Sunday Psalms: Fictional Narratives Inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, & Other Biblical Works
Doc Parson – Part 2 (Go back to read Part 1)
“You lost little man?”
The door to the church was patrolled by a shirtless gentleman who paced back and forth with a walking stick as tall as I was. I ignored his intimidation and pointed to the road.
“Somebody get that body out of the street and over to the cemetery.” On my way down the hill, I had passed a corpse. The last thing we needed was rotting flesh.
“Seems to me you’re a puny sort of person to be giving orders.” When I moved to pass, the shirtless man swung his stick out to block. He was practically a giant to me, but I figured I could manuever around him. Shirtless appeared to be more strength than speed.
“Put it away, Croft!” Macaw was stomping her way down the muddy street, hollering. I would have preferred her let me settle my own disputes, but it wasn’t the time to defend my manhood. Instead, I ducked under Croft’s stick and slipped into the church.
Macaw followed me, saying, “Don’t worry about Croft. He just wants to take care of us. Since the constable died, he’s the only law around here.”
I had already moved on from Croft. I was assessing what folks called “the church.” I had assumed it to be a religious entity, but in Crystal Pass, “church” was their name for the granary. Apparently, there was an actual church in Crystal Pass, a blue chapel they referred to as “the garden.” They lost their preacher two days prior.
Being the largest building, this was the most logical space for a makeshift hospital. Bales of hay had been shoved together and covered with pieces of canvas in order to make beds for the sick. I counted a dozen current patients.
“I’m going to need water, bandages, and cloths.” I rolled up my sleeves and rattled off a list of instructions to Macaw. While she relayed my orders to the volunteers, I knelt beside the bed closest to me. A young woman was drenched in sweat, her lips the color of blueberries.
“Good morning. I’m Doc Parson.”
“This is Dorothea,” Macaw came up and gently introduced the girl. When she reached out to take her hand, I interjected my own arm.
“Never touch them without gloves. Try not to touch them at all, if you can help it. Not until I know how it spreads.”
“What about you, Doc? You’re touching her.”
“I can be a hypocrite, Macaw. I’m the doctor.” I wasn’t going to explain my inability to become sick. I did, however, soften and add, “It won’t do any good if something happens to you.”
Macaw’s face fell. I suppose it seemed harsh to deny the sick the gift of touch, but she did not argue.
“Dorothea, can you tell me how long you’ve had the bitter gut?” The girl struggled to speak, but she managed to mouth “three days.”
“Bitter gut” was how the locals described the first stage of the disease. It began with a strange sickness that burrowed its way deep into the pit of the stomach. After that came blindness, and then lung failure. Once bitter gut set in, no one lasted more than a week.
“You gonna put us back together, Doc?” That night, after hours of patient care, I stepped outside for a reprieve. Croft was waiting for me with a cup of a hot drink that was spicy to the tongue. He was apologizing.
“You lose people, Croft?” I asked. He looked away and coughed. I didn’t push.
“Let’s go, Doc. Get you a few hours of sleep.” Macaw had wandered outside and was already walking back to the store. She’d spent the entire day by my side, wiping brows, singing lullabies, promising future health.
“I’ll be there soon. I just want to check a few more samples.” In between doctoring, I had fashioned a laboratory in the granary loft. Harnessing bales of hay, I erected my microscope and my test tubes along one wall. With Casper’s help I had collected samples from patients, from soil, from foliage. The kid was a natural.
“Don’t you let him stay too long,” Macaw instructed. Croft gave her the nod. “Bring Casper with you.”
Next to Macaw, no one worked as hard as Casper. All day long he faithfully brought water from the well (The well was the first thing I tested. It was clear). When he wasn’t collecting samples, Casper passed out sandwiches and fruit and candy to the healthy workers. He carried out sick pails and brought in clean towels. We made a decent team.
In spite of our efforts that first day, I had pulled sheets over a half-dozen bodies. Their hay bales were soon replenished with fresh patients. Soul by soul, life in Crystal Pass was fading.
By my third day, I had interviewed everyone in town. I had tested everything, from blood to hair to toenails. Casper was constantly at my side.
“Watcha think, Doc?” Casper peered over my shoulder while I examined the saliva of a patient who had died an hour earlier.
“I think you would make an excellent doctor.” Casper beamed at my approval. I was glad the boy was staying healthy. No signs of illness from him or Macaw or her oldest girl. “Have a look.” I stepped aside so he could peer through the lens.
“Looks like a bunch of squiggly stuff.” He was right. Most samples did look like splotches of paint.
“This squiggly stuff tells it’s not airborne.”
“What does that mean?” He took a second look at the sample.
“What I mean is people aren’t getting sick from each other. It’s not a virus. Whatever’s making people sick is from something they’re eating or touching. You understand?”
Casper nodded. “So what’s making us sick?”
“That I don’t know,” I admitted and changed out the slides. It wasn’t the well, wasn’t the livestock, wasn’t the creek. The soil was healthy, but people were still dying.
“Casper! Doc! You up there?” Macaw called up. Casper darted to the edge of the loft and leaned his head over the side.
“Doc says it’s not airborne. That means it’s not a virus. You can touch people now.” Good boy. He was learning fast.
“Then it sounds like time for a break. Come home and get some supper. You too, Doc.”
Casper pushed himself up and turned to me. “You comin’? I bet Mama’s got hot bread waiting. She always makes that when she’s worried, and she’s been awful worried lately.”
“I’ll be right there.” I watched the boy disappear down the ladder and couldn’t help but think of my wife. She died before we had any children. She would have liked Casper.
I cleaned up my ramshackle laboratory and did one more check of my patients. All the previous day’s volunteers had come down with the bitter gut. A few new volunteers had come in with sick relatives. I told them I’d be back soon.
“How we doing, Doc?” Croft was slumped down next to the doorway, his stick positioned in his arms like a gun.
“Closer. Getting closer,” I told him. I suppose I was really reassuring myself.
“That’s good,” he said, and after that, Croft proceeded to empty the remains of his last meal onto the porch.
“Not you too, Croft.” I bent down and tried to move the big man, but we were physically incompatible. Eventually, I found help, and we positioned Croft on a bale near the front door. Even in his illness, he would want to keep any eye out.
“I believe in you, Doc,” Croft whispered to me, his eyes trusting as a lamb.
“I’ll be back,” I promised and gave thorough instructions for his care.
Walking back to Macaw’s, the exhaustion finally set in. Blurry eyes, weak legs. I was grateful for the wind flowing down from the mountains, its force moving me along.
“You look terrible, Doc.” Macaw’s greeting was clear and alive, but the circles under her eyes were telling. Like me, she’d hardly slept.
I raked a hand through my hair and sat down next to Casper. He’d already finished his plate and was shoving a piece of bread into his mouth. Crumbs sprinkled down, snowing the counter and the floor around him. Other than Macaw’s famous bread, I don’t recall what I ate that night, but I do remember the comforting feeling I felt afterwards: a coziness in the belly that made you want to crawl under the covers and sleep for a year.
“How’s Vivian?” I hadn’t looked in on her girl since that morning. Tess, the oldest daughter, was permanently stationed by her bed. None of us discussed the possibility of another burial.
While I ate, Macaw talked about Vivian, how she was hanging on. She discussed the patients, who they were, what they were like in normal life. She talked about Croft losing his wife and child and wondered what he would do once the epidemic passed and he returned to an empty cabin. I kept quiet about Croft getting sick.
“You want something else, Doc? Something sweet to pick you up?”
“What did you have in mind, Macaw?” I had finished my dinner and was resting my head on the counter.
“Candy, Doc. Candy.” I pulled my head up from the counter to see her arms crossed, her expression serious. She pointed to the row of glass jars. “And just so you know, you’re not my type.” She paused, then added, “Too tall.”
I know it wasn’t the right time, but I was tired. A laugh came from a dormant place inside of me. The sound of it made me laugh even more. Macaw did not join in, but for a brief moment, I think she forgot about the pain.
“Are you finished?”
“Yep,” I said, rubbing my eyes. I surveyed the kaleidoscope of treats she kept in stock. Chocolates and taffies and sugar sticks. I fingered the glass jar closest to me, one half-full of shiny round candies. They were deep red, the size of strawberries. I’d seen Casper distributing them at the church yesterday.
“You got good taste, Doc. Most popular candy in the store. Brought them in last week. Sold four jars already.” She removed the lid, revealing a pleasant aroma.
“What do you call these?”
“I think the trader calls them Sweet Dreams, but the kids call them Berry Drops. Outside tastes like fruit, inside’s supposed to be a rich cream.”
“Supposed to? You don’t know?”
“Nope. I don’t do right with sugar. Neither do my oldest three. Makes us pant like thirsty dogs. But Vivian and my other babies…they were the ones who could eat sugar like it was the only thing on the planet.” Mackaw’s eyes misted, and she turned so I wouldn’t see her cry.
While Macaw composed herself, I stood up and peered down into the jar of red delights. Dozens of red spheres sang out, shiny and enticing. “Who’s been buying these?”
“Everyone? What do you mean everyone?”
“I mean everybody in town’s bought them. About time for me to stock up.”
I reached inside the jar and selected one of the large round treats. Its glossy coat beckoned my teeth. I sniffed at it, inhaling the scent of wild strawberries, like the ones that grow along Lake Meridian. It had been years since Marketa and I had visited, but I never forgot how the entire landscape was permeated with their scent. You could sit there all day, inhaling strawberries until you made yourself sick.
“Mackaw.” I said her name more harshly than intended, as if my voice was grabbing her by the shoulders. “What’s in the candy? Did you read the label?”
This was it, I could feel it. The rush of adrenaline always came when I was on the verge. This was the reason I had become a doctor–the thrill of discovery.
“I don’t know. There wasn’t a label. The trader said they were his best-selling candy. Why are you so worked up? Maybe you should go lie down.” Macaw was staring at me as if I’d gone crazy.
“The trader. Macaw, where can I find the trader? I need to know what’s in this candy.”
It is not good to eat much honey; so for men to search out their own glory is grievous. Proverbs 25:7 (ASV)
For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that gaspeth for breath, that spreadeth her hands, saying, “Woe is me now! For my soul fainteth before the murderers.”
“Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now, and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that doeth justly, that seeketh truth; and I will pardon her. Jeremiah 4:31-5:1 (ASV)
Question to Ponder: What entices you?
Song Recommendation: Trouble Won’t Go by Enter the Worship Circle
Go on to read the Conclusion to Doc Parson.
Written by Heidi Sadler, Inspired by Proverbs 25 & Jeremiah 4-5. Copyright © 2016 Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved.
-Read Previous Sunday Psalms from Season Two: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4, Episode 5,Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 9, Episode 10, Episode 11, Episode 12, Episode 13, Episode 14, Episode 15, Episode 16
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