With my new novel, I,Gabriel being published on July 29th (available for pre-order now), with its promotion in mind, I publish here a short story I have written called The Surgeon.  Between now and publication date, I plan to publish and release various short pieces which have something in common with I,Gabriel.

This story is very short (1600 words long) – something I have kept in mind with I,Gabriel, my shortest novel to date and readable in one sitting – or at least this is the plan.

 

The Surgeon

A short story by

 Dominic Holland

 

It might be that the internet has even supplanted the wheel in the hierarchy of great human achievements and breakthroughs. Certainly, a game changer anyway and an innovation that that has smiled particularly kindly on me. Not in a financial sense like the app developers; the kids who were bullied at school and now find themselves billionaires and still in their twenties. Who’s laughing now? No, my on-line bounty is not a financial gain but is no less desirable.

Today is the 8th March. Just an ordinary Tuesday evening in London, one of the foremost cities of the world and this evening I am dining in one of its most heralded restaurants. Such an expensive establishment always carries an element of risk but as skilled and experienced as I am, it is a risk I am comfortable with. He, who dares… as they say. This evening has gone well so far. The signs are good and I am able to relax. My date for the evening is Manuela. I don’t know her surname. Manuela is attractive and almost as importantly, she is wealthy and well able to pick up the cheque.

Her profile states that she is forty-one which I do not believe. I have her late forties; maybe forty-seven, forty-eight and so what? What harm a few white lies and particularly so in the world of on-line dating where mendacity is normal and even expected.

Age is the most common lie followed by weight and then height. Manuela is very well preserved and I suspect at some considerable cost and pain. Her face has that look – had work. Work that is imperceptible but also blinking obvious and a cruel paradox. It seems that even the best and most expensive surgeons leave a trail; their signatures even. Or maybe there is just a tipping point in the number of procedures that a patient can undertake before everyone knows. From beautiful to more beautiful and then suddenly comes the cliff edge and something just looks off.

Not that I care. Since discovering on-line dating, I have seen, felt and enjoyed all manner of gels and beauty enhancements. I rather admire the commitment and I appreciate the effort. Manuela is a handsome and striking woman. Other diners have noticed her and I am grateful that she ever clicked on my profile.

And I am not so honest either. To begin, I am not six feet tall, as my profile states proudly. Six feet is the crucial height, the bare minimum, below which, women of a certain cache do not waste their time. Nothing if not thorough and prepared, I paid top dollar for my two inch in-steps from a salubrious shoe boutique on Jermyn Street. They were bloody expensive but worth it for the joy they have brought me. Getting ahead of yourself, you might be imagining the embarrassment this could cause later in a date when I am required to discard my shoes. Well, I can assure you, that by this stage of the evening, my companion is suitably aroused and unlikely to notice any lack of inches and from here, you can make up your own smutty jokes if you feel inclined.

When I began internet dating, I was naïve. I wasted a few months, impeded by my honesty until I learned the rules and quickly adapted. With the click of a mouse I became six feet and some whizz in India brushed up my all-important head shot. A little more hair, my teeth a little straighter and whiter and suddenly my phone began to ping.

It helps that I am not bad looking either. Not classically handsome but not ugly either and thankfully, women are much less shallow in terms of what they look for. In my age bracket 50-55, being a widower without children is also highly appealing.

In fact I am fifty eight, twice divorced and I have five children which is enough baggage for my own carousel and so conveniently omitted from my profile.

These are all downright lies and yet I am relaxed about them and not just because everyone else is lying. Most of the other stuff on my profile is more or less true. I am a retired surgeon. I do live in Marylebone. I do like walking. I do love animals and I do like literature and theatre and fine dining. But such peripheral interests are all but irrelevant because I attract sufficient interest at my profession alone. A surgeon, no less. The most esteemed profession of all and universally admired. Characteristics are immediately associated with surgeons and all of them, virtuous and attractive.  Intelligence, kindness, bravery, dependability and wealth. There is a carnal attraction that comes with being a life saver; having the  responsibility of life over death. It appeals to our animal instinct to seek out protection and explains why surgeons are special people and highly attractive. God-like. The top dog. The alpha male. The silver back. The man in charge.

Manuela returns from the bathroom, her clutch bag in hand. She might have made a phone call; assuring a girlfriend perhaps that I am not a weirdo and that she is fine. I am certain now that our evening is set to continue. Indiscernible little signs; her swelling bosom and freshly applied lipstick. A touch of her hair and narrowing of her eyes. I sense my success. We will retire to her apartment because my place is being renovated as I have already explained.

‘Well, that was delicious.’ I state happily.

‘Yes, it was. It’s always great here. Every time I come.’

‘Well then you have excellent taste.’ I smile suggestively. Manuela delicately picks at her bottom lip and then flicks her hair off her face with her manicured hand. Her gold watch hanging loosely and tangling with her various bracelets.

The Maître Dee hovers, perhaps sensing his time.

‘I don’t eat dessert.’ She says, ravenously.

‘No, me neither. And I am guessing you have an excellent coffee machine at your place?’

Yes, it’s a cheesy line, but so what because it always seems to work.

‘Yes, I do.’ She laughs. ‘The best.’

I smile as she throws back the rest of her wine. She gestures to a passing waiter.

‘I’ll get this…’ She begins. I feign surprise and then quickly ease in to well-practised faux horror but she is insistent, thank God.

She places her hand firmly on mine and fixes me with a look.

‘I, insist.’

‘Really?’ I ask.

‘Yes. Of course. I have an account here.’

I sigh as I relent. Perfect. Thank you. In my jacket pocket are three little blue pills. My little helpers, I call them because they will allow me to make payment in kind.

Now, as you know, I am not a fool and so I understand that this little play of mine will not be to everyone’s taste. It is underhand, opportunistic, exploitative and possibly even, illegal. The shameless behaviour of a predatory male and particularly so in these supposedly enlightened times. And I don’t disagree. My only defence being at what cost? What harm, I mean? Because women like Manuela are not being duped. Not really and once more, doesn’t everyone lie? Lest I explain that the search engines are ruthless at filtering out any chaff. On-line dating profiles cannot be honest. Try it for yourself. Type in: short, balding and rotund and see where it will get you? Dinner at a Harvester with a mother of five with one on the way.

A more sinister accusation is that I target such women for their wealth so that I can steal from them. I refute this entirely.

Notwithstanding the expensive food and fine wine that they provide, I have never stolen anything from any of my dates despite ample opportunity. Cash and jewellery sprawled on dressing tables and luxury car keys in hallways that might torment a weaker man than me. But no. My tastes and desires are more straightforward. A full belly and then the chance to work it off with a beautiful woman is enough for me.

Naturally, some of my conquests do request further liaisons and this is where I fall short because I never agree to any further dates and I regret any hurt that this might cause. But this is not cruelty on my part or because I do not have similar desires. It is pure expediency because things would inevitably unravel. At the very least, my lack of height would become apparent. I am 5ft 9” at a stretch and no successful relationship can be founded on a lie.

Men and women and the distinctions between us are becoming ever more blurred. The emancipated modern woman is something to behold and to celebrate. They are knowing, confident, assertive and strident. These women are in control of their wants and desires and fortunately for men like me, this is increasingly no-ties, free and wanton sexual intercourse.

And why not? Who are we harming? Two consenting adults, both playing the same game. And white lies aside, I am one of the good guys. Honourable and comparatively honest. If anything, regarding my on-line profile, my biggest transgression is an omission and not some false claim like being six feet. And even then, what I have deliberately left out is merely a solitary word.

And nothing sinister like ‘prison’ or anything else, malevolent. In fact, my omission is something rather beautiful. A thing of great wonder. Something to herald and be proud of and so really, where is the harm?

The word is tree.

And which of us doesn’t love a tree? Extraordinary living wonders that they are and our first line of defence against global warming. So, what is not to love?

And as such, shouldn’t we venerate and admire the clever professionals who are charged with caring for our trees?

Yes. I think we should.

Let’s hear it then, for the tree surgeons.

 

I,Gabriel will be published on 29th July 2019.

If you enjoyed The Surgeon, then I,Gabriel can be pre-ordered now as print-on-demand (in a day or so) or now as a kindle book.