Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pitie Salpetriere

Ethan watched Brit with no small amount of amusement and husbandly pride as they meandered down the Boulevard de l’Hospital in Paris. She fingered the necklace of orange blossoms delighting in their citrus-like scent. Upon waking, he had picked the blossoms and boyishly strung them together for her to wear while she nibbled a croissant. Paris at night gave him glimpses and memories of the past. He found himself pleased to share the memories with his mortal wife and wanted her to feel that she had experienced them with him.

The August full moon always held meaning for Ethan. As the nights grew longer, the romance and warmth of the summer night, and the illumination from the bright moon, lured lovers of all ages into the streets. Once they were in full view of the Mazarin, the entrance of the hospital, Ethan pointed out places of interest to Brit. The hospital was once a place where gunpowder was made, Brit. It has also been used as a prison and a place to put people that irritated society.”

Like vampires?” Brit asked.

Ethan grinned as he whispered, “Only if they could be caught.” Pulling her close, he chuckled, “At one time, it was also noted for its very large population of city rats. Over 7000 people were housed within so the rats had an abundance of trash to consume.”

Wrinkling her nose, she peered back to the building. Ethan watched and remembered the small blue box in his pocket: a blue camera he had purchased after being asked to take a picture of a young couple several nights prior. He was mesmerized by the digital screen and seemed childlike with his new toy. Positioning Brit where he could take a picture, he fumbled with the camera to ensure the picture would turn out perfectly. Brit did not hear his mumbles about how much easier this was than securing an artist back in the day.

After snapping a picture of the sidewalk, he got the camera centered on his wife. Brit was looking over her shoulder at the building. By the time Ethan snapped the picture, she had turned to watch something he did not see. Brit walked into the hospital compound, past the admissions and seemed to follow a path that only she knew. Tilting his head, Ethan followed her cautiously. “Baby? Where are we going?” She did not answer and he quickened his pace as she walked past a nurse’s station filled with late-evening nurses who were busy with their work.

Smells of antiseptic and medication assaulted his nostrils. Brit continued on her path. Up a stairwell, she emerged on a floor. There were few rooms. Soft beeping sounds of monitoring machines broke the silence of the area. Nursing staff were shuffling about as they silently worked. Each room was larger than normal hospital rooms. Each room contained one patient. Brit walked into one of the rooms.

Standing at the foot of the bed, Brit blinked slowly as she focused on an elderly woman who looked tiny in the bed. Monitors covered her. Brit looked to him with huge eyes and back to the woman. Seeing into her thoughts, he realized that his wife had linked into the woman’s thoughts. The woman felt pain and sadness. She was bewildered and frightened. The scent of the room told him that she was dying and would not likely last to see sunlight again.

Ethan blinked as he saw Brit enter the woman’s thoughts just as he had done with Brit the evening when he first touched Brit’s lips. She walked along and opened doors of better memories. Sunlight afternoons with her new husband were glimpsed along with the laughter of a small child. “Emilie,” whispered Brit.

“Oui! Emilie.” rasped the strained voice as the woman reached out a hand.

“Emilie,” repeated Brit who took the hand and held it. The woman in the bed smiled as she clasped Brit’s hand. Ethan glanced to the door nervously. Brit covered the woman’s hand with her own warm one. The flesh was papery-thin, and the hand shook from palsy. The woman repeated the name smiling as she closed her eyes gripping Brit’s hand tighter.

Brit simply stood rubbing the woman’s hand. In her mind, the woman could see Brit. Brit walked with her to watch her as she sat playing with Emilie, a baby with cornflower eyes and pouting lips that blew bubbles as she gurgled. A nurse came in looking startled. Ethan turned to her as his eyes flashed briefly. A silent exchange had the nurse leaving the room. If anyone asked, the nurse would have told them that the lady’s niece Emilie had visited.

Ethan struggled to get past the smell of death in the room. He could sense the woman’s bodily systems shutting down. His wife touching the hand that stubbornly housed a thread heartbeat caused him some irritation. Death was not far from her, he rationalized. Ethan went back to watching Brit, baffled that she had entered the woman’s mind. He could see Brit intended to stay with her during the final night, and he shifted uncomfortably at the thought of the night passing. Surely his wife would not stay after dawn. Brit turned to look to him and his eyes widened. Surely he read her wrong in that she had thought that the woman needed them to help her calmly pass to the next life! Shaking his head, he continued to watch Brit and grew to feel that he had misread the thought.

Brit’s visit with the woman lasted through the night. Ethan mused that the woman had held no more than a blink of life compared to him but, within the thoughts shared by Brit with the woman, it was apparent that she had enjoyed much in those years. About an hour before dawn, the woman sat Emilie down and motioned for Brit to follow her along the path. Brit followed as she watched Emilie grow, marry, and have her own child. The path came to a house and the woman turned to Brit. She kissed Brit’s cheek and went inside.

The beeping machine sounded a single monotone sound. Nurses ran to the room and a doctor followed. Brit and Ethan were directed outside. When the nurse came to find Emilie, they could find no sign of the couple to tell them that Emilie’s aunt had passed.

Outside, Ethan held Brit as they returned to their resting place. He expected tears and sadness. He was amazed that Brit could enter the woman’s mind as she had. Brit turned to him before the sun came up and lisped, “Emilie made her happy, Ethan. I wonder why she was not there. No one should perish alone.” Brit snuggled against him and slept feeling melancholy missing her new friend.