Franz hissed in pain as his crippled hand was flexed, twisted and pulled by Dr. Nichols' strong fingers. Sweat beaded his forehead as he endured the testing manipulation. He sighed in relief when the doctor finally released it.
"Sorry," Dr. Nichols said. "I know that hurt, but I had to see what the condition was." He made some notes in a folder, then looked up. "Well, as the old joke goes, I have bad news and good news. Which do you want first?"
Franz swallowed as Marla took his claw in both her hands. "The bad first, if you please," he replied.
Dr. Nichols looked at them both seriously. "I can't help you surgically. I'm sorry. The damage is severe, but I probably could have saved it if I could have seen it right after it happened. Maybe not, with the knuckles smashed in the last two fingers, but we would have had a good chance. Now . . . Frankly, it healed wrong. I'm not faulting those who tended you—fact is, they did as good a job as any down-timer could have done."
He glanced down at his notes, then back up, and continued, "I have—had, rather—a good friend back up-time who could have fixed it, even now, but he was a fully trained specialized orthopedic surgeon with all the appropriate tools and technology at his fingertips. All modesty aside, I'm a good surgeon, but orthopedics, especially with the small bones like in the hand, requires not only the training but the tools, and I don't have either one. Even if I did, I'm not sure I could justify expending them for what is, to be honest, a relatively minor injury. Our resources are so limited right now that they have to be reserved for truly major problems."
Franz looked down at where Marla's hands clasped tightly around the hand in question, sighed, and said, "I understand."
He raised his eyes back up to look into the doctor's, and a small quirky smile played around his mouth. "I truly did not believe you could do anything, but Marla insisted we come to you. Perhaps in my heart of hearts I wanted to believe that you Grantvillers could work just one more miracle"—he chuckled—"as if enough miracles have not been worked on my behalf already." He smiled at Marla, and his good hand rested on top of hers.
"Well, it is sorry I am that we have wasted your time, Herr Doctor." Franz started to stand up.
"Just a minute, young man. I said I had good news also. Don't you want to hear that?"
Marla pulled him back down, and spoke for the first time. "What do you mean, Dr. Nichols?"
"Well, we may not be able to restore the hand to its preinjury condition, but there are some things we can do to make it somewhat better than it is. Granted, the little finger and ring finger are total write-offs."
Marla saw his confusion, and said, "He means nothing can be done for them, Franz."
The doctor blinked at the interruption, then continued, "Er, yes, they can't be helped. Your wrist and thumb, on the other hand, seem to have totally escaped injury."
"A mark of the malice of Heydrich, " Franz said quietly. "To a violinist, the left hand thumb is just a resting place for the neck of the violin. The fingers are everything."
There was a pause, then Dr. Nichols said carefully, "You're saying he not only attacked you, he knew precisely what to do to cause you the most damage."
The doctor's tone was glacial. "I think Herr Heydrich would be well advised to avoid our territory. I believe I would want to have words with him if I saw him."
"You'd have to stand in line, Doc," Marla snarled. "You're a surgeon, so with your hands you might understand better than most just what this cost a musician, but even you can't understand the grief and madness this caused. I do."
A swirl of appreciation for the woman at his side filled Franz, driving out the old cold ache. The doctor's expression eased to a warm smile.
"Far be it from me to get in the way of mama lion defending her cub. I would be proud to hold your coat, young lady, and see to sweeping up the leftovers if you ever get the chance."
They all laughed, and he continued, "Getting back to your hand, your index and middle fingers are not as hopeless as they appear to be. Granted, they're very stiff right now, but the knuckles escaped injury and the broken bones, although not perfectly straight, healed well enough. What you mainly have is stiffened and inflamed muscles and tendons, with some atrophy because you didn't exercise it while it was healing. The good news is there are some things you can do to help rehabilitate it. If you'll talk to Irene Musgrove, she will describe the procedures you should follow, but basically massages with oil, alternating hot and cold soaks and some exercises with a stiff rubber ball will help bring them back. It will take a while, and I'm not going to lie to you, they won't be as good as they were before the injuries, but you can have more use out of them than you do now."
"Any improvement is more than I have, Doctor. I will do as you say."
"Good. Let Irene know if you can't find a rubber ball, and we'll see if we can requisition one from some kid's toy box." They all laughed again, and the couple stood and left on that note.
Outside the office in the evening twilight, they snugged their coats up against the chill spring breeze and walked slowly down the sidewalk together. After a block or so, Franz sighed, and said, "Well, now we know." He looked over at Marla, walking head down and hands in pockets, and saw tears coursing down her cheeks. Stopping her with his hands on her shoulders, he turned her to face him and gently wiped them from her face. She threw her arms about him, and began to sob convulsively.
"It's . . . not . . . fair," she said brokenly.
"Sshh, sshh," Franz murmured as his cheek rested against her hair. "The good doctor did not take anything from me except false hope. I lost my hand, I gained you and the music of Grantville. I consider it a fair trade."
"But," she said, her voice muffled against his chest, "I wanted to hear you play. It's not fair," sniff, "that you love the music so," sniff, "and can't play it now." Snuffle. Her arms tightened around him again.
Franz took her by the shoulders again and moved her out to arm's length, then lifted her chin and stared at the brimming eyes. "Marla, I have not lost the music, I have only lost the source of my sinful pride and arrogance. As long as I have you, I have the music. Now, dry your eyes, and tell me where we will find this . . . What did Dr. Nichols call it? Oh, yes, this rubber ball. And why would a child have one?"
She smiled at him, wiping her eyes, and hand in hand they walked on down the sidewalk as she explained the nature of a child's toy from up-time and why it would help him regain partial use of his hand. It being Friday evening, they turned at the corner by unspoken consent and walked toward the Gardens.
"Is anyone playing tonight?" Franz asked as they drew near.
"Not that I know of. Couple of the guys in Mountaintop are out of town, so they haven't been doing anything lately."
Franz sniffed. "That is not a bad thing."
"Oh, now, you listened to them just fine the last time they played. You even clapped a couple of times."
"Do not mistake tolerance and politeness for acceptance," he said with a deadpan expression.
"You!" She poked him in the ribs. He poked back, and they scuffled together for a few moments until they separated laughing. She grabbed his left arm with both hands and leaned against him as they walked on. After a few quiet moments, she said, "You know, Franz, I'm awfully glad you came to Grantville."
"As am I."
"No, I'm talking about more than just our friendship." They walked a few more steps before she continued. "You know, I had my life all planned out before the Ring of Fire hit. I was set to graduate in a few weeks. I knew that I wouldn't be the valedictorian or salutatorian, but I knew that I would be like number three or four in our class. I was going to college in the fall. I already had scholarship offers from University of Virginia and Belmont, and there were hints from University of North Texas that they were going to offer me a good package, too. I was going to double major in voice and piano, and with a little luck I could be the band drum major as well. I even had hopes for Eastman School of Music, although the odds were longer there. Then I was going to do the master's degree, and then the doctor's degree. I was going to be Doctor Kristen Marlena Linder by the time I was thirty, show my family and everyone in this one-horse town that I had what it took to be something other than the little girl that sang in church and at the county fair, and everyone said, 'Doesn't she sound good?' and patted me on the head or someplace else."
Their pace had picked up a little. Franz waited a few more steps, then said, "Marla?"
"You are . . . steaming, I think Ingram called it."
She slowed down abruptly, sighed, and said, "You're right. I can't help it. Every time I think about what happened, I just get furious . . . with the universe, with God, with Grantville. My life got screwed up royally. Everyone's did, I know that, but my life . . . "
She stopped, rubbed her hands across her face and brushed her long hair back. "Sorry." She took his arm again, and they started walking slowly.
"I was so angry. Aunt Susan can tell you that when we found out what happened and that Mom and Dad and Paul were left up-time, after I got over the shock I wasn't fit to be around. She said I was like an old sow bear just woke up from hibernation with a bad case of PMS. It was literally months before I could talk to anyone without snarling at them, and probably over a year before I actually smiled again."
Franz placed his hand over hers. "I find that hard to believe."
"No, seriously, I can't describe what I was like without getting pretty vulgar." He snorted and she slapped his arm. "I mean it! I was awful!"
"If you say so."
"I was! And I was a long time getting over it. Aunt Susan finally talked me into going into the teacher training program. Since I have no mechanical aptitude, I get sick at the sight of blood and I can't hit the broad side of a barn with a shotgun, that was about the only thing that I could do to pay my own way in our brave new world." Her voice dripped sarcasm.
"It is a new world, at least for me."
Marla flushed, looked up at him quickly and then down again. "I'm sorry," she muttered. "That was rude."
A few more quiet steps, and she said, "Anyway, what I was trying to say is that I feel different since you came. I can talk music with you, and daydream about somehow starting a music school. I feel . . . happy."
She stopped and twirled once on the sidewalk, holding out her arms. "You are good for me, Franz Sylwester."