The Doctor’s Office
Emily couldn’t remember ever seeing a doctor before. She had always been healthy as a child, so perhaps there was never a need. She telephoned her mother who couldn’t remember the name of the family doctor. The connection wasn’t very good. She thought about it for a moment, and then tried to change the subject.
“Are you not feeling well, Chi-chan?”
“I’m fine, mom. I just think I should have a checkup every once in a while. Don’t you?”
“Of course you should, sweetheart. But is this really the time?”
“Well, I’ll need to have a physical if I decide to go to the Academy.”
Emily brushed off her mother’s caviling and decided to pick a doctor out of the phone book. She settled on a family practice physician in Goshen. Dr. Tarleton’s office was in a strip mall, a converted storefront with no receptionist. Just a nurse and the doctor, who had only recently taken over the practice. She passed right through the waiting area. There were no other patients, so she had no time to admire the stale magazines or the motel art on the walls. There were a few desultory toys in a plastic chest in the corner, but nothing to delay her passage.
Jessica Tarleton grew up in Covington, but left to go to college and then medical school. She had been away for years, and had at one point even contemplated never returning to the area. She enjoyed a posh life and a lucrative practice in Manhattan on the upper west side until a few months ago. Something must have changed for her in the interim, since she now found herself back in sleepy, rural Virginia trying to revive a practice purchased from the prior medical occupant.
In her examining room she discovered a pretty girl with jet black hair in a dressing gown. The chart in her hand told her to expect someone sixty seven inches tall and a hundred thirty eight pounds. Ordinarily that would be a healthy combination. But the girl she saw seemed rather thinner than she expected. Her back was turned as she entered and she could see through the gap in the back of the gown that this girl had almost no body fat. Interestingly, though, she did not seem to be overly muscular. When she turned to face her, she was struck by how pretty she was. Her name suggested that she was Japanese-American, though she was perhaps a bit taller than one might expect of a Japanese girl.
It was a routine exam. She asked the usual questions. How was her appetite? What was her diet like? Was she sleeping well? Was she a smoker? Did she take drugs? Did she have a regular period? Was she sexually active?
“You seem to be in perfect health, Miss Tenno. Can I call you Michiko?”
“Most people call me Emily.”
“Okay. Emily. I’m a little concerned by how thin you are. Your weight is in the right range, but you have so little body fat...”
“Is that a problem?”
“Well, apparently not at this moment. It’s probably okay for an eighteen year old. But as you get older it may become a problem. You say you’re not a vegetarian.”
“No. I eat meat and fish. But probably not everyday. Is that a problem?”
“I suppose not. It’s just a little harder to get enough protein from a vegetarian diet. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem for you. There’s nothing wrong with you as far as I can see. But I would be happier if you just had a little more fat on your bones. Just be careful you don’t lose any weight.” She smiled and said “I guess that’s a problem most women would love to have.”
“I suppose. To tell you the truth, I don’t think about food much, but I also don’t starve myself. I eat pretty much whatever I feel like.”
“I see bruises on your arms and legs, and a slight swelling on your jaw line. Some of these look pretty recent.”
“I guess I lead a pretty active life.” Dr. Tarleton gave her a queasy smile.
“Do you have any other bruises I should know about?” Emily undid her gown and let it drop to the floor. The doctor looked her over pretty closely but didn’t see any other suspicious bruises. What she did notice was how comfortable this girl was with her body. She seemed to have no qualms about standing naked in a strange office. That was a little odd, but not for that reason an unhealthy sign. “You can get dressed again.”
There was on the whole something unsettling about her, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was. She wanted to look at her eyes again. She flashed a light and peered through the magnifier, but saw no abnormalities. Her eyes seemed so crisp, so clear, so dark. She found herself staring into them… a little too long. As she searched the depths of that darkness an idea began to suggest itself. Was it something serene? Or turbulent? She couldn’t quite decide.
“How did you get those bruises?”
“Most of them came from a karate tournament I was in last week.”
“You know, you can tell me anything.”
“Is there something in particular you have in mind?”
“Did your father do that?”
“My father’s dead. I’m on my own.”
“Oh. I’m sorry,” she said, a little embarrassed. “A boyfriend, then?”
Emily could see it wasn’t going to be easy to satisfy her. She went over to the computer terminal and typed a couple of search terms into the browser. A moment later a video opened up. The title read “Black Belt Kumite semi-finals at Norfolk.” It took a few seconds for Dr. Tarleton to recognize Emily in the video. She was sparring with a large, quite muscular man, perhaps a Marine from one of the nearby naval stations. But it wasn’t just a pantomime fight. It looked like full contact. As she watched the match unfold her eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open until finally with a faint whisper she mouthed “Oh… my…God….”
At the beginning of the video, before the match had actually begun, Emily’s opponent swung his fist into the side of her head. He failed to land another kick or punch in the match. At one point he assailed her with blows of every description. She blocked or parried all of them before landing a devastating short strike, a reverse punch to his solar plexus that staggered him. In the final point of the match, his frustration palpable, he launched himself at her as if to tackle her. With a quick step to the side, she took control of his wrist and twisted him down into an awkward crouch, then up and back into a throw that sent him sprawling across the ring. He lay motionless on his back for a few moments as Emily knelt next to him. The match was over.
The doctor stared in stunned silence and tried to digest what she had just seen.
“That’s how you got that lump on your jaw. He hit you hard. How could you come back from that?”
“It didn’t really connect. You can see if you look closely. I turned away from most of the force of it.”
“Still, it must have hurt like hell.”
“It did. You saw how pissed I was. I really let him have it after that. I didn’t hit anyone that hard in the entire tournament.”
“But at the end, you sat next to him and even seemed to be consoling him. It almost looked like you were caressing him. How could you do that after what he did?”
“What else could I do? He was beaten. He knew it. There was nothing to be gained by staying angry at him.”
“Yeah, he was a jerk. But there was more to him than that. I just reminded him of it at the end.” The doctor sighed and gazed at Emily.
“How long have you been doing martial arts?”
“Pretty much all my life.”
“So, are you like the champion now?”
“I won that one tournament, but there are lots of those every year.”
“You’re not going to any more like that one are you?”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever go to another one.”
“Are you done with martial arts then,” she asked hopefully.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be done with it. But martial arts isn’t really about competitions, or even about fighting.” The doctor looked puzzled.
“Then what is it about?”
“Why don’t you come down to the dojo and find out.”
Dr. Tarleton smiled. She was worried about Emily’s health. She still couldn’t say exactly what was troubling her, but the low body fat, the minimal bruising… after what she had just seen in the video, she would have expected her to be black and blue all over. It was just a little odd. She seemed more like a weapon than a girl, no extra fat, no extra muscle, just sinewy strength emanating from every pore. She thought it was unhealthy to be that fit. The body needed a little extra fat to maintain hormonal balance. And yet she showed no ill effects. She shook her head.The results would take a few days to come back, a PAP smear, a few blood tests, but she assured her they were only routine. Emily went back to her apartment in Warm Springs.