“I am thankful to be this old and not be stuck in a wheelchair. At least I can still get around on my own, sort of. I just wish I wasn’t so damn feeble”.
“Is it because her wheelchair was empty?” Harriet stood at the window. The bright daylight made her appear as just a dark shape against the light.
“She made me think of that young woman that was my student, back when I first started teaching. Marta was her name. She was from Brazil I think or maybe some other southern place. Spoke with an accent. I still think about that horrible incident, after all these years. I told you about her, remember.”
Marta Rozario was nineteen or twenty. A foreign student with plans to be a history teacher, just like her young professor Jon Magnusson. She was away from home, lived in the women’s dorm, a small room that she shared with another foreign student. She was pregnant and showing at the start of the semester and grew rapidly. Jon was sympathetic to her condition though felt a young person, far away from home and family should have exercised better judgement than to let a smooth talking boy get his way. But who was he to say, he didn’t know how she came to be a pregnant student. Perhaps she was to be married. In any case, she was well enough along that she wouldn’t make it to the semester end before having to take a maternity break. Jon tried not to show her special considerations but he found himself going easier on her than other students. It was her eyes that reminded him of Mrs. Chin. Eyes, nothing else. Maybe the smooth skin of their face, though Marta’s skin was bronze and Mrs. Chin had more of an olive hue. The shape of their face was different and Marta was a bit taller. It was the eyes. The same deep knowledge behind them, knowledge of life and intensity. The look that assured you there would be no short cuts taken, no corners cut, everything must be played out to the fullest.
But Mrs. Chin was gone and Marta was gone too. The pregnancy didn’t last the term. Ten minutes into his lecture on Pagan Norse Gods, Marta collapsed between the rows of seats in the lecture hall, screaming in pain. A deep gut wrenching scream that made Jon want to instinctively flee the room. But he couldn’t, he was the professor, in charge, all things good or bad that happened in his lecture hall were his responsibility. He was twenty four. Knew nothing about a birthing child and didn’t care to know.
He dismissed the class with orders to fetch the nurse and have an ambulance summoned. He ordered Rosalyn, a young classmate, to attend Marta and provide comfort until help arrived. But Rosalyn shrieked at the sight of her fellow student and fled the hall in hysterical panic.
Marta was on the floor, propped against a seat, she was blood soaked from her waist to her knees. Jon teetered as the feeling drained from his muscles and he grew faint. He sucked in air and held his breath, crouched over Marta, taking her hand in his.
“It’ll be alright,” he said. “Help is coming.”
She grew limp, her head flopped to her shoulder, her eyes half closed as they slowly rolled up into her head, her life blood pumping from her with each beat of her heart. Her mouth was moving but no sound came from her.
Jon was helpless, useless, he was in charge but had no power to do anything at all for poor Marta, except hold her hand.
“Hurry,” he pleaded into the empty room. “Please. There’s no time.”
The large lecture hall was empty except for the two of them. Nobody close enough to call to, to take his place. He wanted to escape the horror but he was welded to Marta’s hand.
“Hang on,” he begged her. “They’re coming.”
He wanted her to stop bleeding, her life was leaking away like a tide carrying the sea away from the shore. Her eyes that had looked imploringly into his, grew distant, staring into a place beyond him. He squeezed on her hand and entreated her again to “hold on, they’ll be here any second.”
She tried to squeeze back but there was so little strength in her grip that Jon wasn’t certain he felt anything at all, perhaps only her life force ebbing away.
“It was a disaster, Harriet. So Sad. The infant died. Poor Marta died too. I know I’ve told you this story before, probably so many times that you’re sick of it by now. But it has never left me, even after all this time. Poor Mrs. Chin, she reminds me of that young woman, because of the eyes. It’s like the same soul lived inside both of them.”
He felt Harriet rubbing his shoulder, the way she always did when she sympathized, when she consoled. He missed that. His eyes moistened.
He was there again, in that lecture hall, realizing that the young woman was dead, her life was just a red pool on the floor beneath her. Obviously the child inside was no longer living either, it’s life, that never came to be, was hemorrhaged out there in front of him. He knelt in their blood. Blood everywhere. Human blood, not like chicken blood or a bloody steak. When you touch it you are touching someone’s life, like part of them is on you.
“It makes me mad,” Jon said. “That we get so little time, it’s so brief we are just a blink in time, we never get to know for certain what the hell it all means if it means anything at all. Some get so much less than others. Am I selfish Harriet, complaining about time when I’ve been blessed with so much more of it than most.”
The ambulance took so long to arrive. Marta and her unborn child were stolen. Like Mrs. Chin’s life was stolen by her selfish children and now ended by Karl Homesman.
“I have to go see her Harriet. To see what he did to her. So I can justify taking revenge or something. Maybe find some evidence that will get him locked up permanently, so I don’t have to shoot him. You don’t mind do you? She was my friend, even though we just met.”
“You shouldn’t go there,” she said.
“Maybe I could make it up for being so useless and unable to do anything for Marta.”
Jon reached up to touch Harriet’s hand on his shoulder. It wasn’t there.
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