A new problem was loosed upon the world the day three-year-old Eunice Maywether first pulled the arm off the porcelain doll she had received for her birthday. She stared at the arm for hours, amazed that it could be looked at from the usually unseen angle of the empty socket and the disconnected shoulder. Then she ran giddily to find the rest of her doll collection.
The idea that physical forms could be dismantled prompted an immediate, insatiable interest in medicine and the way bodies worked, although with her father’s low-paying job at the sawmill there was no chance she’d ever get to go to medical school. Instead, her fascination moved to vivisection. Many an unfortunate animal, wild or relatively tame, was disassembled behind the barn before her parents put a stop to it . . . temporarily. Little Eunice was nothing if not resourceful when it came to hiding her pursuits.
Eunice Maywether grew old. Living by herself in the Ozarks, her once-productive garden became choked with weeds and thistles. The barn that once housed horses and goats was on the verge of collapsing. And her yard was strewn with old, cast-off doll parts as far as the eye could see.
This unsettling sight was what the occasional visitor would see as he or she warily pulled into Maywether’s driveway. Not that she ever received deliberate visitors, of course; it was only the handful of people each year who got lost in search of a gravel road not hers. They would drive up to her front gate, sometimes getting out of their cars, only to recoil and drive away as though the devil were on their tailpipes once they saw the doll carcasses. Eunice would peer through the window at them as they drove away, her dead green eyes joining the unblinking eyes of the countless doll heads in watching the cars depart.
Sometimes, though, a more brazen traveler would ask for directions, having stepped past the minefield of broken faces to reach Eunice’s porch. Eunice would come to the door at the fifth or sixth insistent rap, putting on her most pleasant brown-toothed smile. She would invite the unintended visitor inside, offering the use of her phone (which was ridiculous because she didn’t have one) or a cup of tea (which was ridiculous because she didn’t drink tea). There might be an awkward moment when she asked the person to have a seat in one of the recliners, broken down and sunken in from years of use, and she would sit across, still smiling but looking intently at her visitor, mentally processing every joint, every muscle, every detail. Then she would invite her visitor to the kitchen, letting the visitor go ahead of her. Then she would bean her visitor with the wooden mallet she had stashed behind her favorite chair. Comical, really.
You see, dolls were fun to take apart, but they were too passive. Animals reacted to being cut or pulled apart, but they, too, grew tiresome after a while. But people were different—what better thrill could there be for an aspiring doctor than to pop the limbs off something so similar to yourself? Or to cut them open and to pull out all the things you could never examine inside yourself without dying?
“Tell me where it hurts,” Eunice Maywether would say, her rotten grin stretching from ear to ear as she applied the tools of her trade. Knives rusted from years of being soaked in fresh blood, handsaws dulled from cutting through ever so many bones, hammers and chisels that had pried loose many a kneecap—these were her instruments of discovery. This was what was in her doctor’s bag.
When you find yourself on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, take care. When it takes you too far from the main road and you think you’re a bit too isolated from civilization, you very well may be. Don’t stop. Don’t ask for directions. And make sure you don’t get a flat. Because sometimes asking for help is far worse than being lost.