Maurice's Momento by Maddox Herring
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
A bright white light from a towering source wafted down to a metallic tray in a completely white room. The tray held silver tools of a healing or deadly variety. Scalpels and saws, pins and scrapers. The trader in this instance was Maurice Lankton, a young doctor. He placed the scalpel he was holding on the tray next to all the other tools. As far as scalpels are concerned, there was nothing extraordinary about this one, merely, if one were to be precise about the object, it had upon it a sanguine substance which all humans hold in dearest regard.
A glob of red dripped down from the medical instrument, as an overweight nurse in green scrubs, whose protected white shoes crinkled every time she moved, sauntered over to the heroic doctor. “You did it,” she said. She placed her hand on his upper back. Maurice was tall so she had to reach. His eyes were unforgiving so she had to look away.
An old man wearing a white lab-coat piped in over a loudspeaker. In a voice that rasped and crackled like scrubs, he said, “that was perfect. I never would have believed it could be done. And only 34 years old! My god.”
The man continued after a few moments of clapping had enveloped the solitary victim of its praise, “Well. I think you deserve a little rest,” the hoary headed man said. “Working hard. I’ve noticed; go to your parents. Tell your father I said hello. He’ll be proud, no doubt. Never forget those who helped you get to where you are today.”
“My parents,” Maurice said, tightening his voice past the difficulty of his ordeal.
“Yes. It must have been months since you’ve seen them. Go to them.”
Maurice covered his green eyes with his left hand in order to blot out the white light, and he glanced up toward the loudspeaker as though a voice from above dictated commandments. His breath came stertorously. Then he realized there was something in his hand, and blood on his forehead.
The journey his hand took from its station protecting his verdant eyes felt like an eon, but it lasted only the span of a death breath. When he opened his gloved hand, his gaze lingered on the thing inside it. A gold bullet. It was bent; a fragment, really. It had been lodged in the skull of the man lying on the table in front of him. A man with a crooked nose, soft pale lips, and drug-induced sags under his eyes.
Maurice closed his eyes. The room, as one, repeated the “congratulations, Maurice!” The dross continued and he heard mere snippets. His mind no quicker than the mind of the man on the table.
He opened his eyes and kept looking at the gold, blood-encrusted metal of death.
“Maurice,” the old doctor said when he found the over-taxed young doctor standing in his office a few minutes after everyone had left. Maurice was still covered in blood, he held the bullet in one hand and a picture frame in the other.
“I’ll overlook the breech in protocol this time. Working non-stop for months as you’ve done can wear on any one’s nerves.” The wise old man pointed to the frame. “Whats that?” he asked.
Maurice walked across the room. He lifted the frame, and just then, a drop of blood fell from his smeared face mask and landed on the picture frame of an elderly couple with their arms embracing a melancholy Maurice. It was his graduation picture.
“Ah yes. Of course. Go to your parents my boy. One shouldn’t neglect their family just to work so hard. You’ll find yourself alone. Alone with nothing but your work. Go see your parents.”
Maurice gripped the frame and said, “Yes. I’ll go see my parents. And about today. There’s something you need to know.”
Maurice’s BMW Sedan pulled up to a large stone house. The outside porticos loomed deep into the abyss of space. The house always made him feel like either he or the inhabitants were imposters. The oak tree on the front lawn twisted and curled, reaching out its branches to touch the unforgiving dead stone.
Upon entering he was greeted by a loud screech. “It’s Maurice!” his mother said. “Oh, dear it’s wonderful to see you. Your father’s been spending all day talking to old friends from the hospital. They told him all about the miracles you’ve been performing. Yes. They call them miracles. Silly I know. Oh dear. You’re so pale. And your cheeks are so thin! My dear come in and eat. I will fix you something right away. My Little Hero Doctor.”
Maurice followed his mother into the belly of the mansion. The pictures on the walls made him cringe. That couldn’t be me, he thought.
His mother continued her garrulous chatter which Maurice did not hear, for a taller man had entered the room. The man always made others straighten their backs just by his entrance. His white head held high. His leathery face bespoke generations of toughened, successful men.
“Good work, son.” He extended his right hand toward Maurice. But he could not shake hands with his father, for he gripped something in his hand.
“What’s in your hand?”
He opened his hand to reveal the gold bullet with dried blood still clinging for existence.
“There is something I must tell you about today. That man. I saved him. But I didn’t want to.”
His father nodded knowingly. “Son. It is the life of a doctor to save the body, but not to judge the soul.”
He rolled the golden bullet in between his index finger and thumb. “Something strange occurred in that operating room today. For the hours of surgery, I did not possess my own hands. It was as though someone else controlled their movements. I remember reading some ancient philosopher once say that hands were the organs of organs. The tools which men use to fashion all other tools.
“Someone else was using my tools today.
“When it was all over I saw the bloody instruments, and I wrested control of my tools. Then I saw this.” He held up the golden bullet. “I gripped it so tight it almost fused with my soul.”
He paused. His words began falling one after another, “do you remember those stories I read years ago? They were always about great detectives. When I removed this bullet, I saw everything. The whole string of events, the entire crime flashed in my mind as though from some decrepit phantasmagoria. The criminal who shot this man was not a first timer. He had done murder before. An image of a taut figure with his collar raised to his eyes, prowling the night, fixed itself within my mind. The figure walked to the crime scene and knelt beside a cold corpse. He was the man I always pictured in my youth. Do you remember the crimes I used to invent and solve? The thousands of crimes. The clues. The evidence. The motives. You see, father, I thought of it when I held that bullet, because I hate it.”
“Once in a while all doctors go through this kind of anger over injustices in the world. It’s just not our place… You’re upset. Sit and eat.” His father commanded.
“No.” He whispered. “It’s not the injustice I hate. It’s being a damned doctor. The ugly clean scrubs. The cleaning. Constantly cleaning. The bawling dependents and the hopeless struggle to save a life you know can’t be saved. The continuous stream of journals to be read about new pills, procedures and medical equipment. The dull drone of office regulators. All of it. I hate every clean white wall of it.”
“You just need sleep. You’re talking nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense. I always hated it; I just didn’t know it. Do you remember, mother, you put all those applications out, always to medical schools. You had always told me being a detective was impractical. Today I discovered that is all I’ve ever wanted. The grittyness and the hard evidence. The people and the danger. The thrill of the hunt. As a child I always dreamt I would stumble onto a great mystery right under our roof. I still do. But you always told me it was a phase. And I was so good at being a doctor. Better than father. Everyone was so proud. The paychecks were so big. And I was so good.
“Today, I saved a life. I felt his heart-beating as I cut into him. He was shot three times. I saved his life, father. And I walked into the next room, still dripping blood. The bullet clenched in my fist.
“And I quit.
“I left for the dream I once had. I quit for the dream I had to protect citizens from death’s clasp ever getting the chance to touch them. I quit because I no longer could stand knocking my feet together, sitting in a chair, until death had already won.”
His green eyes looked like the leaves of a tropical tree. As though in rejection, they reflected back the dull orange light of the inside of the house.
“I quit, because it’s my life.”