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Three Portraits and a Prayer
 Howard Chandler Christy: 
The Lovely Young Girl



when Dr. Rhine Cooperstock was put under my care I was enlarged with pride. Dr. Cooperstock was a hero to me. I don't mean a George Washington, all virtue and no fire. I mean he was a dragon killer. He had carried human knowledge far into the tiny spaces of an atomicĀ  nucleus. He was a very great man. And I was his doctor and he was dying.

Dr. Cooperstock was dying in the finest suite in the Morgan Pavilion and with all the best doctors. (I am not modest.) We couldn't keep him alive for more than a matter of months, and we couldn't cure him at all. But we could make him comfortable. If round-the-clock nurses and color television constitute comfort.

I don't ask you to understand technical medical terms. He was an old man, his blood vessels deteriorating, and clots formed, impeding the circulation. One day a clot would form in heart, brain or lungs and he would die. If it was in the lung it would be painful and slow. In the heart, painful and fast. In the brain most painful of all, but so fast that it would be a mercy.

Meanwhile we fed him heparin and sometimes coumarol and attempted by massages and heat and diet to stave off the end. Although, in fact, he was all but dead anyway, so little freedom of movement we allowed him.

"Martin, the leg hurts. You'd better leave a pill," he would say to me once or twice a week, and I would hesitate. "I don't know if I can make it to the bathroom tonight, Martin," he would say, his tone cheerfully resigned. Then he would call for the bedpan while I was there, or mention casually that some invisible wrinkle in the sheet caused him pain and stand by bravely while the bed was remade, and say at last, self-deprecating, "I think I will need that pill, Martin." So I would allow myself to be persuaded and let him have a red-and-white capsule and in the morning it would be gone. I never told him that they contained only aspirin and he never admitted to me that he did not take the pills at all but was laboriously building up a hoard against the day when the pain would be really serious and he would take them all at once.

Dr. Cooperstock knew the lethal dose as well as I did. As he knew the names of all his veins and arteries and the chemistry of his disease. A man like Rhine Cooperstock, even at seventy, can learn enough medicine for that in a week.

He acquired eleven of the little capsules in one month at the Pavilion; I know, because I counted them after he left. That would have been enough for suicide, if they had not been aspirin. I suppose he would have stopped there, perhaps beginning to take a few, now and then, both to keep me from getting suspicious and for the relief of the real pain he must have felt. But he did leave. Nan Halloran came and got him.

She invaded the Pavilion like a queen. Expensive, celebrated hospital, we were used to the famous; but this was Nan Halloran, blue-eyed, black-haired, a face like a lovely child and a voice like the sway of hips. She was a most remarkable woman. I called her a queen, but she was not that; she was a goddess, virgin and fertile. I speak subjectively, of course, for in medical fact she was surely not one and may not have been either. She breezed into the room, wrinkling her nose. "Coopie," she said, "what is that awful smell? Will you do me a favor, dear? I need it very much."

You would not think that a man like Dr. Cooperstock would have much to do with a television star; but he knew her; years before, when he was still teaching sometimes, she had somehow wandered into his class. "Hello, Nan," he said, looking quite astonished and pleased. "I'll do anything I can for you, of course. That smell," he apologized, touching the leg with its bright spots of color and degenerated tissues, "is me."

"Poor Coopie." She looked around at me and smiled. Although I am fat and not attractive and know in my heart that, whatever long-term wonders I may work with the brilliance of my mind and the cleverness of my speech, no woman will ever lust for me on sight, I tingled. I looked away. She said sweetly, "It's about that fusion power thing, Coopie. You know Wayne Donner, of course? He and I are good friends. He has these utility company interests, and he wants to convert them to fusion power, and I told him you were the only man who could help him."

Dr. Cooperstock began to laugh, and laughed until he was choking and gagging. I laughed too, although I think that in all the world Dr. Cooperstock and I must be two of the very few men who would laugh at the name of Wayne Donner. "Nan," he said when he could, "you're amazing. It's utterly impossible, I'm afraid."


She sat on the edge of his bed with a rustle of petticoats. She had lovely legs. "Oh, did that hurt you? But I didn't even touch your leg, dear. Would you please get up and come now, because the driver's waiting?"

"Nan!" he cried. "Security regulations. Death. Lack of proper engineering! Did you ever think of any of those things? And they're only a beginning."

"If you're going to make objections we'll be here all day, darling. As far as security is concerned," she said, "this is for the peaceful use of atomic power, isn't it? I promise you that Wayne has enough friends in the Senate that there will be no problem. And the engineering's all right, because Wayne has all those people already, of course. This isn't any little Manhattan Project, honey. Wayne spends money."

Dr. Cooperstock shook his head and, although he was smiling, he was interested, too. "What about death, Nan?" he said gently.

"Oh, I know, Coopie. It's terrible. But you can't lick this thing. So won't you do it for me? Wayne only needs you for a few weeks and he already talked to some doctors. They said it would be all right."

"Miss Halloran," I said. I admit I was furious. "Dr. Cooperstock is my patient. As long as that is so, I will decide what is or is not all right."

She looked at me again, sweetly and attentively.

I have now and had then no doubt at all; I was absolutely right in my position. Yet I felt as though I had committed the act of a clumsy fool. She was clean and lovely, her neck so slim that the dress she wore seemed too large for her, like an adorable child's. She was no child; I knew that she had had a hundred lovers because everyone knows that, even doctors who are fat and a little ugly and take it all out in intelligence. Yet she possessed an innocence I could not withstand. I wanted to take her sweetly by the hand and shelter her, and walk with her beside a brook and then that night crush her and caress her again and again with such violence and snorting passion that she would Awaken and then, with growing abandon, respond. I did know it was all foolishness, I did. But when she mentioned the names five or six doctors on Donner's payroll who would care for Dr. Cooperstock and suggested like a child that with them in charge it would really be all right, I agreed. I even apologized. Truth to tell, they were excellent men, those doctors. But if she had named six chiropractors and an unfrocked abortionist I still would have shrugged and shuffled and stammered, "Oh, well, I suppose, Miss Halloran, yes, it will be all right."

So we called the nurses in and very carefully dressed the old man and wheeled him out into the hall. I said something else that was foolish in the elevator. I said, because I had assumed that it was so, that she probably had a cab waiting and a cab would not do to transport a man as sick as Dr. Cooperstock. But she had been more sure of herself than that. The driver who was waiting was at the wheel of a private ambulance.



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