Mudlark Flash No. 39 (2006)

Brenda Hammack  |  A Visit with Dr. Treves

Brenda Hammack’s work has appeared in The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Tar Wolf Review, Heliotrope, The Hurricane Review, The North Carolina Literary Review, The Laurel Review, and various other journals. She teaches Victorian literature, children’s literature, and an interdisciplinary course on images of women at Fayetteville State University.

A Visit with Dr. Treves

Standing before him in the receiving room of the London Hospital, 
she could have crept out of an ossuary only that morning; 
her skin seemed so bone-colored, her dress so lobelia blue.  

Or she might have crawled out of a vanitas portrait by Wiertz;
she’s La Belle Rosine; she’s The Young Witch. Or, perhaps, 
she’s the opiomane’s muse let loose on polite society.

She’d read in the London Daily News of his interest in the odd
and abused. She’d read how he’d civilized the brutal, how
he’d glamorized the ugly. Or was that recognized the beauty

that infused the papillomatous hide of Joseph Merrick? Who
knew what other Hydes could be induced to reveal their noble
merits by the chivalry of medicine? And, so, she had come

with her own bête noires to request his expert opinion. She 
seemed to have a brood of them. From far beyond the tents
of side show spectacle, they even palled the freaks of weirdest 

Whitechapel. Beside her, one still life, like a skeleton newly
reticulated, seemed to strain each rib, fang, and knucklebone 
as though it must lunge, or collapse. On the receiving desk,

another pent-up fury humored itself by pinching and snapping
at air; like a lizard, winged and bearded, or a gremlin Lear,
it grimaced and gesticulated, seeming to be wise and queer 

at once. The third, a smudge of hostile energy, was no 
larger than a hummingbird. It whickered as it settled
in her hair, then fluttered off her shoulder to her reticule, 

where it hid, but pulsed inside the fabric so that the purse 
recalled a beating heart. His own near failed him as she 
moved about the room and left him wondering that such

manic aberrations should exude such tangible influence
outside of nightmare. And if the teratogenist who’d hatched 
these strange experiments should try his hand with human

cells, what then? Would men become as volatile in form
and mind as vesper birds or scritches? Such creatures 
weren’t diseases, weren’t dementias to be fixed  

by purging or by homeopathy. They weren’t to be 
reformed by frequent visits by princesses and other
dignitaries. One could not take them to one’s business

or to theater. Even here, where one might lecture on
dimensions of abnormality (on exostoses or other
crude excrescences), one could only treat of scientific

treatises. One needed systematic thought to cope
with bodily malfeasance. These creatures were
beyond the scope of reason, of soothing syrups,

or even etiquette. And, so, Dr. Treves denied
all expertise and, soberly, referred her to Charcot,
whose specialty, hysteria, was all about unreason.

Copyright © Mudlark 2006
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