Doctor Zalman Blott should have been exhausted by this late in the afternoon, but he wasn’t. He had emigrated decades ago from Eastern Europe and still had an Old-World constitution. When he was angry – when a social cause fired his anger – his Old-World constitution forced him to go straight ahead and act out his aggravation, sometimes at the expense of his medical practice.
And just now he was fuming. A magazine article whose contents he had scrutinized in his anteroom while he waited for his next patient seared his breast. Its conclusion: young Americans of today didn’t have the foggiest on what it takes to keep the world together, and wouldn’t be equipped to know when their turn came. This condition, which Blott accepted as truth because of the editor’s celebrated reputation, was anathema to him, a loyal American citizen who had originated in dysfunctional, war-weary Europe. The gravitas of the article: American pupils were not thoroughly taught in school the grand sweeps of history, the cultures of others, the languages of those cultures modern and ancient. Why, the very vicissitudes of learning even one of those languages would enlighten them about the complexities of civilization.
Correction was needed. Foreign languages must be learned; as for English, in which Blott knew he himself was deficient, precision must be inculcated: America too was a civilization, he devoutly believed.
So when Harold Klompit was pushed into his office by Gloria, his mother – the boy had a rash – Blott had something on his mind more crucial than Harold’s blemish. He began with,
“Do you study Latin in school?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know? Either you study it or you don’t.”
Harold was stumped. “Maybe what they teach me is Latin. They didn’t really say.”
Harold peered through his new eyeglasses at the doctor.
“I asked you an easy question.”
“Arrhhh,” Harold grumped.
“Answer the doctor! There must be a good reason for what he asks,” his mother said, although she couldn’t imagine what that might be. “Harold,” she added, “don’t start in.”
Harold started in. “If I study Latin, but I don’t know if it’s Latin, do I study Latin?”
“Hmm,” the good doctor intoned.
“He goes to a special school for smart children,” Mrs. Klompit interrupted. “It’s been the death of us.”
“Hmm,” the doctor said, “there is thinking in this boy.”
Harold was uncomfortable, which caused him to mutter, “Leave me alone already.”
The doctor rubbed his chin and walked the floor. “This is serious,” he said.
“Serious? He doesn’t have to go the hospital, does he, Doctor?” Mrs. Klompit implored.
Blott pivoted around. “No hospital, Mrs. Trumpet!”
“Klompit,” she corrected.
“Surely, Klompit! What am I, wrong? Listen, come back tomorrow when we will talk Latin. Never mind the rash, it’s nothing. Your son will be a somebody yet. I know what I’m saying. Didn’t I get my medical degree in Roumania?”
“Yeah, Roumania,” the boy said under his breath.
The next day at the office Dr. Blott was eager.
Harold’s every nerve was on edge.
Zalman Blott whipped out his ancient Ingersoll pocket watch that fit into its vest pocket under his jacket. He would test the youth’s facility for the English language.
“What is this?” he demanded of Harold.
Harold’s eyes wandered.
“Hey, pay attention,” the doctor ordered.
“What is this?” he demanded again.
“An old watch,” Harold answered.
“Look close now,” the doctor said, bringing the timepiece in front of the bridge of Harold’s nose. Zalman exhorted the boy, pointing to its watch fob. “What do you call this?”
Mrs. Klompit interrupted. “What does a doctor need to know this for?”
The physician stuffed the timepiece back in his jacket.
“You must learn words,” he instructed Harold. “Watch fob is this word. Things are words. Words are things. Both ways,” he instructed. Was the encounter the day before a fluke? Did young Klompit have what it takes to defy common routines, to lead?
Still, Harold had seemed uncommonly promising even for personal purposes. Dr. Zalman Blott was at that stage of life where he wanted to confer his mantle on a young man whose attributes would memorialize his own posthumous image.
But what unique talent was in the boy?
Blott did not have to speculate further about this.
Suddenly, Harold Klompit’s torso froze stiff, his presence remote while his head shook in abandon. The boy’s glasses flew off and his mouth yawed open. From within it a baritone ranged up and down and around in Gregorian chant:
“If I stu-u-dy Latin but cannot kno-o-w if it is Latin, that is not I who stu-u-dies Latin. Quod erat demon . . .stran-dum.”
His eyes crossed.
Was this a spirit? An animal? A geist? A dybbuk?
“So-o-o, the premis-ess telll that if a seed of Latin is unru-uly planted, the harvest shall barren be. Let this ini-quity be revelation unto thee-e and thi-i-ne.”
The doctor took hold of his courage. “Your reasoning is not authorized!” he loudly exclaimed.
“What wa-ays are perrfect and tru-e-e ev-erywhere? Man-n breaks not from his yoke of the roun-nded fur-r-row in the fields of Zor. Yea, a rake that incises the trunk of Gomor-r-rah!”
Then the boy’s upper lip curled to show the whites of powerful incisors.
“In sooth be the sayer.”
And the voice ROARED.
Harold’s eyes ceased rotating and he looked about him to escape his beast that had roared.
Mrs. Klompit had fainted at the roar; the doctor had jumped a foot in the air. Paying no mind to the woman, Blott put his hand to the youth’s forehead and searched his vital signs.
He stepped back. He paced the floor back and forth and back.
“This is the beginning,” the doctor murmured in hushed tones. “THIS BEGINS!” he shouted. “You know what?!” he poked at the boy. “I don’t want you in my office. I don’t want you here. YOU ARE SCARING ME TO PIECES! You are a Wasteland all over again! Go home, go someplace else, you are from the dark woods, you have something in you not even Harvard Medical School knows! Pack up, Mrs. Frankenstein, take this thing with you!”
“Klompit,” she sniffed, having revived.
“Frankenstein I said!” and he whisked them out of his office, keeping back as far as he could.
On the walk home Mrs. Klompit said to her son, “I think it is good we don’t see Dr. Blott again.”
“I think so too.”
“He is not right for us.”
“No, he is not.”
“I don’t like fakers,” she added.
“No, no fakers.”
She stopped square in the street and faced Harold.
“But what will you ever be?”
“I already am,” Harold said.
She pleaded, “I mean, what will become of you?”
Mrs. Klompit couldn’t miss the sparkle in her boy’s eyes. “I can write scripts for TV, Ma. I can write very spooky dialogue.”
About the Author:
Harvey Steinberg is a very senior citizen and long-time resident of Lawrenceville. His poetry has appeared in many literary journals across the country, he won a regional prize for playwriting, and he and his wife Marcia have been researching and writing about late 19th century industry in America.