Telling Tales 116
The First Gasp
The soldier pushed himself through sleep. He felt as though his eyes snapped open and he shook into the wakefulness that comes with a scare, oversleeping or a frightening sound, but to the three women that stood around him, the act of the soldier waking was the result of painstaking effort. Nor did it take place with the speed at which the soldier experienced it.
“You have to drink,” said the youngest woman as she poured a dram of a clear liquid down the soldier’s unmoving throat.
“You have to drink,” said the middle woman as she raised his head and stroked his throat, the better to encourage the liquid toward his stomach.
“You have to drink,” said the eldest as she drew her hand from his chest to his belly, showing the liquid where to go.
“You have to drink,” said the youngest again, pouring once more.
And so they went, over and over, until the black bruises on the soldier’s body turned to purple, and then to green and yellow, and then faded to the color of pale, unhealthy skin. They exercised his muscles, telling him he had to become strong again. They gave him small pieces of food, telling him he had to eat, though even so the soldier grew thinner and weaker by the day and the week.
“It’s time to get up,” said the youngest as she pressed against his heart.
“It’s time to get up,” said the next as she squeezed his sides.
“It’s time to get up,” said the eldest as she pushed his legs to his stomach like a bellows.
They had trained his body to respond to their healing. He drank when they told him to drink and ate when they told him to eat and each time it look less time to train his unconscious form.
“It’s time to get up,” they said.
The soldier’s eyelids fluttered, the first physical sign he had given. His fingers twitched. He made a noise, not quite a whisper or a sigh. He dreamed he was walking next to the joker in the regiment. They were having a good laugh about the commander’s bear-poop candles when he heard the voice.
“It’s time to get up.”
“Did you hear that?” he asked his comrade, but the joker was no longer there and the soldier understood he was dreaming. Waking up reminded him of the time when he was a child and had fallen into the river outside of town. The current (sleep) carried him one way and his body (waking) carried him another. As a child he had been frightened but dragged himself out of the water. As a man, he was more used to the nuances of sleeping, of the need to catch twenty winks at a moment’s notice. All the same, the voice made it sound like he had overslept, the casual earnestness of his mother rousing him before a day of work. “I’ll be late for the fields!” he thought, until he remembered in his waking that he was no longer a youth helping his family with crops. “What am I waking from?” It was then that he remembered a giant and thunder and lightning. His heart raced and his throat went dry and his eyes flashed open and he wheezed in all of the air that he could. His chest felt tired and tight and sore and his arms felt weak and he could barely sit up. “Yumni!”
But before him were three women, not a giant, and he was in a wooden room, not in a jungle.
“Welcome,” they said.