Day One in Theatre by Oliver Leroth

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I took no pleasure in severing the leg. It was no fun to dig the blade across the skin and watch blood scurry from punctate pricks in the parted dermis. My stroke wavered above and below the pen line, drawn like a scar already across the skin, Sabapathy’s hand resting on mine, orbiting me around the calf. “Draw, don’t push.” I heard him say. “Rest, don’t hover.”

It seemed wrong to defile the virgin tissue when the waxwork ankle lay mangled inches away, its brown skin blackened by road grit and clotted blood and matted hair, fragmented bones jutting from the surface like bombed out buildings.

They handed me an electric knife. The muscle jerked violently as I cut across it, moving, as it should, up and down the leg in its final act before whimpering still. Acrid smoke filled my nostrils. The leg hung by the bones, the soft tissues falling away like a sinewy joint of lamb. Sabapathy grasped the skin with two hooks and held back the flap, exposing the top of the tibia.

“The saw,” he said, nodding at the bench.

My hands trembled as I placed the serrated edge against the bone.

“Higher, Gillespie,” Sabapathy said.

I moved north, just shy of the knee.

“Good,” Sabapathy said. “Start it first. Don’t force it. Just rest against the bone.”

I flicked a switch and the saw flickered and whirred. Flecks of red-yellow marrow, like sawdust, flew in the air striking me on the forehead and cheek. Sabapathy smiled behind his plastic visor and shook his head.

“Come on boy,” he shouted.

I juddered forwards, resisting the urge to wipe my face. With a crack the bone gave way, falling limply onto the table, the knobbly foot with its thick nails painted red coming to rest against the front of my gown. I shifted back in reflex, curling my toes inside my clogs to check they were still there. Sabapathy released the hooks and the stump flopped forwards in vain, as if reaching out for its detached part.

Sabapathy picked up the leg, admiring it like a precious artefact as he turned it over in his hands. He ripped off his gown and patted me on the chest with a blood-soaked glove.

“Now close it up,” he said, tossing the leg into an orange bag. “It’s lunch time.”

A hint of warm moisture seeped onto my right nipple from the handprint, its outline stuck with globules of yellow fat. The splayed stump gawped back at me like a prognathic fish and down my forehead I felt the tickle of sliding bone. Suddenly I felt very hot, the lights beamed down on me like an unwilling actor thrust on stage.

Through fogged eyes I spied a porter jump upright from his corner perch, and as I fell I heard the nurse cry: “A chair for the doctor!”


Oliver Leroth

Oliver Leroth grew up in Cumbria and now lives in London where he works as a surgeon. He has written dozens of academic articles and book chapters and is currently completing a PhD which explores techniques for using a person’s own tissue to treat chronic wounds. He started to write fiction to escape the day job, but finds he is often drawn back to the operating theatre. His first story was published in the Wells Street Journal in 2021.

Previous publication

Riding Pillion by Oliver Leroth – published in The Wells Street Journal, Issue 14, Urban Legends, 2021 –

Cover Image by OpenClipart-Vectors


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