Friday, May 10, 2019

Darkness from the Past (Face Reading Short Story)

    The doctors were scrubbing before entering the operating room. The nurses moved quickly to make room for the stretcher on which lay the body of the French Prime Minister. The leader had been eating dinner when he gripped his chest and fell forward. Life Flight aired him to the London Cardiac Surgical Center, and top medical teams were called in from all parts of Europe. Though his vital signs were stable, the angiography revealed a partially blocked aorta. The central heart artery might rupture at any moment. And the cardiac specialists were taking no chances. The anesthesiologist held up the O2 mask as quick hands placed Jacques Cabot gingerly onto the surgery table.
    Prime Minister Jacques Cabot had been in the French military in Algeria before his election. His many bloody sieges and major mismanagements of the Algerian conquests were omitted in the military reports and dossiers sent to the people of France. The populace thought him a hero, but the rural town’s people of Nomei, Algeria knew he was a monster. After capturing a province, he would torture children. However, Algeria was far from France, and nothing was recorded as out of ordinary in the French military dispatches.
    In battle, Jacques would sit with his top officers. Bottles of Johnny Walker and special cigars were passed around the table. As the French commander turned to the side to fill his whisky glass, his profile stood out: A nose with a sharp eagle beak, his two black eyes curtained with a thick unibrow, the side “gills” of his jaw muscle flexed into tight constriction. His eyes were always cold and ruthless.
    Marka had been six at the time of Algerian sieges, but he would never forget Jacques Cabot and his men. As a young child, he hid in fear and horror as he watched the soldiers kill his little sister. After the death of her child, Marka’s mother was never the same - spending hours and days staring at the bedroom wall.

    As he grew Marka showed that he had a quick mind. He loved science and math and studied diligently at the schoolhouse with the other children. One day the missionaries came to evaluate young men for the priesthood. Marka was very happy to be chosen to further his education. Though it saddened him to leave his dissolute mother, he seized the opportunity to go live in the monastery and to read new books. The senior monks observed Marko’s brilliance and manual dexterity. He could draw and sculpt a perfect copy of any Holy statue for the Holy days. He was kind and particularly enjoyed caring for the older, infirm brothers. He knew instinctually which herbs and poultices would ease their pain and increase their joint mobility.
     The monks all said Marka had the face of a king: A round hairline, high placed large ears, long ear lobes, one horizontal - straight line across his forehead - a line they say marks the face of an ‘emperor.’ His deep blue eyes had a radiant gaze which calmed others who were in turmoil. His teeth were small, and his mouth was wide and easy to smile. His facial features radiated nobility.
    When the bishop came to evaluate the monastery, the older monks took him aside to point out Marka’s talents and how these might be wasted in the role of a country priest. After many interviews, tests, and a personal meeting with the Pope, Marka was selected to train at the French Medical Academy in Paris. Though he was humble, his ability to sculpt in surgery became legendary all over Europe. His hands were delicate with long fingers - perfect for a surgeon. His mentors encouraged him to focus on Cardiology, a specialty that was just gaining recognition.
    And so it happened that when the call went through the medical community for Prime Minister Cabot’s heart surgery, Dr. Marka was asked to consult on the case.
    The older French statesman would never remember the young boy who hid behind the tree away from the soldiers. The French leader, in pain and vulnerable, had no awareness that his murderous deeds were being called into account as he was transferred onto the surgical table.
    So, here they were in the same room - an unconscious heart patient, full of dark deeds and a young, vibrant Cardiologist who was there to save his life.
“And for what?” Marka reflected bitterly. “A man whose hidden darkness reached out far and wide.” It was only fair that Cabot should ‘accidentally’ die on the table. Just as his sister had ‘accidentally’ died.
     Twenty news reporters leaned over the glass encased balcony which separated them from the Operating Room below. Three nurses prepped the patient, laid out delicate instruments, and counted the sponges. Marka knew exactly where to open Cabot’s chest. He had assessed the man’s height and weight to a millimeter. One cut a fourth of an inch off, and the aorta would rupture. The prime minister would then bleed out on the table – too quick for surgeons to cauterize the open artery.
A life threatening surgery. Who could tell which way it would go?  An ‘accident’ could be very quick and look completely innocent to the whole surgical team. No one would doubt.
    Marka’s hand was steady but his heart was conflicted. Rage poured over his emotions in vicious floods. It had been years since he had tasted that acid, bitter taste of watching his sister murdered by Cabot’s men. He felt his body throbbing with a deep desire for revenge.   
     He stood still and waited. Slowly and evenly his breath returned to normal. He remembered the Oath he took as a physician “to do no harm.” Through his mind washed the images of the hundreds of patients he had surgically changed – cleft palates in children, pacemakers in fragile older men, physical hearts he had mended so that they might beat again – strong and true. His spiritual essence, despite all his childhood trauma now was rising in his consciousness calming his pounding heart.
    The surgical suite was completely quiet as all waited for Dr. Marka’s first incision. Both he and world famous Cardiologist, Dr. Philip Robbins, had worked on many cases together. They were surgical partners and beyond that, they were friends. Either could do this operation.
    “Phil,” Marka exhaled deeply, “I want you to do this surgery. I will be your ‘second,’ back-up surgeon this time.”
    And with a nod, Phil nodded and moved into position to open and repair Cabot’s heart.

(Copyright, May 2019. Barbara Roberts. All rights reserved.)

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