An essay by Doctor Veronica West, as provided by Maureen Bowden
Art by Leigh Legler
Lucas Vale, the most talented artist to emerge in over a century, was twenty years old and dying. He lay back against his propped-up pillows, eyes sunken in his pale face, his lips tinged blue. “This is for you, Doc,” he said, tearing a page from his sketchpad and handing it to me. “It’ll be worth a stack of cash when I shuffle off the old mortal coil.”
“Thank you,” I said, “but don’t start giving away your masterpieces just yet. There’s still time for me to find you a compatible donor heart, and the transplant team is on standby.”
He laughed, a hollow, breathless rattle. “I know you hate to lose a patient, lovely Veronica, but we both know that’s a pretty lie. Take the doodle and call it your retirement fund.”
The drawing showed a young man hanging by his fingertips from a crumbling cliff face. It was a self-portrait. Like all Lucas’s work, it was perfectly executed and strikingly beautiful. It was also disturbing, with a coldness that repulsed me. It lacked heart. I took it back to my office and shoved it underneath a pile of medical journals in my desk’s dungeon dimensions, where I wouldn’t have to look at it.
I called my secretary. “I don’t want to be disturbed, Saffron. Keep the world at bay for an hour or so.”
“No prob, Doc,” she said.
“And get rid of your chewing gum.”
The hospital administrators disapproved of Saffron Kray as my choice of secretary, but she was good at her job and that was all that concerned me. I wasn’t deterred by her spiky, blue hair, nose piercing, and the tattoo of a serpent twined around her left wrist, swallowing its own tail. “It’s the Worm Ouroboros,” she informed me during her job interview.
“Really?” I said. “I wouldn’t have slept tonight without knowing that.” She was unmoved by irony. I liked her, and I gave her the job.
With my tattooed guard-dog on duty at my door, I left my desk, reclined on the couch in the window recess, and thought about Lucas. His mother had abandoned him when he was six months old, and he was placed in the care system. If a short-term foster carer had not recognised his great talent, he would have had few prospects except a life of poverty and petty crime. He was now the darling of the art world, but his future was about to be snatched from him by a dysfunctional heart. I railed against life’s cruelty. “If anyone can provide me with a miracle,” I said to the universe in general, “now is the time.” I closed my eyes and indulged in the closest I’d ever come to praying.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2018 collection.
Doctor Veronica West is an eminent cardio-vascular surgeon, recognised as the best in her field. In 2017, she was awarded the OBE for her innovations in heart transplant techniques. Her portrait, by world famous artist Lucas Michael Vale, hangs in London’s National Portrait Gallery. It shows an elegant, middle-aged woman, holding a heart in her outstretched palm.
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had ninety-three stories and poems accepted for publication by paying markets. Silver Pen publishers nominated one of her stories for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in Folk clubs throughout England and Wales. She loves her family and friends, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shakespeare, and cats.
Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“A Gift for Michael” is © 2018 Maureen Bowden
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Leigh Legler