Tuesday 19 February 2013

"Ill Humour" Now Available in US Trade Paperback

I just found out that "Ill Humour" has clawed its way to no. 1 on Lulu's Fiction & Literature charts. Glad to see that everyone is enjoying the book and telling their friends!

Paperback Time. For a free preview and/or to purchase the book, go to the following link:


Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Monday 18 February 2013

"Ill Humour" Ebook Now Available on Lulu and Amazon Kindle for $3.99

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

Or on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BHQ43JA

Hi everyone,

It took a while, but I've finally gotten around to publishing my medical/history mystery "Ill Humour" in ebook format. If you just can't get enough wry humour, mystery plots, medical history, and romance, this is the book for you. Think Stephen King meets Dr. House. In any case, the book is only $3.99, and I'm sure it would go lovely with your next latte (which costs the same). It will be available shortly through online retailers, but can be had right now in epub format at the following link.


Or on Amazon Kindle at:

Spanning over fifty years, Ill Humour follows Dr. Anna Mercer as she struggles to treat a patient named Adam Renfrew, whose sickness makes no sense within the terms of modern medical knowledge. But a chance encounter brings Anna into the company of Donald Firkin, a divorced English professor who soon discovers that Anna’s patient makes all too much sense, just not according to modern science. Through a series of manipulations, Firkin convinces Anna that her patient’s internal organs have travelled backward through medical history, taking on the properties of the “four humours” of medieval science. What ensues is a sometimes wry, sometimes passionate story of blackmail, family, and romance.  And time-travelling organs. 
Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

Thursday 14 February 2013

On Metonymy and Metaphor

The link between two things in a metonymy is associative. For example, "The White House has recently come out and said..." The White House stands for the office of the president based on the conventional association between these two things.

The link between two things in a metaphor is based on a perceived similarity between two unlike things. For example, "Love is heroin." In this case, love is compared to heroin not because heroin is associated with drug addicts being in love, but because love itself is like an addictive substance in its very nature.

But this difference between metonymy and metaphor raises an interesting question about clichéd metaphors. Basically, it stands to reason that a metaphor like "love is a rose" is not a metaphor at all, but a metonymy. This is because over time, the phrase has become so overused that people have forgotten whatever first inspired the comparison, and now know only that love and roses are connected on the basis of conventional association.

The point of all of this is to say that metaphor is a living, breathing thing. A metaphor that becomes a cliché actually demonstrates the organic principle of language. If the link between love and roses shifts from perceived resemblance to conventional association over time, then it stands to reason that any frequently used metaphor will degenerate into a metonymy over time. In their essence, all clichés are metonymies. That's why writers must endlessly come up with new, fresh metaphors. Their poetic effect has an expiration date, and metonymy is what they turn into when their once-nourishing milk has curdled.

Metonymy is rot and death.
Metaphor is freshness and life.

For a more in-depth look at my theory of "The Genealogy of Metaphor & Metonymy," see pages 31 to 50 of my doctoral dissertation, titled "Feeling Better: The Therapeutic Drug in Modernism": http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1374&context=etd

Thursday 7 February 2013

Second Excerpt from "Ill Humour"

For those of you who enjoyed that last excerpt from my forthcoming novel, I though I'd add two more. The first one gives you a look at one of the book's co-protagonists, Dr. Donald Firkin. The second comes from later on when Anna's struggling with her patient, Adam Renfrew.

Toronto 2011

Come on, heads my darling. Let me see heads.
Professor Donald Firkin slapped the coin on top of his hand and discovered that once again, it had landed heads’ side up. That made it twenty-four times in a row, the odds of which happening were – he tallied the number on his computer’s calculator – nearly seventeen million to one. It would’ve been an extraordinary feat, had he not been using a trick coin that showed heads on both sides. When he was twelve years old, his father had made a rare appearance at his mother’s house and given him the coin for his birthday. For months afterward, he’d used it to swindle his brothers and sister into losing bets and surrendering their favourite toys. After a while, though, his siblings sniffed out the deception and demanded that they be the ones who chose heads. So that was that.
Firkin heard a knock behind him. He recalled that he’d scheduled an appointment with a student, but didn’t immediately turn away from his computer. Instead, he played a round of Solitaire, knowing that the game’s lame green backdrop lay fully within his visitor’s view. Only when he’d finished did he finally turn and face his student – a blonde girl named Danielle who was enrolled in his second-year English Literature class. Her outfit consisted of black spandex leggings, a tan leather bag, and what looked to be a poorly tailored tanktop, which hung properly over one shoulder while sliding lazily off the other. The girl bore a term paper in her hands. As her email had suggested, she wanted to “discuss” – or in other words, argue – the grade she'd received on it. Already, Firkin could see her bottom lip quivering.
“Hello,” he said, waving at a chair. Danielle dropped her bag to the floor and sat down. She held her paper in front of her chest and stared down at it, shoulders hunched, trying to steady her fingers. Firkin pushed his bold, rectangular glasses up his nose and ran a hand over his bald pate.
“Yeah, like, I dunno.” Danielle glanced up, but finding him silent, dropped her eyes back to the paper. “It’s just like, you know, like, I don’t see what’s wrong with this.”
Firkin steepled his fingers and nodded. “Okay… Well have you read over the comments I wrote in your margins?”        
Danielle nodded several times and brushed some hair out of her eyes. “Yeah, but I mean, you know, like – How come you gave me a sixty-two?”
Firkin repeated his question about whether she’d read his comments. Danielle titled her face toward the ceiling, trying to keep the wet cups of her eyelids from running over. When she lowered her gaze to him again, she used the back of her hand to dab one eye. “I just don’t think it’s fair,” she insisted. “I mean, like, I think your comments are right and everything. But I was a straight-A student in high school.”
Firkin sighed. “I understand that university can seem difficult, Danielle. But this is not a first-year class and I cannot raise your mark. Your paper has many problems with both its writing and its argumentation, and I have tried to point them out in my comments. I’m sure that if you consider my notes carefully, you’ll show a lot of improvement on the next assignment.”
Danielle was shaking her head before he'd even finished speaking. “But this one mark will kill my GPA! It’s already over.”
Firkin knitted his brows and leaned back in his chair. If Danielle expected an exceptional average on her transcript, then yes, there was no avoiding the fact that a sixty-two would require her to shift her expectations for the coming semester. When he told her this, she fell silent for a moment. But a transformation soon overtook her features. Her face darkened. Supplication turned into anger when she realized how useless it would be to appeal to his sympathy. She flipped her paper around and fwapped it with her index finger. “But look at the comments!” she shouted. “You say here that my ideas are vague [fwap] and over here that my phrasing is awkward [fwap!]. What does that even mean?” She threw her hands up. “I mean, your marking is so subjective.”
Firkin could barely keep himself from laughing. It was wonderfully predictable for a student like Danielle to challenge the “subjective” nature of English grading when things didn't go her way. When Danielle realized how little of an effect she’d had on him, she wept openly.
“Danielle,” Firkin said. “You need to understand that – ”
“That what?! That English isn’t subjective? That’s crap and you know it. It’s just your own stupid opinion.”
He sighed and glanced at her over the top of his black frames. “So what, Danielle?”
The girl’s jaw fell as she drew her hands away from her face. What did he mean, so what? His personal opinion was about to wreck her GPA and ruin her future. Firkin interlaced his fingers and dropped his hands between his knees. He continued to hold the girl’s eyes, even when she couldn’t hold his.
“Danielle,” he said, “I know you think that your GPA is going to determine your future. But trust me, it won’t. When you get out of here, your prospects will be determined by your letters of reference, your interviews, application letters, and quite frankly, the people you know. All of these things are ten times more subjective than the marks I put on your English papers. And you know what? All of them will have ten times more of an impact than your GPA ever will.”
Danielle shook her head as fresh tears gushed from her eyes. “You’re not allowed to say this,” she protested. “It’s…” she searched for the word. “It’s evil.”
Firkin nearly laughed again, but steadied himself out of respect for the girl’s condition. After all, what could she know of the world outside school? It must have been nice to think that the grades on her assignments could entitle her to a bright career. “I’m sorry to tell you this, Danielle,” he concluded, “but the world is subjective, and it’s better you learn that now instead of later. If my English class has been able to teach you this much, then consider it the most important course you’ll ever take.”
“You can’t say this.”
“Life is not a math test you can feed into a machine, Danielle. And thankfully, neither is an English Studies paper.”
Upon hearing this, Danielle rose from her chair and stuffed her term paper back into her bag. She didn’t bother to shoulder the bag, but jammed it under her armpit and fled from the office. When she was gone, Professor Firkin spun back to his computer. He opened his internet browser and spent the next five minutes scrolling through the most popular videos on YouTube. One clip showed a young man breakdancing inside some sort of community centre. He was performing all of the usual tricks, wriggling his limbs in a gelatinous fashion, spinning on the ground with his legs splayed in a wide V. But suddenly a little girl wandered into the young man’s path and paff! – was struck in the chest by one of his whizzing feet. She soared a full five feet into the air before landing on her back. Firkin clapped a hand to his mouth and smothered a squeal. He paused to take in what had happened, then watched the clip again from the beginning. He scrolled down to read the comments that other people had posted about the video. The very first entry assured him that the child had miraculously escaped this incident without any major injuries. He was happy for that.
There was another knock at his door.
“Hi there, Don.”
Firkin recognized the voice as that of his young colleague, Joseph Werth, and swivelled to face him. The man wore a grey suit paired with a white shirt and sky-blue tie. He’d recently won a tenure-track appointment in the department, and his entire body buzzed with a fresh and irritating enthusiasm.
“So how are things?” Werth inquired.
“I’m afraid I’m swamped with work,” Firkin answered, reopening the Solitaire program on his computer screen. Werth forced a collegial laugh.
“Taking a break from your research, eh?”
“Not really. You don’t do so much of that stuff once you get tenure, unless you’re desperate to impress people.” He waved at the empty bookshelves that covered his office walls. All the other professors in the department had made certain to fill theirs to the point of overflowing.
Werth maintained his smile and nodded. “Well,” he said, “I think that your book on the history of western medicine is really wonderful, Don.”
“It feels like a lifetime since I wrote that.”
“Quite an argument, though, to say that we don’t know any more about human health today than we did a thousand years ago.”
Firkin shrugged once more and half-stood to pull the tail of his coat from beneath his corduroyed rump. “Well let me ask you this, Joseph. What would you say is the cause for most forms of cancer?”
Werth pursed his lips and considered the question for several seconds, but eventually shook his head with a snort. “Well, obviously there are different causes for different types. But as a rule of thumb, I don’t trust anything made of plastic, or anything petroleum-based, for that matter.” He paused again and glanced up at the ceiling, trying to choose his words more carefully. “In the end, I guess I’m suspicious of any chemical substance that’s artificially synthesized.”
Firkin nodded and explained to Werth that most of the North American middle class would agree with him. That said, there was no denying how idiotic this opinion was going to sound two hundred years in the future. It was not poor Joseph’s fault, of course. He was a smart young professional. It was simply a fact that all scientific theories, by definition, would eventually become outdated. Firkin’s book had merely tacked one more crucial observation onto this point – that if scientific “progress” was something that went on infinitely, every new breakthrough was infinitely small. And if so, how could anyone rightfully call it progress?
When Firkin had finished, Werth tilted his head from side to side and noncommittally answered, “Good point.”
“So what brings you to entrance of my lair?” Firkin added.
“Oh, well I’ve heard around the department that you’re quite the poker player, Don.”
“Practice.” Firkin jerked his thumb back toward his computer.
“Yes. Well I was thinking about putting together a poker night just for the profs, and wanted to gauge your interest.”
Firkin glanced about his office and drummed his fingers against the arm of his chair. “What night of the week would it be?”
“Any night that works for you.”
 “I’m afraid not, Joseph.”
Werth scratched the back of his neck and rested his elbow awkwardly against the office doorframe. “Okay then. Well I’m sure I’ll see you at the party coming up next week.” He offered one last smile and disappeared into the corridor.
Firkin spun back to his computer and opened his email account, where he was happy to find a message verifying what Werth had just told him. There was going to be an interfaculty party that week. He flipped open a leather-bound agenda on his desk and scribbled a note about the party. There were some professors, he fondly recalled, whose banter could make him nearly vomit with laughter, especially after he’d gulped down a few glasses of the free alcohol these parties always provided. It would be an enjoyable time, so long as no one talked about any articles they’d recently published or prestigious grants they’d just landed. At this last thought, Firkin felt his breathing become shallower. He dug at the horseshoe of grey hair that wrapped around the back of his head. Joseph Werth’s grinning face suddenly appeared in his mind, and Firkin watched in horror as the young man lay down a handful of cards at a poker table. A full house, straight flush, and royal flush descended in dizzying succession. Other professors from the department materialized on either side of Werth, snickering as Firkin squirmed in his chair, helpless as a worm pinned to a dissection board. They all wanted to see him defeated at something. But he would never give them that sort of satisfaction.
Clutching his chest, Firkin stood up from his chair, pulled his corduroy coat over his shoulders, and exited the English faculty’s building by the quickest possible route. Once outside, he drew a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one. The smoke encouraged him to breathe deeply. He tried to focus on the sound of the wind rustling through the municipal maples decorating the sidewalk.
Yes, he thought. The party could be good.

The squelching and squeaking of wet rubber soles echoed through the linoleum hallway. Not a single patient or staff member lay in sight. Anna had just come in from the rain, and the evaporating moisture was igniting her scalp with a maddening itch. She tried to ignore the sensation, but not a minute passed before she started clawing at her irritated skin. Flakes of dandruff leapt from her digging nails and vanished into the shoulders of her white lab coat. When the itch had finally abated, she glanced over her shoulder, fixed her hair, and ducked into one of the hallway’s many rooms. 
“Hi there. How are things today?”
Adam Renfrew grimaced as she entered. His face glowed beet-red and looked swollen – a very strange turn from the ashy pallor he’d shown just a day earlier. Anna suspected a fever, and quickly confirmed with her thermometer that Adam’s temperature had run to 104 degrees. 
“Would I ever love to stick my head out there right now,” Adam said, inclining his head toward the rain pattering against his window.
“Okay,” Anna said. “I’m going to set you up for a few more tests, and we’re really going to get to the bottom of this, okay Adam?”
 “You mean you haven’t really tried up ‘til now?” Adam gave a half-choked laugh. It was the first time he’d laughed in front of her. The sound was deeper than his young voice seemed capable of.
“I was just being positive,” Anna answered. “A good attitude does more for your health than you might realize.”
Adam waved a hand at her and let his eyes fall to his lap. “Yeah, I was just messin’ with you, Babe. I know what you mean.”
 Her mouth tightened into a frown. “Babe?” she demanded. “Please Adam, how about we stick to Doctor Mercer?”
Adam stared at his feet and wiggled his toes beneath the bed sheet. “Seriously, though,” he said, “D’you got any clue what’s wrong with me?”
“We’ve narrowed it down to a few things.”
He lifted his gaze back toward the window, where drops of rain clung to the pane and dribbled downward, zigzagging toward the bottom like rival skiers. The grey sky beyond glowed with a leaden intensity that stung the eyes. “You know,” he finally said. “I think you’re the only person who comes in and out of this room, Anna.”
            “Hasn’t your nurse been by?”
            “Yeah, but she just gives me my food and stuff. I think she’s a little afraid to come near the bed, since none of you know what’s wrong with me.”
            Anna glanced down at her clipboard. She had little more to say, but didn’t feel right leaving so quickly. There was something particularly disquieting about Adam today: a devilishness that animated his laugh, and which now seemed to be twisting his mouth into an unnerving grin.
She laid her hand on the bed’s guardrail. Adam met her eyes as she peered down at him. “Do you really have no one we can inform about where you are? Not even a friend?”
            Adam’s grin flickered. But like a rebounding flame, the thing swiftly returned and engulfed his entire mouth. His lips curled backward, baring his teeth. Farther up his face, his pupils glowed like two searing black coals. “Tell you what,” he suddenly answered. “I’ll call my people when you tell me what’s wrong with me.”
            “So you do have people in your life,” Anna said, striving to keep a steady voice. “Why won’t you let us contact them? Are you afraid of something?”
Adam turned his head from her again, though his burning eyes lingered on her face for a few extra seconds. Massive pearls of sweat rolled down his forehead and dripped from his nose.
“I’m going to double-check your temperature,” Anna said. She bent over the bed and reinserted her thermometer into his mouth, making sure to watch his eyes, which were turned toward the window. When two minutes had elapsed, she pulled out the thermometer and checked it, finding that his temperature had risen even higher to 105. When she glanced up from the thermometer, she found Adam glaring at her. She recoiled, but he caught her by the wrist and held her with an unnatural strength. The veins distending up his forearm looked as though they could leap from his body.
“You know what?” Adam hissed, “I find it really weird that you don’t know what’s wrong with me. How long have I been in here, anyway?”
            His hot breath stung her face. Nonetheless, Anna met him with a glare of her own. “Let go of me,” she ordered.
            Adam held fast and peered into her eyes. As the two of them remained in this embrace, Anna sensed she was no longer looking at the same Adam Renfrew she’d committed to the hospital a week earlier. She reached forward and pinched the hand that was holding her, but its grip only tightened around her wrist. “Let go of me now,” she ordered again.
            “You know what would bring the fever down? A little kiss, Honey. Maybe a little…”
“Adam!” Anna drove her nails into his hand until they punctured the skin. When blood flowed from the hand, Adam relaxed his grip. His smile disappeared and his eyes fell half shut. In the half-second before she tore herself from his grasp, Anna could feel his temperature plummet.
            “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know why I did that.”
            Anna rubbed her wrist and cast him an unforgiving glance. “This is a pretty drastic shift in behavior, Adam. I’m going to have to call in a psychologist.”
            His eyes popped open again. “You mean I’m going nuts?! How can you tell when you don’t even know what’s making me bleed black stuff out of my face?”
            “The two things might be unrelated. And in any case, we’ve got to try and look at what’s happening to you from every possible angle.”
            Adam lifted his head from his pillow and threw it back down – hard – several times. “Why don’t we know already?! I thought you docs were supposed to have all this stuff figured out.”
“We’re narrowing it down, Adam. We really are.”
            “The folks in charge are going to come get me soon. So you’d better hurry.”
            At the mention of the “folks in charge,” Anna stepped forward again. “Adam,” she said. “Your fever might be making you delusional. Can you tell me if you see any colored threads or popping lights right now?” She noticed at this same moment that Adam’s hand was bleeding far too much for such a small cut. She turned to retrieve a bandage from the metal cabinet behind her.  

Monday 4 February 2013

Excerpt from Forthcoming Novel: "Ill Humour"

Hi Everyone,

I recently decided to revisit and edit a novel I wrote last year. At the time, I tried placing it with a few publishing houses. But you know how it is... Tough market out there. After cutting 20,000 words from that last version, I've decided to make another push at publishing it, and have resolved to self-publish if need be.
Spanning over fifty years, Ill Humour tells the story of how Dr. Anna Mercer attempts to treat a patient named Adam Renfrew, whose sickness makes no sense within the terms of modern medical knowledge. But a chance encounter brings Anna into the company of Donald Firkin, a disgruntled and divorced English professor who soon determines that Anna’s patient makes all too much sense, just not according to modern science. Through a series of manipulations, Firkin convinces Anna that her patient’s internal organs have travelled backward through medical history, taking on the properties of the “four humours” of medieval science. What ensues is a story of blackmail, family disputes, and some steamy romance for good measure. 
And yes, that's right. Organs that travel through history. 

Please enjoy this sample from the beginning of the book. 

Toronto, 2011

Oh really? Your fingers feel a little tender? Maybe that’s because you’re eighty years old and you have acute arthritis.
Anna struggled to control her frustration. An old woman seated herself in the facing chair and held out her right hand, splaying the fingers as best she could. The skin on the hand had gone translucent with age, with veins shining through it like the nerves of a jellyfish. The old woman glanced from the hand to Anna’s face, frowning. Anna steeled herself against the room’s broiling heat and wheeled forward on her stool. The time on the office clock was 4:11 p.m.
 “Is the tenderness worse than usual?” she asked.
 “Well I’m not here for nothing,” the woman warbled.
“And have you been taking your medication regularly?”
The woman threw up her chin and gazed about the room. “Sometimes it slips my mind. But I know something’s different in the knuckle there.” She pointed at her naked ring finger.
No one at home to keep her company, Anna thought. Probably came here to chat as much as anything else. No wonder she’s defensive. She took hold of the woman’s hand and began massaging it – first the metacarpals, then the phalanges. The joints melted at her touch, and as she continued to rub, Anna glanced up at the woman’s face and noticed that her eyes had fallen shut. She couldn’t decide whether the face – jaundiced by the room’s wan, energy-saving light – resembled an icon of ecstasy or death. The flesh of the cheeks had slackened. The woman’s mouth fell away at the corners, half-gaping.
It was more like death. 
“Okay,” Anna said, suddenly breaking the caress. She spun around on her stool and retrieved some medical stationery from the shelves behind her. She didn’t recommend an X-ray, though she knew the old woman had come looking for scans, graphs, images – anything and everything technology could do for her. Anything that would cost the public health care system a lot of money. What she gave the old woman was a prescription for a different kind of arthritis medication. At first, the woman looked as though she’d protest. But another glance at Anna’s handwritten prescription deflated her. Some part of Anna wanted to tell the old woman that her joint pain was perfectly normal. But she knew if she suggested nothing was wrong, the woman would fly into a huff and demand an X-ray. It would take hours to get her out of the ER.
The woman finally gathered her things and left. Anna rose from her stool and left the examination room. In the waiting room, she glanced at a television that hung from the ceiling in a distant corner. Aerial coverage of Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway showed two queues of traffic: one crawling forward and the other not moving at all. A news ticker flashed across the bottom of the screen: “Cyclone in Bali kills twenty-seven,” followed by “Jackknifed truck kills twelve outside Mumbai.” The screen was there to remind everyone in the stuffy ER that there were worse places to be. She continued toward a row of vending machines and bought a bottle of water, tucking a clipboard under her arm. She took long pulls from the plastic bottle, not because she was thirsty, but because she wanted a bathroom break and didn’t feel right faking the need to pee. She glanced down at her feet, which were soaked from the grey slush people had tracked into the hospital. She could smell grime in the half-inch of water covering the floor. The janitors were always working at the stuff with their mops, hoping that no one would slip and break their neck. But the work wouldn’t end until their shifts were over. Then someone else would take their place, always mopping this same section of the hospital, which for Anna was starting to feel like Toronto’s communal mud-flap. 
When she’d finished her water, Anna dropped the bottle into a recycling bin and glanced toward the doors of the ER, where she saw the old woman from her office. The woman hunched her shoulders beneath a heavy coat and shuffled into the dark afternoon, a grey plastic bonnet affixed beneath her chin.
“Another lonely old lady looking for company?”
Anna turned and stared up into the brown eyes of Terry Forbes, one of the paediatricians at Toronto General. She was used to seeing him staff the ER from time to time, even though his posting didn’t obligate him to do so. “The woman was in pain," she said. 
Terry nodded and slid his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
For the next few seconds, neither of them spoke.
“So any plans for tonight?” Terry asked.
Anna glanced down at her clipboard. The two of them had been on speaking terms for years, but their conversations had never strayed beyond the world of Toronto General. She’d heard Terry talk to other staff like this before. He had a big personality, and was very handsome for someone his age. Probably mid-forties, she figured, eyeing the threads of grey in his close-cropped hair and goatee. Several of her friends on the hospital staff – most in their late thirties – admitted to having romantic fantasies about him. And many of them, no doubt, would have swooned to have Doctor Forbes ask them about their evening plans. For her part, Anna could have done without the goatee.
“I’m on call tomorrow,” she answered. “So nothing doing tonight, other than a little reading. Maybe some sleep.”
Terry nodded again and surveyed the bustling ER.
Anna snuck a glance at his profile and lingered on the sinews of his tanned neck. Terry looked a lot like one of those older men from the home gym infomercials: a guy who could sell fitness equipment just by looking ten years younger than he actually was. “How about yourself?” she asked, staring at her clipboard.
Terry’s eyes slid back to her. “I guess I’ll head out for some nice food later on.”
Terry grinned and shook his head. “No, Anna. Not alone.”
In the past year, Anna had thought about playing matchmaker between Terry and some of her older colleagues. But she’d heard from several friends that Doctor Forbes tended to chase younger girls. Her friends would always note this fact with a mix of injured pride and moral derision, but Anna tried to keep herself from feeling the same way. She knew it was naïve of her, but she was willing to give a lot of leeway to a man who spent most of his life caring for sick children.
The main doors of the ER flashed open. A squealing clatter jarred the entire room to attention. Waiting patients looked up from their twiddling thumbs and magazines, while Anna took a few more seconds before letting her eyes rise from her clipboard. A man in a stained flannel shirt flew past her on a stretcher, his right hand bundled inside a cocoon of bloody gauze. Three paramedics hurled him down the hallway like a bobsled team. A fourth raced after them with a plastic cooler.
“Two fingers gone, I’d say,” said Terry. He followed the stretcher with his eyes until it disappeared through the next set of doors. “Power saw accident.”
“Good that they were able to ice it,” Anna answered. She scanned the patients in the room and noted their spellbound faces. “They’re scared,” she added. “Most people still can’t grasp the fact that fingers can be reattached.”
Terry followed her gaze and nodded. “Yeah, it’s like magic to them – like someone pushed life’s reset button.” He glanced back down the hallway and pursed his lips. “You know, I bet that poor fingerless guy is wondering if he’ll ever be able to play catch with his son again.”
“What makes you think he’s got a son?”
            “Just a figure of speech, I guess. Like you said, he probably thinks his fingers are gone forever, even though there’s a good chance he’ll get them back.”
            Again, Anna stared down at her clipboard. Terry lingered for another moment, then turned to go.
“Alright, I won’t bug you anymore.”
Anna made no reply, but glanced after him. Her eyes travelled down to his elaborate sneakers, which clashed badly with his lab coat. The sacrifice of fashion was understandable, though, since it was common for hospital staff to go up to fifteen hours without sitting. She lowered her gaze even farther to her own stiff black shoes, wondering if she could err a little more on the side of comfort. At this thought, a wave of fatigue washed over her. Her limbs flushed and sagged, as though she were wearing a suit of wet wool beneath her lab coat. She drew a deep breath through her nose and closed her eyes, trying to force oxygen to her extremities. A headache had swelled at the back of her skull, but her focused breathing managed to alleviate it for the moment. When she reopened her eyes, she cast them over the people sitting in the waiting area. They had returned their attention to their outdated magazines. One tattered cover even bore blood-red letters that asked, Will Bush Invade Iraq? Anna took one more deep breath and clicked across the waiting room tiles.
Back in the observation room, she drew a new medical chart out of the door holder and found a pants-less man seated on her examination table. He was near the age of sixty, wearing a denim jacket and a weathered Navy cap. His boxers were emblazoned with images of poker cards. To see the denim jacket hanging down over his underwear made Anna want to laugh, but she only smiled.
“Now what seems to be the trouble, Mr. Malo—”
“Well lemme just tell ya’, missus,” the man interrupted. “It’s the damnedest thing. I can’t fer the life of me look to my right without my left knee kickin’ out and me making an odd sound.”
“Well sir, let’s just see what we can…”
At this moment, someone in the hallway dropped a tray of metal instruments. The patient snapped his head toward the noise. His left foot shot out instantly, bouncing off Anna’s thigh.
Gah!” the man yelped.
Anna stepped backward to brush the dirt from her leg. 
 After she’d spent four more hours with walk-ins, Anna was told that she could go home. Activity in the ER had died down for the moment, but a secretary said the hospital would page her if things took a hectic turn. Returning to her station, Anna stepped up to a desk and swept packages of Kleenex and Tic Tacs into her purse. When she came back through the waiting room, she took more notice of the few patients who still occupied the grey, floor-mounted chairs, and settled on a solitary young man in a distant corner. He was flipping through an old copy of Sports Illustrated. He wore a black Iron Maiden t-shirt that boasted a colourful hoard of demons charging outward, scepters and battle-axes at the ready. A mop of jet-black hair half-covered his eyes, but she could tell from the contours of his nose and mouth that he wasn’t unattractive for his age.
The young man suddenly glanced up from his magazine and caught Anna before she could avert her eyes.  Rather than admit to spying, she wouldn’t let herself turn away from him. The resulting gaze lingered long enough for her to wonder if they’d agreed to an impromptu staring contest. But after a few more moments, she felt a fresh wave of fatigue and turned away. Her vision of the room had taken on a depthless, two-dimensional quality, as though she’d buried her nose in a book for hours and had just glanced up. As she folded her lab coat over her arm, a male nurse appeared from a nearby hallway.
“Adam Renfrew,” he said.
As she walked away, Anna snuck one more glance over her shoulder and saw the young man set down his magazine. He pushed himself out of his seat with difficulty and followed the nurse through a set of doors. Before disappearing, he found Anna’s eyes one last time. Anna could tell, even from across the room, that his irises were a blazing shade of blue. She would’ve thought he was flirting, had it not been for the deep sense of vacancy those eyes impressed on her.
Watch your syringes, she silently advised the male nurse.
A phone message was waiting in her apartment. Anna drew her coat from her shoulders and hung it in the front closet before stepping toward her answering machine. When she’d pressed Play, her ears tingled with the vibrations of her father’s baritone voice.
“Hello, Anna. I’m just calling about dinner next week. Is there anything in particular you’d like to eat?” -- Click.
Anna figured that most people would have found it strange to end a recorded message with a question. But her father was more than happy to leave a thought dangling. Her eyes wandered across her desk and settled on a silver-framed photo of herself and her parents. Taken at her medical school graduation, it reminded her of how much she’d inherited of her father’s Egyptian complexion. Throughout high school and university, she liked to think that her olive skin gave her a warm, even sultry look. But she also knew she had her father’s large gums, and often worried that they made her mouth look a little too equine. Her few boyfriends had always insisted that her mouth was beautiful, but she could never decide whether they were just patronizing her. One time in the third grade, a boy in her Art class had called her “horse-teeth,” and ever since, she’d taken the insult as incontrovertible proof that her insecurities were well founded.
In the photo, her father and mother stood on either side of her. All three of them were smiling in their own way. Her mother beamed with pride, while her father barely allowed a sly grin to tug at the corners of his mouth. Anna’s eyes were opened wide. She held her rolled-up degree with a shrug that said, “Well shucks. Whaddaya know? I’m a medical doctor now.”
A sudden noise spun her toward the kitchen. Atop the counter, a grey short-haired cat glared at her with a monarch’s indignation. Anna hastened across the room to fill his food dish, adding a shrimp-flavoured treat to his regular helping of dry pellets.
“Ooh, I’m sorry, Semmi. Don’t be mad.”
She glanced up at her kitchen clock – which showed 7:28pm – but spun away when the rotating second-hand began to hypnotize her. Was there any point in trying to sleep? Her keys clattered onto her kitchen countertop, next to the most recent copy of CMAJ, the Canadian Medical Association Journal. She bit the insides of her cheeks and rubbed her eyes with one hand, picking up the journal with the other. The first article she opened to was entitled “Estimated Epidemiologic Parameters and Morbidity Associated with Pandemic H1N1 Influenza.” She glanced toward her television and set the journal back down.
The sofa’s plush leather pillows embraced her when she fell backward, her hair half-tumbling out of its workday elastic. Semmi padded alongside the couch and – after a quick inspection on his haunches – leapt onto her chest. His eyes fell shut. A deep purr rumbled inside his head as Anna wrapped her arms around him. For a few moments, her own eyelids lowered as she waded into the shallows of a dream.
The more you do, a voice whispered, the more you CAN do.
She returned to shore as quickly as she’d left it. Her eyes reopened to Semmi’s resting face. Careful not to disturb him, she reached for the remote. But even the static of the muted TV was enough to wake the cat, who turned his head toward the screen with slitted eyes. Onscreen, two darkly tanned young men traded punches on a nightclub’s dance floor. Their identical t-shirts and knee-length board shorts looked like uniforms. Anna changed the channel and watched a man and woman pressing their lips together, arms curled around each other’s half-naked bodies. She could tell that it was a Hollywood movie, but didn’t recognize it. The couple fell onto a bed together. Anna rested the remote on her thigh and watched.
A clipped, rattling sound filled the apartment. Anna tried to ignore it, but drew herself upright when it became more violent. She searched for the sound’s source, and froze when saw that the rattle was coming from her hallway doorknob. She switched off the TV with a shaking hand and jumped toward the phone on her desk. But the moment she touched the receiver, the rattling stopped. A pair of shoes clopped down the hallway. At the sound of retreat, Anna forgot her fear and rushed to her door’s peephole. No one was visible through the hole. Her heart thumped against her temples as she unlocked the door and peered up and down the hallway.
When she was satisfied that the person was gone, Anna re-locked her door and put on a pot of coffee. It would probably be only a few hours before the hospital called her back in. She picked up the medical journal on her counter. For the next hour, her eyes flitted between the text and her front door.