Make sure to be ready on time, Ballard. I can’t be late for this date. His mother’s words echoed in his mind as he waited for the old quack to begin his spiel.
“So, Ballard, what brings you in today?” asked Doctor Cunningman, a smile plastered from ear to ear. Cunningman was an older fellow, just past the grizzled now-hairless tail of the dog that was the late 50s of a bald man. Ballard thought he looked an awful lot like a mushroom, to be frank, but the evidence was against him on that one. Rather like the evidence for Doctor Cunningman’s treatments and tests. So-called, anyway.
“My mom,” Ballard answered. “Honestly, doc, she was really hoping you’d notice she came; she spent nearly four hours at the hair salon last Saturday. Spent almost as much on it as she did this appointment.” Ballard bounced his leg on the hardwood floor as he talked – Doctor Cunningman practiced out of an old brownstone-esque townhome in what constituted downtown Murraysville – and insisted on taking all of his patients in a space much more akin to a study than an examination room.
Hence why Ballard was sitting in such a plush leather chair, a decanter of some amber liquid on the shelf behind him. To his credit, Doctor Cunningman didn’t seem to be imbibing, at that time.
“Very funny,” the doctor said. “Have you taken up stand-up since last we spoke?”
“No,” Ballard answered, mock confusion on his face. “Why do you ask?”
Doctor Cunningman nodded, as if to some sage wisdom. “Well, then, to brass tacks. We’re here to administer a sensitivity panel, yes? It looks like we have you slated for dog dandruff, lemon, dairy and gluten of course, as well as iodized steel and unbonded carbon-14 – did I get everything?”
“Oh please, you tell me, I insist.”
“Mmm. That’s all I have written down, so we’ll proceed as planned, if that’s to your liking.
“And how much is this costing us, again?”
“The typical panel is around $800, though with the two follow-ups your mother scheduled, we’re looking at closer to $2,000, all in… discounted 20% for you, you see. Of course, discounted…” At that, the doctor stood, motioning for Ballard to join him.
“And who’s card do you have on file with that?” Ballard was asking as a formality – he knew his dad would be billed for the visit, like always. It made Ballard’s blood boil to think about, but his parents hadn’t officially divorced yet, so technically it was his mother’s money, too.
“You’d have to check with my assistant on that,” said Doctor Cunningman as he led Ballard down an ornately furnished hallway. “Is everything okay, on the billing front? We usually don’t do this, but for customers – ah, clients as reliable as yourselves, we could certainly offer a payment plan, if that would help?”
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Ballard said. “Just curious.”
“Right. This way, please.”
The doctor led Ballard into a pitch-black room at the end of the hallway, shutting what looked like a pretty heavy metal door behind. The lights clicked on as they stepped inside, seeming to react to their motion and nearly blinding Ballard. He put a hand up to shield his eyes from the glare.
A moment later, his eyes had adjusted, and Ballard noticed the massive machine resting on the far wall of the room. It looked like an old NASA computer from the original moon landing – it stretched from floor to ceiling, and end to end of the space. Its surface was dotted with flashing lights, buttons and dials, and in front of it was a helmet with dozens of electrodes sticking out at all angles, all of which connected back up to the device.
“Sit, please,” the doctor said.
“This isn’t, like, some kind of dialysis machine, right?”
“No, no, nothing like that, I assure you. Now, I’m just going to pass some objects in front of you, and the machine will tell us if you are sensitive to them or not. Does that sound okay?”
“Perfect. Let’s begin, then.”
The doctor started by waving a lemon a few feet from Ballard with one hand, his other under the table. Ballard heard a click, and suddenly the machine on the wall went crazy, beeping and flashing like it was the end of the world. Doctor Cunningman nodded, scribbled down a note, and moved on.
Next was the dog hair, met with the same result, followed by a glass of milk and a donut – which the doctor ate – all to the same effect. Then the doctor waved a stainless-steel pan around. Ballard wasn’t so sure about that one.
“Iodized steel,” the doctor explained, quickly cut off by more beeps. “Ah, that one too,” he said, shaking his head. His other hand was still carefully hidden under the table.
“So, what do you like the most about Lisa?” Ballard asked.
“I’m sorry, who?”
“Lisa. You should know her; she’s your patient, too. And this is your fifth date, after all.”
“I’m sorry, son, who are you talking about, again?”
“My mother? She’s not going to like you forgetting her name, but I’ll keep quiet about that. Now, what do you like most about her?”
The doctor blushed, and got back to his tests. Last was the supposed carbon-14, which the doctor tested by holding out an empty vial. The machine blared louder than ever before. “Steer clear of that one,” the doctor noted.
A few minutes later, Ballard and the doctor were standing in the lobby-foyer squaring away the billing with his mother.
“It will be a week at least until the panel results and Ballard’s diagnosis,” Doctor Cunningman concluded, taking the offered credit card from Ballard’s mother.
“Maybe you can diagnose her with Munchausen syndrome,” Ballard muttered.
“Amazing, thank you so much, Doctor!” Lisa exclaimed. “A week is so long, though… oh! Ballard’s younger brother has been showing the same symptoms, whatever Ballard’s were for the carbon-14… I’d love to get him in as soon as possible… when do you think I can see you again?” She twirled a strand of hair on her fingertip, eyes lovingly locked on the doctor.
“Mom, this guy said I’m allergic to frying pans, you’ve got to be-“
“Shush!” his mother exclaimed.
Doctor Cunningman stared back at her, turned to the credit card, and smiled. “I just might be able to squeeze you in later this week, as it happens!”
One thought on “Quack Quack – A flash-fiction story by Bob Corpening”
Love the Frank Baum imagery in Quack Quack and that Ballard rhymes with mallard – Keep the fiction flowing.
Hope our paths will cross again somewhere along the way.
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