Gob's Grief

Gob's Grief by Chris Adrian Read Free Book Online

Book: Gob's Grief by Chris Adrian Read Free Book Online
Authors: Chris Adrian
to spirits. Much of what she hears is nonsense—do not tell her I said so. But this bit about the creatures in the pus—that’s true.”
    Maybe it was. Woodhull’s hospital got the worst cases and kept them alive better than any other hospital in the city, even ones that got casualties only half as severe. The doctor stayed in charge despite a reputation as a wastrel and a drunk and a nascent lunatic. A year earlier he had been removed by a coalition of his colleagues, only to be reinstated by Dr. Letterman, the medical director of the Army of the Potomac, who had been personally impressed by many visits to Armory Square. “They say General Grant is a drunk, too,” Letterman said in response to the charges against Dr. Woodhull.
    “The creatures are vulnerable to prayer and bromine, and whiskey and Labarraque’s. Lucky for us.” Woodhull downed another glass. “Ah, sir—there is the matter of the nurses. Some of them are complaining. Just last Tuesday I was in Ward E with the redoubtable Mrs. Hawley. We saw you come in at the end of the aisle and she said, ‘Here comes that odious Walt Whitman to talk evil and unbelief to my boys. I think I would rather see the evil one himself—at least if he had horns and hoofs—in my ward. I shall get him out as soon as possible!’ And she rushed off to do just that. And you know how she failed to eject you, how she always fails to eject you.” He poured again.
    “Shall I stop coming, then?”
    “Heavens no. As long as old Hawley is complaining, I’ll know you’re doing good. God bless her pointy little head.”
    Two surgeons came into Woodhull’s makeshift office, a corner of Ward F sectioned off by three regimental flags.
    “ Assistant Surgeon Walker is determined to kill Captain Carter,” said Dr. Bliss, a dour black-eyed man from Baltimore. “She has given him opium for his diarrhea, and, very foolishly, in my opinion, withheld ipecac and calomel.” Dr. Mary Walker stood next to him, looking calm, her arms folded across her chest. Her blue uniform was immaculate, a studied contrast to Woodhull’s stained and threadbare greatcoat, which he wore in winter and summer alike.
    “Dr. Walker is doing as I have asked her,” said Woodhull. “Ipecac and calomel are to be withheld in all cases of flux and diarrhea.”
    “For God’s sake, why?” asked Dr. Bliss, his face reddening. He was new in Armory Square. Earlier that same day Woodhull had castigated him for not cleaning a suppurating chest wound.
    “Because it is for the best,” said Woodhull. “Because if you do it that way, a boy will not die. Because if you do it that way, some mother’s heart will not be broken.”
    Dr. Bliss turned redder, then paled, as if his rage had broken and ebbed. He scowled at Dr. Walker, turned sharply on his heel, and left. Dr. Walker sat down.
    “Buffoon,” she said. Woodhull poured whiskey for her, handed her the glass, then took a rag and began to knock the lint from her second lieutenant’s shoulder straps. It was an open secret in the hospital that they were married in all but name.
    “Dr. Walker,” said Woodhull, “why don’t you tell Mr. Whitman about your recent arrest?”
    The woman sipped her whiskey and told how she’d been arrested outside of her boardinghouse for masquerading as a man. Walt only half listened to her talk. He was thinking about diarrhea. It was just about the worst thing, he had decided. He’d seen it kill more boys than all the minié balls and shrapnel, and typhoid and pneumonia, than all the other afflictions combined. He’d written to his mother: War is nine hundred and ninety-nine parts diarrhea to one part glory. Those who like wars ought to be made to fight in them. And sometimes, up to his neck in sickness and death, he did believe that the war was an insufferable evil, but other times it seemed to be gloriously necessary, and all the blood and carnage and misery a terrible new beginning that was somehow a relief to him.
    “I did

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