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The fiction of S. M. Wheeler
2013-07-29 04:54 pm (UTC)
He came into the examination room with her medical file tucked between elbow and side, this peculiarity: three bouts of cancer, of lungs and marrow and breast, all easily extinguished; chronic childhood ear infections, weepy ears her parents didn’t mind soon enough, leading to adult aural therapy (success: partial; modern medicine can fix the physical, but the developmental-neurological remains elusive); her teeth, it is noted, are markedly Swedish and given to cavities. What lacks: surgical eye modification, aesthetic
corrective of pathologies. He is the Doctor Fixer, the maker right of others’ mistakes, and neither general practitioners nor beautician M.D. would send him a blank slate.
Perhaps that portion of her records had been shuffled in with another patient’s. He must remember to speak to his nurses about it.
So he thought, ’til this woman seated on the exam table in a garish red dress looked up through eyelashes long with mascara—not implants, for with his hawk’s eyes he could see the clumps caught between the hairs. Focused past them, he blamed the light for the color of her eyes, but that was foolery. A million dollars for the lighting in this room, or else he couldn’t have gotten the license for eye color modification, no matter his reputation. Her eyes were brown, brown like rich worm-eaten dirt, brown of silty water and of sloth’s fur. He caught his tongue between his teeth before he told her so, coughed, extended a hand. “Hello, Miss Eldridge. I’m Robert Isfahani. What brings you here?”
Disconcerting, how closely she watched his lips when he spoke. Doubly: she raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re a specialist, Doctor. You know.” Now she lifted her chin and gestured at her eyes (he thrilled at how they scattered the light and blushed green). For all she wanted him to examine them, she would not meet his gaze, but looked vague and unfocused to the side—shamed, he realized, and not able to bear the idea of another person looking directly at them. “No one will touch these. They say it’s impossible. I’m too much of a throwback and the color won’t take.”
“Well, Miss Eldridge—well—” He opened and closed his mouth like a fish stunned by a jellyfish’s sting, body slowly shutting down as nerve endings burst with venom, and she leaned forward with a frown, made an inquiring noise. “I want to lie to you,” he admitted, “and say there’s nothing I can do. There is. I could make them vivid green—have you seen Taylor Gorbeau? That color would take. Not blue, I’m afraid. Black is a more uncertain option. As I am sure the others worried over, the, ah, there would still be a certain tint to the iris, obvious against the pupil.”
Say you want blue
, he prayed;
be a stubborn fool and argue ’til you walk away, and I won’t be the one to murder these, these
“The green,” she said, quiet. “Please. Give me whatever I need to sign. I understand I will be blind for a while and have made arrangements. I expect you can have me in surgery soon, with this.” She took a credit chit from a pocket at the hip of her dress, flashed it in her palm with an air of embarrassment.
By the sweet lord, might I never have to mutilate what is so beautiful
. For all his hesitation, he knew that he would do as she asked; he had sworn the oath that he would practice his profession with the patient’s satisfaction always in hand, and do no harm to their self-realization. At first look, he knew what he could and couldn’t do. A hundred years of this business meant fifty without the complex machines that assessed pigmentation and eye-shape for the viability of one option or another, and it was his well-developed ability to spot what could be done that served him better than all the young bucks and does who relied on the new technology. With those ancient eyes on him, he said, “I will do the surgery for free—I will tell your workplace it is necessary to avoid further psychological damage—if only you let me study them, a while. I need—” He shook his head; she expected more, but he could only say, “Please, Miss Eldridge. You do not know what you have, but I see.”
“Are they so awful?” she whispered. “Will studying them help others?”
He shook his head. “This will sound disturbing,” he said, and gestured to his own irises: slate grey, somber, as he had gotten when he entered the medical field. They were comforting to many businessmen who came wanting colors alike, having made poor neon choices in their youths and now wanting social advancement. “I want them. I would give up my business, to have eyes like that. Please, it will only be a year more between now and surgery. You’re—” He glanced down at her chart. “—forty-five, no? One more year...”
She shrugged off this peculiarity. “No. I won’t live longer than I have to with them. Doctor, I’m doing you a favor by saying so. If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve been utterly turned down by everyone else, I’d walk out that door with the knowledge that you’re mad for even saying such a thing. As it is—” She fixed him with a look, making eye contact at last. “You already said you can do it, so you have to, don’t you?”
Doctor Isfahani bent his head in defeat. “It’s your right. But, please—”
She shook her head.
“Please,” he whispered a last time; and refused, shaken, told her: “Go to the desk and make an appointment, then, ma’am. Show them the chit, tell them to do so as soon as possible. A month. Maybe less. You’ll pay in full, Miss Eldridge, before I do the procedure.”
She slipped down from the exam table with an expression of faint distrust and mockery, gave him a bow that wouldn’t pass for sincere and polite in even the lowest society. “Thank you, Doctor, for doing your duty.”
He stood aside for her to pass, a man dying of envy and guilt before the cause of those deadly emotions had ever come to pass. His hands would not shake on their tools, however, and he would not spread the pigment wrong; he was the Doctor Fixer, and his patients determined the mistakes.
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