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To keep a promise, a young physician comes visiting inFollys Landing. He soon discovers that some tales end happily ever after—but some end Otherwise...

His pretense at fascination with an article in a sixteen-month old Ladies Home Journal was so successful that he did not hear the nurse call his name until she’d called out “Mister McGuire!” for the third time. “That’s me,” Gavin said, quite unnecessarily; for at the only medical practice in a town so small as Follys Landing, the brunette nurse standing in the doorway in her whites and cap, officious clipboard in hand, undoubtedly knew everyone else in the waiting room by name and had likely done so since their birth or hers.

            He followed the nurse into a hallway and to an old beast of a scale which rattled noisily as she slid one movable weight to the one-hundred pound notch with a practiced flick of her finger. She eyed Gavin—once up and once down—and moved the second weight to the fifty pound mark, then stepped aside and motioned him onto the scale.

            “I’m afraid there’s been some mistake,” said Gavin, shuffling his briefcase from one hand to the other. “It’s Doctor McGuire, and I’m here to see Doctor Norman in a professional capacity, not as a patient.”

            The nurse glanced at her clipboard. “Karen didn’t note that in the appointment book,” she said. “I’m sorry, this way please, Doctor McGuire.” The pointed sarcasm slithering just beneath the surface of her voice was unmistakable.

            He trailed behind her into Doctor Norman’s private office. Good job Gavin, alienate the one person who has the power to make this either easy or difficult on day one. Aloud he said: “Actually, Gavin is fine. You can call me Gavin.”

            The nurse raised one eyebrow and smiled thinly. “And you can call me Nurse O’Donnell,” she said. “Have a seat. Doctor Norman will be along shortly.”

            Like the waiting room, the office was small but spotless, and the furnishings modest. Gavin’s glance slid over Doctor Norman’s bookcase. Then he frowned, and looked more closely. The usual and expected texts sat row upon row, filling the immaculately polished shelves: Gray’s Anatomy, several Saunders diagnostic manuals, Pathology of Internal Diseases, a three-year old Physician’s Desk Reference, a dog-eared early edition of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, and numerous issues of The New England Journal of Medicine.

            But, tucked among these familiar tomes of medical canon, spines aligned as if they belonged, were a few odd volumes as well. He ran his finger down the worn spine of A Treatise on Folk Medicine and Related Lore before moving onto Brownbury’s Compendium of Curses & Cures, then The Properties and Uses of Select Botanics in Folklore and right next to that a thick volume with the dubious title Apothecaria Obscura in a faded and flowing script. Gavin puffed out his cheeks and sighed, puzzlement sketching furrows around his mouth and across his brow. Then his face softened and he shrugged. No doubt collecting pre-scientific medical literature like these antiquated curiosities was simply a hobby of Doctor Norman’s.

            Gavin turned away from the bookcase. The opposite wall was decorated with family photographs and, naturally, a handsomely framed medical degree. Gavin noted the distinctive crimson badge on the diploma. Now why would a Harvard-educated physician spend his life practicing in the middle of nowhere? He walked across the room to inspect the document more closely, Yes, that’s Harvard all right, and jumped when the office door opened and Charles Norman, a compact and fit man for his age, which Gavin guessed to be nearing sixty, with silver hair and large square glasses, barreled in.

            “I was just…” Gavin said uneasily. “I didn’t realize you’d gone to Harvard.”

            Doctor Norman took the seat behind his desk and invited Gavin to sit as well. “Are you a Harvard man, Doctor McGuire?” he asked.

            “No. Virginia Commonwealth,” replied Gavin.

            A no-nonsense sort of man, Doctor Norman obviously considered the obligatory niceties out of the way and immediately moved on to business. “Your letter requesting an appointment didn’t provide much in the way of details about your purpose. So, why is it you’ve come all this way to see me?”

Copyright © 2014 D. Rae Vanlandingham