Once Measured, Twice Cut

“They are so handsome, these soldiers, it’s hard to keep away from them.”

“Well, see that you take precautions next time,” George Morris washed his hands as his patient buttoned up their shirt. “You don’t need a lecture on sexual health. At your age, no less!”

      “Perhaps I might need a remedial course. The world has changed so much… I don’t remember the soldiers being this gorgeous last century.” The patient looked greener than their usual self, the result of the injection they had just received. Their colouring would return to the usual pale verdigris in a couple of hours, provided they kept out of direct sunlight and had enough rest, and provided they took their pills with enough liquids twice a day for the next three days. “How much do I owe you, then?”

      “Three pounds, sixpence.”

      “What! No discounts for… foreign people, say?”

      “Sorry, I’ve two sons to feed.”

      “Oh, humans, always breeding. That’s their problem. Always breeding, and making such a fuss about it.” The patient reached for the pocket of their suit and retrieved the coins to pay for the chemist’s time. “I’d never thought you would fall prey to that.”

      “Different skies, different views.” George took the money, face calm as the surface of a puddle, though the tips of his graphite-coloured claws were visible at the back of his hands — a sign he didn’t appreciate the comment at all. “The same way there’s different cures for different species.”

      “Oh, well, that’s just my opinion. I know how dear you hold to your human upbringing. How the deuce do you manage, though, I’d like to know. A male like you, with such vitality”—the patient smiled at the apparently innocent word—“with only one partner! And breeding with them too! What’s in it for you?”

      George didn’t feel like replying as he placed the money in a tin box and jotted down the received amount in a notebook he kept at the pocket of his trousers: Jan. 28th — Greg Leaf, 3l, 6/-, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The client put on their coat and left by the back door, disappearing into the cold, rainy morning air without a trace, while George calmly dragged his talons inside his hands, combed his hair to hide the indents just above his forehead and, believing himself to be presentable enough for his human clientele, put on his white duster coat and opened the door for another day of trading at Morris Pharmacy.    

      The early morning shift belonged to the cadets and officers from Langham and Rackheath RAF stations, looking either for a pick-me-up to stay alert during their shift or a quick fix-up to remedy the excesses of the weekend, all looking the worse for wear in their rain-sodden uniforms. War had ended on paper, but the tremors were still visible even to human eyes. George was their best friend, who provided relief and oblivion without making awkward questions.

“It’s an ill-wind day, this one,” one of the cadets addressed the chemist with a weary look in his blue eyes. He had bypassed the female apprentice and gone straight to George, asking in a small voice for prophylactics. Someone’s week is off to a bright start, the chemist thought as he wrapped the requested item in a white demy packet with no sign of its contents and sealed it with red wax. “Something’s brewing, Mr. Morris. Something’s brewing, I’m telling you. Perhaps it’s the boy they’re hanging in London today, did you hear the news? The one that killed the policeman?”

      “I’d rather not discuss that,” George said. He was against the death penalty on principle — having survived enough carnage and being the witness of one too many executions during the war, he believed the ‘eye for an eye’ philosophy wasn’t exactly intelligent or useful in the long run. But he knew better not to air his opinions: a chemist, like a priest, listens to problems and keeps their judgments to themselves, even if he was disgusted with what he heard or saw. Besides, his interest wasn’t on the hanging: “What sort of ‘ill wind’ do you mean?”

      “The sort that can jinx the schedule for days. It’s like the air turns thick like treacle all of a sudden. The planes can’t fly, the pilots can’t think, next thing you know the place gets into lockdown and for no reason at all. This and the rain too! Ain’t I glad I’m off duty today, this much I’ll tell you.”

      “Yes, I can only imagine that. Two pounds six for the package,” the chemist replied. Those words, spoken so carelessly, had a different meaning to his ears. An ‘ill wind’ could be many things, including the passage of invisible beings into the visible world. Not that the poor cadet would notice — it took a special kind of human to see that sort of thing, and a twenty-year-old lad on leave from National Service duty with a pocketful of condoms wouldn’t be particularly open to decoding such signs from the heavens.

      George looked for a disruption in the second morning brigade: the mothers with their prams, now that the older children were at school. It was the time to sell powders for colic and teething fever, olive oil to loosen earwax, codeine for coughs, and zinc and castor oil cream for nappy changes. Saccharine was still a sought-after item (a definite end to sugar rationing had been promised for next month), as were remedies to treat chilblains and the odd hot-water bottle. He heard the gossip while he minded the till and picked up prescriptions — the boy that was to hang in London, the strange weather, the latest from the Mother’s Union —with a growing sense of unease which he tried to hide from the customers with a trained smile that made the sides of his face hurt and his hands tremble (“poor Mr. Morris, how does he manage?”, the mothers always whispered to one another when they left the store.)

      At ten past ten, a young man in an old-fashioned Navy jacket walked into the store as if stepping on razor blades. He stared, glassy-eyed and feverish-looking, at the bottles at the shelves, waiting for the clients to leave. Ill wind indeed: here was someone who had crossed the boundaries between the worlds. It was easy to notice the newcomer belonged to George’s paternal family, the flying tribe from the islands of the mare latinu: it was all in the way he hid his hands and lowered his eyes. He needed assistance — more importantly, he needed to be removed to a safe place before he frightened the customers. 

      “Sir?” George raised his voice to the minimum. “Sir? Over here, sir, please.” The young man noticed the middle-aged chemist and nodded.  “Susan!” George turned to his apprentice. “Please mind the till and the front of the shop. I have to deal with this gentleman.” Busy as she already was with the mothers, Susan didn’t pay close attention to the client who crossed the doorway leading to a locked examination room at the back of the pharmacy with an odd gait, almost bent over himself with the effort not to wince in front of strangers.

      George let him in and locked the door behind himself. “Well, then, how can I be of assistance?” He walked to the sink and washed his hands once more, checking the Kelly green shelves to certify he had everything he needed at hand. This was one moment he couldn’t ask for Susan’s help. The young man didn’t seem to comprehend what the chemist was saying. “Français? Corsu? Espagnol? Please don’t say German, I never know where the verb is supposed to go.”

      “French will do, sir,” the young man replied.

      “Please, do sit down. You’re safe here. The walls are soundproof. What’s your name?”

      “Petru, sir.”

       “And how old are you?”

      “Twenty summers and nineteen winters, sir.”

      George nodded as he noted down that information in his notebook. His patient was a young male of the species, apparently with no humans in his family tree: his talons were razor-sharp and his eyes were tar black, the bridge of his nose almost flat, the temporal bones raised like blades against the skin. It must have been a hellish flight from the French Mediterranean shore to Norwich — one that no creature of his species would attempt in that dreadful weather unless it was a matter of life or death. “And what brings you here today?”

      The young man stuttered something, looking to the tips of his shoes. “No need to feel ashamed, my friend. A healer keeps secrets like a sunken ship.” He moved his hands to reveal his falcon-like talons. His face had changed, as well, and Petru gasped in surprise. George’s temples weren’t as sharp, and his nose wouldn’t change — his human mother’s legacy, as fixed as the stars — but he knew how to show what was underneath the polite façade.

      “So you are a healer in both worlds.”

      “Yes, a son of the horizon, as the saying goes. Covering both sky and ground. How can I help you?”

      “Sir, I… Please, understand. I did all I could. I tried to wash them out, but it didn’t work. Took the extracts the healer prepared, didn’t work either. Salt baths only did so much to stop it. It dries for an hour, and then it starts weeping again. They told me you were the last hope. If you couldn’t cure me…”

      “I see. Please, sit on the stretcher and remove your coat and shirt. Let me see what has happened.”

      Many malodorous pustules lurked all over the taut, dark-golden skin of the young man’s chest and back, some of them oozing a greyish sort of pus that stained the shirt and undershirt he wore. The breastbone and the ribs looked like a heavy cuirass against the sinewy body, sinking everything below it — no wonder he couldn’t walk properly; it was a miracle he was still breathing.  

      “You’ve been in breeding age for long?” George asked as he put on a pair of gloves in order to examine the young man closer. Those pustules were definitely contagious — probably syphilis. It wouldn’t be unheard of–as of the last two centuries, from what George could gather from the stories he heard, the mingling of humans and the so-called fae had increased. With it, the trading of maladies: humans going mad and winged creatures falling to the ground with venereal diseases.

      But damned if he had seen such an outbreak before.

      “Started last summer, sir,” Petru looked downright mortified. “The lads said it was something I had to experience before I nested for good. Try the landed women; see if that appeals to me, they said. But the lads didn’t get this… this… this! Or if they did, it wasn’t as bad.”

      “Someone should have taught you about prophylactics. Human relations are different, as you have noticed…well, first things first. I’ll lance these boils and drain the pus. Then I’ll see whether my concoctions can stop the skin infection. That’s one thing. Afterwards, I’ll have to examine you further. Are you allergic to anything?”

      “I don’t know, sir,” Petru now trembled in cold shivers, more fear than illness behind the involuntary movements. “I won’t die of it, will I? I’m my mother’s only living fledgling, sir. All the others are gone. It was a mistake, sir, I know, but I cannot die of it. I’m too young. I left no mark in the world yet.”

      “Let’s see what I can do, shall we?” George muttered, taking one step back as he considered his options. Perhaps some marsh tea to help cleanse the skin, or would it be better to try a decoction of carline thistle with wine vinegar? Carline thistle it’d have to be since he’d run out of marsh tea. He popped out of the examination room to see how Susan was faring with the clients. The motherhood brigade was gone, now it was the turn for the old ladies looking for their prescriptions and perhaps a bit of a chat; he’d be free to work.

      And work it was — an hour’s worth: to heat up the thistle brew and disinfect the lancets, to lance the boils and to squeeze out the last drop of pus, all the while talking to Petru to calm him down. The young man unburdened his heart, the way all creatures do in the presence of a priest or a healer — and that helped George to understand who he was dealing with: no cad or roué, but a shy young lad who longed for the comforts of a nest, only to be thrown into the drink by companions who were faster than he was.

      Curing syphilis in a winged creature was like playing blind man’s bluff: what worked with one specimen didn’t work with another. Burdock or juniper wouldn’t even scratch the surface with that infection, which had gone untreated for too long: witch grass infusions, perhaps? Or a muchju neru extract? George decided to try the last option; he’d had positive results with others of his kin, after all.

      Muchju neru was a small, dainty white flower that grew in thorn-ridden shrubs of the French maquis–a pain to cultivate in the East of England’s weather. From it, the healer made an extract that he used to treat venereal diseases in many species. But George was quick to notice that he had committed a mistake–the moment he made Petru swallow a spoonful of the extract, the lad’s skin prickled with goose pimples that hardened and turned ash-grey in a matter of seconds. Petru started to cough, wheezing as he tried to breathe. George had to be quick on his feet—the only antidote he had at hand was snakeroot stock, bitter to the taste but a powerful emetic for creatures of a sky-like disposition. 

      That worked, perhaps too much so. George spent another half hour cleaning the examination room and had to send Susan on an errand to his house to ask for a change of clothes for the patient. For now, all the chemist could do was give Petru a sedative and settle him on the stretcher as comfortably as possible. When he woke up, perhaps George would have an answer for the problem. 

      “Your missus asked whether you’d show up for dinner, Mr. Morris,” Susan said when he returned to the front of the shop. No other comment, no added questions. She was indeed chemist material, that young woman. Hopefully the board would allow her to carry on with her studies.

      “Might as well,” he replied. “Do me a favour: don’t bother the lad in the examination room. He needs to recover.”

      “Shouldn’t you send him to the hospital, sir?”

      That would be the day, George thought to himself as he shook his head. A winged creature at the Norwich & Norfolk Hospital would cause as much havoc as a pink elephant down the road — but at least the majority of humans in Norwich knew what an elephant was. “He just needs some rest.”

      “I’ve washed the poor mite’s clothes, but it’ll take a while for them to dry. What was the problem with him? Susan couldn’t tell me, she was in such a hurry! I can only imagine it’s one of your clan, right?”

      Christine moved around the small house like a hurricane — picking up the plates and cutlery, minding the clotheshorses near the kitchen heater, clearing away the children’s toys and the sewing patterns she had been working on. Whenever she moved, she left behind a trace of lavender water and talcum, and that calmed George’s worried mind like nothing else in all the worlds he knew.  “It’s been one of those days,” she added. “I bungled Mrs. Adler’s commission, and that sort of ruined the timetable.”

      “What happened?” the chemist asked as he helped with setting up the table for dinner, minding his claws so they wouldn’t leave dents on the surfaces.       

      “She wants a copy of an old dress she had from before the war. But I cut the fabric using another pattern — where in the world was my head? And expensive fabric at that, too, imagine my horror,” Christine said as she brought in the food: cold meat from yesterday’s roast served with cabbage and carrots. “And then I had to take the lads to school and of course Arthur had to forget once again where he put his books… and then there was the washing…”

      “There’s where your head was, then,” George sat down and served the dinner for himself and his wife.

      “I know, I know! God, I don’t know if I’ll have the time to cut the fabric again, or whether there’s enough fabric to be cut or… I don’t know. Mistakes. They happen when you least expect them.”

      “You tell me. I almost poisoned a patient today.”

      “Oh, dear, that’s worse than cutting the fabric wrong.”

      “But only slightly,” George couldn’t help smiling. His first client of the day had wondered what was in it for him, having only one partner, and a mere human at that. There it was: fifteen years, two children and a war, and Christine was still the only person he’d rather be with. “Imagine that. Twenty summers. First breeding season, and he’s got full-blown syphilis straight at the gate, the worst case I’ve seen. And he is allergic to muchju neru, to make things worse.”

      “Oh, poor boy! Well, say, would gayfeather extract work instead?”

      “That’s useful for the clap, not for syphilis. And since he’s allergic to muchju neru, I wouldn’t dare to risk using gayfeather on him anyway. I don’t have a ready-made antidote if that goes wrong.”

      “Comfrey and juniper tincture, perhaps? It helped that other bloke last year.”

      “That’s an option, yes…but then I’d have to deal with the side effects. He’s already weak with fever, and tired from the journey. I don’t think he’d be strong enough to cope with the runs on top of that as well.” George stared at his plate and sighed, his talons making his hands pulse in pain. He remembered how it was to be twenty and in heat; he was part human, granted, but the pain was nigh on unbearable just the same. Full-blooded humans would never understand it — not even Christine, who understood everything else. 

      Christine would have added more to the conversation, but then the doorbell rang. The couple stared at each other in the quiet disbelief — what now? It couldn’t be the milkman, the rag-and-bone man, or any of the neighbours. Christine stood up and marched to the front door, while George ate his dinner as fast as he could, his mind again thinking about combinations of potions and plants that could stop the devastation in Petru’s body before it was too late.

      “George?” Christine showed up at the dining room, her voice as low as a prayer. “It’s one of those visitors for you.”

      He sighed as he forced the talons in once again, and frowned to make his temples settle in a human-like image. “How do I look?”

      “Just wipe your hands and you’re good to go.”

      “How does she look?”

      “More presentable than your usual home-call clients, I’d dare to say.”

      “Any children with her?”

      “No, and not visibly pregnant either.”

      “What say you?”

      “You’d better see it for yourself, love.”

      One look at the visitor and George understood why his wife wasn’t willing to make a prognosis. The woman in the living room wasn’t a day over twenty, yet she was dressed in sober grey wools and delicate gloves — stuff that not even Christine, at thirty-six and a mother twice over, would consider wearing.

      The clothes were a costume for the character the guest grew into: Alderman Charles Chadwick’s new wife, one of Norwich’s great scandals of the prior year. The fifty-two-year-old widowed groom had a nineteen-year-old daughter who had been to school with her now-stepmother, after all. Why would a rich woman need clandestine help? 

      “Do you need me in the room?” Christine asked in a whisper.

      “Just keep close at hand. I have to be brief, anyway. The lad is waiting and I can’t let Susan —”

      “Take your time, love.” Christine’s look supplied the rest of the phrase: and have pity on her, she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t an emergency.

      He felt like replying, what isn’t an emergency at present?, but he kept quiet: his wife was right. Christine went to the dining room to collect the dirty dishes while he returned to the living room, greeting the visitor and asking, “How can I be of assistance?”

      The young woman swallowed hard before speaking in a forced dispassionate way, “I was told you are… discreet.” George nodded. “I can’t see a doctor, you understand. He’d make questions…He’d ask to see my husband…I don’t need to go on, I suppose.” Another nod from the chemist, and Mrs. Chadwick sighed. “Men are always trouble,” she said in what sounded like her true voice: a faint working class East Anglian sound, closer to Christine’s than to Alderman Chadwick’s. “That’s what my mother often said. And she was right, you know. Always trouble… I need help, sir. It hurts. It hurts when I walk; it hurts when I sit. It hurts when I piss. It burns. It stinks. There aren’t enough baths in the world that can help me get rid of the stink! And that doesn’t put the bastard off, so it hurts even more.”  

      George listened without taking notes — it could be seen as if he were gathering evidence for blackmail. All symptoms led him to believe Mrs. Chadwick had been infected with a venereal disease, probably something bacterial by the looks of it. “Are you allergic to any sort of medication, ma’am?”

      “I was told at the hospital that penicillin doesn’t agree with me,” Mrs. Chadwick sighed. “I ended up there last time this thing flared up and ended up covered in hives, head to toe. My husband was livid. He was worried it’d leave scars on my skin, you see. And besides, the tongue wagging…” She trembled, and George looked away to give her time to recover while he thought about what he could do.

      Well, there went his first line of action, then. If she couldn’t take penicillin, then he’d have to make do with neoarsphenamine, or worse: the old duo, arsenic and bismuth. Archaic as it was, at least it was somewhat effective in such cases. However, there were a plethora of side effects, and… “Is there a chance you might be pregnant, ma’am?”

      “God, I hope I’m not. I’m too young. And Mr. Chadwick isn’t much willing, you see. Unless it was a boy…then I’m sure he’d be pleased.”

      “But are you interested in having children?”

      “Why are you asking?”

      “Because one of the possible side effects of an alternative treatment would be infertility. Don’t think of tongue wagging. Think of me as a priest in the confession box, if it helps. I’m bound to secrecy.”

      “Fine, then. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I want children. I do want them. But I don’t want them now.” And, in a trembling voice, “I don’t even think I want to have them with him. I just want this to end.”

      George noticed why the pancake makeup on her face was thicker than he was used to seeing in women. It hid the effects of Alderman Chadwick’s displeasure.

      Christine interrupted the conversation with two mugs of tea, which was the clue for him to leave the scene and compose himself before his new patient saw the talons in his hands and the anger in his face.

      George read his notes on the bus-ride back from the Norwich and Norfolk Hospital. Mrs. X, aged 20, Treponema pallidum + Herpes simplex type 2. The pharmacist in charge of the hospital dispensary, after some prodding, had confirmed Mrs. Chadwick’s story — she had been admitted at the hospital six months before, “after almost scratching herself raw. Poor thing didn’t know what hit her, probably. These lassies never know, that’s why the old foxes like to pluck them for wives…”

      There wasn’t a cure for Herpes simplex — but also, that was probably just salt in the wound, the way Petru’s skin infection was just a symptom hiding the main problem. In the case of Mrs. Chadwick, the main problem was that she was, indeed, allergic to penicillin and terrified of her fate. She was only twenty; she trusted her husband, and look how that had been repaid.

      And yet, she’d trusted George. Like Petru had trusted him.

      Fifteen years as a healer, both in his father and his mother’s worlds, and for the first time George didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do. He had seen red blood and black blood oozing from slashes in arms and in wings so many times, he didn’t even blink anymore; he had helped mothers in childbirth and soldiers embracing death. And yet, two simple cases did his head in.

      There had to be something he could do to stop such rotting in a world that seemed so frail already, bled out of hope. Those two patients were too young for such heavy suffering, like the young man off to hang in London that morning was too young for his sentence — nineteen and mentally unwell, and he didn’t even shoot the policeman in fact, if one could believe what the newspapers said; there had been quite a discussion about it, and all useless in the end. That boy was sentenced to die as an example, and that was that — as if he had been a weed that needed to be incinerated in order not to rot the rest of the field.

      George had been twenty, once: rejected by society because of his hands and his gait, the product of sinful affairs. He had lived through his sores and found love and contentment. What was the use of belonging to both visible and invisible worlds, and having survived all he went through, if he couldn’t make things work for others? Why was he alive, if not to overturn such fates? Someone had to stay and get those people out of their collision routes — and that was the only reason why he still kept pondering about chemical and botanical matches for the puzzle long after he left the hospital.

      The last brigade arrived just before closing time: people returning from work to pick up their prescriptions; eldest children sent by their mothers in last-minute errands looking for plasters and headache powders; men subtly looking for legal sedatives to sleep without dreams of air raid sirens. The shop girls on their way home came to ogle the make-up counter, too, wondering when they’d enough money to treat themselves to a new lipstick. And punctually at 5:00 PM, when the doors were closed for the day and Susan had already started her walk home, Christine showed up at the pharmacy, sheltering two dark-haired boys in grey-and-green school uniforms under her umbrella.

      The two lads waited until their worn-out father had slowly removed the white duster coat before piling on him in a hug, their winged features at last on display. “Oi, mind your talons, laddies,” George laughed as he embraced his sons, keeping a pretense of normality in front of them. “Those are getting sharper by the hour. So, how was school today?”

      “Billy got a bloody nose,” the young one said. “He fell from the chair trying to see whether it was too rainy to go outside during recess.”

      “And Mrs. Harrison read my composition out loud!”

      “There was roly-poly at dinner!”  

      “And steamed cauliflower.” The announcement came with a frown of disgust from the two boys.

      George tried not to laugh at his sons’ pitiful expressions because of the dinner menu as he turned to Christine, who observed the scene with a smile. They could talk in a language that the children didn’t yet understand — the weariness of his inhumane tar black eyes was displayed in all its terrible depths; it was a relief not to play the infallible human for once. “Why, you look relieved,” he said, forcing himself to do small talk in the hopes this would relieve the sensation of incompetence that hung on him. “Were you able to cut that fabric again?”

      “No, not enough room for that.”

      “Then what?”

      “Well, I… oh well, I reckon it wasn’t a mistake; it was more like misguided intention. Why was Mrs. Adler hanging on to such an old dress? She could do with a new look. I mean, God almighty, why keep using the same rags when they don’t work for you anymore? That’s what I told her. And you know what, she agreed! So my mistake turned out to be a great solution.”

      George stared at his wife for a moment. “Misguided intention,” he repeated, as if it was a prayer. “Laddies, please escort your mama home. I’ll follow you in a moment. Chris, my dear, I think you might have given me a brilliant idea.”

       “I have?” His wife raised her eyebrows. “Good on me, then. I suppose you’ll explain everything when…?”

      But George was already returning to the examination room, carrying a box he kept hidden from sunlight and the eyes of his clientele. Petru was still on the stretcher; he was barely able to stand after the afternoon of failed treatments with every last plant and potion the half-human healer threw at him.

      “I think I found the answer to your case,” George said as he raised the box. “The complete opposite to muchju neru. The medicine I use on humans. I know it’s something your healer wouldn’t have recommended, but I think it might work on your case. Would you allow me to try?”

      “What’s my other option?”

      The chemist didn’t know what to answer to that boy with parched lips and bandages all over his chest. They didn’t have much time left, and they both knew it. So what if no pure winged creature had ever received human-made chemicals in their bloodstream? It was worth the risk.

      “Sir, if it doesn’t work, I won’t curse your name,” Petru forced a smile. “Just tell my mother I…well, tell her it was my fate.”

      “I’m a healer, Petru. Leaving things to fate isn’t an option.” And then, in a quieter tone, “You’re my guest for the duration. This stretcher’s no place to sleep.”

      For a long week, Petru would take penicillin pills three times a day with the daily meals, and apply a carline thistle and burdock ointment during bath time. He had to be examined daily, so that George could write down the dosage used, its effects and side effects.

      By the time George found the outpost and the person in charge of the communications between Petru’s tribe and the human world, the healer had good news to report to the young man’s mother: he was on the mend, and would soon be sent on his way.

      That is, if Christine could bear parting with him. As a way to repay the healer’s hospitality, the young man asked whether he could help around the house. Christine, human as she was, found it odd that a young man would willingly volunteer to wash dishes or sweep the floor, but she put him to work nevertheless. The lad was eager to show his healer how that strange, wondrous brew had helped him regain his strength and health. Why, the penicillin thing could make miracles back at the island, if the older healers paid attention to the man of the horizon. And Christine was only too happy to oblige — Petru was better company than the sound of the radio while the children were at school, and acts like cleaning the ceiling and unclogging the drains could be considered exercise for his poor wings.

        It was during one of those afternoons that Mrs. Chadwick returned, this time in a matronly mauve dress, asking to see Mr. Morris. The chemist had been waiting for her — there was a box with three little amber bottles inside a cupboard that he’d been meaning to give to her for a while. Muchju neru extract, gayfeather tincture, and primrose and water lily ointment — stuff he’d usually reserve for his winged patients beyond the hospital’s reach. “I want you to know straight away this is not an ordinary cure, nor something I’d usually sell at the pharmacy,” George said. “But it might be beneficial, especially considering the alternatives. We’ll have to monitor the treatment for the following week and I might need to use more ordinary medicine alongside this, but…”

      “Look, if it works, it works. I don’t care whether it’s science or magic potions or both, really,” Mrs. Chadwick sighed. “As long as it stops…”

      And then she stopped. George looked over his shoulder: Petru, washing the dishes and singing like a bird. The young man noticed he had been spotted, and stared back at the young, blonde human female in the living room.

      A shadow of a smile, the coy turn of the head, the world moving forward. George laughed to himself. He had been twenty years old, once, and a man of both bright firmament and the hard floor. He could see the future already: Alderman Chadwick screaming blue murder because his young wife had flown away; and half-winged offspring with blonde hair and unmovable noses being presented to him in the courteous fashion of his tribe. Different skies meant different cures and different views — and in a world still rife with sores and open wounds, perhaps that was exactly what they all needed all along.


Copyright 2023 Anna Martino

About the Author

Anna Martino

Anna Martino is a Brazilian SFF writer and editor, publishing in English and Portuguese since 2013. Her work in English was featured in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Hexagon and Luna Station Quarterly,  and also performed at BBC World Radio. She lives in São Paulo with her husband and son. You can find more about her work at annamartino.com. She’s also on Twitter as @annadixit.

Find more by Anna Martino

One thought on “Once Measured, Twice Cut

  1. Soumil Mukherjee says:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.