Summary: A tongue-in-cheek kickoff for SJS Month 2011. The smallest crumb can become a masterpiece in the hands of an artist. . . .
Rated: K+ WC 3000
The Artist’s Touch
“Damn it, Adam, it hurts!”
Adam rolled his eyes. “Oh, please,” he snorted. “You stubbed your toe, Joe. How bad can it possibly be?”
“It’s bad!” Joe hobbled over to the settee, his weight on his right heel and left foot. “I know it sounds stupid, but it’s bad.”
“You whine like a little girl,” said Adam. “Shall I go up to the attic and look for your stuffed toy bear?’
“Look, I know you think this is funny, but it really hurts.” Joe bit his lip as he set his right foot gingerly on the table. He didn’t want to overplay his hand this early, but he needed to set the stage. Adam probably would have criticized him for mixing metaphors, but luckily, nobody else cared about that kind of thing.
Adam deposited himself in the blue velvet chair. “You know what your problem is?”
“Other than the fact that my older brother is a heartless pain in the ass?”
“Other than that,” said Adam. “You’ve been spending too much time with those idiotic fanfiction writers.”
“Hey, some of them are really good!” Joe protested.
“Maybe, but I’m talking about the ones who think that every little bruise you get is some sort of a major trauma.”
“They’re not idiots,” Joe snapped. “They just enjoy seeing me suffer.”
“You’re right, they’re not idiots—they’re sick. I heard there’s even an actual diagnosis for this. It’s called something like Suffering Joe Syndrome.”
It was all Joe could do to keep from a major guffaw. “Gosh, really?” he managed when he could finally control his voice. It had been years since Professor Wrenny had first identified this syndrome. It was astounding that somebody as smart as Adam hadn’t picked up on it a long time ago. Glad you finally made it to the party, Older Brother.
“Really,” said Adam. “Seriously—are you sure somebody didn’t poison you, and maybe that’s why you stubbed your toe? Because you were lurching around, all disoriented from the poison?”
“I wasn’t poisoned,” Joe snapped. “Sassybrass is the expert in poison, and she took the night off.” Lucky thing, he reflected. Not that he couldn’t have gotten some serious mileage out of a good poisoning, but he just wasn’t in the mood.
“Glad we cleared that up,” said Adam. “So, you’ve got a sore toe, and this is supposed to be a major event?”
“It’s not just a sore toe,” said Joe. “It really hurts.” And Adam was really a pain in the ass. Pa or Hoss would have been completely on board by now.
“Awww. ‘It really hurts.’ As distinct from those sore toes that don’t really hurt?” Adam raised an eyebrow.
“Doggone it, Adam, are you gonna take me seriously or not?” Joe demanded. His chin was quivering, and his eyes glistened.
“No,” said Adam. “I admit that your performance is admirable, but even that birthdayzilla girl—what’s her name, devonshire? Even she isn’t going to be taken in by the notion that you’re suffering this much just because you stubbed your toe.”
Clearly, a different approach was called for. Joe crossed his arms and allowed a knowing, but still pain-filled, smile to cross his face. “Don’t be so sure. She likes any kind of suffering I do.”
“What kind of an amateur do you take her for?” Adam chortled. “This stubbed-toe nonsense might have worked when she was a newbie, but she’s been around the block a few times now. She’s probably one of the first people who was ever diagnosed with that Suffering Joe Syndrome. You need some major suffering to get her attention.”
“But this is major suffering.” Tears spilled down Joe’s cheeks.
“Puh-leeze.” Adam plunked his boots on the table and picked up his book. “If you can’t do any better than that, even devonshire won’t want anything to do with you.” He flipped a few pages and settled in as if the matter was closed.
Joe considered this as the tears coursed down his face and his brother ignored him in favor of Dickens. He needed to bring this one around. “So, what do you think I should do?” he asked after a long minute.
“About what?” Adam looked up from his book, clearly torn between annoyance and reluctant interest.
“It’s SJS Month. What should I do?” Forcing the words out was almost as painful as his toe, but Adam was always easier to handle when he thought Joe was acknowledging his wisdom about something or other.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Adam turned his attention back to his book.
Oops. Maybe not.
But Joe pressed on. “Devonshire says that since her birthday is in April, April is officially SJS Month 2011.”
Adam shook his head. “They have a whole month of this? Cripes, these people are cracked.”
“Maybe so, but I really like them, and I want to make them happy.” He allowed his voice to become slightly plaintive.
“And you think stubbing your toe is going to do that? What kind of lightweights are they, anyway? You should break your neck or something.”
“There’s so much other stuff in the library, and Patina said she didn’t think anybody had done a stubbed-toe story, so I figured it was time. Besides, I could use a break. Compared to some of the stuff these people have done, I’m getting off pretty easy this time. Did you see that collaboration between Lisamarie and southplains? I damned near froze my cojones off.” It was a good thing Patina had had this stubbed-toe idea. It was going to take him a month to get over everything southplains and Lisamarie had inflicted.
“I heard about that,” said Adam. “What is it with that devonshire chick, anyway? I mean, who declares her birthday month to be Suffering Anybody Month?”
Joe shrugged. “Heck if I know,” he said. “Maybe it’s those Canadian winters.”
The brothers contemplated this as the fire crackled. After a while, Joe said, “This is all well and good, but my toe still hurts.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t it better?” Adam’s brow furrowed, and Joe hid a smile at his puzzled tone. Mentally, he checked step one off the list: Convince Adam that the pain is real. Time for step two, the logistics. Then, once Adam was on board with the plan, Joe could segue into full-blown suffering.
So, Joe shook his head. “Can’t be better yet. There hasn’t been any fussing, nobody’s looked at whether it’s broken or talked about calling in Doc Martin, there’s no laudanum anywhere in sight, and we haven’t seen hide nor hair of Pa.”
“Pa and Hoss are in San Francisco,” said Adam. “They’re not due back until some time in May.”
“Aw, jeez, no.” Joe dropped his head back on the settee. “You know what this means, right?”
“I’m almost afraid to ask.”
“You’re gonna have to fill in for Pa,” said Joe. It was hardly the ideal solution, but he could work with it. He just hoped devonshire didn’t get too upset about not getting a JPM.
“‘Fill in for Pa’? Meaning . . . what?” Adam sounded suspicious, but there was no turning back now.
“First, you’re gonna have to cut my boot off.”
“Cut it off? Why can’t you just take it off like a normal person?”
“Because I hurt my foot! Listen, Adam, do you want to get this over with or not?” It probably wasn’t the best way to put it, but he needed to keep Adam involved in order to get the comfort part of the hurt/comfort segment that was part of the whole SJS concept. Then again, if Adam stormed out, maybe he could do a stubbed-toe version of that episode where he got trampled by a horse and almost had to cut off his arm. That would be good for some major suffering. Plus, by the time Pa got home, Joe might be on the verge of death and they’d have to cut off his foot—no, wait a minute. Maybe just the verge of death. That would be enough. He’d keep the foot. No point in being unoriginal.
He was about to tell Adam to get out and he’d just take care of himself when Adam’s older brother guilt kicked in. It’s about time, Joe mused, even if it did mean reining in the suffering a little. It would be worth it for some good hurt/comfort action.
“Fine,” Adam was saying. “We’ll cut the boot off. But what are you going to wear tomorrow?”
“Doesn’t matter. By tomorrow, my foot’s going to be horribly infected, and I’ll be in bed with a high fever. I probably won’t be able to wear a boot for at least three or four weeks. By that time, you’ll have gotten me a new pair.”
“With whose money?”
“Nobody worries about that kind of thing.” Except you.
“Except me,” Adam said. “Because I’m not buying you new boots, and if you think I am, you’ve got another think coming.”
“Anyway,” said Joe. “You’re going to cut the boot off, and when you see how my foot is all discolored and swollen, you’re going to get worried. You’ll help me upstairs and put me to bed—”
“Does having a sore toe mean that you can’t get yourself into bed?”
Joe ignored him. “You’ll help me get in bed, go heat up some broth—”
“What does broth do for a sore toe?”
“I have no idea, but that’s how it’s done. You’ll bring me the broth, and I’ll barely be able to hold the cup steady, and you’ll notice that my color is high and you’ll feel my forehead and realize that I have a fever.”
“From a stubbed toe?”
“An infected stubbed toe.” For somebody who was supposed to be the smart brother, Adam could be downright dense sometimes.
“How did it get infected? You just stubbed it, right? You didn’t break the skin or anything, did you? Besides, I thought the infection wasn’t supposed to happen until tomorrow. Are you on the accelerated plan now?”
“How would I know? Do I look like a doctor? Just go with it, all right? My toe has this major infection that came on really fast and it’s spreading into my foot, and maybe up into my leg, and you’re going to have to sit by my bed all night and put cool compresses on my head to bring down my fever.”
“Your fever spiked that fast, too?”
“For crying out loud, do you have to question everything?” This was what came of learning about medicine from fanfiction. Writers always adjusted the medicine to fit the plot. Joe had long since resigned himself to the fact that any resemblance between real medicine and fanfiction medicine was purely accidental.
“I’m just saying. I mean, you do know that an infection wouldn’t develop this quickly, right? It’s been what, ten minutes since you came in with your sore toe? And when did you hurt it?”
“A few minutes before that, but that doesn’t matter. This is fanfiction-time. It’s a whole different clock.”
“Apparently.” Adam looked pointedly at the grandfather clock by the door. “Okay, so I haul your ass up to bed, bring you broth, and put wet cloths on your head. What happens in the morning?”
“The morning? Older Brother, you haven’t even finished the night!”
“What are you talking about? I’m tired. Let’s get this over with. I want to go to bed.”
“Good luck with that one. I’m going to be so sick that you’re going to spend the entire night sitting by my bed, changing the cool compresses on my brow and worrying about how high my fever’s going.”
“Have you lost your mind?”
“That’s what Pa would do,” said Joe. “And since he’s not here. . . .” He shrugged as if to say, What else can you do? Adam didn’t look pleased, but then, he rarely did.
So much for logistics. It was time to go for the big finish. Concentrate, Joe told himself. Forget about everything else. Just focus on the suffering. He felt the familiar heat of fever beginning to build. It wouldn’t be long now.
“Look, I didn’t even do bedside duty after I shot you and the wolf bit you,” Adam was saying. “I left that nonsense to that annoying Irish girl, and—okay, I’ll say it, that one was partly my fault. So, if you think I’m going to sit up all night now just to entertain your little Joegal wackos, you and they are completely nuts. Oh, cut it out!” he snapped as tears welled up in Joe’s eyes again. “I mean it! I’m not falling for that! You can just sit there and suffer and feel all abandoned because Pa’s not here and Hoss isn’t here and your mean old brother isn’t paying attention, and—I said, cut it out! I’m serious, Joe! I swear, if you don’t stop crying, I’m going to—damn it, Joe! What do I have to do?”
Joe pointed to his foot with a trembling finger. “It hurts,” he whispered.
“Fine! Let me see—” Adam grabbed for Joe’s foot.
“OWWW!” He was overplaying, but only a little bit. The whole foot was throbbing now.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have tried to pull your boot off! Let me get a knife, and I’ll cut it off.” He stormed out to the kitchen and returned brandishing a knife. Unceremoniously, he picked up Joe’s foot and began to saw at the boot. Joe allowed himself a gasp of pain. “Just hold still,” said Adam. “I’ll be done in a minute.”
Joe bit his lip, nodding. This was going better now. He took a deep breath to brace himself. The next part was going to require his undivided attention. He closed his eyes and tensed his muscles, focusing all his intensity on the pain in his foot.
Adam was still talking. “Okay, that’s the boot. Now, let me get your sock off—oh my gosh, Joe, your foot really is swollen! That’s not just a little stubbed toe—you really did hurt it! And the color—that’s not good at all, Little Brother. I’m feeling some heat here—it’s like there’s an infection starting. Come on, let me help you upstairs. I’ll get you into bed, and then I’m going to heat up some broth for you. Maybe that’ll help you feel better. While you’re drinking that, I’ll get some cold water from the well so that we can put some nice cool compresses on your forehead. How does that sound? Come here, let me help you up. You shouldn’t be walking on that foot. Joe, I’m so sorry. I had no idea you were in such bad shape. If you’re not any better by morning, I’m going to wire Pa to come back, and I’ll send one of the hands into Virginia City for the doctor. . . .”
Adam kept talking as he helped Joe stand and limp over to the stairs. Slowly, the brothers made their way up the staircase and down the hall to Joe’s room. Adam’s monologue continued as he took a nightshirt from Joe’s drawer. He turned away so that Joe could undress in private, and so he missed the quick smirk on his brother’s face.
Happy birthday, devonshire, Joe thought as he pulled the nightshirt over his head. As Adam hustled downstairs to fetch the broth, Joe reflected that it took a particular level of artistry to raise a stubbed toe to this level. Everybody’s got their talent, he mused.
He stretched out on the bed, contemplating the weeks to come. A whole month was a long time to keep on suffering, but he could pull it off. Heck, if he played his cards right, he could keep this up until Pa got home in May. It was lucky for him that nobody seemed to understand how completely illogical it was that a stubbed toe could result in this kind of suffering. On the other hand, there was probably some website somewhere that would provide a perfectly sound explanation for how a stubbed toe could turn into a life-threatening infection. Not that Joe had to worry about logic, of course. All he had to do was to lie back and allow his temperature to climb so that sweat dotted his hot, flushed face and his eyes were glazed with fever. Fortunately, he was good at that. Very good. An expert, in fact. Some might even say . . . an artist.
“Okay, Joe, you just drink this broth,” said Adam, reappearing with a china cup of whatever broth had been conveniently on the stove when he went down to the kitchen. “It’ll make you feel better.” Joe resisted the urge to point out that nothing in the annals of medical research supported the notion that broth from any creature would make a stubbed toe feel better, much less cure an infection of unknown origin. After all, that wasn’t the point. So, he took the cup, but his hands were unsteady, and Adam supported the cup as he drank. When he finished, he mustered a wan smile, and Adam nodded approvingly as he set the cup on the night stand. “Feel better?”
He almost felt like laughing, but he wouldn’t. He was a professional. “Uh-huh,” he murmured instead. He lay back, and Adam placed a cool compress on his brow. It did feel nice, and Joe closed his eyes as Adam drew the covers up over him and then settled himself in the bedside chair. This SJS month did have its perks, after all. As Joe dozed off, he allowed his mind to wander. If he did a good job with April, maybe May could be Joe Gets Lucky with the Hot Girl on the French Riviera month. . . .
* * *
The author, the artist, and the artist’s seriously ticked-off brother all thank the following for their contributions and inspiration: Sassybrass, patina, southplains, Lisamarie, Wrenny and, of course, devonshire. Happy birthday, devy!
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.