Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Other Short Stories


Very well, Sir John, we take your point, but perhaps we might explore the situation just a little further?”

This insidious prying must stop. I must make it stop.

“So we are agreed that you had the overall responsibility at the time of the incident?”

The interrogator’s voice slices into this island of privacy, my island of privacy.

“I do hope that you are not implying that any blame should attach itself to me.”

“Nobody is apportioning any blame at this stage, indeed ‘blame’ is hardly the right word, but we would like to know a rather more about what actually occurred?”

The question is slinking around my back, attempting to disturb my equilibrium, trying to force me into unguarded self-betrayal. They want to see too much of me. I must preserve to myself that which is the unseen me.

“It was the merest of peccadilloes, just a small swab. “

The Board looked doubtful

I must be on my guard every day. No one must see the ‘real me’. And this lot most certainly will not do so. Just watch as I wave my very own magic wand and your hero will, in one bound, be free of this inquisition.

 “Of course if I had been closing up myself I would probably have left the whole thoracic cavity stuffed full of them!”

The Board exhaled. The Moment had passed. Sir John’s light touch, his easy smile and his disarming manner had carried the day.

I am preserved, untouched, nothing has sneaked up too close to me, nobody has an inkling about those totally forbidden places that exist within my mind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Rachael was back from the Studio by the time John arrived home.  She was standing by the French windows looking out into the gathering dusk. “Hi”, she said as he strode into the room, “How did it go?”

“Oh, fine”, he said, chucking his evening paper on a small triangular inlaid table. “They gave poor Hartnell some grief over that swab, but she was firm and sensible about it, and quite honestly they hardly even had me in their sights over it”.

“Nor should they have had”, said Rachael. “After all, you weren’t there at the final swab count”.

“Did you get to the foundry?” said John.

Rachael’s latest commission was for a bronze bust, supposedly of a noted and very dead philosopher, but actually based, fairly closely, on her husband’s square-jawed features.

“I certainly did,” she said, pouring rather more than half a bottle of Sancerre into a couple of glasses, “and it’s going really well”.

“Where’s it got to now?”

“Nearly ready to melt wax,” said Rachel.

She knew that the whole casting process really fascinated John. How her malleable clay model first became a rubber mould, then a thing of wax surrounded by this immensely strong, but brittle, ceramic before being melted away to provide the hollowed out cavity for the final filling with bronze.

“Best bit coming up then,” said John, playing with his still nearly full glass.

“I suppose so,” said Rachel a little uncertainly.

“ It’s when they melt the wax out”, said John, warming to his subject. “You are left with this hardened and hardly recognizable outer shell which, until they pour the bronze, conceals the perfect hollowed out image of what has been created.”

Rachael sat down on the corner of the chaise. “But no one can see that”, she said.

“That’s what is so great about it,” said John, “this rough-looking, brittle mask, which is nothing itself but which contains within itself a perfect reverse image of an identity, a beauty, a consciousness that no one can ever see. Any attempt to catch even a glimpse of this unique creation couldn’t do so without causing its total destruction.”

Rachel was uneasy at the thought. “I’ll feel a lot more comfortable once they have poured the bronze,” she said. “After that it doesn’t matter. I’ll have the finished object, a bit rough but a real tangible creation that I can work on and finish off just as I want.”

John shivered slightly, “That’s why I prefer the hidden image. No one can access it to shape it to their will.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sir John Spencer FRCS had completed his scrubbing up. He swept into Theatre hands and lower arms bare and in the classic ‘prayer’ style. He was clothed in green except for his white facemask and ‘trademark’ red surgical hat. For this, the first procedure of the morning, he had elected to wear goggles. He had been here hundreds of times before. He was in his element, the master of proceedings, the undisputed leader.

John’s professional eyes flickered over his cardiothoracic team. Good, he thought, a useful and capable group, which included Hartnell, his newly exonerated Senior House Officer. Today’s list was not demanding and he should get through it swiftly enough, perhaps even have the time to meet Rachael down at the foundry. He was looking forward to it.

The team were quietly and competently busy, everyone knew the role that they must fulfil to ensure the smooth working of the procedure. The Circulation Nurse sponged an alcohol preparation over the patient’s chest to cleanse the skin and then stood back so that Hartnell could make the first incision.

In readiness for the large bleeders that would, inevitably, occur the Scrub Nurse handed John the business end of the Electro-Surgical Unit. As laid down in Operating Manual he made to test the apparatus by touching the footswitch. This would provide almost instant heat to the tip of the instrument. There was a gentle ‘Whoomph’. The anaesthetist saw a shimmer of flame, but Hartnell felt the heat from the rapidly spreading fire. She jerked backwards into the Circulation Nurse who, in turn, collided with John. Her left hand hit his shoulder squeezing the remaining ethanol over his scrub shirt.

Alcohol burns intensely and invisibly, at 840 degrees Celsius. The only way to extinguish it is to smother it. The team acted swiftly, focusing entirely on the patient. The Scrub Nurse had the fire blanket over his chest killing the fire, meanwhile the Circulation Nurse fed bottles of sterile water to Hartnell to cool down the quickly reddening skin. Within a few seconds not only was the fire that had been generated from the spark of the ESU out, but the patient had been almost totally protected from its worst effects. Collectively the Team stood back with an almost audible sigh of relief and turned towards their leader.

Unseen, the fire had spread to John’s alcohol-soaked scrub shirt, and thence to his mask and hat.  He must have been in terrible pain, but had never uttered a word. Appraising the situation Hartnell was aware that the alcohol that had drenched her Leader was still alight. She grabbed a fire extinguisher and emptied it over the surgeon. John sank to the ground in a sitting position, back against the wall. His shirt, mask, goggles and hat were a fused mass covered in the white powder of the extinguisher.  It was impossible to discern his features through the impenetrable mask.

If they did not get this moulded mass off John’s head the man would not be able to breathe. Hartnell sliced at the nose area with a scalpel, to little effect. The Scrub Nurse saw that something more drastic was needed. Without a word she passed Hartnel the orthopaedic hammer and chisel.

Hartnell held the chisel against the approximate location of what had once been Sir John’s red hat. She struck a light blow. The brittle fabric shattered falling as a dozen shards upon onto the theatre floor. Looking at these the Team could just make out that the inner surfaces seemed to have captured an immortalized reversed image of Sir John’s facial features, but where John’s head should have been - there was nothing.

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Distant Fells
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