Dr. John Black, 22


When the Bellaquas left Denmark in 1864, we ended up in Switzerland, England and America. Leaving was father’s doing, as he always made a mess of our lives no matter what. I was 22 at the time.

The ‘pick up and leave’ hassle, however, started way back in The Carpathians, where we lived with dad until he hustled the entire family out Romania, finally landing us in the provincial town of Schleswig, Denmark. That my mother died birthing me didn’t exactly help my built-in dysfunctional nature, and finding myself alone, on a cargo ship headed towards the Caribbean, was not my idea of a swell time. By the time we hit Haiti, I’d seen my share of bloated dead bodies and rum soaked seagulls.

It wasn’t until I set foot in El Paso, Texas, that I finally found a place I could call home. 

I remember the first time I walked into Smith’s. The year was 1912. I was 22. Still. Pastor Graves was sitting there, nursing something amberish in a glass that had a chip on the rim. I sat a distance from him, ordered a whisky, and let it sit on the bar for quite some time before I spoke.

“See any action in these here parts?” I asked the downtrodden clergyman.

He squinted an angry eyeball at me and said, “Depends on what you call action, son.”

Graves took a hard swig, slammed his glass down on the bar and stared at me. His upper lip was bleeding. It took me .0015 of a second to offer him a handkerchief. I must admit, I was slower than usual on that hot, dusty afternoon.

Shocked by what he apparently thought was my “speed,” he asked me if I was “some kind of doctor.”

I said no.

He said yes, and asked me my name.

“Vladimir Bellaqua, friend. I mean you no harm, I only want to offer you my handkerchief — you are bleeding. You must have cut yourself on the edge.”

“Black, you say?”

“No, my name is Bellaqua.”

“Doctor Black, then.”

“No sir, I’m not a doctor and my name is not Black.”

“Well, it sounds like Black.”

“I suppose. Here,” I said, holding my cloth to his lip. “Hold this and apply pressure.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

“Please. Just call me Vlad.”

“I will call you John.”

I sighed. Nobody ever warmed to the name Vladimir, did they? Not in El Paso, at least.

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