GOD CURSE US • by Eric Del Carlo

It felt proper to behave as the surgeon. These conducts arose from doctorly remembrances. The brace; then, the brace no longer. The leg free and strengthening. Sunlight. Cod liver oil, spoonful upon spoonful. His convalescence. The rickets gone. Tubercular difficulties retreated.

He recalled the doctors. Everyone in starchy white seemed to him a doctor. It was a boy’s muddled comprehension. His father had made the trip from London repeatedly, choked with excitement at every indication of progress. And for once the boy was improving. This costly treatment yielded results.

How happy his father had been.

Happier still, if such might be imaginable, was the Christmas Man.

He thought on the doctors of that seaside sanatorium. He relived the shining instruments he saw in their hands. How he had admired those tools, and would ask timidly to touch, and be told no no, boy, there there. A doctorwoman (a nurse, she had certainly been a nurse) had stroked his hair and murmured hotly by his earlobe late in the night: “Do you hope to be a surgeon? A strong, brave surgeon?”

Now he was that, in a sense. In a strange sense. “Leather Apron” they called him. He had regarded that moniker, but another was circulating now. The press addressed him familiarly, though they did not know–and perhaps would never know–his correct name. Well, what could one do with “Timothy,” after all?

His father had wept daily with joy at his precious son’s return home. His father, too, had delivered him, at any summoning, to the Christmas Man. Such was the compact, sworn to and ironclad. The boy would have health and a long life. The person whose monies made these possible would have…as he wanted. More than the Yule, which he was said to keep so well, had interested that particular man.

Timothy sat at his table in his shabby room and ate. It was a meal like no other. It was not especially appetizing. In truth, it was violent of taste, obnoxious in texture. Yet, he couldn’t stop this feeding.

Earlier, he had thought upon the doctors, whilst he had employed his blade in the East London fetor. Now, with the surgery done, his laden table presented him another recollection. He did not dwell upon the Yules following his recovery. How hollow had been those, with Father presiding with cheek-glowing fraudulence, with his clamorous brothers and sisters swept up in the merry deception. No. Before. Before. When his leg was still a spongy stick, when those siblings bore him blithely about. When life had been touched with wonder, with rapture even, with the whisper of God’s benevolence.

What fine Christmas dinners their family had known.

Now, Timothy ate of the kidney. Ate also of the other curious parts he had taken away from the woman in her own squalid room. And when he remembered his innocent words of decades ago, spoken by the diminutive lad he had been and should have stayed, even unto an inevitable early death, he could not quite speak them as they once had been uttered. The bygone declaration stuck in his throat.

He said, instead and more properly, “God curse us.”

And then with a barren laugh alone in his rented room, at his bloodied table…

“God curse us, every one.”

Eric Del Carlo’s fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, and is upcoming at Analog. His latest novel is The Golden Gate Is Empty, an urban fantasy written with his father Vic Del Carlo.

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