Copyright 2014 by Stephen W. Hines
“But how can I do that, Rance? I don’t see–”
“It’s this way, Sarah . . . such a lovely name . . . such a dear, adorable name . . . that was Everett Buncombe on the phone. He was a former patient of mine and is soon to be a patient again, although he doesn’t know it yet. Because the fact is . . . the truth is . . . he has never been quite well since I operated on him some months ago. Indeed, he’s been quite ill since that time, and it’s been puzzling him very much. He comes to me regularly with complaints, but I’ve been putting him off. You see, the truth is, Sarah, I know perfectly well what his problem is, but I can’t do anything about it. It’s been maddening and has driven me far from the madding crowd, if you know what I mean. Now something simply must be done!”
Sarah’s head swirled with confusion. What could he be talking about? Had he chosen a lobotomy when he should have chosen an appendectomy?
But without giving her a chance to ponder further, Dr. Chutney rushed on. His next words came almost as a convulsion: “Buncombe is not getting well because . . . because I . . . I left his stomach stapled shut when I operated on his ulcer. He’s got a backlog of food debris filling his gut that is awful. And his breath . . . Sarah, don’t look at me that way. Sarah–!”
Sarah had lurched backward, visibly shaken. She had always thought she could stand up to anything, but to find out that surgeons ever made such humdingers was almost beyond comprehension. She looked into Dr. Chutney’s pleading eyes. As she did she did so, she felt a rising anguish, for she saw both love and torment there. Her heart went out to the prestigious idiot.
Dr. Chutney was down on his knees as he burst forth again: “You’ve got to help me. I must operate now, before it is too late. Tonight! Will you help me? Say you will!”
Sarah thought feverishly. Could she love this man? Wasn’t he incompetent? She wonder. And then she wondered that she wondered; for, after all, he was so compelling, so helpless, so handsome, so solemn and so vulnerable. “Oh, Dr. Chutney–Rance. Don’t look at me that way! You’ll break my heart!”
“Sarah, don’t turn your face away!” he said commandingly, a new note of resolve in his voice. “Look at me. I’ve adored you from the day you first startled me into speech. You can see that I love you, that I need you. Can you forgive a poor, but modestly wealthy, fool? I ask you again. Will you help me–tonight?”
Sarah got up off the love seat–on which she had taken refuge–and stood for a moment in silent agony. Finally, she responded to his pleading. Her reserve collapsed like the melting of a great iceberg. “God, help me!” she breathed. “I will!”
* * *
After the guests had all departed–ushered out by the butler well before midnight–all was in preparation. Then, though they tried to stop it, midnight came. As Mackintosh took Buncombe’s coat and hat, the butler slugged the old man over the head with a lead paperweight, rendering him senseless. Then the conspirators all gathered round and carried him to the kitchen, where the operation began immediately.
Using sugar tongs and paper clips as clamps, they shut off errant blood flow, and Dr. Chutney opened Buncombe’s stapled stomach, much to its relief. For a while the stench was extreme, as rotting food rose to the surface of the stomach’s distended cavity. As fainting fits serially attacked the feverish workers, they kept on, and sometime toward morning it was all over. Sarah asked breathlessly, “Will he be all right? Will he live? He’s lost so much blood, Rance.”
“Yes, he’ll be all right. His hematoma count is rising; that’s a good sign. And now with this new wonder drug I’m going to give him, he’ll never remember this happened at all–in fact, he might lose his memory altogether.”
Dr. Chutney’s eyes brightened at the thought.
“But won’t he notice he’s been reoperated on? I don’t understand. How can we get away with this? The razor blades and paring knives–ugh! It’s madness!”
“No, it isn’t. Listen! While he is under the influence of P-202, I will give him a postoperative suggestion–and he won’t remember anything that’s happened. Mackintosh will sterilize the whole kitchen; maybe even burn it down. Buncombe will recuperate in Florida where he’ll probably meet a stewardess and live happily ever after eating baby food. Sarah, oh Sarah, you’ve been such a brick through all of this. Let’s get married and have three children, two boys and a girl on a large lot, and settle down.”
“Yes, Rance, I accept. Two girls and a boy would be fine, if we could have maybe a small dog and a canary.”
Together, they clung to each other in a shy but vigorous embrace while Dr. Chutney, with his free arm, continued to pump the supine, insensible Everett Buncombe ever more full of P-202, the future bright with promise and enduring love.
May all their dreams come true!