floor in frustration.
“I am going to need some help here,” Alexei struggled to control the bleed.
“No, you will have to cope by yourself. You can do that, can’t you, a good doctor like yourself,” a man was getting impatient moving his grimaced face closer to Alexei’s.
“Just do it,” the other man said moving closer from the other side and Alexei felt a hard, cold metal of a gun against his skin.
They stood there watching while Alexei struggled to keep the man alive. He was in a bad state, but there was hope. All Alexei could think about looking at this young wounded man was Lena. I’ve got to do this, finish it and they will go away. He kept repeating to himself.
“So, doc, will he live?” One of the men asked impatiently after watching Alexei struggling for a while.
“Yes, he will be fine, but it will be a while before he’s fully recovered.”
“Let us worry about that.”
That’s when it suddenly hit him. He couldn’t let them leave without making a record of this incident. He needed to fill out paperwork and inform the police.
“Have you got a death wish old man? Papers, he says. Are you serious? We don’t need that kind of attention, do you understand the situation here?”
“I understand that it is my duty to inform the authorities. We can’t let an incident like this go unrecorded. How many more young people will get shot if you are not stopped?” he looked one of them straight in the eye with cold disgust. He felt chills going down his spine wanting to stop talking like that, but he found he could not. Where did he think he was? Did he forget it was Russia and those men... It was like a deep dark hole within him opened up, a place that hadn’t seen the light for a long time and there was no spotting what was coming out. He desperately tried to compose himself, but hatred rose within him. He called on Lena’s face reasoning with himself overtaken by the uncontrollable impulse to punish.
“Are you being stupid or just naive, what record? This conversation is over, one of the men dismissed Alexei. We leave our friend here for now, as he doesn’t look good plus he is unconscious and still needs your attention, but will be back to collect him later and remember, not a word. As far as you are concerned, you don’t know anything. Do you understand?”
Alexei nodded reluctantly knowing he had to do something to get out of this, but with his principles intact. He had to stop them, they couldn not do this, this is a hospital and someone had to know about it and take responsibility. He stood against everything those men represented, although he also knew he was just a doctor and didn’t stand a chance without putting himself in danger, but principles, those principles, how could he let that go?

“What are you saying?” a man in a big leather chair leaned forward continuing to smoke his cigar.
“He said he will call the police and papers need to be filled in or something.”
“Who is he?”
“Some old geezer with morals,” one of the men smirked unpleasantly looking over at his mate next to him.
“What are you two greening about? You do realise what will happen if he does call the police, it is a procedure after all.”
“Shall we remove him?”
“Cretin. Are you feeling ok? You are pretending to be brain dead, right, the man in a chair said angrily spitting bits of tobacco on the floor. The other man stopped smiling. We already have enough problems without another body on our hands. Go and find out all about this bloke and report back in an hour. Go now, go on get out of here. I have to think.”
The time was precious, any minute the doctor could talk, something had to be done and quickly. The phone rang. Michai answered, “Yes, what did you find out, did you get his address?
“He is a respectable doctor, boss, living with a teenage daughter.”
“A daughter, you say?”
“Yes, boss, shall we bring her in?”
“You know what to do and take Peter with you,” he hung up.

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