FROM As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
It happened I am back of the prescription case, pouring up some chocolate sauce, when Jody comes back and says, “Say, Skeet, there’s a woman up front that wants to see the doctor and when I said What doctor you want to see, she said she wants to see the doctor that works here and when I said There aint any doctor works here, she just stood there, looking back this way.”
“What kind of a woman is it?” I says. “Tell her to go upstairs to Alford’s office.”
“Country woman,” he says.
“Send her to the courthouse,” I says. “Tell her all the doctors have gone to Memphis to a Barbers’ Convention.”
“All right,” he says, going away. “She looks pretty good for a country girl,” he says.
“Wait,” I says. He waited and I went and peeped through the crack. But I couldn’t tell nothing except she had a good leg against the light. “Is she young, you say?” I says.
“She looks like a pretty hot mamma, for a country girl,” he says.
“Take this,” I says, giving him the chocolate. I took off my apron and went up there. She looked pretty good. One of them black eyed ones that look like she’d as soon put a knife in you as not if you two-timed her. She looked pretty good. There wasn’t nobody else in the store; it was dinner time.
“What can I do for you?” I says.
“Are you the doctor?” she says.
“Sure,” I says. She quit looking at me and was kind of looking around.
“Can we go back yonder?” she says.
It was just a quarter past twelve, but I went and told Jody to kind of watch out and whistle if the old man come in sight, because he never got back before one.
“You better lay off of that,” Jody says. “He’ll fire your stern out of here so quick you cant wink.”
“He dont never get back before one,” I says. “You can see him go into the postoffice. You keep your eye peeled, now, and give me a whistle.”
“What you going to do?” he says.
“You keep your eye out. I’ll tell you later.”
“Aint you going to give me no seconds on it?” he says.
“What the hell do you think this is?” I says; “a studfarm? You watch out for him. I’m going into conference.”
So I go on to the back. I stopped at the glass and smoothed my hair, then I went behind the prescription case, where she was waiting. She is looking at the medicine cabinet, then she looks at me.
“Now, madam,” I says; “what is your trouble?”
“It’s the female trouble,” she says, watching me. “I got the money,” she says.
“Ah,” I says. “Have you got female troubles or do you want female troubles? If so, you come to the right doctor.” Them country people. Half the time they dont know what they want, and the balance of the time they cant tell it to you. The clock said twenty past twelve.
“No,” she says.
“No which?” I says.
“I aint had it,” she says. “That’s it.” She looked at me. “I got the money,” she says.
So I knew what she was talking about.
“Oh,” I says. “You got something in your belly you wish you didn’t have.” She looks at me. “You wish you had a little more or a little less, huh?”
“I got the money,” she says. “He said I could git something at the drugstore for hit,”
“Who said so?” I says.
“He did,” she says, looking at me.
“You dont want to call no names,” I says. “The one that put the acorn in your belly? He the one that told you?” She dont say nothing. “You aint married, are you?” I says. I never saw no ring. But Like as not, they aint heard yet out there that they use rings.
“I got the money,” she says. She showed it to me, tied up in her handkerchief: a ten spot.
“I’ll swear you have,” I says. “He give it to you?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Which one?” I says. She looks at me. “Which one of them give it to you?”
“It aint but one,” she says. She looks at me.
“Go on,” I says. She dont say nothing. The trouble about the cellar is, it aint but one way out and that’s back up the inside stairs. The clock says twenty-five to one. “A pretty girl like you,” I says.
She looks at me. She begins to tie the money back up in the handkerchief. “Excuse me a minute,” I says. I go around the prescription case. “Did you hear about that fellow sprained his ear?” I says. “After that he couldn’t even hear a belch.”
“You better get her out from back there before the old man comes,” Jody says.
“If you’ll stay up there in front where he pays you to stay, he wont catch nobody but me,” I says.
He goes on, slow, toward the front “What you doing to her, Skeet?” he says.
“I cant tell you,” I says. ‘It wouldn’t be ethical. You go on up there and watch.”
“Say, Skeet,” he says.
“Ah, go on,” I says. “I aint doing nothing but filling a prescription.”
“He may not do nothing about that woman back there, but if he finds you monkeying with that prescription case, he’ll kick your stern clean down them cellar stairs.”
“My stern has been kicked by bigger bastards than him,” I says. “Go back and watch out for him, now.”
So I come back. The clock said fifteen to one. She is tying the money in the handkerchief. “You aint the doctor,” she says.
“Sure I am,” I says. She watches me. “Is it because I look too young, or am I too handsome?” I says. “We used to have a bunch of old water-jointed doctors here,” I says; “Jefferson used to be a kind of Old Doctors’ Home for them. But business started falling off and folks stayed so well until one day they found out that the women wouldn’t never get sick at all. So they run all the old doctors out and got us young good-looking ones that the women would like and then the women begun to get sick again and so business picked up. They’re doing that all over the country. Hadn’t you heard about it? Maybe it’s because you aint never needed a doctor.”
“I need one now,” she says.
“And you come to the right one,” I says. “I already told you that.”
“Have you got something for it?” she says. “I got the money.”
“Well,” I says, “of course a doctor has to learn all sorts of things while he’s learning to roll calomel; he cant help himself. But I dont know about your trouble.”
“He told me I could get something. He told me I could get it at the drugstore.”
“Did he tell you the name of it?” I says. “You better go back and ask him.”
She quit looking at me, kind of turning the handkerchief in her hands. “I got to do something,” she says.
“How bad do you want to do something?” I says. She looks at me. “Of course, a doctor learns all sorts of things folks dont think he knows. But he aint supposed to tell all he knows. It’s against the law.”
Up front Jody says, “Skeet.”
“Excuse me a minute,” I says. I went up front. “Do you see him?” I says.
“Aint you done yet?” he says. “Maybe you better come up here and watch and let me do that consulting.”
“Maybe you’ll lay a egg,” I says. I come back. She is looking at me. “Of course you realise that I could be put in the penitentiary for doing what you want,” I says. “I would lose my license and then I’d have to go to work. You realise that?”
“I aint got but ten dollars,” she says. “I could bring the rest next month, maybe.”
“Pooh,” I says, “ten dollars? You see, I cant put no price on my knowledge and skill. Certainly not for no little paltry sawbuck.”
She looks at me. She dont even blink. “What you want, then?”
The clock said four to one. So I decided I better get her out. “You guess three times and then I’ll show you,” I says.
She dont even blink her eyes. ‘I got to do something,” she says. She looks behind her and around, then she looks toward the front. “Gimme the medicine first,” she says.
“You mean, you’re ready to right now?” I says. “Here?”
“Gimme the medicine first,” she says.
So I took a graduated glass and kind of turned my back to her and picked out a bottle that looked all right, because a man that would keep poison setting around in a unlabelled bottle ought to be in jail, anyway. It smelled like turpentine. I poured some into the glass and give it to her. She smelled it, looking at me across the glass.
“Hit smells like turpentine,” she says.
“Sure,” I says. “That’s just the beginning of the treatment. You come back at ten oclock tonight and I’ll give you the rest of it and perform the operation.”
“Operation?” she says.
“It wont hurt you. You’ve had the same operation before. Ever hear about the hair of the dog?”
She looks at me. “Will it work?” she says.
“Sure it’ll work. If you come back and get it.”
So she drunk whatever it was without batting a eye, and went out. I went up front.
“Didn’t you get it?” Jody says.
“Get what?” I says.
“Ah, come on,” he says. “I aint going to try to beat your time.”
“Oh, her,” I says. “She just wanted a little medicine. She’s got a bad case of dysentery and she’s a little ashamed about mentioning it with a stranger there.”
It was my night, anyway, so I helped the old bastard check up and I got his hat on him and got him out of the store by eight-thirty. I went as far as the corner with him and watched him until he passed under two street lamps and went on out of sight. Then I come back to the store and waited until nine-thirty and turned out the front lights and locked the door and left just one light burning at the back, and I went back and put some talcum powder into six capsules and land of cleared up the cellar and then I was all ready.
She come in just at ten, before the clock had done striking. I let her in and she come in, walking fast. I looked out the door, but there wasn’t nobody but a boy in overalls sitting on the curb. “You want something?” I says. He never said nothing, just looking at me. I locked the door and turned off the light and went on back. She was waiting. She didn’t look at me now.
“Where is it?” she said.
I gave her the box of capsules. She held the box in her hand, looking at the capsules.
“Are you sure it’ll work?” she says.
“Sure,” I says. “When you take the rest of the treatment.”
“Where do I take it?” she says.
“Down in the cellar,” I says.