Imagine some person, some character, with red flaming hair in the bright sunlight. Her hair has faded from the blaze of her youth to a rich copper, streaked with silver, but it is a flame nonetheless. She stands in the bright green and yellow of the Australian desert, a wide brimmed hat pulled low over her eyes, while the men bring into the village the thrashing, writhing form of her fevered husband.
His weathered face, which she has loved and kissed every day for thirty years, is as red as the earth on the hills in Africa. His skin is hot to the touch, but he has ceased sweating entirely, and she pours water by the liter down his throat, hoping that she can stabilize him in time for the hospital.
He is the father of her three children, and she loves him fiercely. She loves him enough that she has willingly followed him across the ends of the Earth, into close-knit Muslim communities with rancid butter and cloistered women. She has tracked cultural patterns and icons through the enormous lands of India, the wide steppes of Russia, even, thankfully, the structured, civilized tea times of London. She has ridden horses, camels, Jeeps, a yak, and once, a very hefty goat for him. She has ceased to see the color khaki, and instead makes distinctions in her mind between light khaki and dark khaki, olive, dark green, light green, lime, sage, and all the shades of the desert in between.
She has seen more desert sunrises than most people see movies.
She is the kind of woman who espouses a love of luxury. She adores SCUBA diving, and is thrilled that her son Chris is interested in marine biology as a career. She would rather spend an afternoon having her fingernails and her toes attended to by a well-paid professional than a week sitting in a mud hut, even though the mud hut might provide, comparitave to the hosts’ means, a higher standard of hospitality.
But she follows him, and she takes with her a camera, which she uses to explore and document her world. In many places, the lens is unwelcome, and she contents herself with an intense and ongoing study of the flowers in the garden, or the rugged landscapes surrounding. But sometimes, in places like this one, the camera is a welcome intrusion into the world which has not moved forward into the 21st century, or a world which may be a curious blend of the modern and the ancient. Mud huts with satellite dishes sprouting from them like mushrooms, for instance. A thousand tin roofs bristling with antennae.
She sits now next to her husband as he shakes and moans, the bite on his shoulder severely infected. She sent for medical attention three days ago, but the trip to the nearest hospital is 2 days away by Jeep, and that’s only if nothing goes wrong with the vehicle. She has sent an email to her children, reassuring them that all is well, and she does not know that at this moment, her daughter is proposing to her future son in law that they elope, speed the process of union and get it over with, parents or no.
If she knew, she would smile and be grateful. Death is in her husband’s eyes now, and she can see the world of grief opening to her, a world of loss and abandonment which she is not looking forward to. It will be nice to have new hope and a new marriage in the future to nurture and be glad for, but she would not want, in this coming sorrow, to partake in its creation.
He groans again, and she thinks for a moment that the wheezing rattle in his breath must be the “death rattle” she has heard of. The wound in his arm stinks. It’s beyond infection. Yellow pus oozes from it unabated. For the first several days, she tried to bandage it, but it was soon apparent that the nasty infection needs to breathe– the pus has saturated many bandages before she learned it was best to leave it uncovered and let the wound breathe and dry out.
“Eliaabeth?” he croaks, unable to fully form her name with his dry, cracked lips.
“Yes, Christopher?” She squeezes his hand. “I’m here, my love.”
“Don’t…. Eliaaabeeeh” He seems to try to swallow, but fails to get enough spit to wet his lips, his mouth.
“It’s all right,” she whispers. But it won’t be all right. Not ever. He’s dying.
He exhales, and she imagines that she can already smell the stink of rot, the smell of death on his breath.
His chest doesn’t rise.
His chest does not rise.
She places a hand on his chest. Her tears– she has shed many of them in the last two days, when it became clear he was not going to recover without immediate help– and that help was a long way away. Her tears streak down her face in well-worn paths, paths that burn with the caustic salt of her grief.
His chest does not rise.
She leans down next to his chest, still listening, hoping.
His chest does not rise.
She rests her head on his breast, the tear wiping against the cotton bed sheet she draped over him this morning, after she cleaned his wound.
“Oh, Christopher,” she whispers. “Good bye, my love.”
His chest rises as he sits up, unbreathing, his heart no longer thumping, his mouth open and yearning as he sinks his teeth into her neck– at first light, like a lover, then savagely sinking through the flesh on the back of her neck, tearing through skin and flesh and bone and the bitter spinal fluid.
As the sun sets over the aboriginal village, two rise.
More will follow.