Horse With Human Hands
TW // Body Horror
Strewn about the languid fosse, a host of dreams belied
Cast like spore and grown like moss, a shard of vigor dried
Craven in their cracking flesh, a town like vineyard vines
Left by someone’s baroness, the swell of hope a tine.
Insincere we claim to be, but beyond a hurt is loss
Our pain a mad cacophony, our tears a bitter dross
The Lady waits impatiently, the sun it sets beyond
The hour of our nascency, untimely to her cause
Collected with intention, the brindle foal demand
Writhe within abstention, two coins for ev’ry strand
To trade our culling atrophy, a bindle for our land
To weave our nails a tapestry, the Lady took our hand.
– From the “Niall Prayer Book”
“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”
A monochrome photo of Albert Camus hung above my boss’ desk, the quote scrawled in white ink on the base of the photo in his handwriting. Though he liked to pretend Camus wrote it himself, everyone in the office recognized his chicken scratch immediately.
Beside the hanging homage to Camus, hung another on each side. Two more frames which displayed pictures of his current wife on the left, with her two daughters, and his ex-wife on the right with her only son. All of whom called him father.
He pulled a long drag from a menthol cigarette and exhaled, launching the stream of smoke across the surface of his desk, settling it in my lap.
“I wanted to commend you on your recent accomplishments, Frances.”
His words muddled through the smoke, still pouring from his mouth.
“Your performance in the office has been admirable, and I wanted to bring you in here today to talk about the potential of a relocation. We’ve had it on our radar for a while now, and naturally it comes with a substantial raise.”
I expected the news months ago, first brought up back in ’71 it had been nearly three years since any action had been taken. According to Clark, word was “coming down” from the superiors. It was hardly worth waiting around for. Especially given the way the year was going, I might not live long enough to make the trip.
“This is a big showing from the new owners, they want everyone to be comfortable. Especially their favorites”
He clicked open his lighter and put it to the head of a fourth cigarette before continuing.
“You’ve really made an impact, Frances. The board is impressed with your latest work and they’ve been on my back to reward you.”
I was fighting the urge to cough, but managed to wave the cigarette smoke away from my face long enough to mutter a reply.
“Thank you, really.” I needed the money. Clark knew it, too. “Bindy will be so excited.”
I wanted to gussy up my reply to him, but another burst of smoke from his lungs crashed against my lips. I kept them closed.
Through the ashy fog of his office, Clark grinned his yellow grin.
“It helps that you were the one to respond to the CFO’s call.”
I shrugged, my lips tight.
“Well, come on, Frances! Say something.”
I waved the smoke away a second time.
“I’m honored they looked to me for the recommend.”
“You deserve it. We’ll be in contact with you in the future for plans to get your move all settled in. We’ll talk more. In the meantime, keep up the good work.”
“Will do.” I coughed. I wanted to pressure him about the raise attached to the new position, but it wouldn’t be worth the effort. He would have given me a line about “the right time” to discuss. So I stood and left the office.
Saint Mary’s had seen better days, plans for a renovation were in the pipeline but wouldn’t come in full before the turn of the century. With twenty-five years left to wear the building down, most of the staff, myself included, were looking for work elsewhere.
With the hope of my coming promotion on the horizon I returned to my rounds. First on my list, was Dara, a half decrepit old woman who was living with a pair of failing kidneys. In and out of the wing on what felt like a weekly rotation, her daughters both refused to let her stay with us claiming she was “better at home.”
Dara was, for all intents and purposes a walking corpse. Bound by her decades old cane, when she was mobile she moved at a crawl and served to most of the attending physicians, myself included, as a warning sign from the sharp nail of death.
We could do little for her beyond verify her medication and keep her breathing. Both of her daughters, twin sisters who moved back to care for her, sat in silence for each of our visits. Each time one of us suggested moving her to long term care, we were met with flaming insults and threats to our positions. Most of us let go of the possibility of Dara living her final years in any sort of relative comfort.
I made sure her signs were all in check, and moved on without so much as a word to the daughters, I’d rather inhale smoke from Clark’s office than spend an hour debating the merits of hospice care.
Next, I saw to Herman, a man whose age was near mine but whose mind was enraptured with the virility of youth. With a physical deformity of his brain, he was a child locked within the body of a grown man. Each encounter with the man-boy brought a feeling of great sorrow to me the likes of which I had a difficulty untangling.
“Hello Doctor Frances.” He greeted me the same, every check in.
“How are we today, Herman?” I patted his arm and leaned on the side of his bed. Across from us, a stark reflection of Dara in the room next door, his mother Mrs. Clara Ewhig sat quietly in her chair.
“I’m feelin’ good.” He chimed.
“No more headaches?”
It was a peculiar case. He came to us two weeks back claiming frequent, tremendously painful headaches and neck aches. In his words, it was like “a gargoyle was sitting on his head.”
“He’s been better.” Mrs. Ewhig answered on his behalf, a trait I recognized early on in our relationship.
“I have been better, but I feel okay.”
“Have you been taking your medicine?”
I turned to his mother, who watched him dutifully. “Have we been keeping him on his dosage of Indomethacin?”
Of course she had, but it wouldn’t hurt to be sure. I’ve found in years of practice that the closest family members are most often the ones who believe they know better than us about various treatments for their ailments.
She nodded, as expected.
“Two doses, one every twelve hours.”
It was good enough. I made my way to my third patient, but was interrupted by a nurse who demanded my attention.
“Chifley, you’re needed.”
I matched her step as she led me down the hall, my prior duties passed on to one of the other attending doctors while she debriefed me about our new patient.
“Middle aged male, attempted to perform an at home surgery. We are testing now, but suspect him to be on some kind of mind altering substance. Given his erratic behavior, the Heart Car notified us that the patient was found in a park, seizing, by a group of joggers. The marks on his body are all fresh, and he won’t stop talking nonsense.”
She handed me his chart led me through a pair of double doors where a few others were in attendance.
The man in question squirmed atop the hospital bed. His hands soaked red with blood, which, the notes provided by Nurse Marcia, suggested was his own. His hair had been matted and tamped down by rain and leaves, the odd stick jutted from the rat’s nest atop what would have been a half decent mop of dirty blonde hair had he cleaned it once and a while.
The shirtless twenty something shouted, his hands clutching his lower abdomen which gushed blood in a volume to which I could not accurately understand.
“I’ve been delivered! I am nobody, and nobody is me!”
The blood-soaked hands of the patient clutched his abdomen as if he were a pregnant mother holding her belly, yet, he was thin. Sickly thin, and far more distressing was the large incision which stretched across his abdomen. A deep cut from the top of his groin carved up, an inch to the right of his belly button and came to an abrupt halt a few inches above it.
The others gathered his spilling blood in a drip pan beneath the bed, while they focused on containing his entrails within what torso he still had.
I slipped a pair of gloves onto my hands before approaching, taking in the sight of the shirtless, filthy man. His body squirmed in, judging by the light moans emerging from his mouth, was a near sexual experience.
Two nurses assisting us managed to hold his belly closed long enough for myself and the surgeon to take in the scene.
“Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
I could only shake my head, the scent of Clark’s cigarette still in my nostrils.
“What is out there that’s making these people like this? I’ve heard two more stories about these addict lunatics barging into hospitals talking about “nobody” and sapping our resources.
He snapped a pair of gloves on and made his way to the man without waiting for my response, which I didn’t want to give.
One’s addiction does not define them, nor should it be the parameter by which we decide who should receive help. In fact, it is perhaps more important that a junkie is treated medically before another. They are less likely to survive.
This, however, was not important in the moment. Rather, it was the folds of the man’s face. As if he’d aged in minutes, the skin on his cheeks began to droop, quickly sapping from within whatever fat he once held, turning his humanlike frame into something sub-human.
I followed the steps of the surgeon to the bedside and gazed once more upon the body of the man, his split open belly gushing blood which pulsated in waves.
It is most unfortunate, and of utmost importance, that I did not identify this malady until closer inspection. The man was holding himself together, indeed, with his hands. There was something more which was unable to be seen beyond a close inspection of his body. Nestled within his entrails, there rested the true item which I believe he was truly trying to hold in.
Tucked behind his gore, nestled safe in the warmth of his body was a small egg. I suppose, small is a relative term. If a human were to release an egg of this caliber it might be considered a feat, but this particular egg was, to my dismay, tangled around his intestinal tract, and speckled as though someone had chosen to place an ostrich egg within the body of this person to play some sort of joke.
It was not funny, if that were the case.
As I peered into the gaping incision while the nurses ensured the function of his IV drip, he leaned toward us and whispered.
“I will be reborn.”
The seizing came to an abrupt halt.
“I am appealing to you today, council, to validate the confessions of the other accused, the death of one Simon Nye Albright was not due, in any part, to the actions taken by the staff of the Saint Mary’s Hospital, nor should they be held guilty for the behavior of the deceased prior to his death, regardless of how erratic or unusual it may have been. We determined posthumously the cause of death was related to the quantity of amphetamines in his system.
As for the egg, and how it ended up in his system, none of us were able to discern its point of origin. However, we did discover after the incident spoken about in our prior case, the egg did contain Simon’s DNA.
Ultimately, Simon’s death was a tragedy that likely could have been prevented, with an increase of rehabilitation assistance and outreach programs. Though he arrived at the hospital shortly after beginning his self performed “Surgery,” we were unable to offer him life saving corrective services. The gentleman’s death a result simply of his disillusioned state before he was found in the park, resulting in his self sustained bodily harm.”
Thank you for reading the first entry in Horse With Human Hands.
The following entry: HWHH: Two – Daughters
This series will be releasing daily for the next few days. The each of the stories and poems released in conjunction with the “Horse With Human Hands” title is connected, be they poetry or prose. Characters are important and moments matter.
Today is the Ides of March, and I wanted to do something big for this year. I’m turning 30, and I don’t want to leave this birthday just “another one” — So, keep an eye on the Horse With Human Hands series. — There will be secrets flowing soon.
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