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Found: short story “Dr. Beauchef, Penguin Dentist”

September 25, 2011

Digging in the my folders for poems and plays to write and rework, I found a story I wrote for creative writing class, the one short story class I took before I changed my focus to poetry. It’s rather silly. It actually stemmed from a conversation I had with my brother, Kelly, about jazz song titles and how they don’t have to really mean anything. (Oh, and Kelly has asked me recently to name tunes on a CD he’s supposed to be working on. I’m excited.)

Dr. Beauchef, Penguin Dentist

by Sean R. Corbin

Based on the Kneebody song, “Dr. Beauchef, Penguin Dentist”

Dr. Beauchef took off his right mitt and reached into his pocket. He pulled from it a tube of procaine and inspected it as a stranger. The Ross Sea wind chilled his hand and he returned the tube and quickly redressed his hand. He was lanky, although one could not tell because of his parka. His hair was fashionably short, but his dress had changed drastically for the rough Antarctic weather he prepared for.

            On the rusty deck of The Bowman, headed for Antarctica, Dr. Beauchef, for the first time since he had begun this venture four years before, questioned whether he was doing a smart thing. He thought of the millions of other people’s teeth he could clean and correct; the various love affairs with dental students that, until the week before his departure, he had sworn off; he thought of the tube of procaine in his pocket, the same he used to aid mothers in the street with teething children. But he remembered the three penguins he had met at the zoo, and thought of the others – the other penguins – who could use his help. He remembered also that, despite the gruff that now battled with his usually waxed moustache, he was still very young. He felt, as he had joked with those back home in Newark, that maybe he could still return home – to the humans and their teeth.

            His mitt off again, Dr. Beauchef reached for the tube of procaine. Laughing, he rubbed the numbing grease on his gums.

◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦

Dr. Beauchef had established himself as a successful and even charismatic dentist, opening an office within a year of receiving his Doctorate of Dental Surgery, and retaining most of his savings for his retirement.

            After his visit to a zoo in New York City, Dr. Beauchef approached John D. Rockefeller, who immediately put up the remainder of the expedition’s cost; without the help, he could have only made it to Brazil, about half the way. There was paperwork, something the dentist rarely had the chance to enjoy and he completed it with a sort of nostalgic liking. And, for “insurance purposes,” he was required to list the possessions he would be taking with him: his dentistry equipment, of course (all of which was itemized individually on an attached form); a weeks change of clothes; an extra week each of long johns, briefs and pairs of socks; toiletries; charcoal and six writing tablatures. All other items – provisions, the shelter, etc. – would not be listed.

◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦

The Bowman landed on the shore of Edward VII Land, near the Ross Ice Shelf. As she left for the dark horizon of the sea, Dr. Beauchef was sure he heard the same laughter that had mocked his adventure from its inception.

            Once on the shelf, Dr. Beauchef realized just how alone he was: no one was there. A chill set in and, now more determined to find his true patients, he established camp and bedded early in hopes of finding the penguins the next day.

◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦

The first day was his most successful.

            He awoke early and ate what breakfast he could (cold oatmeal and ham). He strapped his equipment to his back and started for the hill that was farther south. The crisp line of the hill was broken by a mass of black as a small group of penguins approached. His first thought was they had been excited, perhaps because of his camp commotion, maybe even just his arrival. He then reasoned with himself a bit more and knew they were simply coming for their first appointments.

            He approached them, crouched down and slowly, and spoke in a tender voice.

◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦                       ◦

Three months passed and his body was found on a small snow bank less than two hundred yards from camp. Most of his food was discovered to be uneaten and a journal entry revealed how disappointed he was to find that penguins, as he had been told, actually have no teeth.


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