Trouble Patient

Written and illustrated by Pauli Kohberger

A record of Bob Sparker's hospital visits, from Dr. Eustace Flask's personal files.

"Hey, Doc," said Bob brightly, holding out a hand. "Pleased to m--"

"I'm not your friend," Flask said tersely. "Don't talk to me like one." He turned away to rifle through the papers on his clipboard.

"Wow." Bob leaned back, blinking. "No bedside manner at all, huh?"

"If there's one thing I hate most in this rotten city--and it's hard to pick just one--it's people like you, throwing your health away so you can play in the limelight for a while." The doctor shook his head, but his voice was an even, dead monotone. "Disgusting."

An awkward silence settled between them. Bob shifted uneasily on the bed, the paper crinkling under him.

"Anyway," Flask said, turning back to him from the window, "what seems to be the problem?"

"Doc. Doc!" Flask whipped around just in time to see a flash of white and green grab him by the shoulders. "Where is she?! I need to know!"

"For God's sake, calm down!" Flask yelled, trying to twist out of his grip, but Bob's eyes were wide and his fingers were tight as wires. "Who are you looking for?"

"Miss Lang!" he exclaimed. "They just brought her in! She was on my show!"

"The shock patient? You..." Flask narrowed his eyes. "Well. I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner."

"I know, Doc," Bob pleaded. Flask flinched in his tense hands; there was everything in those words. "Please."

The doctor nodded towards the end of the corridor. "On the left, third door from the end."

Bob practically tossed him aside as he sprinted down the hall. Flask stumbled and caught himself against the wall, staring in astonishment at Bob Sparker racing, in person, to see one of his injured contestants.

"She's sleeping," Flask called out. "You can't wake her up yet! And don't touch her!"

"I'm not gonna!" Bob responded, waving over his shoulder. "Thanks, Doc!"

"Well, you have bruises and scratches, but nothing else," Flask declared. "Now, what's the matter?"

"What?" Bob looked up at him blankly. ""

Flask gave him a look. But instead of his usual withering look of disdain, it was a searching one, the narrowed eyes of a man intent on uncovering a problem. "You're quiet," he pointed out. "Usually I'd have told you to shut your trap twice, maybe three times by now."

"Yeah?" Bob asked, glaring right back at him. "You complaining, doctor?"

"I'm concerned."

"Hah, finally? I'm touched."

"I'm trying," Flask said through gritted teeth, "to do my job."

They sat in silence for a couple moments longer. Bob looked back down at the tiled floor and felt the doctor's gaze, unmoving, on his face.

"I got in a fight," he said.

"I gathered that from the bruises, yes. Who with?"

"Old buddy of mine," Bob said, but his voice was cold. "An old classmate." Flask stayed silent, and he continued. "I don't know. Sees me on television. Digs up my info. Invites me out for a drive. And then..."

Again, silence.

"Not a happy reunion," Flask offered.

"Hah," Bob laughed, and it was a shade of genuine this time, something with a glow to it. "You can say that again."

"Feeling better?"

"A hundred percent. Tired, but a good kinda tired. Don't remember anything, though."

"Well, that's about par for the course with you. Mind if I ask you a question?"

Bob tilted his head quizzically, birdlike. "Well sure, you're the boss."

"Miss King," Flask said. "Is she a friend of yours?"

"Margaret?" Bob replied. "Oh yeah, she's a pal. We're best friends."

"I see."

"Why do you ask?"

Flask locked eyes with him for a brief moment, and Bob couldn't read the look he gave.

"No reason," he said. "Simply curious."

"Five visits in five months, all for different reasons," Flask said, clicking his tongue. "Congratulations, Mr. Sparker. That's quite an achievement."

"I never do anything halfway," Bob joked, crossing one leg over the other. "I guess I'm your trouble patient, huh?"

"Astonishingly, no," Flask replied. "You don't talk back--often--and you do what I tell you--usually. I'd rate you a firm 'salvageable.'"

"Gee, I bet you say that to all the girls."

"However," Flask added, "I will admit that, out of all the cases I treat here, you're the biggest mess I've ever seen."

Bob laughed and grinned from ear to ear. "Aw, thanks, Doc," he said. "Y'know, I'm kinda fond of you myself!"

The End.