"Place in the Sun" by Jean-Luc Bouchard

“Place in the Sun” by Jean-Luc Bouchard

She was the best anesthesiologist in the business for the greater part of her career, earning the title “Ms. Anesthesiologist” five years consecutively and appearing more than once on the front of Wheaties boxes across North America. Her daily outfits sparked style fads in the New York fashion scene, and, at the height of her popularity, her parents were dug from their graves in Queens by order of the Governor and transported to a much nicer cemetery with a view of the Hudson. She had a rent­-controlled apartment in the Upper West Side guarded by a former Secret Service agent as her doorman and maintained by a former NASA engineer as her super. She was, by all accounts and newspaper editorials, the best. Until she was brutally murdered by a mad half­ Pakistani barber, sick of life in post ­9/11 America.

But before that, she was the best. Her office was located very inconveniently on the 89th floor of the Empire State Building; her waiting room had no chairs and her examination room was a permanent 33 degrees fahrenheit. That’s one way I knew she was the bestthe more inconvenient the specialist, the better, I’d been taught. And, more importantly, none of her patients had ever died. That was a fact. There was no need to print the statistic out onto a banner and drape it across the doorway of the office. There was no need for subway ads or magazine clip outs. Among those who were both in need of and could afford her services, it was known.

Her superiority was also demonstrated in the way she treated her patients, absolutely refusing to make arrangements for their travel to the hospital. Once you were out her door, sufficiently unconscious, you were no longer her patient or her responsibility; thus her spotless record. She merely did an expert job of putting you under, no more, and never for a second pretended to offer anything larger than this one service. And after the patient was knocked­ out and slumped against the hall outside her office door, it was up to friends and family to carry him/her into the elevator, down the 89 floors, through the lobby, into the street, into a cab hailed in the madness of Midtown, to the hospital of choice or of closest proximity, and into the operating room, hopefully in time.

She had, of course, lost many ex­-patients. In traffic jams, and botched surgeries, and post-­op infections, and incorrect diagnoses, and blood clots, and bumped heads on taxi cab doors, and the occasional total disappearance, the white slave trade being what it is in Manhattan at certain times of the day.

There was only one documented case of her bothering to escort an ex­patient to the hospital,
and that was herself. Having successfully put herself under while sitting at her own desk, she was speedily transported down the skyscraper by an eager young window washer on his rickety pulley platform, the washer having been promised a date and goodnight peck on the cheek out of the arrangement (to be fulfilled at a later, undisclosed date). Once on the sidewalk, she was whisked down the street via wheelchair, pushed by a NYU student (promised a recommendation letter for medical school), to the subway, where, after being securely settled into a seat wearing a sign around her neck reading “Deliver this women to St. Joseph’s Hospital and receive $5 by mail in 3­6 months,” was promptly swept up onto the shoulders of a cluster of Haitian cousins looking for work, who paraded her out of the tunnel and into the hospital, where she was immediately rushed to ER for the removal of her bursting appendix. (The Haitians were later arrested for not only stealing a hair scrunchy, half a cigarette lighter, and a Snickers wrapper off the sleeping anesthesiologist, but to have actually been Nigerians the entire time.)

The anesthesiologist was beautiful too, so so beautiful, with long dark legs and gently curved calve muscles and tight, trim thighs shaped like cartoon fish heads. Her hair was molded like licorice strips and smelled of cashews. Her eyes were large and complicated and fought for attention with her lips, permanently coated in blazing red lipstick. Her nails were long and bright and expensively manicured and unprofessional and often broke through the thin latex of her sterile work gloves as she played with masks and gases and needles. Her speaking voice was indistinguishable from her singing voice, full of vibrato and unresolved melodramatic tension. She spit in the pots of her plastic office plants when she thought no one was watching.

She never turned away a client because of race, her bestselling biography was sure to mention on the back cover. Ethnicity, yes, but never race. She detested discrimination and made it one of the core causes of her charity work, along with poor restaurant etiquette and nervous laughter in preteen girls. She was presented as a metaphor for honest, hard­working America by both parties’ National Conventions come election year; she neither denied nor confirmed rumors of a one­time threesome with Kissinger and McGovern.

Her laugh was high and nasally, in a good way. When she laughed, she threw her head back and I was rewarded with a rare and sensual view of her throattaut and veiny like a pair of dark panty hose pulled over a wheel of German cheese. She had a habit of touching me lightly on the shoulder as she passed me by on the way to the punch bowl, as though to say, “I’ll be back.” She was superhumanly talented at charades and endearingly abysmal at Pictionary; I often stood over her shoulder as she drew just to breathe in her modest laughter and hasty apologies.

She claimed to read a book a day, though I always assumed it was more like two. She spoke English, French, Spanish, and some Polish, having spent a year abroad in Poland as an undergraduate for no reason whatsoever except that it sounded fun. It did sound fun, hearing her recount stories of long bike rides to run­down school buildings only to learn via a note on the door that the professor had canceled class for the week, or trips to historic WWII sites where she fooled around with her host brother behind crumbling brick walls.

Her clients were many and varied, ranging from nouveau riche shlubs like myself to frontpage celebrities. A New York Daily headline once read “The Woman Who Knocked­Out George Foreman!” over a picture of the boxing champ drooling onto his suit against her office door. A well­known jokester, she would frequently put friends to sleep in public as a prank, making them appear drug­riddled, overworked, or both. She made national news after pulling this prank on friend Jane Dorsmoth, an accountant who worked in a windowless office on the 13th floor of a Garment District building which set ablaze as a result of a malfunctioning sewing machine five floors below. Dorsmoth’s funeral was covered heavily by cable news and attended by tens of thousands; the anesthesiologist herself gave final remarks and a reading from Corinthians 15.

I spoke to the anesthesiologist for the last time during the funeral’s reception, having been both a former patient of the anesthesiologist and a distant cousin of the late Dorsmoth. She patted my forearm and said “What a tragedy,” accompanied by a look from extraordinarily kind half­closed eyes. I agreed that it was. She asked how I was feeling since she last saw me. I said “much better,” which was true; the surgery probably added decades to my life. She was genuinely glad to hear it. She gave a little wink and said she was actually on the lookout for the punch bowl, she was parched, and then caught a glimpse of something and excused herself, walking past me with a brief touch to the shoulder.

Jean-Luc Bouchard is a writer whose short fiction has appeared in Umbrella Factory, Danse Macabre, Eastlit, and 100-Word Story. He is a graduate of Vassar College, where he studied English, Music, and Asian Studies. His work can be found at jeanlucbouchard.com