Zoran Ferić – Make a Doctor Run
There is, somewhere, an Institute for Nuclear Physics which has been built near the town cemetery and its associated buildings. Both places are far enough away from the nearest tram station that doctors from the Institute may regularly be found hitchhiking along Cemetery Road in order to grab a lift from a hearse as it drives by. The gravediggers know this and take advantage of it, playing a game they have called “Make a Doctor Run”. The game at its essence is about fooling the doctors into running to catch the hearse they though was stopping for them and then, based on reasonably arbitrary criteria, either picking the doctor up or leaving him stranded. The game, not unintentionally, carries with it certain suggestions of perspective, game theory, and perhaps quantum mechanics. The doctors aren't very good at the game.
Zoran Ferić's Make a Doctor Run is broken into five numbered, named sections, the first of which is a dispassionate explanation of the game. The second part introduces us to Mac and Al, two gravediggers who love playing the game on the doctors, and who have, in their eyes, become rather proficient:
When the doctor in question sped up, even though it was more of a scurrying than real running, Al accelerated. A tiny bit. He was aware that a body moving behind another moving body cannot immediately estimate the distance. He only needed to accelerate slightly, engage the clutch, and gradually step on the gas. In twenty seconds the man was already sprinting. Al was an expert at making people run.
But generally they pick up the doctors. They want the doctors to pass their odd and unknown (to the doctors) criteria, but at the same time they go to great lengths to ensure that the conditions of the game are met.
”Don't worry,” the doctor said. “I've heard about your game. Everybody at the institute has heard about it. You guys must be having great fun.”
The crux of the story, which comes about in the third and fourth parts, involve the doctors finally getting even with the gravediggers. A doctor provides the two with a black cardboard disc with E = mc2 on it, and its precisely then when things begin to turn very strange at the cemetery. Perfectly smoked sausages are cut open to reveal fat maggots; a rubber tree used for decorating “moral” funerals begins to die; an eighty-year-old man is buried in place of a seven-year-old-girl, and so on. The gravediggers feel a curse has been placed upon them by the doctors.
Events come to a head when a big doctor, bigger than any they have seen before, thumbs for a ride. Al speeds up, the doctor starts to run, and then, suddenly, there are more doctors, and then more again:
How many are there all together?”
“Five,” Mac said.
“Fuck me, they've gone crazy,” said Al.
Things became even more serious, yet more doctors joined the race. Their coats were flying, ties floating, glasses smashing upon contact with the tarmac.
“I haven't seen anything like it before,” Mac uttered. “I don't like this at all.
The culmination of the mass influx of running doctors is:
“Jesus!” Mac screamed, “the old Nobel-prize winner has joined in.”
Al and Mac's fate shall be left to the curious reader, but needless to say it does not end well for them, and the doctors appear to win the day.
Ferić's story starts cleverly and ends well. It isn't a gimmick piece, though it threatens at times to veer off into a kind of vacuous absurdism. Instead the characters of Al and Mac the gravediggers remain entertaining and, happily, their game makes some sense and seems like a logical enough extension of two bored workers and their friendly rivalry with a nearby organisation. But Ferić's best invention are the “doctors”: they don't feel like doctors at all but as an archetype for the unknown and unknowable other, a group of entities tolerated and used for a purposes (in this case, amusement), while retaining a sense of otherworldliness. It is assumed by the gravediggers that these doctors have powers, and when evidence of such power arrives it is accepted with aplomb. The culmination of the great run of doctors comes as a natural outgrowth of their increasing presence in the story and the lives of the funeral workers.
The fifth and final section returns to the more formal tone of the first and helps to return the reader to their place as a distant observer. At the outset, the game was detailed in an abstract sense, while the meat of the story itself showed the outcome of a specific game and the culmination of years of playing. Ferić's decision to return to this dispassionate tone gives the story a more literary touch than remaining wholly with Mac and Al and, even better, allows for the distant narrator to crack a few sly jokes and insert a slight whiff of ambiguit to the resolution.
Make a Doctor Run is emphatically not a “message” story, or a piece interested in teaching anything to anyone. It is, instead, a purely entertaining story, odd enough to capture one's interest at the outset, and clever enough to keep that interest engaged.
Make a Doctor Run by Zoran Ferić is a short story from Absinthe: New European Writing - Issue 1
Other stories from the Absinthe: New European Writing - Issue 1 include:
---Blatnik, Andrej - Too Close Together
Index of short stories under review from Absinthe: New European Writing - Issue 14
Index of short stories under review from Absinthe: New European Writing - Issue 13: Spotlight on Romania
Index of short stories under review