One Redeeming Feature
By Gillian G.Mason
A shaft of dusty sunlight filters through the lead light
roof panel, illuminating the sweat-soaked brow of the bald pale man in the
cedar-wood darkness of the confessional box. He is shaking - a touch of
malaria, but also fear. "Forgive me Father for I have sinned..." in bad Spanish
with a thick German accent. The elderly priest mumbles the ingrained litany of
his work and the taste of gunmetal in the sweating man's mouth becomes as sharp
Stumbling on his words the little German begins telling of
his "involvement" - he keeps calling it that - in acts of such abomination that
the priest, as so many times before, quietly vomits into the bucket he has
learned to bring for this monthly ritual. He pulls a leaf off the little
calendar he has tacked up in the box to keep track of how often people come to
confess - guilt being a powerful weapon for some of his clients - '2nd May
1979'. He wipes his mouth on the thin paper before dropping it into the pail.
There will be no other callers today - he has arranged that - and guilt is not
one he need ever use on Gerhard. That creature has enough of its own, and in
any case never misses - God in heaven if only he would sometimes!
What does the evil fool think? That by coming here to an old
Padre he can save his rotten soul? Not a chance, but Father Constantino, though
ensconced in his vocation like an old leather armchair greased with the money
of the plate, still has a sense of duty. Attending the performance of this foul
repertory is the only thing that is unpleasant in this quiet backwater of the
Catholic world he has made his burrow. Well, apart from the climate.
The fetid breath of the sobbing German adds garlic to the
stale incense. "Bloody Krauts and their sausages," thinks Constantino as he
pulls further back from the fortunately utterly opaque grille.
Eventually it is over, and the priest hurries away, as usual
wondering if God really exists. After a few years of listening to the monthly
tales of that monstrosity crouched in the darkness, Gregorio Constantino does
not know if he is more or less of a believer. At least he has the resignation
of age to shield him from taking issue with himself. His life is almost done on
this Earth, and he can be certain that he will not end up in the same place as
that bastard in the next one - and it would be Heaven enough simply not to have
to listen to that sub-human ever again.
At noon, out of the shade, midst the crumbling adobe hovels,
the sun stares so hot it cuts you in two like scissors. The earth cracks like
ginger cookies baking.
Maria Fenella sobs alone as she thinks over and over what
the doctors have told her. Her little Anna, oh little Anna, never to see. Anna
was born blind but the doctors said there was hope. Anna was three years old
and the doctors said, wait a little longer, there is hope. A doctor here has
discovered some papers about experiments done during the war. Nobody else
believes it but he says he can do eye transplants.
When Anna was seven, Maria took her again to the eye
hospital, eleven miles walk and then sixty on the bus away. They returned this
morning, tired and dirty, without hope. Beautiful Maria's deep brown eyes were
not properly formed. The doctors before "could not have known," they said. They
"must not hold out false hope again," they said. There was only one way to save
her sight, but it had never been tried, and that would need more money that
Maria Fenella would ever possess, and even then, eye donors in South America
were unheard of. Amongst the poor backward population of the provinces such a
notion was appalling, and even if some fresh corpse could be found and
permission obtained, without fast transport or refrigeration they would spoil
before they could be got to the hospital. But yes, the doctor did believe it
was theoretically possible, and yes, they did have the equipment (it lay dusty
in the storeroom along with all the other useless donations from North American
corporations eager to offset their tax and print glossy PR brochures). He was
"only telling her the facts," and, "I only tell you this because maybe one day
when the economy gets better and if I can get the chance to try this
operation," but, "You must be realistic Senora, we do not have the resources to
Maria hugged herself and rocked, too tired to cry any more.
Anna was fast asleep on her rotten pallet of a bed, dishevelled and worn out by
two days of walking and riding on filthy busses and having her eyes messed
about with by funny-smelling men. Anna had never smelled cologne before, and
doctors were prone to use a lot to make it heard above the disinfectant of the
wards' ironstone-tiled floors.
In the other room the tenant shuffled his papers. Eventually
he came through, although he need not ask what had happened. He listened to
Maria's quiet defeated tale, looking as gaunt as a corpse.
Even as she sought comfort in telling this stranger she had
known under her roof for eight years, Maria thought "Wolfgang you bastard. You
old cold bastard, if only I did not need your rent you would be out." "It's not
a doctor she needs." explained Maria, "They have a doctor." Maria went on,
telling her daughter's tale, seeking pity from Gerhard like water in a well
that has been dry for forty years. The lodger sucked his teeth and looked away.
Maria was shocked out of her sniffling then, when she noticed a tear roll down
the old German's cheek.
By ten-past cock-crow Maria was screaming and the whole
village bustling round. Anna was gone and the sinister old German Gerhard too.
They only had one conclusion in mind and the priest when they woke him was dark
and tight-lipped. He offered to pray, a service that served only to confirm
their worst fears. The priest, although keeping the content of the secrets of
the confessional, had let it slip to his housekeeper that he was regularly
mortified by his most frequent customer's revelations. The rumours in the
village about the German and his past were, although thoroughly inaccurate, not
pleasant, and included speculations about children. It was only natural that
the worst would be thought, especially as Anna was such a pretty girl, and
being blind, well, she was no witness was she?
When the Santana brothers reported that their truck was
missing, Pedro was sent to the bus stop on the priest's bicycle. There he would
tell the bus driver to tell the police in the capital. It was about
eight-of-the-morning when Pedro reached the bus stop. He would have two hours
At about this time the German was parking behind Asuncion's
sprawling market-place. He hopped spryly down from the cab and went to the back
of the truck. Maria was in the back wrapped in a blanket, drugged with
chloroform and soundly sleeping. Her undernourished body just went into the
large canvas hold-all by tucking her legs under her in the foetal position. Her
abductor was careful to tuck her well down and conceal her with the blanket.
With surprising strength he hefted the straps over his shoulder, and, slightly
bent he trudged heavily away from the truck with his captive.
Dr Galatino smartened himself and put on more cologne when
the telephone from recepcion told him there was a person claiming to be an
eminent specialist with a sick child at the desk. He was somewhat bewildered
however when he saw the state of the child the man placed on his examination
trolley, and her strange means of conveyance.
"Er, you are a doctor they tell me?"
"Ja ja, si si"
"But this is Anna, I only saw her yesterday..."
"Ja ja. She needs an operation."
"She is unconscious. I do not understand. What operation?
What has happened to her?" questioned the doctor as he began to examine the
"Nein nein that is the chloroform, she is only sleeping now.
I mean her eye's need an operation."
"Yes she will remember nothing but you are asking too many
questions. Do not be irrelevant! Her eyes Gottdamt! Her EYES!"
"Ah... Er, sadly there is not the money... but where is her
"Her mother is well. The child is sick. Is this enough to
The German produced a leather drawstring purse and emptied
it with a clatter onto the doctor's large desk. Golden coins tumbled out. It
was immediately obvious even to the confused doctor that there were many
thousands of dollars' worth. In the fractured economy of Paraguay gold was not
unheard of as currency, but seldom had the doctor been offered quite as much as
this in payment.
"This is most irregular," stammered Galatino, "but I can do
"You are a doctor?"
"An eye doctor?"
"You know how to do the operation?"
"Yes, but only from an old paper I have translated from
German. I don't know if it would work."
"Ja, ja. Not to worry about that. You MUST operate
"But her parent, her mother must give permission."
"But you have her permission. Did you not ask her to sign a
consent form yesterday?"
"Well yes but that was only for the examination."
"But under Paraguayan law it does cover the eye operation
"Well.. yes, technically I suppose it might, but that is
"Because you have no eye donor."
"Yes. This is ridiculous. You claim to be some sort of
specialist. You are obviously not a medical specialist though, because if you
were you would know that there can be no hope for Anna without a donor."
"But I am a medical specialist Doctor Galatino. I am a very
senior doctor indeed. At least I was. You have the equipment?"
"And if you had a donor you would do the procedure?"
"Well, yes, I think it would be justified to try in these
circumstances, but this is fantasy. There is no donor. So you claim to be a
doctor. What is your name then doctor...?"
Suddenly - to Galatino's dismay - the strange visitor
produced a scalpel from his top pocket. Waving the scalpel he shouted for the
whole world to hear, "I AM A DOCTOR! I AM DOCTOR! I AM A DOCTOR! I AM DOCTOR
JOSEF MENGELE! I heard enough from Anna's mother to know you have found my
papers. It worked dammit, it worked! I DID THE EYE TRANSPLANTS IN AUSCHWITZ!
GOD FORGIVE ME I CANNOT SAVE MY SOUL, BUT I CAN SAVE THAT GIRL'S SIGHT!"
Doctor Josef Mengele then performed his last operation. With
all the skill he had shown when, without a trace of emotion, he had vivisected
the little dark-haired Jewish children in Auschwitz, he dissected out, without
flinching, first his right and then his left eye, placing each carefully on the
desk in turn as the blood poured down his face. Then he cut his throat. He
showed less emotion as he slit his own jugulars than one would carving slices
from a Thanksgiving turkey.
Galatino mysteriously disappeared immediately after the
operation, which he performed reading his translation of the original papers,
following the instructions precisely. No indication of where he went was ever
found except some odd blood stains in his office. The police could do nothing.
Gerhard was never found either, and as Anna was unharmed apart from the strange
operation which appeared to be successful, the case was closed. The records
were subsequently lost in an earthquake.
Galatino was having trouble at the newsagent's again. His
Portuguese was dreadful. After six years practice he still couldn't make
himself well understood. Still, that was small inconvenience to a wealthy man.
His brother down here in Brazil had understood him when he asked him to get him
and the body out of Paraguay quick, and the bank had understood profit well
enough not to understand the swastikas on his little "coin collection" when he
Anna is reading a cheaply printed magazine. Maria worries
about her now they live in the big city, but it was best to get away, and for
Anna too. At least she can get an education, and she got a scholarship. The
magazine has a creepy story about the skeleton of some Nazi they dug up four
years ago that was supposed to have drowned. Anna comments to her mother about
the story, "They say he was a terrible man. Not like that other nice German man
I remember from when I was a little girl," Maria turns away and says, "Anna,
you are not a little girl now. You are a woman of seventeen. You should be
doing your studies not reading stupid tales. Anyway do not believe everything
you are told. Seeing is believing."
Anna puts down her magazine and picks up her medical book,
she skims over the text again, but she already knows she will pass her exams.
Other students think she's a bit creepy, with those intelligent clear blue eyes
and black hair, and the uncanny cold-hearted way when they have anatomy lessons
that she acts like she's seen it all before.
Copyright © Kevin Slaney