Blue pressed the cold edge of the flask to his lips. He tasted the metal before the too-sweet liquid slipped over his tongue. He swallowed, but gagged convulsively as it burned its way down.
“Awful stuff, isn’t it?” Joy said.
The patient in the next bed turned his head to glare at Blue, a Cyclops eye staring with the intensity of a burning coal. The other eye was mutilated, covered with a sloppy bandage.
Blue jerked his head at Joy in reply, disgusted with himself for his weakness. Even a child could take medicine without attracting the attention of the entire ward.
She shrugged one thin shoulder. “You get used to it.” When she stood, the old metal bed frame creaked.
“Lie down,” she directed. “You still need rest.”
“I need to get up,” Blue said through gritted teeth. But he obeyed her out of habit. “I’ll go crazy lying here.”
“You’d only get in the way.” Her voice was too gentle to be cruel. “Besides, that stuff you took will kick in soon, then you won’t have a choice. You’ll rest.” She smiled, the sad smile of one whose life is replete with tragedy.
She took one step toward the door, but changed her mind. Settling herself back on the edge of the mattress, she did not look at Blue when she spoke. “Try…,” she began. “Just try to be … I don’t know … grateful.”
“Grateful.” Now she looked at him. Her eyes always unnerved him. They were blue-white, a cloud color, a color from his childhood. “You have a bed here. You’re not rotting in the street.”
Blue couldn’t help but glance at his own stump of an arm that lay across the dingy coverlet.
Joy followed his gaze. “You have narcotics to dull the pain,” she added. “And there is food. You are safe here … for awhile. So rest. Renew your strength. We’ll need you again, I swear to you.”
Blue’s good hand gripped the blanket. “I’m still strong,” he began, but a crack in his voice gave him away.
Joy reached out. He noticed her tapered fingers. Their delicacy was a sham; a war-like instinct lurked within this quiet woman’s breast. The calluses, the scars showed their real worth, their skill with the javelin and the bow. Fighters had been reduced to using such crude and ancient weapons in these dark times.
She brushed his eyelids closed with gentleness of a mother. The action only amplified his sorrow, reminding him of his own mother, of all he’d lost since the fighting began.
“Have peace,” she whispered. “For a little while. While you can.” Her voice trailed into his consciousness, even as his mind numbed.
Thank you to Joy, who inspired this story with the words amplify, sham, and replete. I feel like I've expanded my vocabulary with this challenge!