Dorothy pulled into the surgery drive, parked her car next to the three sheep, and, picking up her handbag from the passenger seat, struggled out of the car and walked toward...
She stopped in her tracks and turned to look again at them, wondering if her eyes had been playing tricks on her, by making the begonias assume ovine form in her mind.
No. They were sheep, sure enough.
There was no way she could have mistaken the begonias for sheep, because the begonias were no longer there – unless, as Dorothy instantly suspected, they were still there, but dressed in sheeps' clothing.
What on Earth was Charles up to now?
She set her shoulders as if preparing to charge a bull-fighter, and entered the surgery.
Mrs. Garçon was sitting on the stool just inside the door. She was half buried in live chickens, which seemed determined to complete the job by hopping up from her lap to her shoulder and head more quickly than she could wrangle them down again.
"Morning, Dorothy!" she said, brightly, gaining a mouthful of feathers from a chicken's rump for her trouble.
Dorothy glared at her, annoyed that she had brought such livestock into the surgery.
"Good morning. Is it the piles, again?"
"Oh, no," Mrs. Garçon spluttered through the feathers. "I just brought the girls in for their innoculations."
"Innoculations?" repeated Dorothy, confused by the reply. "Girls?" Mrs. Garçon had only sons, and neither of them was so young as to need innoculations, unless they were going abroad.
"Yes. Bessie, and Jenny, and Polly, and Molly here are due for their... Oh, my! Where's that Molly gone off to now?"
Dorothy felt herself actually tapping her foot, as she stood and watched Mrs. Garçon, all feathers and clucks, bustle off to hunt down her missing hen.
Without moving from the spot, and with all the power her ample lungs could provide, she shouted out her husband's name.
Charles was out the back, taking care of farmer Brandreth's sheep Masie's advanced colic, when he heard the call.
He had discovered that an old garden syringe (which he had found in the shed – but the rust had almost all come off) was ideal for for dealing with ruminant colic, but it was absolutely vital that he pay extremely close attention to what he was doing, because...
Dorothy's summons frightened the crows off of the telegraph poles, three-hundred yards distant.
"...OWWW! MY BLOODY GOOLIES!" screamed farmer Brandreth, two octaves higher than his normal screaming voice, as he leapt aside in agony after the plunger of the syringe had shot out of its cylinder like a butterfly-nosed guided missile – automatically homing in on the most sensitive target it could find.
Farmer Brandreth's gyrating reel of a pain-dance had a knock-on effect, insofar as in order to perform it, he had had to let go of Maisy's front end.
Masie, who was obviously tired of being treated like a rotting rhododendron, took this as meaning that her treatment was complete, and leapt at the opportunity to get back to her earlier plan of sampling a few of the begonias she and her sisters had spotted in the front drive of the house – hopefully before said sisters polished off the lot.
Charles, who had not been a consideration in any of Masie's plans, was bowled over by her suddenly hyperactive rear-end, which had taken on all the less desirable attributes of a creature cross-bred between a greased pig and a Tazmanian devil.
Masie barrelled into the house, her sole and only intent being that of barrelling out the other side, leaving total devastation behind her in her wake.
The business end of the garden syringe, sticking, as it was, out from her side to a distance of eighteen inches, proved superbly adapted to the task of cutting grooves in plastered walls, knocking chunks of wood from furniture and doors, and repositioning the kneecaps of Mrs Garçon, who instantly added to the confusion by vastly increasing the ambient decibel level with a scream that would be perfectly pitched, were it to be used as an anti-tank weapon. Polly, the hen that Mrs Garçon had been clutching to her breast, barely had time to skwawk before said breast made an extremely heavy landing on the dining-room carpet, leaving poor Polly resembling nothing more than the trophy-rug of a mighty chicken-hunter.
Charles picked himself up from where the turbulent Masie had dumped him, and looked around, dazed.
"D... Dorothy?" he stammered.
He hurried into the house, limping slightly where Masie's cloven hoof had tried to similarly cleave his own.
"Charles!" Dorothy stood amongst the carnage that the hallway had become, imperiously holding out an envelope. "My solicitor wants you to sign these papers."
"P... Papers?" was the best Charles could manage.
Dorothy placed the envelope regally on the telephone table, which immediately collapsed like a camel under the three-ounce weight, and stormed out of the house.
All the blood rushed from Charles' head, and he collapsed to the floor in a dead faint.
Unfortunately for Mrs Garçon's chicken, Molly, she chose that moment to reappear, standing precisely on the spot that Charles had selected to collapse onto – and so became a second trophy of the mighty, fallen chicken-hunters.
It took quite some time to calm Mrs. Garçon down – which was only to be expected, considering that Charles had briefly examined her legs in something of a daze and wandered off, returning shortly with a 'nobody home' expression on his face and a shotgun.
Fortunately, Charles' mind returned to the land of the living in time to prevent his dispatching of Mrs. Garçon from it, and he briefly reprised his rôle as a human doctor – just for long enough to bandage her legs and send her, hobbling miserably and semi-chickenless, on her way.
The next hour flew by for Charles, as he reassembled the garden syringe, tended the sheeps' colic and farmer Brandreth's 'personal problem', and closed the surgery for the day.
When everyone had gone, taking their various animals with them (there was still a pig, mooching about in the back garden, but no-one seemed to know whose it was, so Charles thought it best to leave it alone), Charles finally picked up the dreaded envelope.
And put it down again.
He went through to the lounge and poured himself an uncustomarily large brandy.
Why was life so unfair?
All Charles ever wanted was to be universally respected, have enough money to do anything he felt like doing, and have a wife on his arm that other men would envy.
Was that too much to ask?
He had gone into medicine for the respect and the money, but had received neither – well, perhaps a little respect from people like Mrs. Garçon, but that was hardly worth too big a mention in the Lancet – and had ended up tending animals, like a common vet, just to keep his practice open.
And now his Barbie-doll wife was leaving him. Ok, perhaps Dorothy was a little short for supermodel status, and much too chubby, and she had crooked teeth and a slight squint; but Barbie herself had not been available, so he had settled for the best that was.
Or perhaps not the absolute best. Samantha, Dierdre, Lucy and Melissa would never give him a second glance – nor, if he were to be honest, would any other girl in town but Dorothy, who had originally only wanted to use him to make Geoffrey Plumford jealous – so she had been the best that was available to him.
He poured himself a third brandy.
He knew what was really to blame for it all.
He was just not a strong enough man. He could not dedicate himself totally to gaining the success that he deserved. He did not have the mental fortitude for it. He...
The idea started to form in his mind as he downed his fifth glassful.
... He was a Doctor!
Many of the behavioural hormones were well-documented!
Chemical imbalances within the body which cause nervous conditions – even psychological conditions – had been studied in fine detail!
If he did not have enough self-determination and mental fortitude to bring about the life he wanted to live, it was something he could fix!
He grabbed a handful of recent medical texts from his shelves, and dashed off to his laboratory, returning only briefly, to grab the brandy bottle.
Charles tossed the empty bottle over his shoulder. It crashed into something with the sound of much breaking glass, but he did not have the will – nor the physical agility, by that time – to turn to see what damage had been done.
His eyes were fixed on the beaker.
The fluid he had concocted swirled with colour. Bubbles formed within it, raising to the surface with satifying 'gloop' noises, releasing purplish vapour.
"Ekshlunt!" said Charles. "Thissh'l make me a real man!"
He picked up the beaker and downed the contents in a single draught.