Doc Wimple loved to diagnose the curious fair goers who came to his traveling medicine show, and this show in Jamestown was no different, despite the heat and threat of rain. After quickly sizing up a teenage girl with eczema and a baby with colic, he focused on the tiny, wasp-waisted lady who with a swish of skirts and a snap of her fan pushed her way to the front. Her dark eyes bored through him like thread through the eye of a needle.
Woman’s troubles were the obvious choice for a high strung filly like her, Doc thought, but that was too simple. He ruled out headache or back pain, because she didn’t seem to be suffering acutely in the sun. Nervous disease maybe?
She solved the mystery for him. “Do these pills help a person sleep?” she asked. Her lips pressed together in a thin line like she’d already decided he was a liar.
Doc Wimple nodded. Some fellows got insulted when a woman presented such attitude, but he didn’t mind. He liked her confidence and he liked questions from the crowd. Years of experience taught him that disbelievers like her actually wound up convincing others to buy more of his product.
“Yes, without question, Gardner’s Chill Pills will help you sleep. These pills are prompt to act and sure to cure. And just 50 cents for this full bottle.”
“I sleep fine,” she said. “It’s my husband who has trouble sleeping most nights with stomach pains. Do your pills help with stomach ailments?”
“Gardner’s Chill Pills can cure all diseases of the stomach, liver and kidneys. It is also proven to remove pimples, shrink boils, cure headaches and purify your blood,” Doc said. “You, sir, there in the overalls. You got back pain? Headaches? Because this pill here can stop those – and also your toothaches, earaches, neuralgia, stiff joints.”
The man in overalls nodded and opened his mouth to answer, but the lady in the green dress cut him off. “What about gout?” she said. A teenage girl with a face full of freckles looked at her wristwatch; two young men exchanged glances and drifted away.
He’d misdiagnosed the woman in the green dress. Her confidence, he thought, wasn’t confidence at all. It was a deep neediness to be heard.
“Gout, consumption, croup, melancholy, dropsy, pain in the back — Gardner’s Chill Pills help with all of that. Heads of state, Arabian princes, movie stars and even the Governor of North Carolina can attest to their effectiveness.”
“Does it make your stomach burn? I took Brown’s Bitters and…”
Her words trailed off as a tall man with a scruffy grey beard and wire rim glasses framing flint grey eyes appeared on the edge of the crowd, taking the place of a young couple who had wandered off hand-in-hand.
Doc Wimple watched as the woman physically transformed, her body deflating like a pin-pricked balloon. Her lowered eyes darted between him and the grey man.
She pressed her lips even tighter and bowed her head. She walked to the man and silently followed him through the crowd and home without buying the pills. They wouldn’t have helped her problem anyway, Doc Wimple thought.