Tom Kenner sat looking out the window of a waiting room at the Columbus Orthopedic Hospital. He had been through the magazines but, dog-eared and dated, they couldn’t hold his attention. “Maybe staring out the window will make the time go more quickly,” he thought. It didn’t.
Three hours had passed since his daughter, Darcy went into surgery. “Hand surgery takes time,” was the only answer he could get to his inquiries about any progress. As he continued to look out the window, he felt a presence close behind him. A voice with an Appalachian accent began speaking. It sounded like ones he had heard many times growing up in rural southeastern Ohio. He turned to look at the source. There stood a skinny, older nurse, what his kin might have called a granny woman.
“Outside of Flatwoods, Kentucky, about six or seven miles past town, is an old logging road. In a cove there, you’ll find a blind cabin. It sits at the end of a gravel path, more dirt than gravel, I think. You’ll need to park your car off the logging road and hike in on foot. As you come up the path, if it’s dry, the dust covers your shoes and pants. If it’s wet, best to stay on what’s left of the gravel, not an easy thing to do these days. It ain’t too far though.
“When you get close, you’ll see an old coon hound lying on the porch. His looks might put you off but, the good news; he won’t bother you as long as you do what Sawbones says.
“Hike up the porch stairs and sit on the two rockers in front of the boarded up windows. Someone will be out directly, probably Sawbones himself, but maybe somebody else. Make sure you got a brand new, fresh from the bank, five dollar bill with you. That’s Sawbones’ fee. Always do what he says. Never forget that.”
Extending a bony hand, she offered Tom a map with an address, then said nothing more. Slipping the item into his pocket, Tom waited for his daughter to come out of surgery. More time passed.
He was again looking out the window when he heard, “Mr. Kenner.” He turned to see the surgeon who had a look that previewed what he was about to say. “We’ve done everything we can; the damage to the bones and nerves of her left hand was too severe. She will regain some use of the hand but as for her musical studies, I’m afraid there will be no going back to that.”
Hoping for a different result but expecting this, Tom asked, “Have you told her?”
The surgeon replied, “No, she’s not fully awake yet.”
“Okay, don’t say anything, I’ll do it,” The doctor nodded and walked away. Once he was gone, the granny woman stepped forward again and repeated her advice. “Get that girl, leave now. Sawbones is waiting, expectin’ you.”
Growing up he had heard of these hillbilly healers, never met one though. It was Tom’s call whether to check Darcy out of the hospital and risk taking her to some doctor book doctor up in the hills. Since his wife’s death, he had to make all the decisions. The loss had been tough on them both. For Darcy, to numb her loss, she put everything into learning traditional ceili music. Darcy’s playing had given her mom great joy. She loved the sound of the tunes and the set dancing that went with them. To keep her memory alive, Darcy studied, practiced hard and impressed her teachers. They all said she played with uncommon joy. Scholarship offers soon followed.
Darcy had been taking lessons in the next town over. The train was the easiest way to get there. Generally, the station was safe but on that night it wasn’t. A mugger wearing a ragged coat, old hat and beat up shoes grabbed her as she approached a dark area near the station. He went for her instrument, knocking her down, but she refused to give it up. Using his foot, he stomped her left hand trying to loosen her grip. Even with a crushed hand, she refused to let go of her violin case. Realizing he wouldn’t get his prize, he ran off and avoided capture. His attack left Darcy with a badly damaged fingerboard hand, the one that made the music so unique.
Tom was desperate to help Darcy get back what she lost. He didn’t want to tell her there was nothing left to do and her dreams were gone. The granny woman’s words replayed in his head. Flatwoods wasn’t that far away. Tom decided he had to risk one more procedure to try to get back what was lost.
When she woke up, he said, “Darcy, these people can’t help you but I think I found someone who can. We have to leave here, now.” Still groggy, she said, “Okay, Dad.” Against advice, he checked Darcy out. Given some pain pills, a nurse said to make sure the girl kept her hand elevated and to come back if there were problems.
Darcy’s hand throbbed the whole trip to Flatwoods. Finding the location wasn’t hard with the car’s GPS and the address. Once there, Tom helped Darcy walk the short path back to the cabin. As they approached, they heard loud, painful screams. There was the sound of hammering and sawing coming from the building up ahead. The sounds were the type you’d expect to hear from a carpenter’s shop not a doctor’s office. Unnerved, Tom was sure he was in the wrong place.
As they got closer they saw a man sitting in one of the rockers on the porch.
Tom said to him, “Is this where the doctor is?”
“He ain’t no doctor, friend, he’s a sawbones. My boy wrecked his knee. Well, he didn’t do it, some guys on the team he was playing broke it cuz he scored the winning touchdown last Friday night. They’ll get their comeuppance but right now my boy needs his knee fixed for this Friday’s game.”
“Wait,” Tom said, “with a broken knee how’s he gonna play this Friday?”
“Sawbones will fix him up, yes indeed he will. You gotta do what he says, exactly as he says it, but he can fix him, he can fix anybody.”
From the cabin, came more screaming, cracking and popping sounds and then, silence. The front door opened. Out came a strapping young man, walking like normal, no limp, no pain.
Sawbones, smiling, said to the father, “Gimme the five.” A new five dollar bill with Lincoln’s face prominently displayed changed hands. Sawbones said, “Now you take the boy into town to Bessie Gehlfuss’s Cafe on River Street straight away. Get him a piece of her special blueberry pie. She’ll know what to give ya.
“The boy will have to drink a whole glass of sweet tea. Mind you, it’ll taste like the devil pissed in it, but down every drop. Daddy, if he drinks it all; he’ll be scoring touchdowns come this Friday.” The father and son walked down the stairs and disappeared down the path to the road.
Tom watched this exchange without saying a word. Sawbones was a short, plump, slick faced man with wire rimmed glasses. He had a short, unlit cigar stuffed in the corner of his mouth. Tom suspected it was a permanent feature. Wearing a cheap shirt and pants and scuffed brown shoes, he didn’t dress or look like a surgeon, it was more like he had been playing poker than providing medical treatment. Sawbones smiled at Darcy. It was her turn.
He took hold of her left hand and gave it a look. “So you held on to your fiddle did you? Good girl, you’re a fighter, I like that. Well, this hand is just a mess. In these parts we call this a gaum. Let’s go fix this trouble.”
Turning to Tom, Sawbones said, “Daddy, you’ll be here next to this hound, sittin’ up, waitin’. Don’t you get up; don’t come in, don’t move, no matter what you hear. You sit in that rocker, understand? You try anything, this hound can be nasty. Your girl’s gonna be good as new. I’ll let you know when we’re done.”
Tom nodded and sat in a rocker as Darcy and Sawbones went through the door. He closed his eyes and said out loud, “What am I doing to my little girl? I just turned her over to some backwoods conjurer.” The hound paid him no mind.
After a few minutes, he heard Darcy scream. There was a terrible cracking sound, then the whizzing of a saw and some hammering. More cries of pain followed, then silence. Tom felt sick. He wanted to break down the door and save his daughter but remembered Sawbones’ warning not to leave the rocker. Reminding himself, “This is Darcy’s last chance; I can’t ruin it for her,” he stayed put. Throughout all this commotion, the hound didn’t move, not once, except to flick his ear to shake off a fly.
A few minutes later, the door opened. Sawbones and Darcy emerged into the afternoon light. Darcy wiggled the fingers of her left hand. A smile graced her face. Tom never welcomed any sight more.
Sawbones looked at them both and said. “You go find Bessie Gehlfuss’ Cafe and Darcy you have a piece of that special blueberry pie. Mind you drink every drop of her sweet tea even tho’ it tastes like the devil made it but you must drink it all. If you do, you’ll be playing sweet music again tomorrow when you get home.”
Turning to Tom, Sawbones said, “Now Daddy, gimme that five dollar bill we agreed on. Tom handed him a new bill with Lincoln’s face side up. Sawbones held it up to the light and said, “A fellow this ugly makes you tired. How he got on the money don’t make no sense to me.”
Tom, within earshot of Darcy, leaned in to Sawbones and asked, “What if I found the guy that did this? If I paid, could you do to him what he did to her? Sawbones noticed Darcy heard that.
Putting his arms around Tom and Darcy, he said, “There already too many people in this world who break things. I do my best to fix what’s broke. That’s what I do. These other scum, their wrong gets paid back in kind. Doing right brings joy in so many ways. You don’t want to be in the payback business and neither do I. The man who hurt Darcy, he’ll get what’s coming to him in due time. Your little girl will be good as new. Don’t mess this up. I can’t fix Darcy again, ever. My treatments are a one-time thing. Go now, do what I said, do everything I said.” Sawbones turned to Darcy, holding her repaired hand in his, he said, “Play your heart out girl. You bring joy to lots of folks, be happy doing that.” He smiled, then turned and went back inside.
Tom and Darcy started walking down the dirt path. When they turned for a last look, they noticed what they thought was a cabin was a ramshackle saw mill.
They headed into town and found the cafe. Darcy had that piece of special blueberry pie and sweet tea. Sawbones was right, the sweet tea was awful. By the time they got back to Columbus, her hand felt like nothing ever happen. Darcy went back to playing beautiful music; Tom was her number one fan.
Two years later, Darcy’s fame as a musician had spread. On her way to a concert date, she found herself at the train station where the assault happened. A scruffy figure appeared on the platform wearing a ragged coat, old hat and beat up shoes. Darcy spotted him, she was sure he was her attacker. Then she noticed his left hand, withered, gnarled and useless. When he realized that Darcy saw him, he disappeared into the crowd.
Darcy thought, “What’d you know, Sawbones said, ‘wrong gets paid back in kind.’” She got on the train and headed to her concert. Like at every performance, Darcy played her heart out to bring as much joy to as many people as she could. She was happy doing that and always would be, thanks to Sawbones.