The Amazing Doctor Clifford

An essay by Colonel Green, client, as provided by E. M. Eastick
Art by Justine McGreevy

The Chetworth Village Market murmured with Saturday morning shoppers zipping their coats to the chill in the air, chatting with neighbors, and browsing the swirly mauves and greens of flowery folk art posing as tea cups and saucers. Without Emma beside me, the scene offended me, like the silence left by an instrument absent from a concerto.

I stopped at Dotty’s stall and asked for a pound and a half of radishes. “Emma loved your radishes.” I fear my enthusiasm was lost in my moustache, for Dotty regarded me sadly. “They make the best soup, your radishes do.” My second attempt roused a smile as Dotty waved away the coins I held out as payment.

“On the house, Colonel Green.”

I tried to reciprocate the smile, but the pain was still raw, the loneliness fresh and unfamiliar. “Thank you, Dotty.”

“She was a wonderful woman.” Dotty slid her hands into the pockets of her apron, which bulged over her belly with the roundness of her radishes.

The sting in my eyes threatened tears I had no wish for Dotty to see, and so I nodded quickly and turned away at the memory of Emma shopping for radishes at Dotty’s stall.

The other memories were not to be ignored. As I wandered from stall to stall, nodding politely to faces I recognized but wished not to talk to, my youth crowded my thoughts. We met as clueless teenagers at the regimental ball I attended in my first year as a commissioned officer. Her body slinked toward me like a cat, her eyes like glass, cutting and confident, branding me as if I were the only man in the room. She purred in my ear: “Meet me outside in ten minutes.”

The same woman became a fiercely protective mother of three, but maintained the passion of a wildcat when we found time alone. After the children left, she drove me crazy with her independence, awake to all hours, out with friends, a second wind of youth, but without me in it. I never doubted my wife’s fidelity. Every night she ventured out, she returned home before dawn and curled herself around me, whispering words of love and devotion, filling my heart until I thought I might burst.

The cancer took hold in her eightieth year, and no amount of passion or fight would shake it lose. Two years later, she withdrew from life, depressed and defeated, and shut me out like a wounded animal waiting to die. She stayed in the dark, wrinkled her nose at food, and accepted the weight loss and thinning hair as signposts that marked her road to death.

“G’ morning, Colonel. Eggs are fresh this morning.” Jed offered a leisurely smile as he touched his Stetson. He picked up a brown egg from the crate, turned it between rough fingers and inspected it, his lip pulled down in serious contemplation. “Yup, the old black hen don’t care about spring coming late. She’s laying more eggs than I knows what to do with.”

I smoothed my moustache to calm the memories and nodded at the stack of eggs on the table. “I’ll take a dozen. Be sure to wrap them well for the walk home.” I offered the farmer a fiver, but the young man flicked a hand in the air, as if waving away flies, and began a meticulous process of selecting eggs of the highest quality.

A movement around my ankles caused me to step back in alarm.

Meow …

A black kitten laced around my trouser cuffs, the tail tracing a line around my legs, as if to seduce me, almost sensually, the way Emma had circled me at the regimental ball. “What do we have here?”

Jed skirted round the table and picked up the kitten in practiced hands. “Sabby don’t care spring’s not here neither. She popped out ten of these seven weeks ago. This ‘ere is the last one left.”

Intrigued by its delicacy, I touched a finger to a tuft of white fur under the kitten’s chin.

“Say, Colonel, why don’t you take ‘er?” Jed placed the kitten in my wrinkled old paw. “She likes ya, anyone can see. She comes free with the eggs.” The farmer grinned and fetched the carton containing his produce.

The kitten rubbed her head against the ball of my hand and looked up. The feline eyes, green and glassy, drilled into me, just like Emma’s used to. The soft hum of the kitten’s purr vibrated through my fingers.

“I wouldn’t know where to start.”

“Let ‘er out to do ‘er business, or get a litter box; feed ‘er, water ‘er, and that’s it.”

“Well …”

“I’ll tell ya what. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll take ‘er back.”

I sighed at the furry ball in my hand and felt the muscles around my lips lift without effort for the first time since Emma’s death. “I think I’ll call her Blackie.”

The Amazing Doctor Clifford

Four months later, I filled Blackie’s food bowl with dog biscuits and wondered if all cats preferred dog food to the fish-shaped pellets advertised as Cat Crunchies. Blackie trotted into the kitchen with the newspaper in her mouth and dropped it at my feet, lifting her head for an appreciative pat, her tongue lolling in a catty grin.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2015 collection.

After thirty years serving the British army, Colonel Green and his wife, Emma, retired to the picturesque countryside of the Cotswolds. On the evenings when Emma stayed in, the couple would watch Midsomer Murders and Yes Minister reruns, and discuss what the skylarks in the meadows were up to. Emma’s death came as a heavy blow to Colonel Green. Even now, he struggles to fill the void left by his wife’s passing.

E. M. Eastick worked as an environmental engineer in Australia, Britain, Ireland, and the Middle East before landing in Colorado, where she works at singing John Denver songs and eating grilled bison steaks. Although she claims to be a writer of no fixed genre, she maintains a secret fascination for strange scientific facts, especially those pertaining to carnivorous insects and oddly-shaped vegetable matter. She is currently occupied with Daughter, a YA-fantasy-adventure novel co-written over two continents.

Justine McGreevy is a slowly recovering perfectionist, writer, and artist. She creates realities to make our own seem slightly less terrifying. Her work can be viewed at and you can follow her on Twitter @Fickle_Muse.

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1 Response to The Amazing Doctor Clifford

  1. BL Draper says:

    This was hilarious, especially the ending. Bravo! 🙂

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