Prompt Day#3: Depict a veterinarian or zookeeper who is experiencing the onset of an animal trait.
I’m really happy I decided to do this challenge. I don’t know if I will be able to manage to write and post every day for a year, but even just three days straight has helped my creativity, so I’m excited to see where it all goes.
It was only half past noon but Dr. Hartwig wanted to go home, drink a cup of warm milk, and fall asleep in his recliner. His head was pounding. Thirty-five years of caring for all manner of veterinary ailments and he had never once taken a sick day. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a headache, but today, everything was bothering him. He’d always managed to remain oblivious to the cacophony on animal sounds in his waiting room. Today, though, every whine, every yip made him cringe. He’d even snapped at Cindy, his ever-chatty receptionist, when she laughed to loud. “Cindy! Can you lower the decibel of your incessant cackling?” She looked at him with utter shock, he saw her chin begin to quiver and he knew the tears would be coming next. He couldn’t deal with it, plus he felt badly about it as soon as it passed his lips. He turned; shoulders slumped and slunk back into his office. There, he swallowed a few Tylenol, scarfed down his lunch (yesterday’s take out Chinese, it smelled so damn good, he hadn’t even bothered to heat it).
The knock at the door made him jump.
“Doc?” His nurse, Jackie, leaned her head in the door before he could answer. “Bethany Todd is here with her little guinea pig, Jacques, poor thing’s on death’s door. You up to talking to her?” Maxwell Hartwig took a deep breath and nodded. The Todd’s owned a farm and were life-long customers. Bethany was their youngest and last at home, but she was old enough to take the news well. She had to be at least thirteen now. Still, this was the worst part of his job. Jackie handed him a little ceramic guinea pig. He was known for these little knick-knacks, giving them out to anyone who lost a beloved pet as a memento. He smiled a thanks to Jackie and they walked in the room together. He was immediately overwhelmed by the strong, coppery smell of blood. Choking, he pulled out his handkerchief and held it to his nose.
“Ahem. Sorry, little tickle in my throat. So Jacques not feeling too well, then Beth?” He managed to get out before gasping for breath through the cloth in his hand.
“Yes, he isn’t eating and he hasn’t been on his wheel all week.” Bethany said
“Tell me, is he bleeding from anywhere?” Hartwig picked up the sickly rodent and before he could stop himself, he was sniffing it all over. It wasn’t until he had covered every inch of the thing with his nose that he looked up to see the horrified and confused looks on the faces of the women in the room. Bethany closed her mouth quickly and shook her head emphatically.
“I haven’t seen any blood.” She said. But he could smell it, there was blood in this room, a thick, cloying scent and if he didn’t get out and get some fresh air soon, he felt he would go quite mad. He walked over to her to hand over the dying creature, intending to give his I’m so sorry; there is nothing I can do speech when the smell overcame him. He dropped the rodent into Bethany’s lap, grabbed her by the shoulders and began to sniff. She stepped backwards.
“What are you doing?” She asked. Jackie, horrified, put her hand on his shoulder and pulled him towards her.
“Doctor is just not feeling very well today, Bethany, and I think he was trying to tell you that poor little Jacques is very sick and there isn’t much more that can be done for him”
“You’re on your period! That’s it, isn’t it?” Hartwig exclaimed as if he was on a game show and knew the answer to the final question. Bethany turned bright red. She fumbled for the door knob and ran out.
“She didn’t get her figure” Hartwig said, holding the thing out to Jackie. She stared at him in disbelief.
“What the hell, Doc? Why would you say something like that?” Jackie snatched the little statue and rushed out after Bethany.
The rest of the day, he managed to stifle his outbursts, but with each patient, the myriad of odors that accompanied them. He could easily tell that Clyde Beckman had been hitting the sauce all morning; he and his obese cat Felix would be lucky to make it home alive. Mr. William Trandell, the town’s first councilman, had just engaged in some fairly lengthy “sexcapades” which was all the more interesting when the whole town knew his wife was currently healing from an aneurysm repair in the ICU. He kept it all to himself though, feigning allergies and keeping the hanky to his nose as much as he could. At three, Maggie Keane brought her lab-mix Molly Jane in. Seems Molly Jane started limping, favoring her right back leg. Mrs. Keane could not remember Molly Jane injuring it and she went on in great detail, reading from a notebook in which she had been logging Molly Jane’s every bodily activity over the last two days. Hartwig, meanwhile, feigned a physical exam as he sniffed around the dog. Molly Jane seemed to recognize what he was doing and cooperated perfectly. He smelled the tumor before he palpated it. Cancer. He knew it just as he would know the smell of an orange or a pine tree. He made up some fake medical terminology and explained to Mrs. Keane that he would spare her the expensive work up, as this particular sign was definitive for cancer and the tumor felt “advanced”. There was nothing that could be done but to give the dog some pain meds and keep her comfortable. Mrs. Keane was tearful but much more appreciative than Bethany Todd had been two hours earlier. She clutched her ceramic curio as she led poor Molly Jane to the car.
The headache was easing as he learned again to tune out all the noises beyond his immediate vicinity, and he’d rubbed some lemon onto his handkerchief so that it overpowered most smells. The last patient of the day and unbeknownst to him, his career, was Patricia Potter-Cooley and her second show quality, incredibly pedigreed bloodhound Bojangles II. Bojangles I was put down at 16 months old when he became very aggressive with Patty. He bit her, growled at her, and kept his hunches up when she was near. Hartwig had done every scan and test at his disposal and found nothing. The last resort was an MRI at the University down state. Patty, decided it was too late to bond with the dog at this point and the best thing would be to have him put down and use the MRI money to purchase a new Bojangles from a better and more reputable breeder of show quality, incredibly pedigreed bloodhounds. Dr. Hartwig did not care much for Patty but he liked a good-looking dog and both Bojangles were beautiful specimens. One look at her complaint on the chart and he felt his migraine creeping back. “Aggressive behavior” was written in Cindy’s hand with two exclamation points and a frowny face made from the points and a curved line beneath them. Rubbing his temples, he walked in the room.
“Well, here we are again, Maxwell.” Patty started immediately. Hartwig could hear the dog’s low growl in the back of his throat as if the mere sound of her voice was grating on its nerves. It was certainly grating to Hartwig. But it was her awful perfume that was the real problem. He realized it immediately. Before his recent upgrade, he’d always found her herbal scent slightly off-putting, but now, it was gag-inducing and her continued presence in the room was inciting his own rage.
“Now, I am not spending another fortune just to find out nothing is wrong with this one. There most certainly is something wrong. I just want to have him put down. I am done with this breed, I tell you, Maxwell. Have you ever seen such a thing before? “Patty had a bad habit of leaning into her listener’s personal space to emphasize a word or phrase. She was doing it repeatedly and calling him Maxwell was just far too much. Bojangles was now audibly growling and Hartwig felt a rumble in his own throat. The sickening scent, the grating voice and infernal mannerisms were obviously being interpreted by the canine mind as threatening. He looked at Bojangles; they shared a moment of understanding. He turned to her, his upper lip pulled back, exposing his own teeth.
“The problem is not with the dog, Patty” he said in a guttural tone, echoed by Bojangles “in my humble opinion, as a DOCTOR of veterinary medicine, the problem is with you. Whatever bottle of hippy marinade you’ve been bathing in is, frankly, sickening to me as a human; I can only guess the gastrointestinal misery your pets are going through. Your lack of normal social skills and appropriate body spacing is being interpreted by your pets as aggression. Your voice, to the canine ear is probably at least 10 times as piercing for your pets as it is for the rest of us. I say pets with much emphasis, Patricia, because you seem to think of them as conversation pieces. You purchase the most expensive and well-bred as money can buy as a status symbol and simply have them put down when they displease you or go mad with your constant presence.” He found himself mimicking her own bad habit of pushing himself into her space, closer and closer each time, until the smell of her (which was getting stronger with her adrenaline rush) drove him into a frenzy. Bojangles went at her leg and Hartwig, small town vet for the last thirty-five years went for her throat.
Jackie was in the room and had him pulled off Patty before any major damage was done. Bojangles was sedated and put in a crate in the back. Hartwig had no idea what Jackie and Cindy said to Patty but she agreed not to call the police right away. Cindy stayed with her after Jackie had seen to the minor scrapes on her neck and offered to pay for the tetanus and antibiotics she would need to cover the small puncture wound on her calf. Cindy gave Patty one of her “nerve pills” and Jackie promised to come back as soon as she had driven Hartwig home.
The ride home was quiet. Jackie kept looking over at him, worried. Hartwig, stared out the window, his mind felt cluttered and confused. He needed some air. With the window down, the multi-scented air calmed him, it was extract of home. Every smell he’d ever associated with his town purified and accentuated. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew none of this was normal. He knew something was terribly wrong.
“So, I think it’s best if we go ahead and close the clinic for a while, ok? You’ve been pushing yourself and you haven’t been sleeping well since Jo.” She stopped; it was probably a bad idea to bring up Jo leaving. “You’ve just been working way too hard, and you aren’t taking good care of yourself. I’m gonna go back to the office and beg Princess Patty to blame poor Bo the second for everything. I’m going to tell her you’ve been feeling strange lately and you’re in the middle of a work up. I’ll make it sound real hush-hush. If she thinks she is getting in on some A-1 gossip, and Cindy and I promise to keep her in the loop, I think we can keep a lid on this. But you have to promise us that you will see someone tomorrow. You made Cindy cry today, Doc! That’s not you. Luckily, she and I know that and even though you were awful to her, she still managed to calm down Mr. Todd who called for you after Beth got home. Cindy told him you were asking because you had a very aggressive dog in the back that had been brought in for attacking a menstruating woman. She told him that when I took Bethany back to the exam room, the dog got worked up and you were worried for Beth’s safety. Good story, huh?” She looked at him. They’d been parked in his driveway for most of her speech. Hartwig sat motionless. Jackie reached over and patted his leg. “Doc, please, please get some help. We love you and want you to come back. We’ll handle the office. You just get better”.
He looked at her for a moment and then got out of the car. She watched him walk to the door and dig in his pocket for his keys. She put the car in reverse. Jackie never saw him stop and urinate on the porch, front door and side of the house before unlocking the door and going in.
Hartwig came out of his blackout sitting in front of the refrigerator eating raw steak. He threw it down disgusted. The previous day’s events ran through his now very clear and completely human mind. He had a pretty good idea what was going on. He grabbed his keys and headed to the office without bothering to clean the meat up off the floor.
Bojangles was awake, turning circles in his cage when Hartwig turned on the light. The doctor walked over and let him out.
“I think they put the wrong one of us in the dog house, my friend.” He said and grabbed a treat bone out of the box they kept nearby and handed him one. The dog took it greedily. Hartwig grabbed the box and carried it with him, feeding the dog one after another before finally popping one in his own mouth. He headed to the medicine cabinet and drew up a large syringe full of the same thick mixture he’d once given to Bojangles II.
“Come here, boy” He said and patted the floor beside him.
Two months later….
Jackie heard the familiar and unmistakable voice of Patty Cooley one aisle over. She stopped her cart and feigned intense interest on the variety of pasta choices.
“Oh, yes, I was there that day. Bo was having a terrible reaction to my perfume! Can you believe that? Dr. Hartwig was so kind to me, he sat me down and said he didn’t want to offend me, but he’d seen other cases where an allergy could cause unusual aggression. But I could totally see something was off about him that day. I’m guessing he’d maybe just got his diagnosis. His nurse confided in me that he’d been going to specialists and such. Anyways, I said to him that day, I said ‘Maxwell, (he always said Patty, please call me Maxwell), you look exhausted. You’re not well, are you?’ he got pretty upset, he broke down right then and there. I knew he wanted to tell me but just then, his nurse, Jackie, you know, the one who thinks she runs the place? Well, she came in just then with some papers for me to sign. The doctor wanted me to leave Bo there for a night or two to see how his behavior was without my perfume there to irritate his allergies.”
Jackie could hear the other woman murmuring appropriately but could not identify her. She moved her cart a little closer to the end of the aisle.
“Well, it could have just as easily been me that found him like that. I missed my Bo so much that night; I almost went back in that night.” There was another murmur and then “No, of course it would have been locked. I would have called Maxwell first, and then headed over. But he had all the lights on, I would have knocked and then of course, I would have called the police. Can you imagine, if I had, he might still be alive today? Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that. I could have saved him from himself!” Whoever she was talking to was trying to be discrete at least; Jackie couldn’t hear a word from the other person.
“I know, you’re right, he’d be suffering even worse I suppose. Dr. Martin said that tumor was wrapped all around the bottom part of his brain, putting pressure on a bunch of his nerves. Yes, he said it would have been inoperable; tendrils spread all over like a spider or something. So sad. I’ll always be thankful to him for giving me my Bo back. Oh, did I tell you, we’re headed to the Eukanuba National Dog show next month? Yes, he won best of show at the State level. Well, you know he cost more than my car! The Caddy, I mean, if you can imagine….” Jackie had heard quite enough. She turned her cart around and walked away. She’d been the one who found him the next morning. He’d let Bojangles out and from what Dr. Martin said, they’d shared a box of dog biscuits together before Doc had given himself the injection. Good ol’ Bo had lay by his side the entire night and had to be sedated when EMS arrived. No one but she, Cindy and the insufferable Patty Cooley knew what had happened that day to drive him to that extreme and Patty had certainly altered the story to fit her own agenda. Ah, well, it was over now and probably all for the best. If nothing else, Bo’s life was saved because of that tumor that Jackie knew let Doc live the life of a dog for one day. She decided to pick up an extra bag of treats for her own two pups tonight and maybe she’d book a trip to Philadelphia next month to cheer the local canine star on to the Nation’s Best in Show.