A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra:
“You think I’m wonderful, don’t you? You think I’m the kindest, bravest, most generous man ever given a pair of feet to step into the world,” he said, and the dog kept licking his hair in reply. “That’s because you’re a stupid dog.”By evening the village still lay under an awning of smoke. Twenty-three had died. Fourteen from gunfire, three from collapsed houses, two from mortar fire, and one from suicide: a ninety-year-old man who had survived two world wars, three heart attacks, and, most debilitating of all, the shame of his firstborn son, a boy who could have been anything but chose to be a puppeteer. The Feds forced three into a cellar and lobbed in a live grenade before shutting the door. Another eighteen were taken to the Landfill, which meant forty-one villagers disappeared that day, to return only by the grace of Akhmed’s pencil. Shortly after Havaa followed her parents home, Akhmed appeared in the doorframe and knelt to knock on the kicked-in door. He needed Havaa’s fingers. In his clinic the wounded lay on every surface flat enough to hold a body. The butt of a Kalashnikov had forever shut a woman’s left eye. The arm of a man who would go on to summit Elbrus bent as if it had three elbow joints. Akhmed’s hand, flaccid on her shoulder, guided Havaa through the waiting room. His office was an operating theater. Mountainous tarpaulin topography spread across his desk, streams flowing into lakes of blood. A lamp sat on the floor, its light pinning the silhouette of Akhmed’s head to the ceiling where it would blankly observe the scene. He spoke as if accountable to her, explaining that this wasn’t a hospital and he wasn’t a surgeon, that he could draw lovely sketches of the wounded but couldn’t save their lives, that the doctors at Hospital No. 6 were unquestionably superior and had the zachistka cordon not blocked all traffic to the city, he would carry each to the hospital on his back to avoid the responsibility of their care.