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THE ISLE OF DOCTOR P 

a short story by E. C. Wells    

 Doctor P was two years old when he crawled out onto the window's ledge and dove into the crowded street below, circling the block before flying over the old sumac in the park near the entrance to the Promenade before hearing his mother’s agonizing screams from where she leaned precariously from her fourth story Brooklyn Heights windowsill mourning the certain death of her son who—because he did not know he could not—flew safely back into her waiting arms.  sixty years later, Doctor P watched as his mother’s body slowly descended into the hard winter ground after quietly dying in her sleep because she knew that one day she would. As the casket was slowly being lowered, Doctor P visibly shivered with terror, horrified by what had never before given him cause for concern. That is not completely true. He thought about it, but managed to hide it so deeply it no longer haunted him. It was his immobility as he stood there freezing from the shock that struck him like a bolt of lightning as he stood beside her grave in fear and trembling, not so much from her sudden death, but more from the acute realization of his own mortality. 

 Doctor P possessed the long-held conviction that if one could position oneself in an omnipresent state of being; that state being above here and now, completely separated from it; he could, while fully conscious, go into the invisible, into alternate dimensions. But fear had now entered and threatened his optimism. It was fear that enshrouded and denied him entrance into an understanding of the nature of existence; a great unknown filling him with fear so out of proportion to anything that his mind could consciously conjure. Fear threatened so thoroughly, so profoundly, real or otherwise. Death, a bottomless fall into a hole in the universe, an endless fall into a sleep where mornings no longer come; consciousness no more. Moreover, death is always only a breath away. He felt it. He felt it profoundly. Doctor P's thoughts turned to his newfound dilemma and so he set out to devise a plan of action—a method of investigation that could direct him towards an immortal truth. The truth of what? He had not yet thought this through.

After the burial, attended mostly by the tenants of the deceased (there were no living relatives other than P) along with some of her Montague Street neighbors with whom Missus Kontos had remained on good terms for nearly eighty years.

 Death had become a frequent visitor to the retirees living in The Montague Apartments. Widows, widowers and Rose Green in 2-C, who laid-out an impressive deli, which easily fed the nearly three dozen renters who had gathered to mourn the passing of Gal Kontos, and to wonder of their own tenuous futures. 

 "Life is for the living, Poly," consoled Missus Cohen from 4-B, widowed ever since Polyphemus Kontos could remember, "and the living have needs the dead don't know to want. Mister Cohen, bless his soul, he did what he could.”

"A dollar don't stretch like it useta."

"Neither do people."

"What!?"
"Going out of bounds is very scary. You know from what I’m saying?"

"I do, Missus Cohen. People need to stretch their imaginations.

"Your poor blind father, a decorated war hero—Purple Heart—and my Daniel, partners over in Sheepshead Bay. Daniel was your father’s eyes, you know. Then that terrible accident—whose fault it was I cannot say—you were too young to remember. Oh dear, you weren't even born as I recall. They were more than partners, you know. Your father and my Daniel died together in that terrible fire on that horrible old boat, the Galatea. Poor Daniel provided what he could. Your father, so rich in blessings, left this building to your mother, may she rest in peace, and now it is yours. It's a struggle, keeping up a building like this what with the cleaning, scrubbing, painting, maintaining that needs to be done. By the way, the old boiler’s not working like it useta. You know from what I’m saying? A body could get killed. 

"Ethel on six says foul odors are accumulating outside her door and likely to suffocate her anytime soon. The Katz's in 5-B swear someone's been coming up the fire escape and watching them while they sleep. I don’t imagine there’s much to see. Somebody urinates nightly in the vestibule. Filthy swine they are. Jehovah's Witnesses bang on our doors every other day. And, all that senseless graffiti, Poly. So what does it all mean? Like dogs they leave their marks.

"Your mother, may she rest in peace, she left this building to you, yes? Aww, and such a good son you are…" she smiled through cream cheese and bits of lox, "…who always loved his mother. I know that." After a pause to ponder about the risk of asking, and not getting the answer she wants, her only answer was to relieve her anxiety quickly from not knowing her future, and ask, "You’ll be moving back into your mother’s apartment, yes?" 

Exhausted from Missus Cohen’s garrulous windiness that could easily, in some parallel universe, fill the sails of tall ships, Doctor P had reached the zero level of his tolerance; he inhaled deeply, exhaled quickly, "No, Missus Cohen," he braced himself for blowback. “I'm selling the building." 
Missus Cohen swallowed hard before speaking, "Selling the building?" 

"I'm buying an isle off the coast of Maine." 

"An isle?"

"An island."

"So what’s on an "isle" off the coast of Maine there's not here in Brooklyn, Poly?" 

"I don't know. Time, maybe. Time to myself. Time to sort things out."  

"Oy, sort things out? A Rockefeller already! And your mother spent all that money on your education and you throw it in the garbage," she snapped, rose, and disappeared into the congestion of hungry mourners where slivers of most every food item from the deli and crumbs of every sort were ground into the old, frayed rugs under swollen feet, cautious walkers, unsteady canes, and the wheelchair of Mister Padilla-Bruno from 1-F. The news spread like wildfire across the deli-littered plains, igniting contempt in the eyes of the mourners, as one by one heads turned toward Mister P, nodded negatively before turning away, sighing, shrugging, anything to avoid having to look any longer upon the offending face of this stranger in their midst. 

"Rents will go up. So, where should we go? On the street?”

Whispering patter of bitter conversation rolled through the room.

“I’ve lived in The Montague all my life. You know from what I’m saying?” Talk continued hard and fast without a single word for the late Gal Kontos.

Two months later the building sold to a Manhattan developer. Two weeks later all the tenants of The Montague were informed that the building was being torn down and replaced. They were given three months to vacate.  Six months after his mother's funeral, almost to the day, Doctor P stepped off the launch and onto the wooden dock of his very own isle. 

The isle last belonged to the late Sarah Langford, an actress of the silent-era who, after amassing a fortune significant enough to retire to her personal isle, built a mansion among the boulders and the scrub pines. Her intent was to live out her remaining years comfortably in the tranquil solitude she could not find in those swarming hills of Beverly—or so she thought.

After Sarah Langford’s death the isle remained vacated for decades. This was, in part, due to the remains of Norman Knolls—once the heartthrob of the silver screen—discovered mummified in the basement of the mansion hidden behind three carefully arranged walls of winter’s wood that had been stacked from floor to ceiling in such a careful manner; in a pattern placed meticulously to suggest a butterfly. That was not by accident. That was a work of art in the basement of Sarah Langford’s tranquil getaway.

According to old newspaper accounts, Mister Knolls had disappeared without a clue as to his whereabouts which ultimately led authorities to surmise that he had vanished on his own volition. However, after his body was found carefully wrapped with strips of lacquered bed sheets, forensic investigation determined that Mister Norman Knolls was murdered with a blow to the head by a yet undetermined blunt object. Also discovered throughout the house were paraphernalia identified as un-Christian instruments used for witchcraft and perverted intercourse.

When, after many years of litigation, the isle and the grand old house with floors of jade-green marble and magnificent Art Deco furnishings which turned every room into a bravura performance of tasteful opulence reminiscent of the actress herself; beautifully illuminated by unseen bulbs hidden in coves beneath the enormously high ceiling was a trompe l'oeil rendering of a violent ocean about to flood the jade-green marble and those standing on it–was finally listed on the market. It was a steal. However, it remained unsold for many more years—presumably due to its macabre history of sex, witchcraft and murder—until the multi-million dollar sale of the late lady's isle estate to Doctor Polyphemus. The amount of the sale was considered by all who claimed to know the market value of real estate to have been a bargain-basement transaction. A steal. A giveaway.

In memory of his mother, Doctor Polyphemus quickly, unceremoniously, thought as strongly as he was able, about the beauty of every inch of that barren rocky isle covered with flowers of all sorts blooming through the summers on the rocky isle Galatea. He visualized the colorful beauty of it and in time the flowers bloomed. 

Doctor Polyphemus could no longer soar over Brooklyn rooftops, or swoop down along the piers in the bay of the East River that separated the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, as it flowed out towards the Atlantic. He would head out to sea to catch a glimpse of the oncoming sunrise before returning to his bed in time for his mother's calling him to get up and ready himself for school. Now, Doctor P only dreams of flying and when he does he flies very low and very slow, taking great effort to concentrate since only through his deliberate, steady and unbroken concentration, could he keep himself aloft just above the claws of tree branches that tried to grab him. He thinks about flying from Galatea Isle to the mainland one of these nights when the spirit moves him and when feeling himself with the stamina required for so arduous an undertaking—and, of course, believing it. Meanwhile he would take his little boat to the mainland. 

In his youth, he was forced to attend his mother and her wine and ouzo friends in the parlor, squealing away another sunny afternoon playing canasta, gin, and something they called "the black bitch." The “girls” continuously threw him their attentive gaze and would blink and smile. At times they took liberties with him by touching, fondling and petting him in the most troublesome of places. Now, effortlessly, Polyphemus is often rendered invisible. In fact, as he passed through the years—or the years through him, he discovered that it, too often, took a concerted effort just to remain visible—waiting to be touched.

 There, too, was that "terrible thing" over which he seemed not to have any conscious control. If, for whatever their reasons, others took it upon themselves to insult, injure, or to "cross" Doctor P in any way, terrible calamities would soon befall those foolish transgressors. This would happen in the most unsuspected and ironic way upon those who had inflicted him with pain or injustice. He first noticed the “terrible thing” when the barker of the kewpie doll concession at Coney Isle awarded him a Chinese finger trap instead of a prize from the top shelf, which he clearly had deserved. The barker refused him and was suddenly taken with a seizure and fell backwards, knocking all the dolls from off their shelves. Coincidence or not, Doctor P believed he was responsible. Later, when a school bully stole his lunch from out the cloakroom, the poor boy nearly died from choking on the purloined sandwich. Coincidence? Again Doctor P believed he was responsible. Many years later, while Doctor P was driving down Atlantic Avenue, a very rude trucker gave him the finger and cut him off, which nearly cost Doctor P his life. After collecting himself and continuing along his way he came upon the trucker quite dead from being cut off by an even larger truck. Coincidence? Coincidence or not, there was no longer any question in his mind as to his powers. From that day forward, he knew with absolute certainty that he was the one and only one responsible for justice delivered. As a consequence of this responsibility, he soon gained intuitive insight, sometimes material wealth, after the ill-willed actions of others. Coincidence no more.

Now, all seemed of little consequence as Doctor P opened the front door and entered his isle mansion. He caught his reflection in the jade marble underfoot and it satisfied his sense of luxury which bordered, if not crossed, into an Epicurean nature. His first glimpse of the trompe l’oeil ceiling startled him. Little of the mansion’s opulence and whimsy did much to lessen his uneasiness. His predictions came from dark premonitions. Was he creating things to come? The future? His future? Was his imagination tricking him? Nonetheless, Doctor P, mad or not, believed he could create a future of his own. Most people do in fact, but are seldom aware of it. Doctor P was acutely aware of possibilities.

During the year that followed, Doctor P dedicated the lion’s share of his waking life to reading and writing the future of his possibilities. He read every book he could get his hands on having something, anything of a metaphysical bent. He wrote regularly; developing new insight into his craft. He and his work became a single living organism, each inseparable from the other. His living had become a metaphor for his work, his craft, his writing; which, in turn, became a metaphor for his life. They were welded into a single entity: he was his work and his work was himself. He was a man of great determination who would yet find a way either to remove himself from under the gathering, dark and brooding cloud of self-doubt, or to remove the cloud itself; thereby resolving his seemingly unsolvable predicament, "Who am I?"

If writing were the expression of his spirit, then reading was its life's blood. Doctor P became an initiate to the wonders of a metaphysical life that he could not have imagined before coming to Galatea Isle. If reading was the life's blood in his writing, then his writing was a manifestation of his animating spirit. Doctor P grew certain in the knowledge that he needed only to still himself, quiet himself and listen to the voice of his animating spirit. Was it God?

The ghost of Norman Knolls also lived on Galatea Isle. It was shortly after the Doctor’s first week on the isle that the visitation took place. The actor, found mummified in the basement, was in the nude and walking briskly towards Doctor P where he lay in his bed reading some essays by Michel de Montaigne. Suddenly, there was Norman Knolls, every bit as attractive as he was in those old silent movies—in fact, even more so. Film didn't really do him justice. It captured his hard and lean physique; his piercing eyes so brown they were black; no small sense of masculine virility. But it didn't capture the essence of the gentleman, the real beauty of him, the scent of him; not a rose, but the essence of rose, the very idea. To breathe him in, one breathed in not only his soul in time and space, but time and space itself; another reality, unique and separate, complete with new and unexplored ideas and images, alien thoughts with a language of its own. Norman Knolls was the essence of a sublime omnipresence. 

“You flatter me,” he said, reading Doctor P’s thoughts. “But, I am not free. Not free at all.”  

It was the oddest sensation. Doctor P knew that Norman was dead. He also knew that he was seeing a ghost but he remained calm and wasn’t the least bit apprehensive. He supposed Norman’s being naked and his seeming so unselfconscious about himself set a tone of acceptance that could not be construed in any way alarming. Doctor P just looked up and there he was, beautiful and overpowering.

"You are free to express your mind, but your mind isn’t free,” Norman explained. “You are bound by the limitations of the symbols you use to think your thoughts, to interpret your reality, to express yourself. Only in dreams do you come close to the experience of a free mind. I am not restricted by the limits of those symbols or by the material world itself. I have my own thoughts about my own reality. In a certain sense, I am free of material reality, yet still constrained by the substance you enjoy." He spoke artfully and with that salacious grin that had become his stock in trade; the impression one remembered of him, the hallmark of his career. His acting took second place to his power for projecting pure sensuousness from off the silent, silver screen. 

Doctor P had been lying in nearly the same position and in the exact same spot where the late lady of the mansion lay in another life. He could feel Norman’s breath upon him like heavy quicksilver moving through his body, his veins, his being, filling him with wordless images and a never experienced ecstasy.

“I know you can't quite bring yourself to believe your senses, my new friend. However, you must know that to be free, to be immortal, requires your participation in a reality deeper than the material reality of death. You will need to comprehend another dimension. Reaching out for the stars, the sun, the moon—that's all for the material world–not the world of the heart. The heart is yours and yours alone.”

Doctor P reached out to touch Norman’s head. His fingers reached for his thick and oiled, wavy black hair. Just as he came within centimeters, Norman’s head exploded and blood—deep scarlet mixed with fragments of skull dripping flesh splattered about the bedroom. Blood-streaked brain matter slapped and slid down the horrified face of Doctor P who screamed with terror as invisible hands began to pull at Norman’s blood-soaked body. Norman slid across the Persian carpet beneath the bed, pulled by phantom hands towards the door, towards the hall and then down the long staircase as his head—what was left of it—bounced on each step of the curving staircase. Doctor P jumped from his bed and followed the body. Across the marble floor of the foyer, it slid toward the door leading down into the basement. The door quickly opened and his body was dragged down into the darkness below. Doctor P ran back to his bedroom, locking the door behind him. The blood that was so vivid, so real, began to fade and disappear. Exhausted, he got into his bed, covered himself with the warm blanket, feeling alone and empty of reason. “What happened?” Polyphemus asked himself just before drifting off into a deep sleep.

 The certitude of immortality began to comfort Doctor P's troubled mind. Irresolute as it was, the bottomless pit that he had imagined death to be, became more a matter to anticipate. The thought of an endless fall into nothingness was dissipating. His mornings and his evenings were always in the much welcome (indeed, anticipated) company of Norman who arose shortly after from the basement, his head intact. Doctor P’s daily journal was filled with evidence concerning the nature of immortality. It was all proof positive, if Norman was to be believed. “Once a year my skull is shattered on the anniversary of her murdering me with twenty head-smashing blows with a brass andiron. She went mad, you know,"  Norman told Doctor P during one of their nightly meetings.

"Who?" Doctor P asked. 

"Sarah Langford, of course. I came up here to be with her. We were going to spend the rest of our lives in loving solitude. However, she was insane. Too much solitude will do that. There would be no strolling around the isle in the warm months; or staying indoors in our warm and comfortable mansion during the cold and bitter months and, year-round, making love in that very bed. There would be none of that. She wanted something else. Something more. Something better." 

 "Perhaps she missed the limelight, the parties, the glamour of Hollywood. 

 "No. She hated all that," Norman said wistfully. "She had begun to remember her future.” 

"I don't understand. How can one remember the future, Norman? The future hasn’t happened."  

"That's where you're mistaken, Poly. The future continually happens and it happens now; always now. In her madness she had no alternative but to kill me. 

"But, why?" 

"She couldn't bear knowing that another saw her as she saw herself. She accused me of "doing things" to her. Unlike you, she became incapable of accepting my love. Sharing a consciousness is a frightening experience, at least it was for her. In Sarah’s confused mind she felt she had no choice but to murder me. Some just don't want to know themselves. They imagine all kinds of nonsense. The phenomenon causes many to take refuge within the safe haven of religion. Some develop superstitions of every sort which shelters them from ever arriving at any truth about themselves. Some, as was the case with Sarah, begin to practice witchcraft as a way to explain away the natural magic of being. She want to be alone. And you, my dear Pollywog, are in love with the idea of merging into the collective." 

"Yes," replied Doctor P, wistfully. "I am.

 As if a great revelation was about to be revealed, Norman looked heavenward and clasped his hands together, took in a deep breath and said, “Through your eyes, Pollywog, I am immortal in death.”  

The following morning Doctor P took his launch to the mainland for one last look. At what? Something solid, something real, something to remember, something alive.
Banks of thick fog descended upon the pier. The lighthouse in the sound burned bright. The storm quickly began to gather strength; a wicked storm. 

When Doctor P returned to the dock, he knew the oncoming nor’easter would surely swallow his small boat. While the ocean raged and darkness descended, Doctor P saw an old man stumbling through gusts of wind and heavy rain towards him. The man walked up to Doctor P, looked deeply into his eyes, and asked him if he’d like a lift to the isle on the Pequod. Doctor P stared at the weather-beaten face, now within arm’s reach, and asked if he were real.

"Of course I’m real, matey. I’m Captain Ahab."

"I thought you might be."

"None other. Now up the plank, matey."

"Of course. Thank you."

They boarded the Pequod with great haste.

"Don’t thank me until you’re safely delivered. Whales. Do you know anything about whales?” 

“No,” said Doctor P. I can’t say that I do.” 

“They’re a vanishing breed, aye? 

“Yes, I suppose they are.” 

“All things great and small come to pass." 

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” Doctor P sighed. 

"True as you, matey."

Ahab turned and looked upon Doctor Polyphemus Kontos with his intense dark eyes. “When something becomes too great, so mammoth, so fantastic, so dangerous and unforgiving, the odds of survival are not good. But, you’re called to it. There’s no way out.” Captain Ahab tapped the tip of his wooden leg upon the old wooden deck of the Pequod and set sail for Galatea Isle. 

When Doctor P was finally delivered to his isle, he thanked Captain Ahab then watched as the wooden ship rolled out to sea and disappeared upon the storm-gathering waves of the ship-bobbing sea and the cold mist blowing in the mounting tempest. He watched as the world in which he once had lived slowly sank beneath the rising tide, and the darkness of the heavy morning fog. Doctor P was sixty-three when he and Norman walked to the isle's north shore, stood on the edge of the isle’s tallest cliff and, because they did not know they could not, dove into eternity.

The screams of Gal Kontos could be heard up and down Montague Street as her two year old son plummeted to his death from a window's ledge in Brooklyn Heights.

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