Mary Russell’s War (ten): Notes from Dr Ginsberg
[On two pieces of lined paper, pinned to the pages of Mary Russell’s wartime journal.]
October 7, 1914
Late Saturday night I received a telephone call from Mrs Long, housekeeper to my friend Judith Russell, to say that there had been an accident. I could not understand her at first, but clearly it was something terrible because the poor woman was weeping, and her English had all but left her. After a time, her husband Micah (Judith’s gardener) came onto the line instead, and told me what had happened.
The shock of grief is a physical thing, a blow to every cell of the body at once. Three-fourths of a family dear to me, gone—and the life of the surviving member uncertain. I have cancelled my appointments for the week, and since Sunday, I have been at the side of young Mary’s hospital bed, that when—when!—she wakes she may see a known face, instead of strangers.
She is terribly injured. Her doctors cannot say how much internal bleeding there is, but what skin remains uncovered by gauze is either scraped or bruised. I watch her breaths go in, and out, and find my own breathing urging her on.
Dearest Mary, I am so very, very sorry. I have known your mother for seventeen years, since she first came to San Francisco. She was my oldest friend, and my closest, and I cannot even begin to picture what life is going to be without her.
Your father too I liked immensely, and admired unreservedly. A strong man, good to his bones, and utterly devoted to his wife and children.
And your brother—but no, I cannot even think of that brilliant life cut short.
My dear child, you have family, you have friends. It may not feel like it at first, when you wake, or indeed for a long time. But there are many of us who love you, both for the family taken from us, and for you in yourself. I will be there for as much and as long as you need me. Anything I can do to lighten your burden even the faintest scrap, you need only ask.
But for now, please, dear child, do something for me: just keep breathing.