Doctor Cutter, your new patient is in room three,” the nurse said. “Torn meniscus, left knee.”
“Uh-huh. BMI?” The question was automatic as breathing. Dr. Richard Cutter didn’t believe in mincing words when it came to obesity.
“She has a large file folder which she refused to put down in order to be weighed, and she held onto it during the X-Ray, too. I don’t know if she had it during the MRI,” the nurse said, compressing her lips. “But yes, she’s a big girl.”
“Naturally.” A file folder, eh? Self advocates were the worst—these days anyone with a third-grade reading level and access to WebMD thought they were a medical expert. Cutter rolled his eyes as he knocked smartly, then entered without waiting for permission.
The patient sat upon the examination bed, fingers laced together, hygienic tissue paper crinkled beneath her. Cutter summed her up with a glance, noting how the one-size-fits-all paper exam shorts were stretched to their limits due to the rolls of abdominal fat. Of course she had a torn meniscus. Why wouldn’t she? Her knees had to carry so much bulk every day, it was just logical. Why couldn’t these people ever see that their own irrationality and compulsions caused all their problems? Terrible willpower.
“Doctor Cutter?” the woman said. Her ponderous voice was oddly scratchy, like an opera singer on three packs a day. What kind of accent was that? Not that he cared.
“That’s me.” He took to the rolling stool and zipped across the examination room in a single practiced push to reach the computer. Cutter tapped in his login and her information populated the screen. “Evangeline Fey, is it? I hear you’re having difficulty walking. Your left knee is bothering you, as I understand it.”
“Looks like the MRI and X-Ray results are back.” As he spoke, Cutter focused on the screen showing layers of the patient’s knee structure, scrolling up and down to reveal the problem. Which was obviously not the little disk of cartilage poking out of its matrix, but the morbidly dimpled knee within which it was situated.
He cleared his throat. “As you can see, the issue is the structure on the side of your patella, which is called the meniscus, and it’s displaced…”
Throughout the preliminaries Cutter noticed Evangeline Fey was being very quiet for a woman with a thick manilla file folder placed atop her neatly folded clothing. He frowned, distracted from the test results. There was a pair of bright silver scissors placed on the file folder with the kind of precision he associated with surgeons. He stared, taken aback.
Instead of watching the screen like most new patients, Fey was gazing at him. “They’re Ginghers,” she said, interrupting him in the middle of a sentence.
“Capable of slicing completely through a human finger.”
“The scissors?” Cutter blinked several times.
She nodded once, self assured.
Cutter looked away from the shears with an effort, as it was time to begin The Lecture. He swiveled on his stool to face her and cleared his throat, feeling a satisfactory sense of purpose—this is why he got up in the morning. “Ms. Fey, I realize that for someone like you this may be hard to hear, but you need to lose weight before medical care will be effective. Would you treat a machine the way you’ve been treating your body? Like a machine, your body needs the proper nutrition in the right amounts and plenty of exercise, or it cannot function correctly. This torn meniscus is only one of many such ailments that will lead to a painful death unless you take steps now.”
Evangeline Fey’s calm demeanor didn’t change, and she continued to regard him with an intensity he found vaguely off putting. “Is that your recommendation, Doctor Cutter?”
“Yes,” he said with force. “Losing even fifteen pounds would help take the load off of your knee, though more would be better, of course.”
God, he loved this. It was the best feeling on earth to explain to these fools what they needed to hear—no one else but a doctor could communicate the information so clearly when everyone else thought it was too rude or direct. It was important, almost a holy calling. Cutter sat straighter on the stool, feeling his glutes work. They were still sore from this morning’s workout, though his alignment was absolute. With an internal smile he readied himself for counterarguments, yelling, or even better, crying.
Sure enough, Evangeline Fey stood and waddled—with a limp from the torn cartilage in her knee—to retrieve the file folder from the chair. He glanced over and realized the scissors were nowhere to be seen. Cutter frowned, but patients could be strange about their possessions. Evangeline settled back on the crinkly tissue paper, making eye contact as she opened the file folder; her eyes were bright black, like a bird’s. Cutter sighed, almost wishing he could just leave. Ugh, why did these people insist on quoting statistics at him?
She cleared her throat. “Doctor Richard Michael Cutter. Graduated with honors, summa cum laude, from Yale Medical School. Third in your class. Internship at John Hopkins in Boston, then you practiced for three years in Virginia Beach.” Her scratchy alto was utterly dry.
Shocked, Cutter looked at the paper and realized it was his CV. “Where did you get that?”
Fey hummed as she scanned it. “Miami Jackson Memorial, then on to Charlotte. This stint in Providence is a bit of a step backward for you, but I can only assume it was a family move.” She nodded at his wedding ring. “Let us move on to your published works.” She licked a finger and turned the page.
“I… look, is this some kind of, er, sting operation?” Cutter shifted uncomfortably on the stool. What he knew about the police came from pop culture; the dun dun sound from “Law and Order” echoed through his head. What Cutter really wanted was to snatch the thick file folder out of her hands—was his address on the CV? His cell number? The invasion of privacy was unacceptable.
“‘The Impact on Bone and Muscle Health in Cases of Severe Morbid Obesity: A study.’ Peer reviewed and everything, hmm hmm. I see you presented it at this time last year with one Doctor Elliot Ward at the Bariatric Medical Conference in Atlanta, despite the fact that you’re in orthopedics.”
Actually, his friend Elliot was the bariatric surgeon—which made them a great team—and the conference was a lot of fun, but Cutter didn’t feel the need to correct her. “How is this relevant to your knee?”
“I assume you’re going to Atlanta again this year—it must be nice to get out of New England, considering the January we’re having.”
Cutter stood abruptly. “Lady, I don’t know what your intentions are, but we’re done here. I can’t believe you have my personal information!”
Fey said with slow precision, “I assure you that this is a professional review. Though your personal life may be impacted, depending on the outcome.”
“Uh-huh. Well, I recommend that you lose some weight—best thing for you. That’s all I have to say.” He banged out of the room.
Behind him Fey called, “But we’re not done yet.”
“Oh, yes we are,” Cutter grumbled under his breath.
Crazy fat women took up too much room. They should do the world a favor and die, which would happen anyway. Cutter breathed a sigh of relief at his escape and glanced at his smart watch. He was nearly late for the team meeting in cardiology, and Doctor Gupta had been wanting a consultation all morning. He strode away from the exam room with a straight back, whistling.
The best part about working at Shriner’s Medical Hospital were the office hours, in Cutter’s opinion. He could knock off and go home to his wife and daughter at a decent time of day.
Of course, now that Delany was moving around on her own and could singloudly, home wasn’t the cozy warm bubble it had once been. Cutter had enjoyed Delany’s infancy because she couldn’t do much except roll over—the potato phase, as his wife put it. Now that she was a toddler… well. Cutter poured himself a glass of dry Pinot Grigio, swished to aerate, and attempted to settle on what had once been a pristine white couch while avoiding a minefield of Duplos, molded plastic food, and other sundry items.
“If you get home before me, why can’t you do a better job of picking up?” Cutter said to Kara, though he kept his tone light. He liked his marriage, and enjoyed being married.
Kara glanced up from grading papers. “You want a broken wrist, Mr. Summa Cum Laude?”
“Little Bunny Foo Foo hopping through the forest, picking up the field mice and bopping them on the head!” Delany sang, off pitch and with evident enthusiasm. She made a fist with one hand and slapped it with the other, pantomiming the act with uproarious laughter.
“Ah, the latest day-care contribution to our conversations,” Cutter muttered as he sipped wine.
Kara said, “Don’t complain, it’s better than the Paw Patrol theme song. I swear that show is just a bunch of male strippers at its heart. I mean, you have the fireman, the policeman…”
“Cute. Listen, the strangest thing happened to me today. Wait until you hear about this.”
“Then the Good Fairy said, I’ll give you THREEEE chances. If you don’t do what I say, I’ll turn YOU into a FOO!”
“I think that’s ‘goon,’ sweetheart.” Kara smiled fondly at Delany.
Cutter cleared his throat. “So, this crazy woman came in today…” The story, as he retold it, seemed even less funny than when it had happened.
Kara frowned. “Why would she have your CV?”
“Logically speaking she must have found my information on the internet. I mean, you’d have to do a little digging, but it’s not impossible,” Cutter said. Delany tapped his knee insistently, and—sighing—he set down his wine to pick her up. “Ooof. Del, you’re getting heavy. Kara sweetie, it’s time to cut her caloric intake.”
“Daddy, wha’s…” Delany started to ask.
“It’s ridiculous to put a toddler on a diet,” Kara said. “She’s within her developmental benchmark.”
“At the very edge of the benchmark, anyway. We should switch to non-fat dairy and cut her sugar and white-flour carbs. No more Cheerios for you, young lady.”
“Daddy, wha’s caloric?”
“Ah, the golden question. Caloric is the reason Daddy hasn’t eaten an apple, which has a whopping 19 grams of sugar, since his undergraduate years. ‘Keeps the doctor away’ indeed.”
Kara frowned at him. “Richard, she doesn’t understand things like that. Delany my love, caloric means what you eat, okay?”
“The last thing I want is an obese daughter.” Cutter frowned at his offspring, and he pinched a roll of baby fat between his index finger and thumb. “What a horrible fate that would be.”
“Her body is not about you, Richard. Besides, if you take that attitude, she’ll become fat when she’s an adolescent just to spite you.” Kara went back to her papers. “Teenagers do things like that.”
Kara glanced up with a smile, though her eyes were concerned, and she said nothing more.
The next morning Cutter awoke at 4:30a.m. for his usual workout regimen before the day began. He trotted down the stairs with a sweat towel tossed over his shoulder, then frowned. There was a light on in the dining room—several, in fact, based on the glare through the open doorway. Hadn’t Kara turn off the lights before going to bed? He strode into the room, then stopped cold, his blood turning to ice.
Evangeline Fey sat at the dining room table, the manilla file folder spread open before her.
“Good morning, doctor,” she said in her scratchy alto. “As I tried to tell you yesterday, we weren’t done.”
“Get out of my house or I’ll call the police!”
“Hush now. You don’t want to wake your family.” She turned a page in the file and said, “We must enact the ritual so you understand the depths of your danger. The reading of the names shall now commence.”
“What danger?” For that matter, what names? Cutter reached over and snagged the file folder, pulling it toward him. He leafed through it, hissing under his breath. “These are my patients!”
“Yes. That there was Sarah Hilary Craig. She committed suicide last year, like several others on this list.” Fey watched with cool eyes as the pages flew past. “It has been determined that you are directly or indirectly responsible for sixteen lives lost. Though your patient who is my client—and pardon me if I keep her name to myself—is alive and well, and decidedly in our good favor.”
“You are breaching doctor-patient confidentiality! This is the worst violation of HIPAA I’ve ever seen.” Cutter tried to keep his voice down, though it was a struggle. “Cyber-stalking me, breaking and entering, and now this? Whoever hired you is just as guilty of breaking the law as you are.”
Fey gave a little sigh. “I accept that you’re angry, but my client is a polite young lady. Leaves out milk with a dash of cream for us every evening in a little bowl, just like the old days, and lately she’s been sweetening the deal by adding her home-brewed, vanilla-and-noyaux mead.” Fey shot him a sharp look. “Perhaps you would like to make an offering as well? Milk is traditional, though you must be a regular contributor in order to make it stick.”
“Offering?” Cutter was lost in this conversation; it was like dog paddling against a riptide.
“Think of it as a counter-suit.”
“You’re a lawyer? Are these patients suing me?” Cutter threw back his head and laughed. “Please, lady. You can knock off the dramatics. It’s not like I’ve never been sued before.”
“I’m sure.” There was a hint of wry humor in her black eyes.
“Honey?” Kara’s voice floated down the stairs. “Who are you talking to?”
“Someone who thinks I cave in to intimidation!” Cutter yelled, then sneered at Fey. “Get out of my house.”
Fey calmly reached over and closed the file folder, though she didn’t rise. To his astonishment she raised three fingers in the air, and her subtle accent broadened. Irish, maybe. “You have three chances. Mark it well, Dick Cutter. Do not bully, belittle or browbeat others for their heft. You will do no more harm under the oath you took, or your three chances shall go by in a flash.”
“Richard, why are you yelling?” Kara was coming down the stairs. “Is something going on?”
“Keep Delany away, love. I’m handling… this?” Cutter looked back, but Fey was gone as if she’d never been there. So was her file folder.
Only a slight scent of vanilla and floral almonds wafted in her wake.
The rest of the day Cutter was so jumpy that the nurse asked if everything was all right. The next day he had calmed a bit, and the day after that he was convinced he’d dreamed the whole thing up.
Another Monday, another obese patient taking up space on the exam bed with a crappy meniscus. This one was male and about seventy pounds over. He looked contrite during The Lecture, and Cutter braced himself for arguments.
Sure enough, the guy opened with a classic. “Doc, 95% of diets don’t work. Within five years you gain the weight back with more pounds on top of what you originally shed. Does it make sense to recommend a course of action with a 5% success rate?”
Cutter raised an eyebrow, enjoying himself tremendously. “If you had any willpower, that shouldn’t be an issue.”
“This isn’t about willpower. Doc, I’ve been on every diet imaginable. Atkins, South Beach, Keto. All they’ve done is to make me feel bad about my body.”
“I believe the psychiatry department is down the hall. You do know this is orthopedics, right?”
The man frowned at him. Glared, actually. “I can’t believe you just said that. That was completely unprofessional, and I’d like a second opinion for my knee.”
“Best of luck with that. Look, if you don’t want my medical advice, why did you even come in?”
“I need help because I can’t walk.”
“Lose some weight. That will help.”
“Thanks to this bum knee, I can’t climb on a StairMaster right now even if I wanted to.”
“So go swimming instead. I suggest deep-end water aerobics on a daily basis.”
“That costs a lot of money. I pay over nine-hundred dollars a month for my health insurance, which means you, Doc. Don’t you think, say, a cortisone shot or surgery should be part of this conversation? I have a feeling you recommend those options for your skinny patients.”
“Look, I’ll put in a referral for a physical-therapy consultation, okay?” Cutter glanced at his watch. “That’s all the time I have. Come back when you’re thinner, and then we’ll talk solutions.”
Cutter made his escape and headed for radiology, but a familiar figure stood in his path. Evangeline Fey was absolutely still in the corridor, her black eyes enigmatic. Slowly, ponderously, she raised a hand and gave him… the peace sign? What the hell?
Cutter opened his mouth to yell at her, but Fey was gone. Just like last time. His cell phone buzzed and Cutter answered it, still staring down the hall. Why did he have such a strange feeling in his gut?
Maybe he should inform the police, but he’d better do some digging first. The computer ought to have everything he needed to know… except it didn’t. The Shriner’s network refused to cough up any information about Fey. Last week’s appointment was gone, wiped clean from his calendar, leaving an unexplained blank.
Cutter didn’t know what to think; each theory seemed as bizarre and unsatisfying as the next. Was he imagining things? He didn’t want to become a target of the hospital rumor mill, so he kept his lip buttoned and braced himself. Cutter would find out more information about Fey soon, one way or another.
Delany skipped ahead on their way to the park, dressed in her winter coat and a hat with a pompom on top. Cutter lengthened his stride to keep up, though he kept texting as he crunched through the newly-fallen snow on the sidewalk.
She sang to the tune of “Following the Leader,” “My daddy has a long shadow, long shadow, long shadow, my daddy has a long shadow, hear… him… shout!”
Cutter ignored her, chilled fingers tapping away. Hey Elliot. Is Sung-Min coming with you to Atlanta?
Three dots appeared as Elliot typed his reply, and Cutter took a moment to brush snow off a park bench by the playground. Delany was already halfway up a slide in the wrong direction, feet skidding on the frozen plastic surface.
Elliot’s text popped up. Not this year. Is Kara coming?
Nope. Just us guys, I guess. Two wild doctors out on the town.
“Long shadow, long shadow, my daddy has a long shadow…”
Elliot’s reply was prompt. Haha, yeah right. Happily married here, and I swear Sung-Min is psychic. No strip clubs for me.
Cutter snorted. Want to share a room this year? The bookings are super tight, with both bariatrics and GYN taking up space. The desk clerk said there was another convention in town, too.
Ooooh, GYN. Better than a strip club any day, and it’s legit. Atlanta, here we come.
“My daddy has a long shadow…”
“Yes, he does, sweet. People listen to what he says. Sometimes they kill themselves because of his words and actions,” said a familiar, three-packs-a-day voice.
Cutter looked up, aghast. Evangeline Fey stood on the other side of the playground with Delany.
“What the fuck!” he yelled, earning dirty looks from several adults, not to mention the laughter of nearby teenagers with sleds.
“Look, Daddy! It’s the Good Fairy,” Delany said, gazing at Fey with open-mouthed rapture as if she was a celebrity.
“Get away from her, Delany! Now!”
Cutter hustled through the snow and frozen playground mulch, grabbed his daughter, and pulled her behind him. He glared at Fey. “This is getting old, lady. Why the hell are you stalking me? And my family?”
She favored him with a cordial nod. “I beg your pardon. I am bound by certain laws that keep me from counting personal incidents among your warnings, but your daughter is so sweet—she drew me like a will-o’-the-wisp in a swamp. Delany tells the truth. She sees what is, rather than what she believes to be. Do you know what a precious gift that is, Dick Cutter? Rare and terribly valuable.”
“That’s it, I’m calling the cops.” Cutter punched the numbers into his cell phone, but Fey was already gone. He glared at the spot where she had been, then yelled into the empty air. “Nice trick, lady! Goddamn it.”
Delany had both mittens pressed to her mouth. “Daddy?”
“Be careful, okay?”
“Sweetheart, she’s just some pushy fat lady. I don’t know what her deal is, but she’s the one who should take care, not me.”
“But Daddy, she has scissors.”
“I—how did you know that?” Cutter stared at his daughter.
“Snip, snip,” Delany whispered. “She’ll cut off your shadow for bopping field mice on the head.”
“Yeah, okay, sure. Whatever. Just don’t speak to that lady again because it’s not good to talk to strangers. She didn’t give you candy, did she?”
“Glad to hear it. Besides, you don’t need more sugar in your diet,” he said with a sigh. “Now go get some more exercise.”
Atlanta was the usual crush.
The worst part about the Bariatrics Medical Conference was the lack of available workout machines at the hotel fitness center in the early morning hours, but at least some of the gynecologists were hot. He even managed to talk a few into coming to his and Elliot’s latest paper presentation. Cutter relished looking smart for beautiful women, no matter how married he might be.
This year he even decided to open his talk with a joke. “So, this woman goes to see the doctor, and he said, ‘Don’t eat anything fatty.’ The woman said, ‘What—no bacon or sausages or burgers or anything?’ The doctor replied, ‘No, fatty, just don’t eat anything.’”
Laughter. Cutter grinned at his audience and bounced on his toes. Then he froze, shocked. Evangeline Fey was sitting in the front row, staring up at him. She raised a single finger in the air.
“Er… Richard?” Elliot muttered. “Want me to speak next?”
“I—what?” Cutter looked around wildly, but Fey was gone. Of course she was.
Elliot cleared his throat and began his part of their presentation. It was out of order, but Cutter was too distracted to care. Fey had followed him from Rhode Island to Virginia. She was here. This was going too far.
Cutter managed to get through his performance, then hustled to the convention logistics desk. Fey wasn’t listed among the attendees, exactly the way she hadn’t existed in the Shriner’s computer system. No one had seen a woman matching her description, and she would have stood out in this toned, trim crowd.
It was time—past time, really—to follow up on his threat, no matter how inconvenient it might be. Cutter needed to go to the police at last.
The nearest police station had all the charm of a urinal in a bus terminal, but Cutter waited it out until he was called. The black woman behind the desk should have never been an officer—how did they even hire someone like that? At least a hundred pounds over, she was as short as she was broad. Good lord, she even had a pink donut box sitting on her desk. How stereotypical could you get? Cutter stared at it—and her—with disgust as he described Fey and her stalking behavior.
The policewoman followed his gaze with a dyspeptic expression. “Is there something interesting about that box?”
“My lunch,” she clarified. “I don’t see what’s so fascinating about leftover dim sum, do you?”
“Oh, dim sum,” he said with a laugh. “No, nothing interesting.”
“Glad to hear it. Now, about your complaint. Did you file a police report back in Providence?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Really? Because if this woman, Evangeline Fey, broke into your home, in Providence, and followed you around at your workplace, in Providence, and confronted you in a playground when you had your daughter, in Providence, then why didn’t you take it to your local police department?”
“I…” Cutter glared at her. “I was going to. I’ve been busy!”
“Well, sir, I don’t know about that.” The policewoman settled back in her chair, her chubby fingers tapping the desk in a way Cutter found aggravating. “All I know is that it isn’t illegal to attend a medical convention here in the state of Virginia, whether one is a registered attendee or not.”
There was no good reply to that.
Cutter wanted to strangle someone. He couldn’t believe this was happening, and to him! Graduated with honors, third in his class at Yale. Weight loss was a holy crusade, and everyone listened to him. It was unthinkable that Fey could affect his peace of mind this much.
The hotel where he and Elliot always stayed had once been a historic Masonic temple, lovingly restored and expanded for its current use. The lobby was a huge, perfectly round hall with a high ceiling, marble columns and wooden beams. In the exact center of the space was a crowd—fifty or sixty people—laughing, talking, and drinking from pewter tankards. They were dressed in quirky clothing, and Cutter wondered if they were in town for a Renaissance Faire or comic-book convention.
Then he sneered. Every single last one of them was morbidly obese. A few were so overweight that they were in wheelchairs, immobilized by rolls of fat. Arms jiggled and double chins wobbled. Everyone was eating. There were Tupperware containers with cookies and pastries making the rounds among them, crumbs sprinkling upon expansive bellies and breasts.
The worst part was they just seemed so happy.
Cutter gazed at them for a long time, shaking with rage. He had never before understood the idea of “seeing red”—he’d always thought it an imaginative turn of phrase, but as he breathed in and out his vision was occluded by blood-filled mist.
A young guy wearing a rainbow-colored Utilikilt and a puffy pirate shirt—about a 36 on the BMI chart, Cutter estimated—approached with a goofy grin and a container of chocolate eclairs. “Hail, stranger! Please, feel free to partake with us.”
Cutter opened his mouth wide and screamed, “YOU PEOPLE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE.”
The lobby fell silent. Everyone stared at him.
“Don’t you care about your health? Can’t you see how you’re treating your bodies, how disgusting you are? What horrible examples you’re setting for your children, with your asthma and heart conditions? It’s completely unnecessary. You deserve the pain because you choose to live this way, and it’s your own damn fault. The worst of it is that I have to touch you, and I have to look at you, and when you open your big fat mouths and talk…”
One of the older men stepped forward and said in a calm tone, which carried to the ends of the lobby, “Fat saved my life.”
“What?” Cutter was panting, off balance.
“I love my fat. It saved my life in a major car accident. It cushioned me, while my cousin—skinny as a pole and sitting right beside me—died in the crash.” His eyes looked sad, but his spine was absolutely straight, and his feet were planted in a powerful stance.
A woman came forward and gently took the man’s arm, then addressed Cutter. “It saved my life, too. The doctors would have let me die when a polyp exploded in my large intestine, but I survived two whole weeks because my fat protected me. It buffered my heart and lungs until I could get better care.”
“I get more dates because I’m fat!” a voice called from the back of the crowd.
“I have better stamina than my skinny friends, and I don’t get cold.”
“Anyway, what business is it of yours?”
Cutter swelled and enunciated each word with immense dignity. “I. Am. A. Doctor.”
“Oh, you’re a doctor. Gee, what a surprise. Fucking bigot.” The hall filled with laughter. The guy in the Utilikilt threw an eclair at him, and others followed suit. Desserts pelted Cutter’s back as he turned and fled.
He had no idea where he was going. Blinded by outrage and mortification, he made his way outside and around the corner. It was dark. Cutter paused by a dumpster, smelling strongly of garbage, and there was a barking dog just beyond the barbed-wire topped fence. He took a breath, sick to his stomach. Cutter’s patients had always come at him one at a time. The crowds he’d addressed had always been sympathetic and educated, nothing like that medieval torches-and-pitchforks tomfoolery. Well, they’d pay for their ignorance… pain and death were coming for them…
There was a slight sound behind him—a resonance of metal sliding against metal. The dog whined, then fell silent.
Cutter swiveled, adrenaline pumping. Evangeline Fey’s eyes were black as the void. The edges of her extensive body fuzzed into the darkness; there were stars surrounding her, endless night. An ocean of sky. Cutter jerked back, mouth open with shock.
“I did warn you. You had three chances,” she said, and her voice filled his entire world. Delany was right, she was the Good Fairy. There was no other name for her.
He wanted to run like a deer fleeing a master hunter. Cutter almost managed to turn, but the Good Fairy touched him softly on the shoulder, and he knew it was futile. The Gingher scissors were in her other hand.
“Your shadow first, I should think, and then a finger. I will let you choose which one.”
“What?” Cutter couldn’t breathe. “What?”
“Hmm. Perhaps summa cum laude isn’t everything.” She grinned, her teeth extending far beyond her physical mouth.
The scissors snipped, and pain washed over him in waves. He lolled, lost in agony. He’d never thought of pain as a house with rooms, but he stumbled from one space to another, discovering new depths of torment with each slice of her shears.
“That’s better,” the Good Fairy said.
Richard looked behind him, but didn’t see any blood. “What did you do?” he said. His voice sounded different… less certain, higher pitched. Whiny. When Richard had been a child he’d watched the Andy Griffith Show on late-night TV, and there had been a character, Gomer Pyle, who spoke that way. An indecisive warble.
“Now for the finger. Have you decided?”
“But you can’t! I’m a doctor.” Why did he sound so petulant?
“I know.” The Good Fairy gazed at him. “Show me your hand.”
He automatically held up his dominant right, then swiftly pulled away and replaced it with his left.
“Ah, you do have a preference after all.” The Good Fairy caressed his hand, drawing out each finger with loving attention. “Go on, then. Tuck the others and offer me the one.”
Richard squirmed. “I don’t… I can’t…”
“You must, or I choose.” She gripped his index finger hard, and he yelped.
“No, wait.” He offered his pinky, feeling every inch the coward.
“Close your eyes,” the Good Fairy said. He followed directions, scrunching them tight. She whispered in his ear, “Now think happy thoughts.”
The EMTs didn’t hide their bemusement, and the lady cop he’d seen earlier at the station had laughed outright. Cutting off his own damn finger! Who’d have guessed? The social worker at the hospital had been far less amused. Subsequently, during his six days in psychiatric inpatient care, Richard was given prescriptions of Ativan, Risperdal, and Zoloft, and left the hospital with a habitual tick of looking over his shoulder to see if someone was there. Anyone.
What had happened in that back alley? Richard remembered choosing the finger. He remembered the pain. No scissors were ever found, but no one cared about details like that. There had been sixty-two witnesses in the hotel who’d said that he was a raving lunatic, clearly unhinged, and the policewoman had believed them. Everyone did.
Back in Providence, Richard cradled his bandaged left hand as he wheeled the suitcase over the threshold, home at last. Yet he was incredibly nervous for no reason at all.
Delany was in her high chair in the kitchen, singing softly while munching Honey Nut Cheerios. Richard gasped, shocked at the sight, then snatched the bowl away from her. Delany’s face scrunched and she began to cry.
“Richard, what the hell?” Kara said. “You don’t say a word of welcome, and the first thing you do is take away her Cheerios?” She swept Delany up in her arms, cuddling her close.
“I said no sugar! No carbs! Lower her caloric intake! I told you that, Kara.” Richard’s voice warbled indecisively, and Kara wrinkled her nose.
Delany’s watery eyes grew wide. “Daddy! Your shadow is gone.”
“What?” He gazed at her, not comprehending.
“I told you to be careful. Now no one will listen to you,” Delany said with authority. She looked at Kara. “Mommy, I want my snack.”
“You’d better believe it, kiddo, only let’s get you something at Grandma’s house. I’ll need to pack a bag, first.” Kara glared at Richard, then strode away with Delany.
“What? Kara, no. You can’t leave me,” he wailed from the base of the stairs.
She called, “It’s inappropriate to put a two-year-old on a diet. I won’t let you mess up your daughter’s relationship to food, or her own body. You’ve screwed up enough as it is.”
“But…” He cradled his tender, throbbing hand. “Don’t you care about me? I lost a finger, Kara.”
“Which is your own fault, as far as I understand it. Frankly, I don’t know why I ever took you seriously. You’re a self-centered ass with a heart of stone, and I’m getting out of this house. You can lecture yourself from now on, Richard Cutter.” Kara thundered down the stairs, Delany in her arms, and she gripped her suitcase decisively.
Delany pulled a thumb out of her mouth and said, “The Good Fairy turned him into a foo, Mommy.”
“I think you mean ‘fool,’ darling. Goodbye, Richard.”
The door echoed as it slammed shut behind them. Richard could hear Delany’s singing growing progressively farther away. “Little Bunny Foo Foo, hopping through the forest…”
Tre Luna has had horror, poetry, and non-fiction pieces accepted by Dark Horses Magazine, Idle Ink, the non-profit NeuroClastic, and the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Writers Guild in partnership with Cloaked Press. His blog can be found at https://panfae.medium.com, and his Twitter handle is @TreLuna5