A Lovely Day

 

A smile worked its way across Dr. William Dyganeal’s face, tugging at the corners of his lips and slipping slyly to the center underneath his pointed cupid’s bow. He was a man who rarely smiled. Although it was in his nature, he was hardly, if ever, presented with an opportunity upon which to do so. This opportunity however, was one that spread its legs like a common tavern whore and was almost as ghastly, if not exponentially more illegal.  The scalpel caught only momentarily on the cadaver’s sternum before finishing with a flourish at the base of the late man’s chin. Blood gurgled half-heartedly up from the slice. The doctor let out a contented sigh and reached for the retractors.

The body was new and barely mangled, a prize that was to be enjoyed at leisure and with great care. As always it was difficult for any man of William Dyganeal’s profession to find a suitable cadaver upon which to study. They tended to come in somewhat incomplete, or damaged, if they came in at all. The men from whom the Doctor purchased the bodies, for an exorbitant amount of pounds, tended to be a little less than respectable and so it was not unusual to receive corpses who met a somewhat suspicious end. This did not bother the doctor in the slightest. In fact, he sometimes played a bit of a game with himself to see if he could distinguish amongst the bruises and lacerations just how a particular body came to be just that, a body. Needless to say, the doctor loved his work.

The only problem was that the Church had decided that any kind of desecration of  human remains, even a wellmeaning dissection, was a crime against King and Country, one or the other being the Lord. Anyone found perpetrating such a horrid act was to be thrown in with the common thieves and murderers and eventually executed.

Dr. Dyganeal found it all rather ridiculous. People wanted a doctor to heal whatever ailed them, the boils and sores of the poor or the aches and swoons of the rich, yet how was a doctor to perform such feats if he had no knowledge of how the body functioned? Impossible. So, he had to do his research quite beneath the eyes of the law. This suited him just fine. The law, as he saw it, had more important things to do than trying to stop a doctor from saving lives.

William Dyganeal was a brilliant man. Well beyond all others around him in strength and speed of mind. He could be classified as a genius, had anyone bothered to give it any thought. No one had. But then, this neither surprised nor angered the doctor who correctly assumed that he was the only one in all of London who had troubled themselves with any real thoughts.

The doctor had found himself a merry little office in the middle of London but well enough away from the Thames that the stench of the river didn’t overwhelm his customers. Porland Place was the ideal, upstanding neighborhood for a medical practice. The doctor kept his lodging on the second floor of his office, so as to be able to attend to patients at any hour they came knocking. He kept his office clean and orderly, everything a person would like to see when seeking help about their ever fragile mortality. There was a wooden desk and two chairs at which to counsel patients, a modest fabric screen in one corner for examinations, and a locked glass display case where all the remedies were kept. The doctor prided himself on his appearance and reputation, both being of the highest standard of respectability. He cured without judgments, but with sincerity and a polite aloofness that many saw as professionalism. He cured both the rich and the poor, adjusting his prices accordingly.

The merry little office had a somewhat less merry basement, lit with gas lamps and covered in splashes and sprays, puddles and dribbles of brownish, dried blood. That is where the doctor performed his research. Amongst the general gore there was a well cared for set of dissection tools, two or three notebooks in which to record findings and four shelves of glass jars, varying sizes, all aswim with formaldehyde and body parts. The doctor adored his collection of Unusuals, as he called them. He had everything from premature disfigured fetuses to entire human hearts. All labeled and categorized according to rarity. On days when he had no patients and no research he would stand in front of his collection and admire it with all the pride of a father. Whenever possible, he expanded his collection and every new jar brought a flush of happiness to his cheeks and a rare smile to his lips.

There was only one problem with William Dyganeal and that was that he was utterly deranged. He knew it of course. No man of his stunning intelligence could not know his own demons. He understood that he was a danger, not to himself but to others.  Where some men of his particular mental stability may have violent outbursts or nonsensical ravings, the doctor had a problem with cravings. Not to be mistaken for any normal cravings, the doctor had cravings for knowledge, mostly that of the human body. Innocent enough one might say, but not when one was armed with a scalpel and a street urchin that wouldn’t be missed. Had he not been presented with his current career, the wisest piece of advice his father had ever given him, William was certain he would have meandered down the path of Jack the Ripper.

He wanted to know. He wanted to know what made a woman flush, and an old man’s hands shake. He craved the knowledge of blood and flesh, the secrets trapped in muscle and bone. Disease and health alike fascinated him. What made human beings walk and talk? What brought warmth to the skin and light to the eyes? How was that so easily taken away? Dysentery, cholera, small pox and typhoid: He loved them each as desperately as other men loved beautiful women. All of this he knew to be irrational and unhealthy, and yet he couldn’t help it. All he could do was attempt to assuage the cravings with cadavers. In no way did they satisfy completely because they were all long dead by the time they came to him, and what he knew in the depths of his twisted soul was that he wanted them fresh. He wanted to watch the light leave their eyes and then go hunting to find it in the cooling corpse. Quite simply, William Dyganeal was a murderer who just never got around to killing anyone. This was thanks not to his conscience, of which he had none, but to his sense of propriety that said he was a doctor above all else, which meant he gave life and did not take it away. He had nothing but respect for the Hippocratic oath, even if it did make his life quite a bit more frustrating.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t thought about it. Murder. He imagined doing it every day: the carriage driver, the grocer, the maid that came to tidy up his rooms all dispatched in ever more elaborate ways. He found it hardest to resist when doing examinations.  Trying to concentrate on symptoms was difficult when delicate exposed flesh was under his hands and he longed to tighten them. However, he resisted his cravings very firmly and thus contented himself with the dissections in his basement.

They were all beautiful to him. Even the ones that came so full of knife wounds that their entrails spilled through their abdominal walls and out into the thick basement air. He had a fondness for the ones that barely passed for human whether through illness or violence, he learned so much by those.

Although, this body was perfect. A young man, a few years junior to the doctor, but not many. Unknown cause of death. A family poor enough to sell the body for a few shillings. All of it spelled excitement for the doctor who whistled tunelessly as he groped for a meat cleaver to open the sternum. Two loud cracks and a bit of blood later, the doctor was peering into the delightfully pink organs of the young man. He contemplated where to start. The stomach could contain any number of interesting specimens; the heart was always a treat. He glanced up at the serene, blank face of the cadaver and realized he hadn’t examined a decent brain in quite some time. As he was about to reach for an instrument better suited to the task of opening a skull, the doctor noticed something strange in the trachea: a large lump. Intrigued, he reached for a small pair of scissors and nipped carefully inch or so above and below the lump. Removing it with reverence he set it next to the body on a silver tray, squatted so as to obtain the best visual angle and cut it open. He gasped with pleasure. Hurrying to the shelves that housed his collection, he removed one of the empty fluid filled jars and rushed back to his find. With the utmost care, Dr. Dyganeal lifted the small lady’s finger from the severed hand end and deposited it in the jar. After screwing on the lid, he watched it swirl lazily about like an inebriated fish before the weight of the engagement ring pulled it to the bottom. With a grin so large it nearly split his face, the Doctor placed the jar back on the shelf. Cause of death? Suffocation of the oddest kind. What a lovely day, he mused before getting back to work.