A profitable month
“Finally he’s here!” Říha was welcoming Dr. Martinec exuberantly, “and where’s your wife?”
“Are there none here?” inquired Martinec, pulling a bottle of Jack Daniels from his bag.
“I’ll send you to a reform-school, Aleš,” laughed Říha and the whole company with him.
“What would they want to ‘reform’ about me? Here, I brought Jack,” giving him the bottle. “Šárka will be here any minute – she’s talking on the phone outside.”
“Jack Daniels is only the forerunner of your beautiful wife. Here she is,” said Říha, turning towards the door, “we almost thought you went to another party instead.”
“Hi, David, wow full house! I couldn’t – and wouldn’t want to – go anywhere else! I could hear you from three streets away; it’s the only place to go.”
Rowdy laughter roared from the kitchen. It was Stránský. He and Říha played in Dixiemed band together; he was also responsible for setting up the computer systems in Říha’s Alternative Clinic. Stránský was surely the life of the party. The laughter coming from the small kitchen drew inside Dr. Martinec and his wife, who were eager to catch the end of his story.
Stránský accompanied his anecdote with animated gestures:
“…he thought he’d take a small goofy-looking pill and suddenly he’d be twenty. Instead, it widened the blood vessels in the whole body, but not where he wanted it to. So the idiot took another one, his face turned red like a beet, swelled up, eyes bulging, but nothing else! All dressed up, perfumed, but nothing happened.”
“…it’s a good thing his head didn’t explode!”
“Almost. The best part is…,” everyone laughed so that Stránský had to yell over the crowd,
“and the best part is…that’s not all, the best part is, that she got angry and left, and he got ready as soon as she slammed the door! And then he couldn’t get rid of it for several hours….”
Everyone had a blast. Říha’s Alternative Clinic had been in business for eight months now – the previous one being the first profitable one. That called for a celebration. Especially since new, even greater successes were likely on the horizon. The press had recently published an encouraging article, and now even a few celebrities found their way there.
“David,” it was Martinec’s turn to speak, “each one of us here would like to take a little bit of credit for the successful beginning of your clinic, its profit, and the fact that this June 1997 is the crucial, historical date. But we all know very well that it’s your hard work, and that your professional and economic victories are the fruits of your own determination….”
“…and you chose the prettiest nurses, you dog,” hollered Dr. Štěrba from his armchair.
Everyone was laughing, and Říha’s surprised eyes darted from one friend to another. ‘How many of them came’? he wondered. Looking into their faces, David felt happy. But somehow, he sensed there was someone among the crowd whose shared joy was insincere. He couldn’t tell from their eyes.
Stránský spoke again.
“What you need to do is keep a few tricky, difficult to treat cases, and the profits will keep coming.” This time, the crowd cheered less, because they knew this was not Říha’s style.
“I would love to thank you, Dr. Říha, for….”
“ Dear Janíček, hold on. You’re onboard, and I have a surprise for you. So save your thanks for now.”
“Well, now I don’t know. I just wanted to thank you for helping me with my exam preparations, and I want to wish you, from the bottom of my heart – especially for you it couldn’t be otherwise – great successes and a flow of new clients and patients, and for you to be able to cure them.”
“You’ve said it like a poet, and I know you mean it. I have three propositions for you.” The company fell silent as Říha continued, “first of all, I’m not so old that you couldn’t call me by my first name, and you’re a person I respect.” Dr. Janík blushed; he didn’t expect such praise, and certainly not in public.
Štěrba was sitting in the armchair, raised his glass, and strangely commented Říha’s suggestion: “…cheers for the adolescents!” A few people let out a smile. Říha moved passed the remark and continued.
“Well, I’m David.”
“I’m Jirka. It’s a pleasure, and thank you, David,” Janík smiled shyly.
“Jirka, dear Jirka. I would like you to read up everything about moxa treatment, and if you pass my arduous test and are interested, I would like to hire you into my rickety boat.”
“Yes…yes, of course…thank you, David. Yes, truly I will be happy to. It’s…thank you very much.” Everyone shared in this joy; perhaps some did not choose their words too well.
“The new graduate needs a shot,” announced Štěrba, leaning towards one of the nurses.
“And finally, I would like to ask our colleague, Jirka Janík, if he’d like to test the keyboards as a pianist in our band. What do you say?” Searching for Dr. Stránský, the clarinetist, David continued, “Franta, Franta, can you hear me?”
“Yes, and I’m delighted to hear it – it’s the best idea of the evening. I agree, you definitely need to join us, that is, if you can play even on a rocking steam-boat. Mind you, it’s no Steinway & Sons. We have a machine that has been through everything, it’s a piano that goes in and out of tune all by itself! You in?”
“Deal. Thank you so much. It’s all so overwhelming.”
“Well, get used to it, and let’s have a toast.”
The company once again resumed its festive mood, the only downside being that nobody had brought an instrument, to add to the jovial mood of them all.
Stránský once again had the floor, surrounded by four nurses.
“…of course. It’s the law over there! On a bicycle you have to have a three-point seatbelt, two straps connect with the pedals and the third one to the seat. And also self-releasing safety pedals and an orange vest or….”
Říha mingled with everyone, visitors interrupting their conversation only to congratulate David.
“…so they’re not using any sewing materials anymore, today everything is patched up with glue…David, your luck has turned! To be honest,” confessed anesthesiologist Dr. Ludvik Lukáš, who’d just arrived a few minutes earlier, “I wasn’t too sure about it at first. You know, herbs and music therapy, aromatherapy, homeopathy, I don’t know what all these tricks are called, today these are long-abandoned disciplines. Or so I thought. You convinced me, that they’re not, and that people seek you out. So, most importantly, I wish you that these folks don’t forget their wallets at home.”
“Ludva, thank you, I’m glad it’s working and that we’re really helping people. Believe me, I wouldn’t get involved with ‘tricks’ and the wallet sometimes gets left at home too. But it doesn’t matter in the least, for me it’s the interest in the patient’s problem. You know what I’m talking about, you’re the same, always trying to crack the mystery.”
“Well, say it, David, I’m a nerd,” smiled the anesthesiologist.
“Of course, a nerd, yes! But on the other hand, nobody can trip you up on anything in medicine. Maybe one day I would welcome you into my team too. As a member of our Alternative Clinic.”
“I can’t imagine myself as a sorcerer. But as they say – ‘Never say never’. So again, congratulations, David.”
David realized, especially during this celebratory soiree, that it wouldn’t be long before they needed a larger space. The dream was becoming a reality. Behind its fulfillment was relentless effort, will, losses and even a lack of understanding, endless papers and bureaucracy, thousands of permits and stamps and approval processes. Now he was standing here, surrounded by friends whom he invited to share in his joy.
The group dispersed around midnight. Everyone was in a boisterous mood and many had to resort to taxis, Říha following them into the night and looking over the parking lot in front of his clinic. Happy and proud, he was returning inside, when he realized he hadn’t had a chance to check his mailbox. David retrieved the thick stack of bills, pamphlets, journals and…was taken aback by an envelope. Written in red capital letters. The name was correct, address also, except that instead of his Doctor’s title were written the words ‘HIS OWN GRAVE-DIGGER’. Then followed his name.
Nobody around, everyone had left, his wife Alice was at home with little Kačenka and couldn’t be at the party.
Slowly, David was opening the envelope, glad that in that moment he had no witness.