Dr. Bartolomeo’s Cure
by Alberto Álvaro Ríos
Narciso Bartolomeo did not start out wanting to be a doctor. He wanted to be something more enjoyable, suffering the belief that doctors only hurt people, which had been his own experience. He was born in a time when doctors did not have as many answers as degrees and certificates on their walls, and were mistrusted by almost everyone. An occasional cure—everyone expected that, but ascribed it to luck. Doctors, they would say, as if it were a foul word, and shake their heads in disgust.
A doctor’s lot had not much improved in the middle of this century as from the previous one. The 20th century had promised everything, but once it got to work, the new century was just one more in a long line of disappointments. By its middle, it had brought war and promises. Some people thought of this as a century of tears. Narciso Bartolomeo, however, was of an opposite opinion, although he understood the vagaries of the wars in Europe, and civil war here. But Narciso liked its ideas, and was especially fond of its promises. His hope in fact was to live even into the next century, and to then be cured himself of whatever might ail him. It was a strong loyalty he bore to the future, and he tried to give that feeling over to others whenever he could.
Unfortunately, the workaday business of a doctor’s office had little patience for promises. A cut, an infection, some pain, broken bones, colds, aching muscles, more pain—it made for a full day. And the larger issues, the chronic diseases and long deaths, the conditions people suffered, and decisions that had to be made, all of that, they began to define the years, like it or not.
On the other hand, there were babies being born, and they would get to see so much of what he imagined. He took good care of them, and understood that they would be the ones to take care of him, that somewhere among them all would be another Dr. Bartolomeo, and the thought excited him.
In later years it became a tradition of Dr. Bartolomeo’s and of the town to gather before dinner in front of his office on a day a baby was born, so that he might announce the event. He took great pride in this, and his flourishes of description and destiny became increasingly grand. While he knew that the child would most likely be taken to the priest and baptized, he thought of this as a kind of baptism, as well, a baptism into the new century, so that he always made sure to find some way to mention the future and science in his proclamations. A small crowd would invariably gather, coming home from work or simply in the vicinity doing errands, or even purposefully, and when he stopped speaking there would be applause. Fathers would sometimes follow, speaking their hearts, their tongues perhaps loosened from