Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Doctor’s Peculiar Boy by Katrina Hayes

 “What do you think it’s like?” Barry asked.

    “Hm?” Josephine looked at him.

    “What do you think it’s like?” he asked again. “Being down there in the dark?”

    “Who cares?” Josephine snapped and strode confidently through the midnight forest.

    “Just wondered,” Barry was only ten and still curious about death.

    “Stop wondering, it’ll mess up your brain.” Josephine was fourteen and numb to it all. 

    They continued in silence, only the crunch of their feet on ground cover and the occasional snap of a twig breaking the night. 

    They came to the graveyard and stood on the edge, surveying their worksite. 

    “He wants a younger heart this time,” Josephine said, “ the mature hearts don’t work.”

    As if in response, Barry’s own heart, transplanted out of a thirty-five-year-old accountant, hiccupped and stuttered before thrumming back to its normal cadence. He was well aware that he could fall over dead at any moment. 

    “I like being alive,” he said as he followed Josephine through the headstones. 

    “Why is that?” Josephine laughed. “What kind of a life are you living?”

    “I dunno,” Barry sighed. “I like the night and the wind. I like the stars. I like the smell of fresh dirt.”

    “Oh Barry,” Josephine muttered, “you’re so naive.”

    They stopped at a small gravemarker. Josephine wiped one stitched hand across the stone, smearing mud away to reveal the death age. 

    “1882- 1887,” she read. “Five year old heart. Doesn’t say what they died of.”

    “I wish he would build us another brother,” Barry said as the two children dug up the small coffin. 

    “Stop it, Barry,” Josephine said. 

    “I miss having a brother,” he insisted as they pried the lid away to reveal the small body.

    Josephine’s strong arms scooped the tiny corpse into a hug and climbed out of the hole. “Well I’m tired of losing siblings,” she snapped. 

    The children left the grave disturbed and trod back the way they had come. Barry stared at the delicate leg that dangled from Josephine’s arm. The skin was frosty and dull, but clear and smooth. He looked down at his own leg and frowned at the thick scars where the foot and thigh had been sewn with crude skill. One knee was too small for his calf. It made him limp. 

    “Do you think Father would get me a new knee?” Barry broke the silence again.

    “He’s busy,” Josephine sniffed. 

    Barry was silent for a moment. “I’ve never had a mother. I wonder if she’ll play with us and sing us songs. I’ve seen other mothers do that, you know— sing songs. I could help her do the laundry and bake bread. Are you excited to have a mother?”

    “Oh shut up!” Josephine turned on him. “Stop, okay? It makes everything harder.” She turned and walked fast away from him. 

She made it to the house before him and slipped through the gate. Josephine had a dancer’s legs. Barry, however, had the legs of a miner and as he hobbled through his large thigh seam caught on an exposed bit of iron, tearing it open in a swooping arc from the inside almost down to his knee.

“Damn,” he cursed and stopped to untangle himself. 

He limped the rest of the way to the cellar door and pulled it closed behind him, throwing the bolt before hurrying to the workroom. 

Father was standing over a table with his gloves on and his spectacles perched on his nose inspecting the body they had just brought in. 

“Good work, children,” he said and went back to their mother, who was lying on another table. 

Barry joined him and climbed onto a stool so that he could see. She was very beautiful. 

“What do you think, son?” Father asked.

“I like her hair,” he said. “And her hands. They’re so graceful.”

“I hope she’ll be able to play the piano,” Father smiled and gave him a wink.

Josephine made a disgusted sound and crossed her thick arms across her chest. 

“You may go, Josephine,” Father scolded. 

She stormed away and Father smiled at Barry again before going back to work. Barry put his chin in his hands and watched Father tinker with the organs inside her chest cavity. 

“I think she’s about ready for that heart,” he said after some time. “But first, she’s missing an eye. Want to help me pick one for her?” 

“Sure!” 

“This one is blue,” Father said, pulling one eyelid up, “it’s the original.”

“It’s pretty,” Barry said. 

“Go choose something,” Father shooed him toward the shelves of body parts. 

Barry limped away, grabbed a jar of eyeballs floating in a syrupy liquid, and limped back.

“Goodness, Son!” Father uttered. “What happened to your leg?”

Embarrassed, Barry said, “It got caught coming through the fence.”

“Well,” Father came around the table and crouched down to look at it, “we’ll have to fix that won’t we.” He stood up and ruffled Barry’s mop of hair then leaned over the jar. 

Together they picked out a lovely grayish-green eye with a star pattern slicing through the iris. 

“Perfect,” Father whispered when the eye was secure. “Absolutely perfect.”

“Father?” Barry asked.

“Yes?” He was bent over the child they had brought in, pressing his fingers into the hard cartilage of the breast bone.

“Do you think she’ll like me? Well, us? Do you think Mother will like us?”

Father turned around and peered over his glasses, “Oh son,” he said, “she will not only like you, she will love you. She will be the sun in our dark world.”

Father put down the bone saw in his hand and took Barry in his arms, hugging him close and kissing his head. 

“Want to help me get her heart in?” he asked.

Barry nodded and wished his tear ducts were not clogged so that he could wipe tears away.

“That’s my boy.”

Father and son turned to the small cadaver and began to harvest a heart for Mother. 

© Katrina Hayes

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