The Considerate Killer(5)By: Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis
Søren was relieved to see that she was breathing on her own, but otherwise there wasn’t much to celebrate.
“Nina, damn it,” he said quietly, without any hope that she could hear him. “What have you gotten yourself in to now?”
At that instant he recognized Morten’s anger and understood it completely. Nina had probably never had the occasion to force a kitchen knife into her ex-husband’s chest, but she had undoubtedly made him feel a similar pain every time she had thrown herself in front of an on-rushing catastrophe without considering the consequences. There had to be limits to how many stabs of that knife one could survive before one started to protect oneself.
And Morten was not alone. He had Ida and Anton to consider.
Søren hesitantly touched Nina’s hand and hardly knew himself whether it was to caress it or to register her symptoms. Chilled, he observed, but not ice-cold. Not the cold that comes when the blood is retreating from the body’s outer extremities because the inner organs are fighting off death.
Stable, they had said. Not critical. She had been hit twice; the first blow had landed quite high and had bounced off the skull to a certain extent, but the second was of more concern—it had gone in at the base of the cranium, and the full unblunted force of it had made the brain slap hard against its bony case. And, yes, there was a crack. A fractured skull was now the official diagnosis—a so-called basilar skull fracture.
“We can see a bit of fluid from the nose and the ears, so there must be a lesion in the brain membrane,” a helpful intensive care nurse had explained. “Usually it stops by itself, but we have to keep an eye on it. And we’d like to see signs of consciousness soon. If you could just sit and talk to her, that would be very helpful. Hearing is often restored long before any of the other senses.”
He obediently sat down, but at first could not get a word out. What was he supposed say? Should he scold her? Reassure her? Tell her that he “was here,” as if that circumstance alone would suddenly make all the horrors go away?
“Nina,” he said quietly, “it’s me, Søren.” He felt like a complete idiot. But if the nurse was right and it could in some way help Nina to hear his voice, then so be it. “I . . . came to see how you’re doing. So I’ll just sit here and . . . talk a little. So you know that I’m here.”
THE PHILIPPINES, FOUR YEARS EARLIER
It meant nothing. The interview. It was a formality of the kind that no one seriously worried about, except maybe his father, and of course Vincent himself. But his father had always doubted God too much, or so his mother said, and what Vincent was feeling was probably just a kind of stage fright. His place in medical school was as good as certain.
“You are gifted,” said his mother. “And your scholarship comes from the church. That means that you are both gifted and of good moral character. God will help us.”
Vincent tried to hold on to that thought. His mother, God, and the fact that that all previous applicants with the St. Joseph’s Church Scholarship had been accepted and had passed with distinction—white coats, families bawling with happiness.
Nothing could go wrong.
Vincent sat in the sweltering lobby of the university, trying not to fidget.
It was one of Manila’s finest universities, and graduating from it practically guaranteed a job—perhaps even an international one. But the decor was far from fashionable. The broad stone staircase to the auditoriums on the second floor was scratched and dull, and the paint on the bannister was peeling. Portraits of the school’s previous presidents graced the beige walls: men and women in suits, wearing serious smiles. The school’s current president wasn’t up there yet, but Vincent had heard that he was both a doctor and a professor and that he appreciated proper dress. Vincent’s mother had provided him with an ironed white shirt and newly pressed dark pants for the occasion, and on the entire trip in the jeepney, the open truck-bus from San Marcelino to Manila, he had stored the unfamiliar outfit neatly folded in his suitcase along with shorts, sandals, a couple of clean T-shirts and the present for his cousin Maria. Later he had changed his clothes in the restroom of a bowling alley.