A short story by Colin Devonshire
“Answer the door will you?” said Rod.
“Yeah, yeah, who are you expecting?” answered Johanne.
Johanne feeling somewhat underdressed in battered boxer shorts opened his mate’s front door with only his head showing.
“There’s no one here. Wait a minute, what’s that?”
He peered up and down the street, quiet, not a soul in sight. He stepped onto the porch and reached under the scruffy bush.
“Hey, what is this?” he reached just under the broken branches and pulled out a package. Proudly, marching to the kitchen, placed it in front of his host.
“Is it your birthday?” he asked. “We celebrated something last night.”
“You know it isn’t,” said Rod, laughing. “Who left it?”
“I couldn’t see anyone, but it’s got your name on it. It says, ‘Dr Rod’, premature, don’t you think!” laughed Johanne.
The package was gently unwrapped, Johanne stood back, Rod carefully peeled the colourful paper. He used his skills as a trainee doctor as if he was making a bomb safe. A card dropped unnoticed to the floor.
“What is that?” he said, pointing at a varnished cube of hardwood.
He shook it, then handed it to his friend.
“It’s a puzzle,” exclaimed Johanne, “you have to dislodge sections of the wood, eventually it falls to bits. Then you have to reassemble it.”
They both poked and prised nothing budged. Rod grabbed it and squeezed opposite corners.
“There look,” he fiddled some more. His thumbnail edged a long thin narrow wedge of wood. It freed itself. Then it moved no more.
“Right, now you’ve shifted that piece, another bit will move into its place, and so on.”
Sure enough, sliding one piece freed another. Finally, they could see the cuts, straight and diagonally across each section. Bit by bit they dropped to the table.
“Have we got time for childish games? We’ve got to get to the hospital. The professor will have our guts if we’re late for his lecture.”
“Wait a bit, I want to open this,” said Rod. He rushed and fiddled. At last, he pulled the cube to pieces.
“My God, what is that?” he asked as something dropped from the centre.
“Some kind of sick joke?”
“That looks like a painted toenail?”
“Yes, with a bit of toe still fixed to it!”
“Jesus. Come on, we had better get going.”
The gift was left on the coffee table, including the little extra.
“At the back there, the hope to be a doctor, you have been staring at the ceiling, can I assume, you know the answer?” the professor asked.
Johanne nudged his friend.
“Uh? Oh, sorry sir, I’ve things on my mind.”
“You carry on daydreaming while the others learn something useful,” said the lecturer.
“I can’t get that bloody toe out my mind,” Rod whispered.
Ten minutes later the professor swept out of the theatre with a jaunty, “Farewell.”
“I’m going home, are you coming?” asked Rod.
“You have another gift. Are you sure it’s not your birthday?” asked Johannes as they reached the front door.
“Not another toenail hidden in a cube?”
The package was the same size and similar weight. They rushed inside to open it.
“Not a wooden cube, this time I have a glass globe. What the hell is this?” asked Rod.
“It’s a birthstone wishing ball. At least that is what it says on the box.”
A golden glass ball stared back at them, its glinting flecks of light blue gave an attractive appearance. The clear patches were big enough to see through. Johannes grinned at his friend in gold and blue.
In the packing was a sturdy round base to balance the ball, and a note. The ball rattled as Rod placed it on the ring. There was something inside.
“Is this another game?” asked Rod.
“What does the note say?”
“We didn’t get a note with the first present? That’s odd?” said Rod as he looked around.
Under the table was a square card, its colour matched the carpet. “There,” pointed Johannes.
Rod looked at both pieces of paper, turning them front and back, neat handwriting on the first card said, “Tippy toe!” And the second in the same hand it said, “Hop along”.
Rod snatched the ball and shook. Inside, a small bone rattled.
“What the…” breathed Rod.
The men looked at each other, “You’ll have to break it you want to find what’s inside,” said Johanne.
They took turns to find a way in; it wasn’t a puzzle they agreed. Rod smashed the ball.
“What do you reckon?” he asked.
“It’s a bone.”
“Brilliant, you’ll make a surgeon one day,” grinned Rod.
“I should have said, it’s a whole bone, not a broken bit.”
“Yes, yes, but what bone?”
“It’s a patella,” suggested Johannes.
“A child’s knee cap?”
“Too small to be an adult’s.”
“Yes, I agree. Let’s see the toe again.”
“What do you think?”
“I think I’ll run some tests at the hospital tomorrow, let’s see if they belonged to the same person? Want to help?”
“Sure thing, see you bright and early before we study?”
Rod could not think, he started watching the news, murders and a massive riot in America came and went with no interest. His beloved team was playing the early game. It was on, but not watched. He barely noticed as the first goal hit the net.
“Is that you Johanne?” he called as the front doorbell rang.
It was not. The club crashed into Rod’s skull. He went face-first to the concrete slab entranceway. His head bumped as he was dragged up the low step and into the living room then strapped to his office swivel chair. The computer was as cold as his assailant.
Rod’s eyes focused on the dated wallpaper. He was facing the corner like a naughty schoolboy. He heard a swish behind him. Not the dreaded head-teacher’s cane. It sounded heavier. He sensed movement to his rear; it was painful to turn his head, his neck ached. But swivel he did. She was beautiful, slight, and Asian. Glaring with the Devil’s own eyes. Lasers burned deep. She then smiled. The heat was gone, leaving icicles stabbing deep. He tried to talk, to plead. The bandage allowed no sound. She laughed at his mumble.
“You see this,” she started speaking as she banged it into her open palm. “This is my sister’s hip bone.”
Her English was flawless, her accent cast him back ten years.
“Do you remember me?”
Rod would never forget Lalita. She was his first love. His family moved to Bangkok when his father was offered the chance to oversee the building of a new hospital. It was the move that set Rod’s dream of becoming a GP.
“You told us, your dad was a doctor,” she said. Loosening his gag.
“No, I said he worked in a hospital.”
“That was a lie.”
“He was building one,” Rod said.
“We trusted you.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Do you remember my little sister?”
“Sure. She always wanted to play with us,” said Rod.
“Do you remember the skateboards we played on?”
“Yeah, they were new in Thailand. You were pretty good on yours.”
“Yeah, but my sister wasn’t, remember?”
“That’s right, it’s coming back to me. How is she?”
“You said, that as your dad was an English doctor, you knew how to stitch wounds.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember.”
“And then you and your ‘doctor’ father returned here.”
“Yes, that was a sad day.”
“It was sad for us too. My little sister’s foot started changing colour. Grey at first, then a light purple. The skin on her toes bubbled. We were too scared to show my mum.”
“You should have seen a doctor.”
“We thought we did.”
“How could I have been a doctor at that age?”
“Your dad was a doctor, or at least we thought so. You said, ‘it was only a couple of stitches under her toes. Anyone could do it. But don’t tell you mum’, you made us swear.”
“Her blood couldn’t get to the wound, the colour got darker, and it stank.”
“She had gangrened you mean?” asked Rod.
“The first operation they took her foot.”
“Then they cut above the knee. They acted too slow, she died.”
“I’m so sorry, I was young and thought I was helping.”
Lalita tightened the gag.
“You have my sister’s hip,” she tapped him, first right then left cheek. She dropped the bone in his lap. “You have my sister’s patella and her little toe. Now I’m going to remove yours. Burn them as any good Buddhist would, and mix the ashes with my sister’s.”
The needle stabbed into his neck as she pulled out her saw.