The lab coat was never on. Dr. Vargas once read that the coat served as a barrier of disclosure, so he left on only his button down and stethoscope when entering a room. Patients were always surprised to experience his debonair relatability. They thought of their uncles, the trademark baseball caps and barbeque drunkenness and charming second wives.
Hey (“man” for man, “there” for woman) good morning. I'm Dr. Vargas. Unless, of course, the two were previously acquainted and Dr. Vargas was aware of his/her daughter’s recreational soccer team progression. Semi-finals are coming up, huh? Bringing orange slices? Ha ha! His handshake was firm on every occasion, though he did regret rigidity with the pre-Baby Boomers, who deserved the respect of vigor but often responded like sticks and clay beneath his 35-year-old fingers. One patient noted the callouses on his fingertips, saying something about him hiding the artist beneath the button-down. But he had tried not to remember it-- her voice was a pitch too high and dragged on the last letter, like a poorly sustained note held by an untrained church singing volunteer that everyone in the chapel, even on the all-forgiving day of Easter mass, could have done without.
But Dr. Vargas was an artist underneath the button down. Sometimes, when he threw back too many beers and started treating the nurse anesthetists, a strange monologue would erupt from his subconscious, relaying childhood stories from Guatemala: His mother taking him to see men swing from poles in Joyabaj for Día de la Asunción, picking the brussel sprouts out of fiambre, sketching the Mayan descendents in their native dress. Later that night, Dr. Vargas would go home and become just Dominic, and read the mail addressed to Dominic Vargas, and wonder if he'd made a mistake of his life (...but medicine was the only field that would force this question into consciousness so infrequently, right? And nobody has ever accomplished that constant stream of gratification? Reckless abandon and failure are synonymous? Commitment is the key to success’s long term potentiation?… because just look at ex girlfriend three-- Amanda-- who started a hedge fund called The Bottom One-Liner, where a group of wealthy people would only fund the companies that provided the best first sentences from contemporary literature, and she was very successful until she recklessly abandoned business because she hated Wall Street and only wanted to collect one-liners for her own creative advance, so she traveled to a remote island and started a trilogy called “One of These Books Has to Have the Answer.”? That hasn’t grossed enough to buy a coconut? So at least he wasn't Amanda.)
Dominic pulled out his guitar and played the melody of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” He thought about aging and about advancements in personalized medicine. More and more patients were getting their genomes sequenced. Two women had requested precautionary Mastectomies this month! What was he supposed to say? There was no literature for this. Where was Williams and Keats and Chekov when kind Mr. Schüler was convinced his prostate had been whispering what his genome sequence has been morse-coding all along?
But Dominic could only sip his New Amsterdam and strum on. The days of purchasing for small-bottle prestige were behind him, characteristic of his residency, when he was also finding ways to bring his career into the bar-conversation-slash-assessment-of-eachother’s-spousal-attributes… Nothing like a drink or two after long surgeries. Me? Oh, no, I’m the one doing the surgeries. I’m a surgeon. For now-- I’ve always had a soft spot for family medicine. But, nowadays, before entering the liquor store, he would pull an old acrylic sweater from the back seat, tousle his slightly receding hair in a way that implied a stiff mattress (low thread count sheets!) and take a drag of the cardiovascular specialist’s cigarette, which he'd bummed during a lunchtime smoke.
Jim, Dominic had said once in false astonishment, catching the doctor taking a drag in the parking lot. Are you boycotting the 7 day NHS?
It would appear so. According to them, I'm most risky between Friday and Monday.
Ha ha. You mind if I bum a smoke? No lighter necessary. Actually, do you have another lighter? Wanted it for the road. Ha. Might as well bask in our weekend effect, huh?
And then he drove to the liquor store and disguised himself as a man with no medical advice and an unquenchable thirst for something. The cashier looked at him once, barely, and Dominic couldn’t help but notice his compulsive shoulder roll. I know a decent chiropractor in this area, if you’d like the contact info?
But on this particular night, as “Tom’s Blues” came to its lazy, distracted end, Dominic couldn't get an image out of his mind. Ann-Marie, on that couch just over there, picking fuzzies from his modern cashmere furnisher. The two had agreed to do the medical-school-romance thing, the She’s-pursuing-a-niche-non-profit-passion-project-and-supporting-me-emotionally thing. We'll have stability. We'll still love each other. And she will successfully gross $10,000 from repurposing six pack rings found around arctic penguin nests.
Their necks, Dominic. We’ve been over this.
And who exactly will collect these materials?
I’m in touch with a traveling freelancer who’s going to basically reach out to the Inuit and the Eveny.
But Ann-Marie couldn't find a loyal distributor. Dominic had too little energy for unwarranted presents and just saying I love ya and scrubbing the water rings and refilling the wiper fluid and recognizing the tension hanging over marble countertop pizza dinners. Ann-Marie realized one day, in devastation, that her business degree should have been English, a segue into a Viking Literature PhD, and Dominic realized she only felt this unfulfilled because the two no longer loved each other in the effortless way. And whaddayaknow, after two months of side-eyeing her boyfriend’s branflake-crusted dishes, Ann-Marie moved back into her parent’s duplex. Without plucking the day’s fuzzies from the couch.
Dominic didn't want to be alone, but loneliness suggested so much potential. He knew his best state-- third beer, low lighting, defamiliarizing human body parts in a sketchpad with the title “Tolscrotum”... Do you get this one? Ha ha. Like, well have you read much literary criticism? He was a phenomenally humorous (also featured, with a horse nearby, asking why do humans name body parts?) catch, capable of feeling every unmasculine thing and alluding to it through art and long gazes. But it felt like loneliness was the only route to sustain his greatness… with someone else around he started seeing his complacency mirrored back to him through the rioting enthusiasms of the women he came home to, all of whom seemed to invent a constant stream of passion projects and relay an eagerness to understand old women who hold up grocery lines with coupon mongering. Why is she so adamant? What’s underneath? A psychology academic once questioned as she removed her argyle vest.
Jesus Christ, Miranda, who cares?
I’m just talking about something.
Why do we have to talk about something?
This is what I mean, Dom!
That day, right before the coupon disagreement, a man had died in the operating room. After expressing condolences, Dominic removed himself from the chaos of Aunt and Uncle Something’s fervent questioning to Jesus, feeling a tear lubricate his developing crow’s feet, and sat bowlegged on the toilet with headphones and the latest Droid. He'd listened to a reading of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” on YouTube until he was numb to his own plot line, rewinding a few times to hear that line, before finally returning to a patient who was no longer etherized.