In a Heartbeat
Copyright © 2013 by Michael Litzky
Malcolm Donald, sick with guilt, bellowed orders into his headset. “Make a corridor to the hotel! Someone is always living there so the hotel is a home. Defenders! Make a human corridor. People! Stay calm, we’ll have you inside in just a few minutes.”
He could feel himself losing them. There’s a physical sensation a leader gets when a crowd is surging at the edges of control. They were about to break loose and trample each other to death just to get safely into a home again.
Into a home….
“Listen up, people!” he roared as the light burst on him. “This here is my home! I hereby declare my intention to live in this plaza for the next year! I will camp out here day and night, this is my home, right here! And you all are welcome in my home!”
For an endless moment, the mob pulsed on the very edge of chaos. Then Malcolm’s intent got through to some people. “He’s going to live here. This is a home. We’re safe, we don’t have to go inside,” voices started babbling.
Sally, holding Lavinia’s body in her arms, felt the silence fall around her, felt the surge which she was no longer facing stop, felt people relax as the vampires were locked out by that magic which nobody understood yet. People made space for her and she sat down on the grillwork which surrounded a sad city tree like a line of spikes, Lavinia cradled against her. Someone asked “how is she” and Sally snarled something incoherent without ever realizing she’d heard or answered.
It was quiet enough now that she could feel for a heartbeat.
There are moments when two futures lie in front of you and nothing has been said yet. The doctor’s soft shoes on the glaring floor as he walks in with the HIV test results after you’ve been raped. The chatter on the radio which could mean anything when the polls close and the next president could be a thoughtful liberal or a rich stooge backed by billions of dollars. You dread the actual word which will seal in the future.
Her hand had been approaching Lavinia’s heart for a long time. Long enough for Sally to remember that just four months ago she hadn’t even met Lavinia. Long enough to remember arguments and doubts in the months since the day they had burst into each other’s lives. Lavinia couldn’t possibly mean this much to her.
Tenderly she unzipped Lavinia’s leather jacket with the crow emblem. Willing Lavinia to be alive, she put her hand on her lover’s heart. The soft breast was still warm but there was no heartbeat.
She refused to give up hope yet. She’d been trained in CPR. She knew there was a newer acronym but she still remembered the one she’d learned: ABC, airways, breathing, circulation. Fuck them for changing it anyway. And also fuck anybody who said she shouldn’t talk like the woman she loved.
Lay the beloved down, stretch her head back to open the airways. For the first time she really looked at Lavinia’s throat. It was bloody but it wasn’t ripped open as she’d unconsciously feared. That was a good sign.
Sweep your finger in the throat to try to remove any blockage. Well of fucking course there wasn’t any blockage, Lavinia hadn’t choked on a chicken bone, she’d been drained by a vampire. She was about to proceed to the next step, four quick breaths down the throat, when she realized what she’d just thought. Lavinia had been drained by a vampire, by three or four. She needed blood. She looked dazedly at the milling people around her. “Blood!” she called incoherently. “She needs blood!”
People backed away from her. In seconds she was at the center of a massed ring of hostile, frightened faces. What was wrong with these monsters?
Then she understood. Lavinia was the first person for some time to be killed – bitten, not killed! – by a vampire, and left intact enough to become a vampire herself. The minute she actually died, she would rise as undead. It came down to this (at least, Sally thought it did): was there still enough blood in her that her heart could be restarted to actually do its job?
“Bastards!” she snarled at the crowd, and started doing CPR properly. Four breaths down the throat, listen for breathing. Move around. Hands on the still-warm chest, just like she’d learned in that class so long ago. Hands on the breastbone or off to the side? She was pretty sure it was “on the breastbone.”
Left hand down, right hand on top of it at a 90 degree angle. Push push push push with real weight behind it. Feel for heartbeat. None.
Don’t give up. Four quick breaths, puff puff puff puff. For an instant, it seemed like Lavinia’s body heaved, like her breathing was about to restart. Oh my god, it was! She was breathing again, slow, ragged, but breathing. Sally felt her own heart tear into action again. Tears and snot were dripping off her face. “Baby, baby, come back to me, come on, come back, I’m here,” she chanted.
“She’s rising, she’s coming back,” she heard voices whispering, then yammering. She understood why they sounded afraid. They thought Lavinia was rising as a vampire. She rejected that possibility, pushed it away from her mind.
She gave four more quick pumps to the chest, not sure whether you were supposed to do that once breathing started again. Did she feel a heartbeat? Did she? No, no, there was still no heartbeat. But the breathing was getting stronger and steadier and the heart still was not beating and Lavinia’s body was a little colder and, sobbing, she felt precious hope slipping away.
Lavinia’s eyes snapped open. They were still that deep violet blue; becoming a vampire doesn’t change the pigmentation of your irises. Sally knew she should be terrified; around her sounds of panic built. “Get a stake, kill her quick, oh my God there’s a vampire in here!” But she looked at the face she had loved more than any other in twenty seven years of life, the face which was not evil, or not yet, but which was inhabited by a stranger, this face which looked lost and hopeless and starved more than anything else, and she wanted nothing more than to kiss her and say, you’re still welcome in my home, love.
In a thin tremor, nothing like her bluff hearty ironic tone, Lavinia said, “…we had a home…” Her hand moved weakly toward her own breast.
Then as Sally strained to hear, she said something which sounded like “…fly time her robin…”
The next instant she was swept out of Sally’s arms. She was gone. Sally screamed at the crowd around her, “You bastards, you couldn’t give me one second, one fucking second, you cunts, you shit-asses, I’ll kill you, I’ll…” She trailed off. The faces looking at her were just as confused as she was. A gently spoken young man said quietly, “It warn’t us ma’am. She just flew over our heads, we ‘us as surprised as you.”
Sally rose in one motion, as though invisible strings pulled her up. Had Lavinia been, what, chanting a spell which made her fly? Understanding hung just over her head, about to spill into her. She looked where people were pointing. The thing that had been Lavinia stood with the hundreds of other vampires at the invisible barrier, looking hungrily in at the crowd.
The plaza had been declared a home and she had been pushed out with all the rest. Those last words, her very last words from Lavinia, were nothing, delirium. She was lost to Sally.
As Sally automatically swiped a sleeve across her dripping face, she was sure that if she put her hands on her own chest, she’d feel no heartbeat there either.