I’ve been retired for a number of years. Lean a little closer. I say I’ve been retired for a number of years. Did you hear that? Good. Yes, I was a doctor. “Doc” they used to call me. I’d be sitting near the fireplace with my head in brandy snifter when someone would sound the alarm: “Doc, come quick. Luke, he bahn hurt bedt.”
“Get outta here,” I’d say. “Go on, get outta here!”
Then I’d try to throw the brandy snifter at ‘em but my head would stuck fast inside of it. If there was time I’d drink a little Irish coffee to sober up. Then I’d wash my feet and embark on the next train for New York so I could pick up my doctor’s bag at the pawn shop. But if it was a real emergency, like when Luke got lost in Gecko Cavern, I’d grab whatever I could find in the kitchen and go.
It was generally a good thing when I didn’t find my doctor’s bag. I never could figure out what most of that stuff was inside there. A lot of those little glass vials with powder in them were labeled with a skull and crossbones and that always made me feel superstitious.
Anyway, by the time I got to that cave most of the town folk were there singing church hymns. They all looked pretty scared. Spotted corn fever had taken its toll the previous winter, so the fear was still hanging in their watery gray eyes. We all knew that come Spring (God willing that Spring did come), the Dry Burlap Rash would be the weight of worry on our minds.
By and by a black preacher man by the name of Nubi Nixon leads me to the mouth of the cave. “Have a care, Doc,” he says. “That place is chock full of geckos!”
He puts boney hand alongside his face and rolls his eyes around. I take a big look into the dark of that cave. Then I rear myself up like a jungle beast till my rib cage just about busts and I yell, “Sa-tan, begone! Sa-tan, begone!”
We hear an echo and a couple of geckos come skittering from the cave. The crowd murmurs. It starts to drizzle. Women folk are holding paper fans and bits of rhubarb over their heads. Lightning skitters in the far distance. I take another strong look into the cave. “Luke,” I yell, “get outta there! Go on, get outta there!”
Now I’m still wearing that brandy snifter, you see, but no one says a word. Not a thing. It starts pouring rain. The crowd goes deathly still. A couple more geckos scurry out and a dog gets one. I turn toward the crowd and shake my head slowly, “No.” I wipe my brow. But then, out of the dark comes this shape, slowly comes this shape, pale like Luke and slow, an awful lot like Luke. And here he comes blinking and crying but he’s all right and only missing one pants leg. Everybody’s cheering. They rename the town after me and all that. I don’t mind much.
Sometimes I’d be staying for as long as a week when somebody’s down with fever. Folks really can’t afford that kind of living. So they’d pay me whatever they had: sometimes a barrel of salt pork or a sack of dried grasshoppers, or one time even a gourd shaped like a lady’s behind. A freak of nature it was; worth a lot to the right buyer.
“Alas, we have nothing,” they’d say sometimes.
“No matter,” says I, “the kindness and generosity of your lovely daughters has more than recompensed me.”
Then the folks would yell, “Get outta here! Go on! Whoever heard of a doctor with a brandy snifter on his head? Charlatan! Pedophile!”
All I know is my daddy wore a snifter on his head and his daddy before him. Can’t all of us be wrong.
Way back then, the main medical problem was keeping people from using that good old folk medicine on themselves. I’d come to treat a man for gout and he’d be lying on his stomach with a pumpkin tied to his back and inside the pumpkin was a big snake. It got so that when a fellow had gout folks would say, “He’s got a pumpkin on his back.”
“Basil,” I’d say, “that snake’s no good for you.”
The fellow would look kinda hurt and say, “That snake was meant for you, Doc. I know it isn’t much to go on, money-wise, but it’s a lot more snake than you’ll find anywhere else.”
“Well, Basil, thanks, but I don’t like to see you with a pumpkin on your back.”
“Doc, I chewed a possum tail nine times and it just won’t do.”
“Did you spit on the grave of a Chinaman?”
“Did you whistle up the leg of a pregnant mule?”
“I sure did.”
“Basil, better call a preacher. You’re not long for this earth, so I fear.”
Just then the snake rises up, looks right at me and s-s-s-says-z-z-z, “Go on, get outta here-s-s-s!”
I didn’t argue.