Brenda Hammack | A Visit with Dr. Treves
Brenda Hammacks work has appeared in The Sows 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, childrens 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; shes La Belle Rosine; shes The Young Witch. Or, perhaps, shes the opiomanes muse let loose on polite society. Shed read in the London Daily News of his interest in the odd and abused. Shed read how hed civilized the brutal, how hed 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 whod 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 werent diseases, werent dementias to be fixed by purging or by homeopathy. They werent to be reformed by frequent visits by princesses and other dignitaries. One could not take them to ones 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.