Fiction · 01/27/2021

Malady/Tincture/Cure

We know enough about medicine to know we’re dying. We know enough about dying to know we need a doctor. We know enough about doctors to appoint Art.

Art’s okay. He’s supervised a calving or two, and he’s got the free time since his wife died.

Calves have bodies. Wives have bodies. It’s as much expertise as we can expect in this brutal life. Which is why we’re okay with dying. We’d only rather it come after we’ve done all we could. Drank the drinks. Loved what’s worth loving.

Art though —

Art won’t accept even that. He’ll pound a chest till the ribs break, the sun comes up, the cows come round to watch.

Art, we’ll say. She’s gone.

And he’ll only grumble as he drags the corpse onto his property to keep trying.

A fence. That’s a kind of cure.

But the tincture Art makes out of snails and baby spit-up —

Sure, we drink it, but we don’t believe in it. It’s like the pickled bats Art has us stuffing into our pillows. Do we do it? Sure. Does it prevent STDs? The studies aren’t peer reviewed yet, Art says.

If we say no to these prescriptions, Art gets this look in his eyes like he can see the sickness inside us. He can’t — though he does have swimming goggles that let him torment the Holy Spirit — but we can feel the sickness inside ourselves.

What could it hurt? we ask.

Everything. It could hurt everything.

But then everything already hurts. It’s why we promoted Art to doctor in the first place, but we can’t say his cures sound right.

Rid yourself of a headache by digging a grave for the sparrow who dies of despair. Cure blood maladies by letting a hobo steal a pie filled with your mother’s secrets. Bathe in the stream where your true love will drown and your Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome will disappear.

Ah, hell, Art, we say. That seems hard.

All we wanted was something to make the pain stop, but now nature’s running out of sparrows and every hobo we trap hates pie.

Let us be honest —

We should probably fire Art.

Put him back in charge of the cows, maybe, although we feel some apprehension about that as he keeps painting them black.

Good god, Art, why?

Moon can’t see ‘em, moon can’t make ‘em sterile, he says.

When we tell him we’re not certain he knows what he’s talking about, he says, Then why am I called Dr. Art?

He’s got us there, and we try to remember —

It’s our bodies that betrayed us, not Art. Art’s fighting that great darkness for every last breath. Sometimes literally, spinning circles and throwing wild punches at the shadows he calls sun cancer.

Maybe all we need from a doctor is understanding. Of what we don’t know, of how we break, of how we’re terrified of the other side of the fence.

Take us there, Art. But don’t you ever quit.

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Adam Peterson’s fiction can be found in The Kenyon Review, Epoch, and elsewhere.