Really Lovecraft's head is so weirdly long that he doesn't need ears to be distinctive, but I gave him a pair anyway, because I feel bad for him that he died obscure and in poverty. Previously the only stix who got ears was lobotomy inventor and gout victim Egas Moniz, who had prominent ears with tophi in them -- a tophus is a collection of gout crystals forming a bump, which you can see on Egas's ears in headshots of him. And in stix of him. Incidentally, I think Egas had a very interesting face. In pictures he generally wears a small smile that looks kind of mysterious but also kind of self-effacing, as if he doesn't go around saying that he invented the lobotomy, you understand, but since you ask, yes, yes he did, and he did get the Nobel Prize for it, in fact, since you ask. His face is also interesting topologically, all saggy and puffy, possibly because of the gout, in contrast to his perfectly flat shiny black hair, which appears to have been drawn with heavy strokes of a number-two pencil. It is an unlovely face, but loveliness is not everything. As I'm sure Lovecraft would agree, and not just because of his weird long head.
Just now, speaking of lobotomy, I was going through some old spiral notebooks and I found a short episode I like but probably can't use because I don't want to let Declan narrate much -- he reminds me of the talking version of Wile E. Coyote not least because he likes to lecture, and much as I like writing this, he really ought to take a page from Dr. Moniz's book and be more of an enigma so the reader can try to solve him like a crossword puzzle. (He already has in common with Egas that he's unlovely, and he would be the first to tell you so -- he does, in fact, in the one narrative passage I am allowing him.) Too bad because it's a good episode -- see for yourself:
I did not engineer the situation that enabled me to save Maisie's life, but I'm glad I was able to, though in retrospect perhaps it was foolish of me to attempt the operation myself. Still, looking at the neat little scar on her belly, I find it impossible to feel much regret. Still less immediately afterward, when I was able to sit by her bed and listen to her narcotic conversation. She was fonder of me in those few days than she had ever been before, or has ever been since; it is easy to be fond of someone who brings you Demerol and grilled cheese sandwiches as you lie in bed. "Dad," she said earnestly one day when I brought her her lunch, "I think Heaven is real."
She had been baptized as a Catholic, but I had not given her a religious upbringing. "Why's that?" I asked.
"Because otherwise what would happen to people when they die?"
"Some people think there's nothing after death -- that the self doesn't endure."
I had brought her vegetable soup, and she was poking the alphabet noodles with her forefinger while she waited for it to cool, as she always did. "What about ghosts? Or people who remember having other lives?"
"If those phenomena are real, scientists should be able to reproduce them under laboratory conditions, and no one ever has."
"But this is about the soul. You can't prove the soul."
"What is the soul? Where does it reside?"
"It's in your brain," she said, as if our roles were reversed and I were the child, asking endless questions to which I already knew the answers.
"But the brain's activity ceases at death. That has been conclusively proven."
"Well of course it doesn't stay there. That would be like if when a writer died all their books disappeared."
"I see. So the soul inhabits the brain but is not confined to it."
"And it departs -- when? At the moment of death?"
"Maybe. Or other times too, like when you write poems, if they're good poems. Or if you're crazy."
"The soul goes in and out of the brain, then? Or only some people's souls?"
Maisie thought about this for a while, during which time she drank her soup down in several long gulps. "Everyone," she said.
"And after death the soul goes to Heaven?"
"Right. But also it stays on Earth if you wrote poems or whatever."
"It sounds large, the soul."
"It grows. It grows when you do good things. Then it gets too big for your brain and that's why parts of it leave. And if you're crazy it means your soul is too small for your brain and it rattles around! And if you get a lobotomy it makes your brain smaller so your soul doesn't rattle anymore. But also you can't do very good art."
This was actually not a substantially less sophisticated explanation than Walter Freeman's of the mechanism by which lobotomy works.
"Wouldn't that be a neat way for ghosts to communicate?" asked Maisie. "By spelling words out in your soup?"
Currently, of course, Maisie hates me. I say of course because she is fifteen. As of her last birthday she is five foot five inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. Her hair, that universal vehicle of adolescent contempt, is mouse-colored, frizzy, and of shoulder-blade length; her eyes are blue, like her mother's, but their expression is one of frustrated loathing, like her father's -- presumably not all the time, but most of the time when she is in my presence. This is not very often. When she comes home from school she shuts herself in her room, emerging occasionally to apply something to a piece of bread and eat it while continuing to survey the contents of the refrigerator. She is no longer willing to help me prepare dinner, though she is generally willing to eat it once I have prepared it, and to load the dishwasher afterward -- probably so the imaginary jury that presides over the actions of every teenager won't be able to reproach her for accepting anything from me as a gift. Nor is she willing any longer to assist me in the operating room, though I continue to extend the invitation that she once accepted with positive eagerness.
She had already done so several times on the night that it became necessary for me to operate on her. She would run the autoclave, or turn the hot water on and off. It was charming to see how proud she was of these little contributions. Either because she was squeamish or because she understood it as private, she never asked to stay for the operation itself. As soon as the autoclave cycle was finished she would vanish up the stairs.
She had gone to bed that night with a stomachache, which she reported to me in the hope that it was evidence of an intolerance for the Brussels sprouts we had had for dinner. I was awakened shortly after midnight by a noise that combined moaning and whimpering. By the time I woke fully and found her, clinging to the toilet into which she had already vomited twice, the whimpering prevailed. Her hands were cold but her pale perspiring face burned with fever. When I touched her abdomen she screamed.
Between us we got her down to the basement. She didn't ask any questions, either because she trusted me or, which seems more likely, she was in too much pain to think about anything else. "I'm going to take your appendix out," I told her. She lay shivering on the stainless steel table, her feet paddling, her hands clutching and yanking her hair, keening at intervals from between clenched teeth. Pain made her acquiescent. "Roll up your sleeve," I said, and she obeyed.
"Is that going to knock me out?" she asked as I administered the injection.
"Why not?" she wailed, drumming her heels against the table.
"Hold still. You have an infection. This is an antibiotic. The next one will knock you out. And then what do you get?"
"Very good." I swabbed her other arm. "Now count backward from one hundred, and if you make it to seventy-five I'll be very impressed."
"Then why don't" -- she was already fading from consciousness, her hands falling away from her hair -- "why don't you say, 'Count backward from twenty-five'?"
I was washing my hands as she said this, and by the time I turned around she was unconscious. I never have been able to think of a satisfactory answer.
I had never performed an appendectomy before, but I had read about them, and they are simple enough. Even so they are more complicated than transorbital lobotomies, which are not significantly more complicated than stirring sugar into a cup of tea. My main concern was maintaining an adequate approximation of sterility. The transorbital procedure is minimally invasive, creating no external wound through which contaminants can enter, and it is tempting once you have performed a few to adopt Freeman's cavalier attitude toward what he called "all that germ crap." Fortunately my standards had always been higher than his in this respect -- I had never performed a lobotomy on the floor of a motel room, or in an open ward of mental patients (a notoriously tubercular population). I was able to drape her, for one thing. Having little confidence in my own skill at needlework, I had years before purchased a surgical stapler, so that Maisie was spared the indignity of serving as my embroidery hoop. The wound itself was lager than a surgeon might have made it, but on the whole I was very pleased.
Halothane is a short-acting anesthetic, and consciousness returned not long after I was finished. Lacking the capacity to move her, I had no choice but the leave Maisie on the operating table for the night, having first brought her a pillow and a blanket from upstairs. Because she was not able to raise her arms and I was not allowed to look, putting her pajama top back on took nearly as long as the operation had. I gave her a shot of Demerol.
"Ooh, what is that?" she asked, dreamily trying to stretch.
"Hold still. It's Demerol -- synthetic morphine."
"Why not real morphine?"
"It's more powerful, and easier to make. How do you feel?"
"Wonnnnderful," she said. Her eyes sparkled and she blinked up at me rapidly. "You saved my life."
This was true, and no less true because it was the Demerol talking. "That's right," I said. "Now go to sleep, and don't move any more than you have to, no matter how good you feel." To be on the safe side I positioned the operating table against the wall and wheeled the instrument cabinet to the other side. She still could have gotten out, but she would have had to be fairly determined.