PART 1 - LIQUID PEACE
The gutter dripped and the rain drops rapped hard on the kitchen window. My eyes were already open. The bedsheets felt cold and damp. The shutters in the living room rattled with the wind gusts. I’ve been staring at the dark ceiling for nearly three hours. I sat up. Sleep was busy somewhere else.
Another rotten night.
My mind was stuck in ruminating mode. There was no point in trying to sleep. Heavy rainstorm washed over the town. So thirsty… I tried to breathe. The merry-go-round in my head kept me replaying the last two weeks, pining me to decisions, yanking me back and forth between faces and screams and tears. Decisions that were not my wisest…
I thought of the woman with begging eyes. She came into the ER, during my shift. She had fever, and severe abdominal pain. I guessed her secret right away. Her deep ocean green eyes betrayed her, I could read in them. Everyone could… That she had attempted abortion. Bleeding and in pain, she got down on her knees and pleaded. Immediately I got her a bed, and called a trustworthy gynecologist I knew. I trusted him to keep his mouth shut. I trusted that a human life was more important to him than law.
I was wrong.
Nevertheless, I started her on antibiotics and enough painkillers. I refused to make a blood test. If it was positive, she’d go to jail. Maybe she would anyway… If she’d survive, that is… I had Rose, the head nurse, look after her.
I cannot just watch and wait for her to die, that’s what I told her, and that’s what I told the head medic.
He stopped all medication. That bigoted windbag stopped ALL of her medication and I got sent home for a month. Rose tried to calm me down, but by God – I… I.
The oxygen left the room. Two days ago, Rose called. The woman with the begging eyes died. My skin felt dry and hot, like a heat blanket over a snowman.
There was this nagging icy feeling wrenching my guts, that I just couldn’t shrug off. I could use some peace for once – some sleep, or unconsciousness. I could use some liquid peace… I thought of the empty liquor bottles lined up in the kitchen. Vodka was sometimes your only friend. It was a reliable friend. Brushing over my burning face, my forehead was sticky with sweat.
The phone rang. The sinking feeling sank deeper.
I got up. The cold floor burned under my soles. I went to the hallway to pick it up, but my hand hovered above it.
Important? Work? Catastrophe? Which is it?
I asked myself. It did nothing to buffer the leaden dread sitting on my chest.
I grabbed the phone. “‘llo?”
“Comrade Hoia?” The stern voice on the end of the line felt like a brick wall I was about to smack into.
“Yes,” I swallowed. ”Who is this?” The man didn’t answer. Statics filled my head. This was a catastrophe, I decided. I heard a pen scratch on paper.
“I’ve got a young man here, a Hungarian Jew. He says, he knows you, comrade.”
Benny… What have you done this time?
Was this police or worse? Securitate? “His name is Benjamin Ekes,” yawned the man.
“Yes.” I croaked. “I know him.” My throat was stinging, I couldn’t suppress a cough. I heard a faint echo of myself coughing. They were recording the call. Securitate it was. My heart knotted.
A big drink, I rubbed my lips, a whole bottle.
“Do you, comrade Hoia?” He paused amused. “Then come and pick him up. Police station.” The man hung up.
“On my way.” I said, listening to the disconnected tone in the line. With every heartbeat it grew louder and louder. I stood in the darkness.
Pull yourself together.
I needed to get going. Who knows what they did to Benny. I grabbed some clothes and spares for Benny, gauze and disinfectant. On a second thought, I called the ER at the polyclinic I work, and had Rose on the phone. At least, some silver lining. She understood immediately what was going on. She said, she’d had the scrubs ready, if needed. God bless good old Rose, the smartest nurse I ever worked with.
Two minutes later I was on the deserted main road, heading downtown. The rain came down in curtains. My car seemed to be the only one in the whole wide world. I lit a cigarette, and thought of all the peaceful people who could actually sleep. In their beds.
Benny needed me.
And I? I needed a drink, and a month worth of sleep.