Medic in Your Neighborhood

On 6 December 2022, at the Salem Athenaeum, Medic was one of six local authors to read from their work in an event titled Writers in Your Neighborhood. Beneath the video is the excerpt from the text read. The story is forthcoming in Queen’s Quarterly, which also published Medic’s short story Seven of Diamonds, Six of Hearts.



Top to bottom, methodically, one cabin to the next, for three months this man, this war veteran, who could fix almost anything, repaired or replaced the cabins’ leaky roofs, damaged walls, peeling paint, cracked or rusted plumbing. The lodge—he had yet to rename it, could not be reached easily. What would draw people to this out of the way oasis? One thing, and one thing only. Peace and quiet. The solitude of uninterrupted land populated only with trees, dandelioned fields, sylvan foliage home to birdsong and butterflies. And the lake. A mile or so down the gently curving main trail, surrounded by untouched forest, the pristine waters of the welcoming lake.

Twice a month, to purchase food and supplies, an ounce of pot from an old friend, Hopper drove to Jamesburg, the town where he’d grown up; with one exception, he’d never left. “Doc Hopper,” the town folk called him, who, unlike them had been to college, seen a bit of the world, even a conflict, as it was called. The loner fella talked to himself, they said. Sort of an odd ball, moody too, like to turn on a dime—but a harmless fella; good with his hands. Those who knew Hopper felt a simplicity about him. Groceries, hardware. Building something. Good for that boy. Building.

Week after week he sawed, hammered, scrapped, grouted, ripped away, whatever it took to restore a cabin, to purposefully resurrect it. “Make her fitable” he would say, pausing to wipe his brow. “Fitable.”

The nights he did not sleep well, or when his mood was uncommonly dark, when walks in the woods, or pot, or day long fasts, or plinking targets did not help, he rambled the twenty or so minute walk to a place that never failed to lift his spirits, to restore his natural balance. The unnamed lake once boasted four canoes, a rack with paddles for counselors and campers; a floating life guard station, from which the guards invoked the buddy system, and paired youngsters treading water obediently raised their arms, until all were present and accounted for. Now, tethered to a weather-beaten pole, only a flat-bottomed wooden rowboat remained.

To enter it, in one fluid motion Hopper would crouch, lean forward, grasp the gunwales with each hand, step into the craft without rocking it, duckwalk his way to the center seat, deftly lift and fit the oars to place, and row and row. First to the lakes center, where he would cast anchor, and lazily allow himself to drift. So peaceful here. So tranquil and quiet. Birds and wind and rustling trees. The casual wake of a hungry fish breaking the water’s glassy surface. Hoisting anchor, he would explore, as if for the first time, the lake’s forested perimeter, sun-dappled coves, lichen-covered rocks where soft-shelled turtles basked in the heat of the day.

The orderly routine of work, eat, sleep, the prescribed pills, the costly herb. The ritual of setting up tin can targets, plinking from fifty yards, the single ping of the bullet’s exit-entry—the sight of the tin statuettes falling, one by one. When these fail-safe things failed to mend his affliction, to improve or subdue it, the march to the lake, the art of entering the wood boat, deftly seating himself in its center, without exception brought relief.

For Hopper, it is the sight and sound and heft of the long oars, how they dip and slip into the calm deep water, are pulled bracingly to ones self, rhythmically lifted out of the water, thrust once again forward, once more slipped into the lake, the backward heave now propelling the boat forward. What joy the orderly motions bring to him! What joy in the continuous rhythm of wavelets murmuring against the wood prow! The gift of intimate patterns inscribed on the surface of the stern’s retreat! What joy!

In these inestimable moments, the flat-bottomed boat saved him, as nothing else could—why he did not know.

One afternoon, returning from town, on the porch of Cabin Eight, he spied the dog, tenderly licking its right front paw, which appeared to be wounded. He parked his truck, cut the engine, walked to the trembling creature, crouched to it, spoke with a feeling he had not known in quite some time.

“Let me help you, fella. There, there. Let me help you.”

The dog’s thoughtful eyes appeared to trust the tone of Hopper’s voice, the easy manner of his movement. It seemed to appraise him. To take his measure as friend or foe. At his approaching touch the dog’s pink tongue licked his hand.

“There, there,” said Hopper. Gently, he scratched the dog behind its ears. Gently stroked its head. The animal’s tail repeatedly thumped the wood plank floor. Fella. He would name the dog Fella. Hopper stood up. Took a moment to straighten his back. The groceries could wait.

“Let me wash that off,” he said. “Let’s go inside.” Clean it up. That’s a good dog. Come inside.”

The Salem Athenaeum (top photo) was founded in 1810, and is one of the oldest membership libraries in the United States. The Athenaeum is located at 337 Essex Street in Salem, Massachusetts in the McIntire Historic District. 

Seven of Diamonds, Six of Hearts