A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende Read Online (FREE)
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PART 1 – WAR & EXODUS
Get ready, lads,
To kill again, to die once more
And to cover the blood with flowers.
“Bloody was all the earth of man”
THE SEA AND THE BELLS
THE YOUNG SOLDIER WAS PART of the “Baby Bottle Conscription,” the boys called up when there were no more men, young or old, to fight the war. Victor Dalmau received him with the other wounded taken from the supply truck and laid out like logs on mats placed over the cement and stone floor of the Estacion del Norte, where they had to wait for other vehicles to take them to the hospital centers. The boy lay motionless, with the calm look of someone who has seen the angels and now fears nothing. There was no telling how many days he had spent being shifted from one stretcher to another, one field hospital to another, one ambulance to another, before reaching Catalonia on this particular train.
At the station, doctors, paramedics, and nurses evaluated the soldiers, immediately dispatching the most serious cases to the hospital, and classifying the others according to the part of the body where they had been wounded: Group A: arms, Group B: legs, Group C: head, and so on. They were then transferred to the corresponding center with labels around their necks. The wounded arrived by the hundreds, and each diagnosis and decision had to be made in no more than a few minutes. But the chaos and confusion were misleading, for no one was left unattended, no one was left behind. Those in need of surgery were sent to the old Sant Andreu building in Manresa; those requiring treatment were dispatched to other centers; the remainder were left where they were, since nothing could be done to save them. Volunteer women would moisten their lips, whisper to them, and comfort them as if they were their own children, in the knowledge that somewhere else, another woman might be cradling their own son or brother. Later, the stretcher-bearers would take them to the morgue.
The little soldier had a wound in his chest, and the doctor, after a swift examination during which he could detect no pulse, decided the boy was beyond all help, and had no need of either morphine or consolation. On the battlefield they had strapped a bandage around his chest to protect the wound with an inverted tin plate, but nobody knew how many hours or days, how many trains ago that had been.
Dalmau was there to assist the doctors. Although it was his duty to leave the boy and attend to the next case, he thought that if the youngster had survived the shock, the hemorrhaging, and the journey to reach this station platform, he must really want to live; and so it would be a shame to surrender him to death now. Carefully removing the bandages, he saw to his amazement that the wound was still open and was as clean as if it had been painted onto his chest. He couldn’t understand how the bullet had shattered the ribs and part of the sternum, and yet had left the heart intact. Having worked for nearly three years on the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, at first on the fronts at Madrid and Teruel, and then at the evacuation hospital at Manresa, Victor Dalmau thought he had seen everything, become immunized to the suffering of others, but he had never seen an actual beating heart.