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Story Time With Hank | The Doctor Romances

mermen
Hank Henry

Happy November, everyone. I understand that this is the second installment of Story Time to go up this month, but, like a jerk, I forgot to mention it last week. So I’m mentioning it now. Happy November. Did you have a good Halloween? It’s November 9, so I don’t care.

I also forgot to remind everyone about that whole daylight savings thing that went down last weekend. That’s my bad. I assume you’ve been early for everything all week and you have no idea why. I know how that goes. I forgot daylight savings once and spent two years dressed as a merman in a traveling carnival. A lesson learned hard is a lesson learned well, I always say. Go ahead and roll your clocks back an hour now.

I probably shouldn’t mention this because it’s dumb and I’ve been rambling for a while now, but a baby boy was just carried right by me. As he went past, he looked back over his mother’s shoulder, dead into my eyes and raised one tiny fist into the air. We did it, that fist seemed to say. I don’t know what we did, but I feel great about it.

Anyway, it’s Story Time, yaaaaaaaaay.

I spend more time in bars than I ever used to. Since I started writing this each week, I mean. Weird bars. Bars I can never find again after I’ve left, and would never want to. Thankfully, copious drinking has never hurt anyone.

The other night I was in a bar, but it wasn’t weird at all. It was in a hotel, and it was kind of boring. There was a mural of some owls on one wall. I was parked on what I deemed a likely stool when a man and a woman who’d just met at the bar moved, scotch and martini in tow, to a table at my four o’clock. More comfortable than talking sideways, I suppose. They talked for a while, but it was boring, so I’ll skip ahead.

“And what do you do?” the woman asked.

“I’m a doctor.”

“Oh, yeah? What kind of doctor?”

“Just, you know, general stuff. I’m a general practitioner.”

“I see.” She was disappointed.

“Sometimes I operate a little.”

“Yeah?” Back on board.

“Every now and then.”

“That’s wild. What kind of operations?”

“Oh, well … sometimes there are … certain … internal issues that need sorted out. Problems with the ol’ stuffing, you know?”

She laughed, charmed by the folksiness coming out of this accomplished man.

“Sounds intense,” she said, squeezing his hand.

“It can be,” he allowed. “Sometimes the stuffing doesn’t want to stay on the inside. Sometimes it gets all over. In your hair, in your eyes, down your shirt. And the more you try to shove in, the more gets out.”

“Jesus.” Her eyes the size of golf balls.

“You get used to it, after a while. You learn to keep your cool.”

“Wow.” She’s still holding his hand on the table.

“So,” he says, spitting the words out fast before his courage leaves him “do you maybe want to get—”

“How many lives do you think you’ve saved?”

“Uh, well, I don’t keep a count or anything …”

“Guesstimate.”

“And a lot of what I do isn’t … lives may not necessarily be on the line, all the time …”

“Oh.” He’s losing her.

“I mean, not on the line exactly, but that’s not to say … the procedures are certainly serious, often. Very serious, I would say. There’s always risk …”

“Oh?”

“Sure. Definitely.” He swallowed an impressive amount of scotch. “A lot of what I do, surgery-wise, is, like, well … I reattach limbs, for one thing, arms and legs that have … come off one way or another. Accidents.”

“Oh my God.”

“And I replace eyes, a lot of eyes. Very intricate work.”

She squeezed his hand hard now and her mouth hung slightly ajar. He glowed, he was doing it, this was going to work.

“Noses, sometimes, but that’s nothing after an eye or two. And one time,” he leaned in for the coup de grace. “One time a patient came in, his neck was torn near in two. Unbelievable. I mean it’s barely hanging on at all, just a few threads here and there. The worst I’ve ever seen. And I’m not gonna lie, on the inside, I’m freaking out a little. But I force the fear down, you know? I take a breath. I keep my cool. And I look up at the fluorescent lights overhead and I say, ‘Not today, Jesus, not today. You might take this fella someday, but not today.’”

Tears welled up in his companion’s eyes.

“But I still had a job to do. So I got out my tools and I went to work. Slowly—sloooooowly—I took my needles, a little thread, and I began to sew him back together. And I was in the zone, know what I mean? One careful, little stitch at a time. Sweat dripping down my forehead. But finally—could have been hours or minutes later, I really don’t know—it was finished. He was whole. And he was going to to be just fine. I put in that last stitch and tied it off and suddenly the kids are cheering, hugging, clapping me on the back. Let me tell you, that was the day the training paid off. That was—”

“Wait.” the woman took her hand off his. “Kids?”

“Er …”

“What kids? Why were there kids?”

“They were … on a field trip.”

“Have you been lying to me this whole time?”

“Have I—No, of course not. Of course not. It’s just … look, maybe you got the wrong impression, that’s all. No one’s fault.” He made to grab her hand but chickened out and went for his glass instead. “Like, I am a doctor, really, but maybe you got the idea somehow … See, the thing about my patients is that, strictly speaking, they aren’t, uh, in the literal sense … human,” (it was a struggle to hear the rest) “so much as they are teddy bears. At the Teddy Bear Clinic. At the mall.”

The woman stared at him, disbelieving, then laughed for a long, long time. She stood up and walked out, an extended middle finger the last part of her to go.

He sighed, and rubbed the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb. “Shit.”

He saw me watching him. “They always have to ask, ‘Ooooh, what kind of doctor?’ Why can’t I just be a doctor? Why can’t we leave it at that?” He shook the ice out of his glass and into his mouth and chewed it with gusto.

“I make kids happy. Should have led with that. I make kids happy.”

I shrugged. “Hindsight.”

“Yeah. Well.” He was calm again. “Have a good one.”

He got up and took a seat at the bar. Ordered another drink. Sat and watched the door, waiting.

***

Hank Henry ought to mind his own business, is what I think. Guy’s one bad day away from standing in some bushes, drinking a can of beer he stole from the gas station around the corner, peering in through a window that he fogs up with his hot, alcoholic’s breath at a family playing euchre. But maybe you’re into that. Maybe that’s your scene. So send your address and innermost secrets to [email protected].

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