“Parli italiano?” he asked his patient as he approached her side.
“I don’t understand,” she replied.
Luca pulled at his white coat, running a hand down its buttoned front, buying time to gather his wits. It had been years since he had heard Lena’s voice or seen her smile, except in dreams. He was almost always taken by surprise when a suggestion of her suddenly appeared.
His patient had spoken in English and he responded likewise. “I am Luca Viale, the doctor in charge of your care.”
Continuing to stare at him, she repeated his name. “Dr. Luca Viale.”
“How are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m not sure. My head hurts.” She lifted a hand to the bandage covering a small part of her skull. Her lips crackled as they squeezed raspy words between them. “I’m sore all over. And it hurts to breathe. What happened to me?”
Shaken, and therefore, easily startled, Luca jumped at the sound of sudden movement behind him. Turning toward it, he realized it was just the nurse returning with ointment for his patient’s dehydrated lips. He had forgotten about her. He had forgotten about many things in the swiftness of the flashback.
Maria stepped between him and the patient, leaning close, applying the salve with a long cotton-tipped swab. She placed the paper cup of ointment onto the rolling tray before disappearing from his line of sight.
He took a breath and continued, keeping his voice as calm as he could manage. “You are in hospital after being fished out of the canal, signora. We feared you had been under too long to survive.” Having sensed emotion might try to creep in, he silently congratulated himself on his ability to keep his tone stoic.
“Canal?” she asked, after taking another long sip of the cool water.
“Do you recall what you were doing out on so dangerous a night?”
“Why was it dangerous?” She pressed her lips together, squishing the ointment into the crevices.
“The fog, signora. It was very thick right before you fell into the canal. Most people do not take risks in Venice during such low visibility.” There was a suggestion of culpability in his words that even he heard as they escaped him. His rawness was affecting his ability to remain objective.
“Venice?” Surprise rose in her voice. “Venice, Italy?”
“Yes, signora, you are in Venice, Italy.”
She looked off to the right, cocked her head to one side, and winced. “What am I doing in Venice?”
He assessed her confused expression, her brows arching upward. “We hoped you would be able to tell us.”
“I’m sorry. I…” She hesitated. “My memory doesn’t seem to be functioning right now.”
“That is to be expected. You were not only oxygen-deprived for quite a while, but it also seems that you hit your head. It may take a few days for all the signals in your brain to reconnect. It is enough for you to have awakened. We will fill in the gaps later.” He motioned for Maria, and they left the room, closing the door behind them.