Thursday, September 09, 2004

vignette: m. p________

I first met M. P_______ one evening in the fall of ’82, the year of the implacable fog that blanketed everything in insensate vapors. I was on my way to Rosenthal's, lantern held high, when an unfamiliar shape quickly resolved itself in the form of a man. Being somewhat used to sudden apparitions, I did not evince the slightest reaction, though naturally my head raced with thoughts of yet another possible encounter, this time without my Psalter.

“Pardon me, sir,” the man said, stepping to the side of my described path. I offered the briefest of smiles to the doffed hat, noting with hidden relief that my unexpected encounter was of the more mundane sort. It was when the hat was returned to his head that I noticed a number of things that were, at that time, almost unbearable.

First, the hand itself was covered in what I initially thought to be a coarse-haired glove, until my powers of observation persuaded me otherwise. The man’s hand was hirsute beyond reason (my previous year’s experience with Lady C____ notwithstanding) seeming more akin to sodden pelt than anything I could easily refer to.

Second, when our eyes met for an instant, I found myself almost wickedly compelled to close my own in horror. Both of his eyes were coated with a thin milky film, not unlike cataracts, and yet in the center, where the pupils would be certainly invisible, were twin red spots, from which blossomed a profusion of angered capillaries.

Third, where the man’s nose should have been located protruded instead a twisted bit of bone, as if he had been most inopportunely savaged by a rabid beast or worse.

These three things caused me to stop in a rather ungentlemanly manner. There was a painful moment of silence between us before he extended a hairy hand, breaking the unseen barrier between us.

“Good evening, sir,” he said. “My name is P________. Forgive me if I startled you.”

“And good evening to you, M. P______,” I said, forcing my face not to betray the smallest of emotions as I took his hand in my own. I then prudently stepped back and held my lantern away from us both. “I am R_______. Dr. R______. And no, I heard your footsteps a little further off. I was not inconvenienced in the least.”

“Of course,” he said, smiling as he touched the brim of his wet hat. “Then let me leave you now to your destination, good Doctor. I fear I keep you from important matters.”

I nodded once and forced an acknowledging mien, then watched his back vanish into the deep fog.

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