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The breath of life


Clive was having a heart attack right in front of Sarah. She had never liked him: he  had actively done her harm, had undermined her, had lied about her. He lay there, blue at the lips, struggling to breathe, holding his chest. She knelt over him. What to do? If she were to rescue him, what would she be rescuing? her best self?

Her first instinct was to walk away, wait 20 minutes and then call the ambulance, by which time it would be too late (she knew this from the severity of the symptoms). She’d be happier in a world without Clive. In fact she’d often fantasied about a Cliveless world - it would be a better place for her - and here was her chance to make it so, simply by doing nothing. But wait. How would she actually feel, once it was achieved? She realised that she’d feel not guilty actually, but awkward about having removed from someone the possibility of choice.

She thought of the other deaths she had seen  - faintings, fadings -  but this one was perched right on the edge. This one was a struggle. Clive knew what was going on. He could see the gates opening. If Sarah did nothing, the last thing he would see was her. Sarah thought of an old bit of folk wisdom: that when someone was murdered, their retina was imprinted with the image of their killer. She didn’t want that to happen to her. She was wearing her oldest jersey and looked disreputable. And possibly, she wore a vengeful expression. She didn’t fancy people finding that image on his retina. 

She pulled out her mobile phone, called 999, and turned to Clive. “Look, Ducky” she said: “I don’t like you. I hate you, in fact. You’ve done me a lot of damage. But if I let you die, you’ll damage me even more. So I’m doing this for me, not for you.”

She leaned over, and was momentarily reminded of Dracula films when the sharp-toothed one bends over his victim. Clive’s breath was rank, saliva ran from his mouth. She felt a sharp visceral recoil. Best start with the chest. She started pumping: one/ two/three/four/five/ six/ seven/eight. Next, she wiped his mouth, and started to breath into it, pinching his fleshy nose in between breaths. Eight times, just as she had seen on the resuscitation videos. Then the chest again, then the mouth. Sarah began to feel very tired, and also disgusted. Sometimes extreme physical contact was a trial, even if you liked the person. This was downright horrid. But she returned to it again, even though, across the surface of her mind, she had flashbacks of the times he had traduced or disrespected her. Her mind was doing one thing, and her body another. She had to be honest about it, even though it felt corrosive.

The door burst open, and the ambulance crew rushed in. They took over in a much more professional way: mask, tubes, oxygen. They said that they could stabilise him, and that she had saved his life. As they  carried him away on a stretcher, Clive raised his hand to her in acknowledgement. “Get well soon, Clive” Sarah said “because then I’m going to treat you as you have treated me.” And so, although motivated by vanity, self-interest and a desire for a more comprehensive  revenge, Sarah became a hero and was feted  as such in the local newspaper. Which felt odd.

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