Dr. Heller never mentioned his problem, but everyone at the clinic knew about it. We were shocked by how normal he acted afterwards. He didn’t even take a sick leave or anything. A couple of days after his incident, Judy decides to bring in a vase of flowers for his office, some ugly artificial thing with a heavy cluster of lilies and roses and ferns. Dr. Heller thanks her and sticks his face in them and we all laugh because we think he’s fucking with us. Turns out, he thought they were real.
Judy later discovers him in his office and we can hear her screams throughout the building.
The clinic is in a state of excitement, the staff milling around. Everyone keeps saying that he was fine all morning. We keep saying, how could this have happened. We keep talking about what we could have looked for, the warning signs. We repeat how much we miss him. A get-well card circulates around the clinic and everyone signs it from their hierarchical order of importance—the surgeons, anesthesiologists, RNs, the receptionists, even the fat, ugly custodian who only creeps in after everyone leaves for the day.
We draw lots to elect a person to go visit him. Our clinic’s been a family for more than ten years and is heavily involved in each other’s lives. We take care of our own. (Only the receptionists get recycled out every so often for newer, younger candidates. We take pride in appearances here.) Also, everyone is dying for more news about the late and great doctor.
No one volunteers to go, so we draw lots. I get chosen. They all clap my back and say, sucks to suck.
He is a beautiful man. His forehead is taut, his eyes etch upwards at the corners. The sides of his nose are perfectly symmetrical lines. With a ruler, you can measure the alignment of his eyes to his ears. Even now, hunched forward with his shoulders drawn up so he looks like a turtle receding into a shell, his flesh is smooth and hard like plastic. He adjusts his position over the edge of the bench as if uncomfortable, and his hands are spread claws digging into the wood.
Smile Dr. Heller, I say and lean closer to him. I take a picture of us on my phone, me with a huge smile and Dr. Heller looking lost.
The sun is out, but it’s cold. The sunshine deceives us. We sit on a bench on the lawn. His personal caregiver is in a chair a few yards away from us and glances at us over the cover of her book.
He is wealthy enough to have escaped the indignity of sanitariums, where they throw together the psychotic and the mentally ill indiscriminately. He has that small mercy for him. His wife is filing for divorce now, I hear, and will soon have sole custody of the kids and house, a substantial fortune built upon the splicing and reconstruction of flesh. Maybe this is his punishment for tampering with natures works, sullied as they are. Maybe this is punishment for playing God.
I take his face with my hands and kiss him. I feel his perfectly sculpted lips with my tongue.
It’s ok, Dr. Heller.
You’ll get over this.
Everyone at the clinic misses you.
Remember Mrs. Lebowitz? She threw a fit when we told her you went on vacation. She says no other doctor in the city does skin as good as you.
It’s dark when I leave. The neighborhood is unsettling in its quiet, undisturbed by traffic or people. I miss the dirty mess and the noise of the city. The stars are like dim, sad echoes of the city lights.
But, if I crane my head, I can see the city lights glow like a distant fire.