“Surprise! Happy Birthday!”
“What?” Doctor Jarvis did not have to act. As he flipped the switch inside the clinic door all five of his employees jumped up from behind the information counter. He nearly jumped out of his birthday suit.
“Just a small surprise party for your birthday- forty-five isn’t it?” Lisa his head nurse explained.
“Forty-six, and you nearly made certain there would not be a forty-seven.” The doctor mocked a sudden chest pain.
Everyone laughed, ate cake and had a joyous good time.
Lisa handed the doctor a package wrapped in bright cheerfully printed paper. “Just a small token- from all of us. We gathered some photographs of our good times together here at the clinic, and a few we got from your wife. It’s a memory album.”
“Thank you. We have had a prosperous six years. Here is to sixty more.” The doctor raised his coffee cup in the air. “Now open the door and let’s get busy.”
Later that evening after the last appointment Lisa asked the doctor if he was ready to lock up.
“Not yet. I have some paperwork to catch up on. See you tomorrow.”
He lowered the file he had been reading and turned toward the window behind his desk. “What is that commotion?”
“The religious fanatics are back in the parking lot across the street.” The nurse peered through the blinds.
“Call the police and have them arrested for disturbing the peace.”
“Well…, they’re not actually making the noise. They are holding hands and… praying. Drivers are honking as they pass.”
“Nonetheless call the police before you leave. I want a patrol to insure they come not one inch closer than the law prohibits.”
“Yes sir. Should I stay?”
“No, I will be fine. Go home to your family.” He forced a smiled.
“See you in the morning, doc.” She closed his office door behind her.
The doctor opened the photo album again.
The first page still displayed a group staff photo and personalized endearments, but as he slowly turned the pages something was all wrong. The pictures were different than before. He was sure the first few were of past personnel birthday parties. Now there were faces of people he did not know- children, some teenage girls and some grown women. He scanned quickly through every page then closed the book. Surely this was a joke. The book must have been switched while he was with a patient.
He took a bottle from a drawer and half filled his empty coffee cup. The first sip always burned, but he needed it after a days work.
Re-opening the album he noticed the photos had changed again. Bright rosy baby faces were now un-recognizable blobs of red and brown and black. Other pages were filled with names and numbers. His stomach flopped and he took a large swig straight from the bottle.
After some deliberation the names and numbers began to make some sense- Jane 31705, John 72206 and a hundred others- all the same two names- different numbers.
Jane and John were the labels he and his staff sometimes used when referring to the after effect of a ‘treatment’.
Females were called Jane and males John. The numbers were dates of the treatment.
A strange ache suddenly gripped his heart- heaviness so intense he could scarcely take a breath.
He went to the window and yelled through the double glass at the circle of believers. “Leave me alone. I’m not a bad person…just doing my job. I’m not hurting anyone.” He instantly knew this was not true. He was hurting others. The word ‘murderer’ resounded in his head.
A slide show flashed through his brain, birthday celebrations, his as a child, his children’s. The images began to strobe faster and faster. Dizziness spun his head. Now a different set of visions assaulted the thin fibers of his stressed mind- infants unborn- screams of pain and sadness.
“Stop! Stop!” Trembling fingers squeezed his bursting head. He added shrieks of his own to the hellish chorus.
“Oh God help me. God, help me please!” One by one screams of agony that torment the doctor became cries of forgiveness.
“I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.” He cried for a long, long time.
He left the clinic for the last time. Photo album under his arm he headed across the busy city street.
In another city a wonderful celebration begins for hundreds of innocent children with no birthday.
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