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She closed herself in her office to study, with the murmur of voices within the house and the sounds of wheels on cobblestones outside as a soothing counterpart to her reading. Her father had never scrimped on medical texts and journals, and neither would she. There was so much to learn! It seemed that not a week passed but that some new medical discovery was heralded. Some were nonsense, of course; she had an advantage over her colleagues in that she could tell if a treatment for an illness or injury was actually doing any good. X-ray photography was a boon, if one could keep the patient still enough—but electrical stimulation was stuff and nonsense. She could tell easily enough with her own special senses that the patient got no more benefit from it than from any other nostrum in which he truly believed. Belief was a powerful medicine, ofttimes more powerful than any pill or potion she could offer.

As for sanitary surgery, she already felt that simply boiling instruments before surgery was nowhere near enough. Although she had had no say in the matter when she operated or assisted under the supervision of one of Royal Free’s senior surgeons, from now on she would have a nurse spritzing the patient and the hands of those operating on him with dilute carbolic acid during her surgeries. Dr. Lister was right, and he would save many, many lives with his ideas, if he could get other physicians to implement them.

Tonight she studied gas gangrene. It was not the sort of literature that anyone but a small percentage of people on this island would even consider for after-dinner reading, and only a minuscule number of those would think it suitable under any conditions for a woman. Maya didn’t care; she wanted to see if there was any hint in the current papers that her carbolic-acid atomizer would prevent the spread of this fearful condition. By the time she finished for the evening, with the clock on the mantle over the unused fire striking eleven, she had come to the conclusion that it would help, but no more. If only there were thin, flexible gloves available, impermeable to those tiny creatures Louis Pasteur had discovered as the root cause of infection and disease! Then a surgeon could operate without fear that the dread bacteria would enter some tiny nick or cut on her hands!

But India rubber was too thick and became sticky when warm, lambskin and eelskin little better than bare hands, for they required seams and, once used, could not be used again. Washing, with soap and carbolic, before and after, thoroughly and exhaustively: that was the only preventative, and that a shallow one. But she could not let fear keep her from trying to save lives.

She rubbed her eyes and shut the cover of the latest issue of The Lancet, marveling that there were still so many men who dared to call themselves doctors who refused to believe that bacteria caused infection.

How could they not? In the face of all the evidence? She had never had a doubt, and never would have had, even without the evidence of her own very special senses that informed her of the work of those tiny, evil lives, glowing like sickly yellow coals, spreading through her patients’ bodies like an ugly stain.

I can sense them, but there is so little that magic can do against them. Not even Surya had been able to prevail against the tiny lives that had devoured her own, and Surya’s magic had been a tower, a monument, compared to the pitifully small and ragged prominence that was her daughter’s. Magic could strengthen the body that fought disease, but it could not kill the disease, not when it was one that moved with the terrible swiftness of the cholera that had claimed Surya.

Maya clenched her jaw and swallowed hard; she squeezed her eyes tightly against the burning behind her lids, and fought the tears away.

“Enough,” she said aloud, and pushed the chair away from the desk. Turning out the light, she went back out into the hall, closing the office door quietly behind her.

The house was quiet, except for the creakings and whispers of any house, new or old, as wood rubs against wood and whispers of draft creep under sills. Gupta and the rest must have gone to bed, which was where Maya would be shortly.

She turned out each light as she passed it to save the fragile bulb: the hallway downstairs, the light over the staircase, then the light just outside her door. Closing her door behind her, she leaned against it with her back to the wood for a moment and rubbed her eyes again. It was dark here, but she moved instinctively across the floor to the electric lamp beside her bed and turned the key to bring it to life.

This was a comfortable room. Quite small, it had probably been intended for a child, but Gopal and Sumi needed the much larger master bedroom, so despite their protests, Maya had insisted they take it. She had not been able to bring her furniture from home, but plenty of far wealthier folk who had gone to India and returned had brought furniture back with them, and there was a great deal of it in the flea markets at bargain prices after they tired of it. So here there were no lace curtains, no rose-garden carpets. The colors of home hung at the windows in vivid swags of red and yellow and orange muslin; the floor was covered with a worn silk rug figured like a Persian garden. The walls, painted white, played backdrop to a carved lacework of wooden panels with geometric embroidered tapestries, or hangings figured with the tree of life. The same carved wood supported her bed, made up the table beside it, and framed the cushions of a chair. Two sandalwood chests, one at the foot of her bed and the other at the window, and a wardrobe held her clothing; sandalwood boxes held her jewelry.

There wasn’t much of that left; Surya had bequeathed her daughter a small fortune of gold and gems, but most of it had gone to bring them all to London, build this house, and keep them until now. Not that Maya begrudged the sale of any of it, but she had kept a few pieces that held special meaning for her.

She sat down on the side of her bed and opened a small sandalwood box on the bedside table next to the lamp, taking out the carved ivory ball that rested there. The filigreed ball was as big as her fist, and there was no piece of the lacework ivory that was wider than a quarter of an inch. Inside this ball was another, and another, and another. Twelve in all, they all moved freely inside one another. Maya turned it over and over in her hands, caressing the smooth ivory gently, remembering how her mother would hold the ball in front of her wondering eyes at bedtime, and tell her absurd tales about how it had been made—that ants had carved it, whittling it away from the inside out, or that a man had been shrunk to the size of a beetle so that he could create it.

I think she could have put Scheherazade to shame with her stories.

Her finger traced the arabesque of ivory, the tenderly curling vines, the tiny trumpet flowers, as each turn of the ball revealed another glimpse of more tendrils, more buds inside. The balls ticked quietly against each other as she turned the sphere over and over in her hands, not thinking, just remembering.

… her mother dancing in the garden, laughing, while Gupta played a tiny drum, her own stumbling, baby steps trying to imitate her; the jingle of the bells at her ankles, the flutter of the end of her sari…

… her mother’s low, whispered voice, as the lamp flickered; a murmur of fantastic tales as Maya’s sleepy eyes followed a gigantic moth circling round and round the lamp…

… a breath of patchouli and sandalwood, the featherlike caress of hennaed fingers…

Slowly Maya felt the tension of the day drain out of her as the memories filled her. Surya had murmured mantras to guide her through the relaxations of yogaic magics; Maya had the mantra of memory to ease her path to sleep.



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