The dreams betray the fever, compress drying and shrinking upon his scalp. He walks once again, legs numb, feet a dull and distant thump against the ground in irregular, staccato beats. He stumbles and curls into himself, knees and hands beneath him, supporting him. Each breath pulls in fire, expels flame and bile, the taste of that gummy, acerbic substance coating his lips, the slime spreading over his teeth. It’s bitter and somehow wrong, but he doesn’t have the saliva to spit; he tries to ignore it, push it to the back of his mind, but his lips crack open when he shifts them and he smells blood. It wets his tongue.
Dust flies into his eyes, wind whips it against what little of his flesh is exposed. The rags he wears are so dry and brittle that they no longer rise with the currents of air, sticking where they jut from his form at odd angles. The stench of so many days, so many weeks, without a wash has long since deserted him, dried sweat and mildewed cloth a feature of the routine. A baseline. He breathes in mustard gas, coarse air that barely sustains him.
Flashes of consciousness break through the delirium, stranded beams from the morning star streaming through the holes in the tent, catching the sheet that pins his arms, shaking weakly, to the bed. Even writhing is beyond him, a capacity he does not possess. She comes again in the brief bouts of time spent awake, feeds him water at which he slurps hungrily, feverish and insane. The cool compresses soothe him, allow him to spend time in the dreamscape among aged memories, a wonderland that no longer exists in his present, when the sun didn’t always shine so brightly or sear so strongly.
She cycles in and out; he knows it’s her because she always speaks to him, voice a sing-song lullaby of nearly familiar terms. Once, he finds the strength the rip aside the sheet, catches her wrist and she jerks in surprise before turning to face him. He can barely hold on, much less pull her closer, but the momentary strength grants him a small piece of clarity. A single word comes to his mind.
He feels her hesitate, something throbbing beneath her flesh. Her pause gives way to reluctant resignation.
His fingers loosen and she pulls away, his arm falling limp at his side. She covers him once again and refreshes the compress, then moves to the entrance. The sleep is coming over him once more, pulling down the shades of his reality, but he senses that she has not left yet and so he waits, struggles to hold onto consciousness just a little longer, intrigued.
“Hu yivarech virapei atah.”
The flap falls closed behind her and he descends into the madness of dreams.