Dear Reverend Joseph Parker 03/04/1819
My recent endeavors to formulate an effective remedy for Evita's sickness have, I regretfully say, failed. However, while experimenting with a certain mixture of drugs just two weeks ago, I stumbled upon something marvelous. I have unintentionally discovered the ideal aid for a malady entirely unrelated to the one I sought to cure. While my discovery is of no immediate use to my wife it will surely revolutionize the field of medicine in a most significant and permanent way and improve the lives of many. This is indeed a failure greater than any success I could have imagined and enraptured with my victory I have picked up my pen to invite you to appraise my work. Forgive me for omitting specific details but I feel that your surprise will be all the more great if you see what I have achieved with your own eyes. Bless my house with your fine company on the afternoon of this Saturday and I will reveal to you the fruits of my labour.
Your dearest friend,
Dr. Alastair Calvin
Scarcely had Dr. Calvin finished the last flourish on his signature before he had the letter folded, sealed and delivered away towards its destination. He had relished the idea of writing such a letter to his friend upon the very moment of his discovery and now that it had been sent he finally felt as if he could relax his mind. The preceding two weeks had been a chaotic rush of long nights spent in his laboratory with only the barest of periods occupied with eating and sleeping. Saturday was a distant three days away and during that interim he felt obligated to do no more than relax in front of his fireplace with a good book.
Dr. Calvin's library was handsomely furnished mostly with books of biology and chemistry, but a large section was devoted entirely to fiction. He perused a particular shelf, brushing his hand over the Greek satires and tragedies, past the romances and comedies to finally rest upon a book that he had never read before. It was a novel by the name of Frankenstein. This would occupy him nicely for the evening, and so equipped with the book, Dr. Calvin settled himself in the great armchair of his living room. He then set about kindling a blaze in the fireplace, an activity which gave him much pleasure. The glowing light and warmth of even the smallest flame was relaxing to him and allowed the thoughts of his mind to flow freely. In fact he found it difficult to apply himself to any endeavor of science without at least a burning lamp by his side. He was like a modern Hephaistos, possessed of unparalleled creativity when he had the element of fire with which to shape his work but lame when he did not.
The fireplace was now alight so he sat upon the armchair and with great interest began reading the novel. He had only turned the first few pages when he heard a loud series of coughs from upstairs. Evita's condition must have worsened, and without hesitation he dropped the novel to attend to his wife. The maidservants were already applying damp cloths to her pallid forehead when he arrived in her chamber, but he bade them leave and for the next three days devoted his own careful attention to the one he loved most.
On the third morning the bright orb of the sun rose from its bed of fire and shone forth its bright rays upon the sleeping eyes of Dr. Calvin. He roused himself from drowsiness and looked upon his wife. The rosy bloom had spread back to her cheeks and her breathing had returned to normal. He reached his hand under the covers of the bed and felt her rounded, pregnant belly. There were no kicks today. He kissed her softly on the cheek and arose from the bed to prepare for his guest's arrival.
Just after midday Joseph arrived upon his doorstep in a horse drawn carriage. He was an austere kind of person but underneath his rigid facial expression and clerical attire he possessed nothing but goodwill and piety. Dr. Calvin had watched his approach towards the house from the second floor balcony and as he dismounted the carriage he greeted him with a wide smile. Joseph looked up at his beaming friend and loudly exclaimed unto him, "Has it thus become a tradition of the Calvin household to leave guests waiting at the front door while you leer down at them from above?"
"It most certainly has my good friend", responded Dr. Calvin with a laugh, "for you see I discovered only last week that I am as great an inventor as God. My new position is in the sky as a heavenly observer." At this Joseph's expression broke into the largest smile that a face such as his would allow and he replied, "Be cautious that you do not fly as high as Icarus did, for the waxen wings of men are not comparable with those of the angels." Dr Calvin chuckled to himself at the joke and descended to meet his friend more formally.
Joseph was undoubtedly curious about the discovery that his friend had made but his first concerns were about the condition of Evita. "She is in fair health today", reported Dr. Calvin as he escorted him inside, "although every now and again she is subject to the most violent fits of coughing and shivering. Her pregnancy is progressing well however, and with any luck I will have a healthy heir within five months." Satisfied with this verdict Joseph inquired about the nature of his discovery. Yet Dr. Calvin once again refused give any details. "It is best that you simply view it for yourself" he said, and with a beckoning finger led him down a long and narrow flight of stairs towards his underground laboratory.
Dr. Calvin's laboratory was, in reality, a large enough room but so cluttered were the shelves which adorned every wall and the tables which occupied most of the floor space, with bottles of brightly coloured chemicals, stores of queer smelling powders, scientific journals spread out and stacked upon one another, burners, tubes and every other piece of scientific paraphernalia imaginable that it seemed to be no bigger than a closet. Upon the ceiling was an ornate chandelier holding twelve burning candles which illuminated the central workbench, the one space in the whole laboratory which bore only three items. These items were a caged mouse, a beaker full to the brim with a deep red solution and a sharp dissection scalpel. "This", said Dr. Calvin picking up the beaker "is my discovery." He withdrew a single drop of the red liquid from it with an eyedropper and diluted it in a small tray of water intended for the mouse. Joseph observed with great curiosity, but his rigid expression betrayed only the slightest of intrigue. "My subject", continued the doctor, picking the squeaking mouse from its cage, "is in perfect health." He then gave the mouse's tail a sudden pinch to which it responded with a loud squeak of indignation. "As you can see its nervous system is in proper working condition and it is fully aware of even the slightest degree of pain inflicted to its body. As a matter of fact the only malady which affects my subject is a slight thirst, for you see I have deprived him of his water tray for the last day." Dr. Calvin then restored both the mouse and its water tray, now infused with the contents of the beaker back to the cage. The mouse turned immediately to the source of water and began thirstily lapping. Joseph's curiosity was now at its peak and he watched the mouse intently, not knowing what to expect. A full minute passed in silence before Joseph finally asked, "my friend what is the meaning of all this? What do you expect me to see in this creature?"
"He appears to be the same mouse as before I admit," said Dr. Calvin, "but by now my formula has taken effect and you will see one very important difference." He reached into the cage again, took out the mouse and held it firmly to the table. With his free hand he picked up the scalpel and in one clean cut severed the tip of its tail off. Drops of blood seeped onto the bench but the mouse remained silent, sniffing the air as if nothing at all had happened. Joseph stood amazed, his face in a clear expression of surprise. "Why it's incredible", he remarked. "The creature feels no pain at all?"
"That's right", said Dr. Calvin, "it is completely insensible to even the most intense degree of pain and will continue to be so for at least another half an hour." He continued in a rapture of enthusiasm, "What I discovered during my experiments was the perfect anaesthetic. It does not derange the mind in order to dull the senses like an opiate; rather it isolates the faculty of pain and removes it for a short time while every other faculty remains intact. Why just imagine its applications in the field of medicine; imagine performing an amputation without the patient suffering, imagine having a wisdom tooth pulled painlessly, imagine a woman having a painless birth. Oh, Evita and the rest of the world will benefit so greatly from its virtues."
At this last remark Joseph frowned deeply and interrupted his frenzy with a harsh rebuke. "What foolishness is this? Do you truly mean to remove every last vestige of pain from the process of childbirth?" Dr Calvin was confused and taken aback at this sudden change of attitude. "Of course I intend to. That thought was at forefront of my mind when I first discovered the properties of my formula. It is the idea that has excited my spirit so greatly. What means your indignation?"
"You must not apply this anaesthesia towards relieving the pangs of birth. It may have its uses elsewhere but to rob a woman of her just punishment would constitute a grave sin."
"Nonsense", replied Dr. Calvin angrily, "When did the church ever condemn man for helping his fellow creatures?"
"Your fellow creatures are sinners" retorted Joseph in a raised voice. "The pangs of birth are the punishments that Eve bore for her transgression and passed on to womankind. To take them away is to remove the discipline of God and with it any chance of repentance."
"Superstition and gibberish", shouted Dr. Calvin, now impassioned with anger. "Ought we to not also destroy the oxen because it aids in man's plowing of the fields? Ought we not extinguish every flame lest it burns our skin, and live the rest of our days in the cold darkness of nature? What foolishness you speak"
Joseph was red faced with fury at his friend's insolence. "Mark my words friend, know that my council is wise. If you use this devilish substance on your wife both of you will suffer the full extent of hell's wrath"
"Begone wretch", exclaimed Dr. Calvin at the top of his lungs, finger pointing to the stairs. "Leave my house if you wish torture upon my enfeebled wife and I." Joseph needed no further invitation and with thunderous steps he exited the house and drove his carriage away. Dr. Calvin was left in the laboratory shaking with rage. The mouse had since regained its senses and was squeaking pitifully in the corner of its cage.
Dr. Calvin remained in the laboratory for the rest of the day, staring up at the chandelier and thinking over what had happened. He was convinced that he was right to insist upon the formula's use in Evita's childbirth and at length resolved to begin developing it for human consumption. Over the course of the next week he trialed the drug in dogs, cows, pigs and even a chimpanzee, all to the same result. One drop of the solution in a small amount of water would completely anaesthetize the animal for half an hour. He was so encouraged by these results that on a dark Friday night he administered a dose to himself. To his great disappointment it was completely ineffectual. He tried doubling and even tripling the dose all to no effect. In a state of misery and desperation he put the beaker to his lips and drank the entire quantity of the foul tasting formula. Within minutes he felt the desired numbness sweeping over his body and to his great delight he perceived no pain at all, even when he pierced the tips of his fingers. Not only that but every other faculty operated perfectly, just as he had hoped.
The numbness however, did not wear off in half an hour. Dr. Calvin waited a full three hours but still it persisted. This was not so surprising to him, for he had taken many times the amount usually administered. The best solution he decided would be to simply sleep it off. However when the sun rose the following day he found to his terror that he was still insensible to pain. Worse yet he could not even feel the warmth of the sun on his skin nor the soft kiss that Evita placed on his cheek. Dr. Calvin was tortured for the rest of the day by apprehensions. How much longer would the numbness last, he questioned himself. When would his sensations return?
He confined himself in the library for most of the time during the day, hiding his condition from Evita and the servants and patiently waiting for his body to return to its original state. During this time he returned to the novel Frankenstein hoping that it would lighten his mood. It had exactly the opposite effect and awakened in him the horrible realization of his actions. By degrees he came to understand Joseph's warnings and as each day passed without his feelings returning to him his hopes diminished, the pleasure that he took in beholding a fire lessened and eventually he came to hate the day that he had made his discovery.
On one occasion during the night Evita grabbed his hand and placed it upon her pregnant belly. The baby was kicking within her stomach but alas Dr. Calvin could not feel it. This incited the most excessive despair and melancholy in his heart but he shut it up within him, not wanting to exacerbate his wife's already delicate condition. One thought preserved his sanity through these trials of the mind and that was the notion that Evita should prevail in health to deliver his baby. As long as this notion survived he would live with the effects of his mistake. He was sustained in this way for three long months until on a dreadful night Evita became violently ill. She shook and sweated all day long until, at the setting of the sun, her life passed from her and she lay limp in the arms of her husband.
Dr. Calvin's emotions finally burst forth from his bosom and he was possessed by a hellish fury. He rent his body grievously with his fingernails and charged through the house like a wounded beast, lashing out at everything and everyone that came in his way. He descended to his laboratory and smashed every bottle, every piece of equipment that he could find in a desperate attempt to destroy the root of his misery. He then tore the candles from the chandelier and carried them to the library where he proceeded to set alight every book of biology and chemistry in his collection. A wildfire quickly ignited and spread from the library to every room of the house until Dr. Calvin's entire estate was a pillar of flame.
Dr. Calvin stood outside of his house, watching it burn and collapse upon itself. It was just at this moment that a wondrous thing occurred. The numbness vanished from his body and he was overcome by a horrible pain. He became aware of his torn skin, the broken knuckle on his right hand and the severe bruises on his legs. More importantly however Dr. Calvin became aware of the significance of the monumental blaze which was burning before him. The fire which he had created was destructive indeed but at just the right distance from it he felt its warmth on his skin, a sensation which overcame all of his pains. He looked up at the brilliant display of orange light in the sky that the sunset and the inferno had joined to make and understood the gift that had been given to him. He would rebuild, he would re-create and by the gift of his intelligence and reason he would redeem himself.