Chapter 5: A Visit to the Doctor
Louise opened the door of the whitewashed fieldstone building across the street from the library on High Street and ushered Lexie into the surgery.
Practical gray linoleum squeaked under their shoes and a row of molded plastic chairs lined one wall of the utilitarian waiting room.
“Dr. Epps? Are you in?”
There was no immediate answer.
“You just sit here, and I’ll go fetch him. He’s probably in his office, or else upstairs.”
There was a buzzer on the unmanned reception desk. Taped next to it was a note.
RING FOR EMERGENCY
“Should we?” Lexie reached toward the buzzer.
“No, no.” Louise ushered her in the direction of chairs. “We don’t want to give the poor man a heart attack.”
“Dr. Epps!” Louise pushed through a swinging door.
It wasn’t clear to Lexie how shouting was less alarming than just pushing the buzzer, but Louise had taken charge and Lexie was relieved to let her. Her hand throbbed now, and she could barely move her thumb. Did that mean it was broken? She’d never broken anything before, so maybe. On the walk into the village, she’d cradled her hand against her chest to help keep it still. Now, an ugly purple bloom radiated out from the joint.
A couple minutes passed, then brisk footsteps came from the direction of the swinging door.
“—the village board can certainly take up the question but—” Louise cut off mid-sentence as the door swung wide.
“Lexie! This is Dr. Epps. He’ll have you right in no time.”
She’d pictured an old country doctor, maybe wearing a tweed suit.
He had the tweed suit. And a white coat, unbuttoned, over it. A stethoscope hung around his neck. His hair was a nondescript color, too dark to be a sandy blond but lighter than brown, and cut in an old fashioned style. If he were thirty years older and thirty pounds heavier, he’d be almost exactly the country [Doctor] Lexie had pictured.
Dr. Epps glanced at her injured hand and didn’t offer his own. His smile was friendly and sympathetic.
“Louise says you hurt your hand. Why don’t you come into the examination room and I’ll take a look.”
Lexie followed the [Doctor] through the swinging door and into a whitewashed hallway. There were two doors to her left, and to the right, three more. The middle door was ajar, and inside Lexie could see a bookcase, filled with serious looking books.
Dr. Epps opened the first door on the right, and led heṛ̣ into an exam room. Louise was right behind. There was the standard adjustable table with a white paper cover, a swiveling stool, two chairs, a worktop and sink. Along the wall stood two tall wooden cupboards with glass fronted doors filled with bottles and jars and tins and pots.
“Take a seat.” Dr. Epps gestured to one of the chairs. “And let’s have a look.”
Lexie sat in one of the chairs and the [Doctor] sat on the stool. He took her hand in his and gently manipulated her injured thumb. “Does that hurt?”
Lexie winced. “Yes.”
“I don’t think it’s broken. But I’d like to take an X-ray and make sure.”
Lexie followed Dr. Epps to the end of the hallway and around a corner to another door. The room was small, with a large machine with a big table. Louise was with them, but this time the doctor barred her path.
“I’m sorry, but you have to wait out here. The radiation.”
The [Mayor] frowned, but didn’t argue when the [Doctor] closed the door.
He lined up Lexie’s hand under the machine, then stepped into a booth built along the back wall. There was a hum and a bang, and then another bang. The machine stopped.
Lexie waited while the [Doctor] looked over the images from the machine. After a few minutes he exited the booth.
“The good news is it doesn’t look like you broke it.”
The [Doctor] opened the door. Louise was waiting right outside. “Well?”
“She’ll be fine, it’s just a sprain, maybe a torn ligament.”
Louise turned to Lexie. “Best [Doctor] on the island!”
“Only [Doctor] on the island.” Epps smiled with self-deprecating humor and pushed open the door to the exam room.
He turned to one of the tall glass fronted cabinets and, after studying the contents, opened the door and removed an earthenware pot.
“This should do it.”
He wheeled over a metal tray and put down a piece of paper for Lexie to rest her hand on, then put on a pair of latex gloves and, after carefully aligning Lexie’s thumb and hand, used a wooden spatula to daub on the paste.
It was a thick ointment, translucent white, but shot through with thready veins of deep purple and electric blue, and Dr. Epps slathered on a heavy layer, from around the first knuckle of Lexie’s thumb all the way to her wrist.
Almost immediately Lexie felt a sharp pricking, like needles, and the beginning of an unpleasant tingle, followed by a numbing chill. It wasn’t quite numbing enough to erase the tingle, but it made it bearable.
As she watched, the veins in the ointment seemed to thread into her skin.
“It’ll take about fifteen to twenty minutes to set. You need to keep your hand still until that’s done. I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.”
The [Doctor] gave Lexie a reassuring bedside-manner smile and exited.
Louise was talking almost before the door closed. “We’re very fortunate to have a [Doctor] on the island. We went so long without. It’s hard to attract fresh blood to Starfish Island. We just don’t have the allure of the big places like Tanooki City. But Albatross Bay has a lot to offer!”
“I haven’t had a chance to see much of the village yet.”
“Of course not.” Louise patted the back of Lexie’s good hand. “You only just arrived. Tell you what, after the [Doctor] is done with you, I’ll take you to lunch and fill you in on everything Starfish Island!”
“Sounds good!” It seemed like she’d just had breakfast, but Lexie was starving. Maybe it was all the fresh air. Or the traumatic hand injury.
Louise headed toward the door. “Great, I just need to go talk to Dr. Epps about some village business.”
If only she’d brought a book.
Not that she had any. All her books, the ones she hadn’t given away, were in a box at her parents’ house. She’d promised to pick it up the next time she visited.
She should probably call her parents. Let them know she’d arrived. That the cabin was.... Just tell them it’s fine, Lexie decided. It was mostly true.
Now that she was just sitting, the stress of the morning crashed onto her. All her energy drained away, and Lexie felt as though she could sleep for the next twenty hours.
Of course she couldn’t. She had the mess at the cabin to clean up after the [Doctor] finished with her hand. Hopefully lunch with Louise would perk her up.
She leaned back in the chair, keeping her hand still on the tray, trying to ignore the mild discomfort, and closed her eyes for few minutes, until the door opened and Dr. Epps returned, followed by Louise. He pulled on another pair of gloves and sat down on the stool.
He poked the thick translucent substance,. It had hardened into a thick, rubbery material that adhered to her skin.
“Try to move your thumb.”
Lexie obeyed. She could move it slightly, but it wasn’t torn muscles limiting her movement now. It was the rubbery adhesion. It had formed a stiff casing around her thumb and the base of her hand.
“Good. And how does it feel?”
“It aches a little, but it doesn’t hurt like before.”
Dr. Epps nodded. “It will be uncomfortable for a few days. The jelly splint will help keep it immobilized. The potions should have penetrated the ligaments—”
“Was that the colored stuff?” Lexie realized the colored lines were gone. Only the translucent gel had remained to harden.
“Yes.” The [Doctor] glowed with pride. “It’s a delivery mechanism of my own devising. Thin threads of potion enter topically. Most potion delivery is done orally, or else via open wounds. But that’s not the ideal way to treat deep subcutaneous injuries, because you still have to open the body to apply the potion, and then close it up again, using more applications of potion. There are some methods that use target injection, of course, but that requires special equipment and imaging. In my method, the potion burrows through the skin to the injury. Of course it should only be applied by a medical professional who can verify the musculature and bones are in the correct position before they heal. A situation like a break that needs setting first could go quite badly if my method were used without properly aligning the bone. But it works much faster, and with less risk. I was inspired by parasitic worms, you know—”
“Haha. Dr. Epps here is a treasure! Brilliant mind, as you can tell. We’re lucky to have him.”
“Wow. Yeah. You invented this yourself?” Lexie studied the rubbery casing immobilizing her finger.
“There’s a mild analgesic in the gel bandage as well. That was inspired by slimes, and how they surround and numb their prey—”
“I promised I’d take our Lexie to lunch. We really should get a move on, if we want to get a table before the rush!”
Louise put her hands on Lexie’s shoulders and gently steered her toward the door.
“Could I get a potion to take home too? Just a regular one to have in case I hurt myself?”
“Right,” said the [Doctor]. He took a small flask from the cabinet and followed them to the front where they stopped at the reception. “That’s be thirty gold for the visit, and sixty for the medicines.”
Lexie swallowed and dug out her coins. At this rate she was going to run out of gold fast.
“Thanks,” she said, feeling a little tight in her chest at the sudden drain on her meager finances. But her hand was better.
Dr. Epps handed her the small flask filled with a tangerine colored liquid. “It’s potent, so you shouldn’t need much. Anything serious, come see me.”
“Now the jelly splint should come off on its own after two to three days. If it comes off early, wrap your hand and try not to use it too much. The tissues will still be delicate. Come back in three days and I’ll check it over. Or before if you have any problems.”
“Will do. Thank you.”
“Dr. Epps, the community of Albatross Bay is lucky to have you!” Louise ushered Lexie toward the door. “We’ll talk more later.”
When the door shut behind them, Louise turned to Lexie. “Now we’ll get some lunch.”
Louise led Lexie along High Street and down a flight of narrow stone steps that cut over to Water Street. Their destination was a rail-car style diner parked on the corner where the old rail line to the mines crossed on the way to the depot near the harbor.
A bell jingled as the door opened and a man no taller than Lexie, with thinning hair, wire frame spectacles, and a bit of a paunch glanced up from behind the counter where he was setting down plates. From the rubber boots and cabled sweaters, Lexie guessed the two other customers were [Fishermen].
“I’ll be right with you Louise, darlin’. You and your friend just sit wherever you like.”
The inside of the diner wasn’t large. The chrome-edged counter had a row of stools bolted to the floor in front of it. Vinyl upholstered booths lined the walls and the aisle that ran between them was wide enough for two people to pass, barely.
Next to a swinging door, a wide window with a shelf opened to the kitchen beyond. It wasn’t contained within the car, but located in an addition built on the back.
Louise steered Lexie to one of the two-seater booths by a window. A few minutes later, the man came over with damp rag and wiped the table.
He dealt paper place mats, cutlery bundled in napkins, and water glasses into settings front of them. “Know what you want? Or do you need a menu? Usual Louise?”
“You know me, same old same old.”
“And....” The man surveyed Lexie. “A new face! You want to see a menu, honey?”
The man grabbed a plastic covered menu from behind the counter.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us, Louise?”
“Of course! Lexie, this is Linwood. He and Earl run the diner. Best restaurant in Albatross Bay!”
“Oh you.” Linwood swatted Louise in jest. “We’re the only restaurant in Albatross Bay!”
“And Lexie here is Martha’s relation. She’s moving into the old cabin.”
“Oh really now.” Linwood’s eyes widened. “Why on earth would you want to do a thing like that?”
“Stop monopolizing the girl, Linwood. Let her read the menu in peace.”
“Fine. Do you want something to drink while you decide? Is this a working lunch, Louise?”
“No glass of wine for Louise.”
Louise laughed. “I’ll have a cream soda.”
“Um, I’ll have the....” Lexie skimmed the back of the menu. The usual staples. Coffee, tea, iced versions of both. And a whole menu of milkshakes, floats, malteds, egg creams and a staggering array of soda flavors. It was a beverage time capsule.
Linwood took pity on her indecision. “Do you like strawberry? I do a strawberry milkshake to die for. Earl handles the kitchen, but the soda fountain is my raisin de etter.”
“I like strawberry.”
“One strawberry milkshake. Extra whipped cream. Coming up!”
Bemused, Lexie watched as Linwood hustled to the old fashioned soda counter and began making their drinks. Then she turned her attention back to the menu.
Lexie was still feeling the expenditure of nearly a hundred gold on stupid injury. And she remembered the fifty gold she’d spent on supplies at Sprübeck’s the day before. Maybe a side of fries with her milkshake would be enough.
Her stomach burbled. Probably not.
The menu was classic diner food. All day breakfast, eggs, pancakes and waffles. A selection of sandwiches and burgers with slaw or fries on the side, and a dinner menu that prominently featured mashed potatoes and gravy.
Lexie wondered if Linwood and Earl had consciously decided to lean into every stereotype of diner dining, from the retro soda fountain to the pie case with multilayered cakes slathered in thick frosting and pies with cloud-like meringue.
Those couldn’t be real.
While the milkshake mixer ran, Linwood took a triple layer chocolate cake from the display, cut a thick slice, and put it in front of one of the counter customers before returning the cake to the display. Lexie’s mouth watered.
A moment later he was back with Louise’s cream soda and a strawberry milkshake, poured into a tall glass with a wide straw, and a metal cup on the side with the rest.
“Have you ladies decided?”
“Club sandwich, slaw, no pickle. And you?” Linwood looked at Lexie.
Her heart wanted the tall stack of pancakes, but her brain thought a pile of carbs on top of carbs and fat wasn’t going to get her through all the work that was waiting for her at the cabin. Sensible life choices prevailed.
“Pepper and onion omelet.”
“Earl makes the most amazing omelets. We have white, farmhouse, or dark rye for toast.”
“Back in a jiff.”
Linwood returned to the counter and called through an order to the kitchen.
Louise sipped her soda and Lexie sucked strawberry milkshake through the straw. She had to give it to Linwood, it was the best strawberry milkshake she’d ever had.
You’re a superstar, that’s what you are! Specifically: a strawberry superstar!
You’re faster (just a little), stronger (just a little), and goddammit people like you (just a little more)!
Oh, and you smell like strawberries.
Duration: 2 hours
“So you’re going to make Albatross Bay your home now?” Louise set her soda on the Formica table. The condensation on the glass beaded and rolled down the sides, forming a ring of moisture where the glass sat.
“That’s quite a change from Tanooki City.”
“It is, but I need a change.”
“Surely you’re going to miss your friends. Your family.”
Lexie couldn’t put her finger on exactly what in Louise’s demeanor had changed, but now she felt like she was being vetted. She’d rolled with worse as a [Junior Publicity Assistant] though. The number of stupid power games clients wanted to play was truly astounding. Pick all the green Snickles out of the bowl in my dressing room. As if.
“They’re only a ferry ride away.”
The ferry took a few hours, but a visit was hardly impossible. Was the island really so insular people had forgotten they could just ride the ferry over to Tanooki City whenever they wanted?
She dreaded the inevitable next question: Why would you leave Tanooki City for someplace like Starfish Island?
How could she explain it to someone she’d just met? I was unhappy.
But when was that ever a reason for not doing something?
“What do you plan on doing, here on the island?”
The question was a pleasant surprise. Lexie was excited to talk about her plans for the cabin and the future.
“I’ve been looking at the land, it’s a little overgrown right now, but there’s a lot of it. I was thinking of a farm. Maybe grow some heritage vegetables, or maybe a fruit orchard. I was looking at the catalog in Sprübeck’s and there are a ton of different kinds of trees.”
“Are you a [Farmer]?”
Louise leaned forward, eager to hear more.
“No, I mean, not yet. I need to find out how to unlock the class. It’s probably not too hard, farming is pretty basic at lower levels right? Probably I just plant som seeds or something.”
“You could try the library after lunch. Phyllis can help you find a class guide of some kind. I’m sure.”
Lexie hadn’t considered that the tiny village would have a library. “Thanks, I will!”
“What did you do in Tanooki City?”
“I was a [Junior Publicity Assistant].”
Louise’s eyes lit up. “Really?“
Her eagerness was alarming, and Lexie was relieved when Linwood appeared by the table with their meals, distracting Louise with banter and food.
The dish he set in front of Lexie was more than she would eat in entire day back in Tanooki City. The omelet itself took up half the large plate. The other half was four thick slices of a homemade-looking whole grain toast dripping with butter, and huge pile of fried potatoes.
Louise’s club sandwich was three layers, interrupted with slices of the homemade bread and held together with structural toothpicks. No one eating at the diner would go hungry.
Lexie focused on her food, which was delicious, and listened to Louise, who was listing all the farming activities on the island. “We have some farming, of course. There’s an alpaca farm outside of town. He keeps a few sheep and chickens too. And then there’s the [Maple Wizard]. I don’t know as that counts as a farm exactly. But he does make the island’s best maple syrup.”
From the counter, Linwood called out, “Just like the diner is the island’s best restaurant, right Louise?”
“You know it!”
Lexie wondered if Louise had another joke.
Louise leaned toward her. “You should come to the town meeting tomorrow night.”
“Really? But I just got here.”
“Perfect! It’ll be a great chance to meet everyone, and we have some big plans for Albatross Bay’s future! As our newest resident, and our local [Farmer] you should be there!”
“Well okay, I’ll come!”
Linwood appeared with the bill and handed it to Louise. He gave Lexie a wink. “Make sure you bring popcorn, town meetings are always a show.”
“What do I owe?”
“Nonsense. This was a working lunch. The village welcome committee is buying!”
“The village has a welcome committee?”
“You’re looking at her!”
It was a relief to not have to reach into her rapidly dwindling pile of coins. But Lexie was going to need to figure out how to make some money soon.
After the bill was settled, she took Louise’s advice and headed for the library.
The library, at the far end of High Street from Sprübeck’s, was a crisp white building with a wide porch and two story Neo-classical pillars holding up a triangular roof. It sat back from the street and a grassy expanse of lawn scattered with benches suggested the space served as a small town park. At the juncture where a flagstone path led to the wide steps of the library a gilt lettered sign read:
Albatross Bay Town Library.
Under the sign was a bulletin board with a few pieces of paper tacked up. Lexie stopped to examine the notes.
Rats have infested the library basement!
See Phyllis for more information
Smol blak cat with white mitterns
Lost in visinity of Hrabor House
Return to Missy
There was a stick drawing of a cat with a diabolical expression and very long whiskers underneath.
The last one read:
Quarterly Village Meeting
Wednesday Evening 6 PM, Village Hall
Mayor Louise Holbeane presiding
Light refreshments to be provided
A quest board! Lexie filed away that information for when she had the cabin sorted out and her first crops planted.
In the center of the library’s deep porch was a set of double doors. The antique wood had a glossy sheen and the brass knobs gleamed. Someone obviously went to great effort to keep them waxed and shining, and they showed no damage from exposure to the harsh sea air.
Lexie opened the doors and, after a tiled foyer with an umbrella stand and coat rack, entered into a wide hallway carpet with a thick pile. Sound in the building was hushed, as though everything were stifled with cotton batting and the air smelled faintly of wood polish and books. The first doorway to her right opened into a large room with floor to ceiling bookcases, a wrap around wooden counter, and an old fashioned card catalog full of tiny drawers.
A woman, Lexie guessed in her mid-fifties, stood behind the counter with a stack of books. She looked up when Lexie came in.
“Hello, welcome to the Albatross Bay library. Can I help you with anything?” Her voice was low, but in the silence of building, it was perfectly audible.
In contrast, Lexie felt like every footstep, every movement she made was loud and disruptive. Her voice felt unnaturally loud when she spoke. “I think so. Are you Phyllis? Louise suggested I talk to you. I need a book on farming. Like a beginner’s manual.”
“Yes, I’m Phyllis. But I’m afraid you need to be a member of the library to borrow books.”
“Can I join the library?”
“I’m sorry, membership is only for residents of Starfish Island.”
“I am. I just did the paperwork to sign over my aunt’s cabin yesterday.”
“Oh!” Phyllis’s voice rose in surprise. She immediately dropped back to the soft tone she’d been using. “You must be Martha’s niece. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” said Lexie.
“And you’re moving to the village? Martha would be so pleased. She talked about you often. Let me just get your application form.” Phyllis opened a drawer and pulled out a thin packet of papers, clipped together.
She handed them over to Lexie, with a pen. “You just need to sign both copies, and initial the library rules on this one to confirm you’ve read them. That stays with the library. The last sheet is just information about the library, opening hours, book club, that kind of thing.”
Lexie quickly filled out the papers while Phyllis got her a paper card.
“You knew my Aunt Martha?”
“She spent a lot of time here, doing research for her books. We have them all.” The [Librarian] dated and initialed the front of the card, then she flipped it over for Lexie. “If you could just sign here also?”
Lexie did, and Phyllis took the card and the initialed paper. She copied the stamped number from the front of the card to the top of the paper, and returned the card to Lexie.
“Congratulations, you’re now a full member of the Albatross Bay library. Let’s find you your book!”
Phyllis lead Lexie to the back wall. “This would be the section where you’ll find the gardening and farming information. I’m afraid our selection is a little light. Besides a few people with small gardens and the llama farm outside of town, we don’t have a lot of farming.” She gestured toward the section on fishing, and the sea. “Now if you wanted books on ships, shipbuilding, fishing, marine navigation, historical sea voyages.... Well, we’d have you covered. Hmm. Class guides, let’s see.”
Phyllis’s finger finally landing on a book with a bright green spine. [Farmer] for n00bs. “How about this?”
Lexie took the book. The illustration on the cover was a buxom woman who strained the structural capacity of the tiny shirt tied above her bare midriff. She wore minuscule cut-off jeans, cowboy boots, and a straw hat and was chewing on a long piece of grass while leaning on a hoe and poutily sweeping a strand of hair back from her face.
“Are you sure this is a book on growing plants?”
“Yes,” said Phyllis. “They just use covers like that to sell more books.”
“Oh, ok.” Lexie flipped it open and skimmed through the table of contents. Despite the cover, the book contained a primer on the first ten levels, a class tree and skill trees, and a bunch of practical, how-to farming information besides.
“This looks perfect.”
“Anything else?” asked Phyllis.
“Not right now,” said Lexie.
She followed Phyllis to the check out desk, where Phyllis stamped the book and handed it across. “Due in two weeks.”
“Thanks,” said Lexie and waved goodbye on her way out.