A Fierce Radiance: A Novel - By Lauren Belfer Page 0,1

held Emily’s hand long past the moment when Emily’s spirit or soul or spark—whatever constituted life—slipped away. In a wave of delayed recognition, Claire understood that Emily was no longer simply resting after her terrible, twisting struggle, but was lifeless. Without life. Dead. After a moment Emily’s eyes opened, staring at the ceiling without seeing it. Her pale blue eyes seemed to turn white while Claire watched. Screams of torment consumed Claire in waves, even though someone else seemed to Claire to be screaming, a kind of ghost self within her.

Charlie woke from his nap in the next room. “Mama,” he called. “Mama.”

Whom did he want? Claire wondered as she heard his cries. She was immobilized by a dense weight within her chest. Then Claire realized with a start that she was his mother. The “mama” Charlie called for was her. She heard footsteps in the hallway. A voice hushed Charlie. Comforted him. Took him from his crib. Claire’s own mother, here to care for them.

Ever so softly, with a lifetime’s worth of gentleness, Claire pressed Emily’s eyelids shut. She kept her hand in place for long minutes. Beneath her fingers, she felt Emily’s brow, the tickle of her eyelashes, the tender perfection of her eyelids, the softness of her eyebrows. Emily’s eyebrows were darker than her hair, and Claire’s mother had predicted that Emily’s hair would turn dark as she grew older. Now they would never know. Claire tried to collect within her hand a generation of caresses, from the moment of Emily’s birth to the point far in the future, past Claire’s own death, that should have been the natural course of Emily’s life. Emily’s skin was still warm beneath Claire’s palm.

Seven and a half years ago. Like yesterday. A cliché that was always true. Claire picked up the chart from the end of the hospital bed and read the history of the man lying helpless before her. Edward R. Reese Jr. Age: 37. Height: 5'11". Weight: 175. Marital status: Married. Two children. Address: 1020 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. Profession: Banker.

Claire shuddered. He was only one year older than she was. She imagined him holding his children on his lap to read them a story at bedtime, the way she held Emily and Charlie. She saw him advising clients in a wood-paneled office.

He began to breathe in quick, choked gasps, as if the air were a knife cutting his lungs.

Claire read on. Fever upon arrival at the Presbyterian Hospital on Monday, December 8: 104.1. Fever upon transfer to the Rockefeller Institute: 106.04. Bacterial level in his blood at 7 AM on December 10: 100 per milliliter. Claire didn’t know what that meant but assumed it was high. He’d been treated with two types of sulfa drugs, sulfadiazine and sulfapyridine. Neither had worked. He’d had three transfusions to try to clear the bacteria from his blood, to no avail. The infection had entered his bloodstream from a skin abrasion at the right knee. There were six abscesses in his right leg. His lungs were affected. Diagnosis: Staphylococcal septicemia.

Blood poisoning. Emily had died of blood poisoning.

In one gliding motion, a stately, straight-backed nurse took the chart from Claire’s hand and reattached it to the end of the bed. CHIEF NURSE BROCKETT, her identification badge read. Beneath her regulation cap, her steel gray hair was pulled into a bun. Her aloof severity reminded Claire of her high school headmistress, the type of woman who could intimidate with a glance.

“You may not read the chart.” Nurse Brockett enunciated each word with precision, as if she suspected that English were not Claire’s native language.

“That’s fine.” Claire pushed her memories of her daughter out of her mind and attacked the problem at hand. Nurse Brockett. Well, Claire wasn’t subject to this hierarchy, and Nurse Brockett didn’t intimidate her. Through her years of work she’d learned to agree with everyone in charge and then, when their attention was diverted, do exactly what she needed to do to get the story. Bravado was a trait Claire put on each morning with her silk blouse and tailored trousers. Her boss had sent her here to follow the testing of a potentially revolutionary medication, but already Claire knew that the real story, the one with emotion and power, was about saving the life of Edward Reese.

To establish her prerogatives, Claire took her equipment bags to a narrow table against the wall on the far side of the room. The table held a blue-patterned porcelain vase filled with