The pale light emanating from under the shade of the bedside lamp fell in a narrow beam on the tousled, curly, golden locks of the child's head, restlessly lying on and almost lost amongst the creased, white hospital pillows.
Under the ruffled hair, in the pale light, the tired, tormented little face appeared to have an almost yellowish wax-like complexion. His eyes were half closed, with a drop of tear in one corner sparkling in the light and in the corner of the agonizingly downward drawn, chaffed lips there was a little rust-red smear of dried blood. On top of the dishevelled pleats of the white bedcover two painfully and tightly drawn little fists rested.
By the bed - in the shadow cast by the lampshade - sat a young woman with a tired, sallow, drawn face, holding an opened story book in her lap. On the parchment like pale pages, dimly illuminated by the lamp, the printed text appeared to be almost too black by contrast. At the head of the bed - also dimmed in shadow by comparison to the faintly illuminated bed and the open book - stood an infusion stand with one plastic bag containing blood and another two containing medications and drip-infusion hanging from it and with three plastic lines running from them serpent like to the puny little arm of the boy and there to enter his vein through a cannula hidden and secured by heavy bandage.
Beyond the infusion stand stood the monitoring equipment on a different stand - more deeply hidden in the shadows but more observable by the visual impact of flickering lights, multicoloured displays of heart, lung and other vital functions, appearing as patterns of moving charts and audible as silent, rhythmic electronic euphony - and connected by a multitude of wires to various parts of the little body. On the bedside table there lay scattered in poetic disarray bottles, drinking glass, measuring cup, box of tissues, and a few books. There was silence in the dimly lit small room except for the strained heavy breezing of the boy, the hum of the equipments and the slow hissing flow of oxygen, which was administered through a thin plastic tube running across the face, under the nose of the little boy.
The young woman, who up till now kept her eyes on the face of the little patient, now buried her face in her open palms with a tired lethargic gesture. At that moment the eyelids of the boy flickered, he opened his eyes and turned his head towards the woman. Sensing his movement, she reacted by lifting her head and forcing a weary half smile on her face she picked up the book and in a tired monotonous voice continued reading the story.
- "The dragon then opening its ugly big mouth intended to swallow Ali. But Ali with his sharp long sword stabbed the dragon right through its throat, then quickly withdrawing, with great agility he jumped on the back of the dragon and with one hard whoosh of his sword he cut of its head. The beautiful Fatima therefore…"
At that moment the door opened and the woman turned her head to look, wanting to see who entered. It was the doctor. He stepped in quietly and with a gesture of his hand he silently encouraged the woman to continue with her story. The woman turned back towards the bed and looked at the child with an agonizing, anxiety ridden expression in her eyes.
The doctor stepped nearer to the bed and thoughtfully observed the little boy's face. He stood there silent.
The boy made a slight move. He opened his eyes and with some bewilderment looked at the doctor for a short while.
He then turned his gaze on his mother. She leaned over him and swept a few tussled golden locks back from his forehead. Then she looked questioningly at the doctor. He said nothing, just smiled at her with a sympathetic and almost apologetic smile as if he was to say: "I don't know… We shall have to wait and see." Then lifting the boy's arm he felt his pulse.
- "How are you little man?" - he asked softly.
The child looked back at him with unsteady eyes.
- "May I have some raspberry juice please?" - he whispered.
The woman looked questioningly at the doctor. He quietly shook his head in a negative manner.
- "I would like to have some raspberry juice" - he called out in a complaining whisper - "I am thirsty."
- " He may only have a sip of clear water" - the doctor whispered to the woman.
- "Would you like a little water? Some clear water?" - the woman turned towards the child.
- "No. I'd rather have some red wine. Clear red wine." - he whispered back feverishly.
The woman held out a glass towards the child with a few drops of water in it.
- "Here, drink it. It's water. Clear water."
The child turned his head away.
- "I don't want it! I want clear red wine. Clear red wine. That's what I want. Like that there!" - and he pointed with his trembling fingers towards the plastic bag containing the blood hanging on the infusion stand.
- "I want that one. Red wine… clear red wine…. Just like that one…"
The woman's lips trembled with hardly controlled emotion as she looked at the doctor with a helpless expression in her eyes. He calmly took the glass from her hand and walked to the infusion stand. The woman's eyes - full of questions and incomprehension - followed him.
- "Is this what you want little man?" - he asked quietly.
- "Yes." - the child whispered - "Yes, that one please… Clear red wine"…
The doctor pretended to fill the glass from the bag, and then turning to the child he lifted the little head gently with one hand and held the glass to his lips.
- "Drink it little man. It's red wine. Clear red wine."
The child - quietly pacified - took a few sips of water and let out a long sigh.
- "Did you enjoy it?" - asked the doctor sadly
- "Yes thank you. It was red wine… clear red wine…"
The doctor made towards the door. Before opening it he turned back.
- "If anything happens, ring the bell."
The woman nodded her head. "If anything happens"… Her eyes filled with tears… "If anything happens"… She sighed… wiped her eyes, picked up the book and in a monotonous voice she began to read aloud again.
- "The dragon then opening its ugly big mouth intended to swallow Ali. But Ali with his sharp long sword stabbed the dragon right through its throat, then quickly withdrawing, with great agility he jumped on the back of the dragon and with one hard whoosh of his sword he cut of its head. The beautiful Fatima therefore was saved. Ali kneeled down in front of her and held out the dragon's head towards her"…
The woman stopped and looked at the child. He - with eyes opened wide - was looking at the transfusion bag containing the blood.
- "The dragon"… - he whispered with agitation - "The dragon… it wants to drink my red wine… Don't let it!" - he screamed - "Don't let it!"
The woman got frightened. With trembling hands she was fumbling for the bell. She pressed the button.
"Mummyyyyy!" - screamed the boy - "The dragon… Look how he is opening his mouth…
Noooo!... Don’t let him…. The red wine…. He is drinking it… don’t let him!" - and with both arms flaying his palms were beating the bedcover furiously. The pale little face got terribly distorted with fear and anger. His eyes were sparkling feverishly and from the corner of his painfully down-turned mouth a bright red drop of blood bubbled forth.
The woman jumped up with fright. She dashed to the door, tore it open and… fell in the arms of the doctor.
- "What's the matter?" - he asked nervously.
- "The red wine"… - she muttered confusedly - …"it came out of his mouth"… - and she pointed horror struck towards the bed.
He grabbed her by her shoulders and gently but firmly shook her.
- "Be strong… you have to try to be strong!" - and he ran to the bed.
- "The dragon!... heeelp mummyyyyy!... he wants the red wine!" - struggled the child and from the corner of his mouth a bright red line began to run down on his neck.
The doctor mopped it up, then switching on the main light he stepped to the instrument table by the wall and began to prepare for giving an injection. When he was ready, with syringe in one hand and a swab in the other he went back to the bed.
The little lad's arms were flaying wildly. With his wide eyes - filled with horror - fixed on the transfusion stand he was screaming and screaming. With each and every scream a little more blood burst forth from his mouth and ran down his neck.
The doctor sat down on the bed. He held down the boy's arm gently but firmly and administered the injection. The woman, standing in the corner of the room, with both fists at her mouth seemed ready to stifle her own scream that was threatening to erupt, whilst her eyes - filled with fear and dismay - were fixed on the red line running down the child's neck. The doctor put down the syringe on the bedside table, but did not let go of the child's arm. He had his finger on his pulse. For a few seconds there was deadly silence in the room, then the child began screaming again.
- "The dragon… he is going to eat me… the red wine"… - and the blood with ever increasing volume was bubbling forth from his mouth. Cold sweat - in tiny pearl-like drops - was forming on his forehead. His whole body was arched into a stiff spasm, as if he were fighting a dreadful duel with the dragon. His chest was heaving laboriously and his screams sounded as if he was choking under water.
One of his arms was lying lifelessly, held by the doctor, whilst the other was flaying in a manner as if he was trying to cut off the dragon's head. His face was pitifully distorted. He was fighting a terrifying battle with the dragon…
The doctor was observing him quietly. With a reassuring cool hand he gently stroked the boy's forehead. The struggle abated. The child - covered in perspiration - was resting quietly now.
With his wide open shiny blue, but tired eyes he looked at the doctor. There was so much pain, bitterness and old manly resignation reflecting from those tired eyes that the doctor could not bear looking into them and bowed his head in sorrow.
- "Doctor" - whispered the child - "I shall have to go away. The dragon is telling me that he is going to take me away. That… that story book…" - and he pointed at the book the woman was reading from earlier - …"I will leave here for you. When you have time you can read it… It is about the dragon… Ali… Ali the little black boy… he could cut the dragon's head off… I… I cannot do it… so he is… he is going to take me away"…
- "Oh no little man" - the doctor was stroking the golden hair gently - "Oh no, he will not take you away… He will not"… - but his voice lacked certainty - "Don't worry, he will not take you"…
But the little lad was no longer paying any attention. Once again all he saw was the dragon… a new battle was developing… His whole little body arched into the struggle, perspiration was running from his forehead and blood, in thin line, was running from the corner of his mouth down his neck. His eyes, wide open, shined feverishly.
- "Mummyyyyy!.... Mummyyyy!.... now… Oh!... now"… - he screamed - "he is taking me… he is taking me… don't let him"… - and putting all his last bit of strength into the effort he tried to lift his head off the pillow, whilst vehemently gesticulating with both arms. His head fell back onto the pillow and he let out two long, sharp, painful screams…
- "Mummyyyyyyy!.... Mummyyyyyy!.... "
His face - previously contorted by pain and fear - now regained its innocent, childish freshness…
His eyes, glazed over, stared ahead into emptiness… Suddenly there was silence… the fight was over… The dragon was victorious…
The doctor softly, gently closed the lids over the beautiful blue eyes… He looked at the women apologetically and full of sorrow. She just stood there staring at the bed, with the little body lying there motionless… than like a somnambulist she staggered forward and threw herself over the child's body. Her shoulders were shaking with quiet sobbing. The doctor switched the main light off.
The pale light from under the shade of the bedside lamp fell in a narrow beam on the tousled, curly, golden locks of the child's head, restfully lying on and almost lost amongst the creased, white hospital pillows.
Under the ruffled hair, in the pale light, the angelic, smooth little face appeared to have an almost yellowish wax-like complexion. The eyes were closed, with a drop of tear sparkling on the eyelashes and in the corner of the slightly parted lips there was a red line running right down to the neck... blood… The clear red wine… On top of the dishevelled pleats of the white bedcover, over the lifeless body lay the young woman… her tousled long hair falling over the face of the little boy… There was silence in the small room… only the quiet sobbing of the woman could be heard…
© P. J. Oszmann (1954 - in Hungarian. Translation 2003)
This story was written during my student years in medical college and although it is fiction, it was based on close observation, having spent considerable time on medical, surgical, children's and cancer wards.
I translated it recently and very slightly reworked it to update the descriptive elements, placing the story into a more contemporary hospital milieu. (No modern electronic monitoring equipment existed at the time of writing and the transfusion equipment too was more primitive.)
The original story was written in "High Literary Hungarian" using idioms and linguistic finery that proved for me impossible to translate.