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26 • mange The seven-year itch. Sarcoptic mange. Microscopic parasites. Sarcoptes mites. Laying their waste on the skin, inside hair follicles. Secondary infections. Hair loss. Foxes plead for warmth, and wander in the full-blown light of day. A daylight foxstrike on the road. I can’t say the doctor visibly retreated when the old man told him he’d had mange for years, but I think he wanted to. I could be projecting here. There’d be a battery of psychoanalytical terms for my response, but I’ve little faith in them. My ECG machine went wild as I hoisted myself up to listen, so I called out, It’s okay, I’m just shifting myself . . . knowing the doctor would turn his attention to me and the nurses come running. I might not die that night, but I could. Otherwise, I was fairly compos, if a little vague and racked by constant shaking. But this conversation, between the earnest young South African doctor and the wizened but zesty old wheatbelt farmer, was something I wanted to listen to—living or dead, I reckon I had a vested interest in its progress, and that Dalwalinu 27 m a n g e rather than eavesdropping I was, by juxtaposition, a concerned party. After all, I might come back as a mange-ridden red fox, or spread mange to my loved ones as they mourned over my corpse. I remembered my wife telling me that yoga sessions usually begin and end with the corpse posture. That helped. Anyway, as far as I can remember, the conversation between doctor and patient went along the following lines. Bear in mind that the whole time it was going on, the doctor was trying unsuccessfully to tap a vein in the old man’s arm, to draw blood for tests pertaining to the unrelated condition— not mange, that is—that had brought him to the hospital in the first place: It’s because of the foxes. Up on the farm. Terrible creatures. Yes.Yes. If you’ve seen what they do to a coop of chickens if they get in—sampling the livers and little else—you’d agree. Yes. Yes. Sorry, another small pinprick in the arm. Having a little trouble finding a vein. (I smiled at this—I love medical tautologies.) My veins have always been like that. I used to shoot dozens of foxes in a night. Hunt them. I have to say I enjoyed it. Enjoyed killing the killers. (Truly, his laugh after this was a cackle.) Yes.Yes. Hmmm, they are killers. Hmmm . . . Ohhhh, no luck there, sorry. Sorry about the bruises—you’ll have some beauties. We’ll have to try the other arm. That’s okay.Whatever it takes. I used to shoot them and skin them. I was the fastest skinner in the district. It’s what I most miss.We’ve been off the farm for ten years.We farmed out on the edge of the wheatbelt. Far as you can go. Some paddocks— and these paddocks were thousands of acres—we could only crop every few years because it was so dry. But foxes! They were everywhere. I shot them only in the head if I could, to avoid damaging the pelts. But I’d happily have shot them where it hurts most first. That’s something to be said for the mangy bastards—sorry for my French—didn’t matter where you shot them, their pelts were useless. 28 j o h n k i n s e l l a The doctor was hypnotized by the old codger’s ingrown veins and barely uh-hummed back. It didn’t matter where you shot ’em! Sometimes if I was feelin’ down or off-color, I’d spread poison. That’s another story—plenty of punishment for the devils there, but not as much reward for the hunter. Yes.Yes. Think we’re onto a vein here. It was them foxes that gave me the mange. Maybe this time. Now, another pinprick. No, wait—sorry. (He almost said, Damn, I could sense it.) That’s okay.You’ll get one in the end.Yes, I’ve had the mange for twenty years. Can’t get rid of it. Hmmm. (The doctor had lifted his head and broken the spell; he seemed slightly bothered, outside the vein horror.) I know humans can catch mange, but it’s easy to clear up and doesn’t last long. Nope...


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