Author : Sam Larson

Dr. Oliver, tall and with thick, perpetually smudged glasses perched on the end of his long nose, leaned over Seth’s back and pushed the tip of his forceps into a gash on Seth’s shoulder while Seth, stripped to the waist and streaked with sweat, moaned and squirmed on the examination table.

“This is the last one, Seth.” Dr. Oliver placed a hand on Seth’s back where his latex gloves smeared the blood oozing from the boy’s shoulders. He gave the forceps a sharp jerk and Seth squealed. The forceps clanked loudly into a waiting steel bowl and, still holding Seth down, Dr. Oliver reached for the antiseptic, pouring it sloppily across the boy’s upper back and mopping it with a wad of cotton. Seth’s shoulders were pocked with a constellation of scars, some nearly faded and some fresh, red, and tender. Seth lay limp on the bed and waited, sniffling. Dr. Oliver bandaged Seth’s shoulders tightly and offered a hand to help the boy sit up on the bed. Seth snatched his arm away from Dr. Oliver and cast a furious glance up at the raggedy adult. Tears ran down Seth’s face and angry red rimmed his obsidian eyes, a rich solid black like India ink.

Dr. Oliver sat on a stool in front of the examining table, removed his stained latex gloves, and tossed them towards the waste bin. Reaching long fingers into the pocket of his shirt he dug out a crumpled envelope of tobacco and a collection of tattered of rolling papers. He carefully splinted the torn rolling paper with more scraps dug from his shirt pocket until he had a crooked cigarette pinched between his fingers. Dr. Oliver lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply, the layers of rolling paper flaring and smoking in the still air of his office.

“You were very brave today, Seth.” The boy sat hunched on the edge of the bed, sniffling and wiping tears from his eyes.

“Hurts,” mumbled Seth, “Hurts lots.”

“I know it does, Seth. But we’ll make you better.” Dr. Oliver stood, flipped his cigarette at the trash can, and walked to a large wardrobe in the corner of his office. He rummaged through a pile of clothes and emerged with a large, faded men’s shirt. Back at the examining table Dr. Oliver handed Seth the shirt and helped him struggle his way into it, rolling the cuffs when they fell down past Seth’s wrists.

“Now, be careful with your bandages for the next couple of days. And come see me if you need my help. You know I’m always home.” Seth rolled onto his side and scrambled off of the table, catching his breath with a soft hiss when the impact with the floor made his wounds sting. He hesitated near the examining table, staring bashfully at his feet and fiddling with one of the buttons on his shirt. “Out you go, Seth. Tell your mother hello for me.”

Laying a gentle hand on Seth’s back Dr. Oliver ushered his young patient out the door and into the deepening evening, watching him walk down the street until the boy had rounded the corner. Dr. Oliver swung the door shut and secured it with a pair of heavy deadbolts. On his way back into the examining room he gathered up the steel bowl from its spot on the bedside table and upended it where Seth had been laying. Dr. Oliver picked up the forceps from where they had fallen and gently stirred the ragged fistful of white, blood-speckled feathers that lay scattered across the examination table.

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