An Evil Deed.
“Mom! Mom!” little three-year-old Sam cried as he careened through the living-room doorway. He flung himself headlong at his mother, burying his head in her lap.
“What’s wrong, honey?” she asked, breaking off her conversation with Lilly, her friend whom she was visiting. “Oh, what’s the matter, Sam?”
Before he had a chance to reply, two older boys surged into the living-room.
“What have you done to poor Sam?” Lilly demanded, glowering at them. She was annoyed and not a little embarrassed at the behaviour of her two kids.
“Nothing,” the older brother insisted.
“He’s just a cry-baby,” the other one added.
“They pulled my hair!” Sam sobbed as he clung defensively to his mother’s apron and inched away from his tormentors.
Lilly glared at her boys. “Your father will give you such a thrashing!”
“Aw Mom, please don’t tell him, please Mom!” the older one begged.
“Then play with Sam. Don’t upset him.”
“I don’t wanna play,” Sam whimpered, looked up plaintively at his mother. “They’ll hurt me!”
Her voice softened as she stroked his hair. “Why don’t you play hide-and-go-seek ... you’ll like that.”
Sam didn’t look very reassured by the suggestion, but he considered the idea for a moment. “Okay Mom ... but I wanna hide.”
By now, the two brothers were bored. After all, they were nearly ten years old, and little Sam was just a baby. If they couldn’t mess him around, there was just no fun to be had out of him at all.
Lilly was not really in the mood for any more messing around. “Start counting!” she barked.
Sam saw his chance to run from the living-room. The two brothers looked deflated. They glanced at each other and then with some reluctance, they started counting. Frustrated with the exercise, it wasn’t long before their voices became boisterous, and soon they were counting loudly, making each number sound almost like a threat.
“Quietly!” their mother admonished.
While Sam scampered around the house looking for a good place to hide, the two brothers now counted in hurried whispers. “... ninety-eight ... ninety-nine ... one hundred!” they chanted in unison. “Let’s go get him!” they yelled as they charged off in search of Sam.
“I wish I’d had girls,” their mother lamented as she took a sip from her coffee cup.
The brothers’ rampage slowly declined when they realised that they had searched most of the house and failed to find Sam. Standing in the kitchen, they looked around in some annoyance. Then the older brother saw a shoelace trailing from the oven door. He nudged his brother and pointed to it. They looked at each other and restrained the urge to giggle. The older brother took a deep breath and shouted theatrically, “He’s not here!”
Sam smiled to himself.
Then, without warning, the older brother kicked the oven door. Sam screamed in agony as it slammed against his finger. He pushed the door open and tried to scramble out. But before he could escape, the older brother lunged at him and pushed him back into the oven. “You should learn to tie yer shoe-laces, cry-baby!” he jeered. While he prevented Sam from escaping with one hand, he repeatedly swung the door against him with the other. Giving it yet another violent swing, he slammed it on one of his own fingers. He yelled in pain and recoiled from the oven. Rage welled up inside him. He turned again to the oven and threw his weight against the door, finally latching it shut.
Trapped inside, Sam screamed for help and hammered at the door. Sucking his injured finger, the older brother bent down and glowered at the terrified child, his face now pressed against the window in the oven door. “Cry-baby’s crying again!” his tormentor jeered once more.
“Let him out or he’ll tell,” the younger brother urged.
The older brother nursed his injured finger and glared at the helpless face in the oven window. His hatred festered within him. “No ... he won’t tell ...” he replied with a slow, quiet menace.
Then, quite calmly, he reached out and switched on the oven.
A New Day.
Dr. Sedgewick checks the silver buttons on his pristine dentist’s smock. Satisfied with his appearance, he steps with suave nonchalance into his expensively appointed surgery. Waiting there is Allison Nesbitt, a woman whose daughter needs his professional attentions. Allison is in her thirties, glamorous, and possessed of a notable sense of style. As he sets eyes on her, an eyebrow twitches, his eyelids droop seductively, and his lips part revealing a smile like the white keys of a grand piano.
“Well, hi there!” he purrs, his gaze lingering on his patient’s mother. He walks slowly across the surgery, and still smiling, he hoists himself onto his stool and adjusts his Gucci-shod feet on the footrests. His nurse, Mrs. Kirby, an efficient and somewhat austere lady with just a hint of greying hair, offers him a pair of surgical gloves. He continues to look at Allison while Mrs. Kirby waits patiently for him to accept the gloves. “You have a new patient for me today, I see.”
“Yes, this is Sophie,” Allison replies. “I guess it’s time for her to have a check-up.”
“No time like the present, I always say.” Before finally accepting the gloves from his nurse, Sedgewick removes his gold Rolex, and as always, places it on a shelf where it is clearly visible to all who enter his surgery.
A pretty little girl with ribbons in her wavy blonde hair is sitting in what he likes to call his ‘electric chair’. Although he has been vaguely aware of her presence, he hasn’t noticed that her eyes have been following his every move from the moment he entered the surgery. He swivels around to face her. “Hi! I’m Doctor Tony,” he says, smiling, but not really looking at her. “You must be Sophie, yes?” Without waiting for a response, he reaches over to a row of glittering dental instruments and selects a mirror and probe. “Open wide!” he coos as he leans over her.
His little patient looks up at this praying mantis-like figure who sits poised with instruments at the ready. At first, she doesn’t respond. She seems determined not to submit to his attentions. Then, for a few moments it seems as if her icy expression is about to melt. While fixing Sedgewick with a steady gaze, she slowly opens her mouth. Instead of accepting the instruments’ attentions, she emits a blood-curdling scream and then closes her mouth more tightly than ever.
“Aw honey, Sophie honey, what’s wrong?” her mother asks.
The child doesn’t reply, her previous composure now replaced by unabashed terror. Her hands grasp the arms of the chair. Her trembling knuckles are white with tension. All except one ... one finger seems unable to maintain a grip. It has a minor deformity.
Sedgewick sits back on his stool and puts his instruments aside. “How old are you, Sophie?” he asks. Sophie remains unresponsive, her expression frozen.
Mrs. Kirby turns to her dental records. “She’s five. Born in September ...” she reads.
“September? Oh!” For some reason, Sedgewick seems to be somehow taken aback. He glances awkwardly at Allison. “Er ... Oh yes, September,” he repeats.
He turns his attentions back to his patient. “You should have all your baby teeth by now, Sophie,” he assures her, still trying to be encouraging. She still doesn’t respond. “Let’s try again.” He gently places a finger at the corner of her mouth. But as he moves to inspect Sophie’s teeth, she bites the probing finger. “Jeez!” he explodes. Looking up at Allison, he forces a smile through his grimace as he struggles to maintain his professional composure.
Mrs. Kirby turns her attentions to Sedgewick’s finger. Allison intervenes with obvious concern. “Oooh! It looks nasty,” she says through clenched teeth.
“At least she knows how to use her teeth,” Sedgewick hisses, his smile not quite masking his anger.
“Say you’re sorry, honey!” Allison commands.
With her mouth still firmly closed, Sophie shakes her head.
Without waiting for any instructions from Sedgewick, Mrs. Kirby removes his now-damaged surgical glove and busies herself with some antiseptic and a dressing.
“Well, I’m sorry anyway,” Allison says with a mixture of concern and annoyance. “You wouldn’t believe she’s an angel in the school show.” Trying to lighten the mood, she asks, “Ah ... is your son in it?”
“Yes ...” Sedgewick replies as he averts his eyes from his damaged finger. “yes, he is.” He glances at the smirking image of a schoolboy in a framed photograph on the shelf beside him.
As Mrs. Kirby indicates to him that she is finished, he mellows a little and smiles. “I guess I’ll see you there ... if I survive long enough.” He swivels on his stool and looks directly at Allison. As their eyes meet, a certain chemistry becomes apparent between them.
Whatever about the deeper significance of the moment, in her own way, Sophie is aware that she is no longer the centre of attention. She responds by reaching out and tugging at her mother’s arm. Distracted, both Sedgewick and Allison quickly return to the here-and-now.
Sedgewick sits up straight on his stool. “It doesn’t seem to be a good time to check Sophie’s teeth,” he suggests. “Maybe we should wait a while and then try again?”
Allison looks back to him. “Yes. I guess you’re right.” She lifts Sophie from the ‘electric chair’ and places her onto her feet. She takes her by the hand and turns to leave the surgery.
They stop by the door, and Allison looks back at Sedgewick. “Once again, I’m sorry about er ... your finger.” Finding refuge behind her Mommy and seen only by Sedgewick, Sophie looks up at him and sticks out her tongue.
≈ ≈ ≈
The brilliant sun shines on the lush, well-watered expanse of lawn and carefully tended gardens that surround the elegant stockbroker-belt house at the edge of town. The sound of happy voices pervades the air. Peter Nesbitt is swinging his daughter Sophie around by her arms. He laughs as they enjoy these precious moments of idyllic innocence.
Allison emerges from the house carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. “You should be telling her off!” she says as she puts them down on the table.
“Why?” Nesbitt looks around in surprise.
“I took her to get her teeth checked. When T-t-t ...” She just catches herself before she utters his first name. “er ... the dentist tried to examine her, she bit him.”
“Oh, jolly good!” exclaims Nesbitt, an Englishman who has been in America long enough to know that he is expected to say things like that. “Y’know, I’ve never liked him.”
“Him ...” Allison echoes with a hushed voice, hoping not to let her feelings become too obvious to Sophie. “He has a name, honey. You’re just jealous because it was once ... well, almost my name too.” She slides her arms around her husband and gives him a kiss on the cheek. “C’mon honey, you’ve nothing to be jealous about ... that was over six years ago ... wa-a-a-y back.”
“Yes, I know ...” Nesbitt says with a hint of resignation, “But I didn’t tell Sophie to bite him.” With a mischievous grin, he muses, “Perhaps I should have.”
Allison abruptly steps away from him.
“Oh, perhaps you’re right, darling,” Nesbitt concedes. Looking down to Sophie, he says with mock severity, “Darling, if you bite anyone again ... no more ice-cream.”
Sophie screeches in shock at this ultimatum. She then beckons to her father. As he leans towards her, she grabs hold of him and pulls him down so he is close enough for her to whisper in his ear. “Look ... if you do this you can tell little lies, can’t you, Daddy?” She shows him her hand with two fingers crossed.
Entering into the conspiracy, Nesbitt grins and nods. Emerging from their huddle, Sophie steps back, pulls herself up to her full height and proclaims for all to hear, “I’m so very, very, very, very sorry!” She stands waiting for her mother’s approval, the picture of contrition ... with her hands behind her back.
Allison scowls at her daughter for a few moments. “You should have said that at the time,” she tells her.
Turning away from his wife, Nesbitt bends down to Sophie again. “Ah ... tell me something, Sophie ...”
“Yes, Daddy?” she replies, looking up at her father with innocent eyes.
“Why ... I mean, exactly why did you bite ... that dentist?”
Sophie looks at the ground, saying nothing.
“Don’t you want to tell me, darling?” Nesbitt asks, gently putting a hand on her chin to encourage her to look at him. “Did he ... hurt you?”
“He’s a ... bad man!”
“But, you’ve never even met him before ...” Nesbitt reflects as he feels a growing concern. “have you?”
“In the woods ... I think ...” she replies.
“The ... the woods?” Nesbitt feels a sudden pang of apprehension. “What woods?” His mind races, but he can’t think of any woods where she could have run foul of Sedgewick, or of anyone else.
“She found it first!” Sophie replies with a new-found assertiveness.
“Found it? Er ... she ... who ... found what?”
“Goldilocks! It was her porridge. She found it. He tried to bite her. He’s just a big, bad bear!”
“A big, bad bear ... Is that it?”
“Yes!” Sophie replies, looking at her worried father with a bright, open smile.
Nesbitt breathes a sigh of relief. “Oh, perhaps you were right to bite him,” he says. “And yes, I think it’s so true,” he adds, ruffling her hair. “He is just a big, bad ... er ... bear.”
Greatly relieved, Nesbitt stands up fully again. He smiles and says, “Y’know, I’ve never liked dentists anyway. They make a living from pain.”
“And what about you?” Allison asks. “You think making a healthy profit from death is any better? If there’s any new way to squeeze more profit out of a funeral, you are first in line.”
“Well, the customers never complain. If any of them have problems with the services I provide, I’ll be more than happy to give them a refund.” Nesbitt grins. Allison doesn’t. “Besides,” he adds, “I’ve never heard you complain about having too much of all my seemingly ill-gotten gains.” After a moment’s thought, he observes quietly, “That’s where you are first in line.”
Sophie has been following the exchange with interest. “Did you bury anybody today, Daddy?”
“Two,” he replies with a certain pride. “But no dentists,” he adds, “Unfortunately!”
Despite Sophie’s own adventures with dentists, there is something in the twists and turns of the current conversation that is beginning to go over her head. Her thoughts drift elsewhere.
Nesbitt turns his thoughts to the bottle of wine. Noticing that his wife is still looking at him, he holds it up in both hands and with a furrowed brow and a few knowledgeable nods, he scrutinises the label. He then fills the two glasses, and taking one of them in his hand, he settles into his garden chair.
Sophie’s eye settles on the swing at the far side of the lawn. She runs over to it, drawn by dreams of other things. She stops and looks up to the trestle that looms above her. She looks at the chains that hang beneath it. She stands and gazes at the structure, silhouetted against the deep blue sky.
She sees the great soaring birds that drift high above her. She somehow feels a call from a world beyond, a call from somewhere among the soft, white clouds that hang as if from chains unseen, each cloud a snowy, Alpine landscape all its own.
Still looking skyward, she slips between the swing’s supporting chains and sits on the freely hanging seat. Her toes barely touch the grass as she sways above the ground. She feels the evanescence of her world as if for the very first time.
With a certain trepidation, she stretches her toes to the ground and pushes it away. Each push seems to satisfy the silent voice that calls to her ... to her alone.
With each push, she swings higher and higher. With each swing, she seems to gain a fleeting glimpse of another world. As earth and sky tumble around her, she hears the growing rush of the wind in her ears and she feels the flash of the sun’s blinding light scorching her senses. Lightning electrifies her body as agony and ecstasy intertwine. For just a moment, her soul dances in the nexus of heaven and hell. She screams as she is overwhelmed by the breath of deities and demons that together tantalise and terrify, before fading from her dazzled inner eye.
Shocked, she grips the chains. With her heart pounding and her body trembling, she allows the swing to come to rest. She looks around at the world she knows so well. She looks to her feet as they touch the soft, green grass that lies reassuringly beneath her. She looks to her parents ... they are still close by. They seem quite unconcerned, just as if they never even heard her scream.
It is all so familiar, so safe.
As her racing heart settles, Sophie still feels a distant sense of that other-worldly call. As her mind settles, she looks around once more. Setting eyes on a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, she feels another answer to her call. She jumps from the swing, and this time with her feet safely on the ground and her arms extended like wings, she flits from flower to flower in mimicry of the tiny creature.
Watching Sophie as she pursues her latest diversion, Allison observes quietly, “She’ll be murder when she’s a teenager if you let her have her way all the time.”
Nesbitt nods. “Hmmm ... Like mother, like daughter,” he muses under his breath.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I let you have your way all the time.”
Allison responds only with a contemptuous snort.
“I’m not sure that’s a denial,” Nesbitt says.
“Honey, that’s because it isn’t. It’s ... an assertion.”
“It’s an assertion that some statements are just too absurd to ... to warrant an answer.”
“That’s okay, dear!” Nesbitt speaks as if comforting her for having to concede the argument to him. He feels her seething beside him, speechless with exasperation. He pats her knee. “Cheers! Oh sorry, didn’t I pass you your glass?”