The year is 1939. A young boy follows his mother into a Doctor’s Surgery. She is carrying a small tin, the lid painstakingly illustrated with bottles of wine.
The boy swallows and looks around his mother, stealing a glimpse of the Doctor who is happily chugging away at a cigar while he lounges forward in his leather upholstered leather chair, finalising notes from his previous patient.
It is late morning, fast approaching lunch and the Doctor is interrupted by the smell of something very desirable. There is a smell that has cut a path through the acrid scent of unwashed bodies and sickness that floats in the air. It has reached his nostrils.
They flare slightly in welcome. His eyes fix on the biscuit tin. And he follows it to the table where it comes to rest unassumingly. “Mrs Jamison”, he says, licking his lips, “please sit down.”
His eyes still on the tin. “I see you have brought your son …” he fumbles for a name.
“Yes, I have, Doctor. This is William Jamison, The Third.”
“Yes, yes, William. You have brought William… and the smell of a picnic lunch.”
His eyes address the Bottles of wine ready to be added to the lunch. “Beautiful day for it.” His eyes now go to Mrs Jamison. “I wish I could join you.” The young boy nuzzles into his Mother trying to hide. “I hope you have had a good morning, Doctor.” Says Mrs Jamison as she removes her gloves and places them neatly across her leather handbag.
“Oh pleasant enough, thank you, but tell me what brings you here today?”
“My visit, Doctor has to do with my son, William Jamison the Third.” The boy nuzzles even further into his mother, burying his face which has now become quite red with embarrassment.
Mrs Jamison breaks off and pulls her son up in his chair. “Please sit up, William.” She says with stern frustration. She takes a deep breath, faces the doctor and continues.
“William Jamison the Third has a problem, Doctor and I don’t know how to explain it.” She stops and looks directly at the biscuit tin as if her finger was pointing out a culprit. The Doctor follows her gaze and sees no evil, just bottles of wine and that distinctive smell that is driving him mad.
He doesn’t know why but words just come out of his mouth: “Are you saying William Jamison the Third is allergic to roast chicken?” He laughs at his joke, but it falls on the serious face of Mrs Jamison. Her eyes fill with water.
The Doctor takes on a consoling expression, with thumb and forefinger hooked across his chin. The boy once again burrows into his mother trying to hide.
“William, please” The boy straightens back up in the chair. His back straight, his body still. The surrounding humidity surrounds him. “I apologise for the callousness of my comment. Please, Mrs Jamison, continue.”
Mrs Jamison looks at the tin. “It’s … not … roast … chicken” she blurts out over muffled cries. The boy looks into the deep red of the carpet wishing it would swallow him up whole.
“Not chicken?” questions the doctor, trying to keep the conversation bright. He was never good with women, particularly when they started crying. “Is it a duck?” I could have sworn it was roast chicken, but duck, as difficult as it is to get in Melbourne at this time of year, is what it could be.”
“No? Not duck…mmmmm. I suppose it could be rabbit. I love rabbit and ….”
“No, doctor; it’s not rabbit, not duck, or beef ….”
“Well, Mrs Jamison, I knew it wasn’t beef, you see roast beef has a distinctive …”
“It’s poo! There I’ve said it!”
“Doctor, it’s poo! Excreta!”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that about roast …”
“Doctor, please,” Mrs Jamison again took the liberty of interrupting. “Try to understand, because I certainly can’t. In the biscuit tin is a sample of William Jamison the Third’s poo. Freshly created this morning.”
“I don’t know what to call it.” Slowly, she pushes up the edges of the biscuit tin lid. The scent, now even more pungent, envelops the musty room. It was unmistakable to the Doctor. It was a smell that made him dream of Sunday lunches. Roast chicken was the one thing he looked forward to most of the week. After all the blood and sickness and pain of Monday through Saturday, the Sunday roast chicken gave him renewed hope and willingness to continue.
He closed his eyes and savored the aroma and all that it promised. “Doctor, I don’t know what else to call it. There; it’s his poo that is making that smell.
“ The Doctor looked into the tin. There lay a couple of what could only be described as turds. Thin, long and a dark healthy brown in colour. This can’t be right thought the Doctor. Can’t be, just can’t be. As he brought the tin to his face the smell became even more concentrated and delicious to his senses. His mouth was now watering uncontrollably.
The clock struck 12 noon.
“Doctor,” Mrs Jamison lowered her head, she was at her witsend. “I don’t know what to do.” He pulled the tin closer and closer. His eyes still closed. “Doctor, it has always been like this. I know I should have brought him in earlier. But how do you …?”
She looked up at the Doctor. “How do you explain this?” She stopped stunned at what she saw. The boy watched the Doctor bring the tin even closer to his face. He heard his mother’s voice surprised.
“Doctor?” The boy’s eyes widened.
“Doctor? I wouldn’t.” The Doctor’s eyes still closed. His nose smiled.
“Doctor?” Mrs Jamison’s voice now louder “Doctor? It’s not …”
Suddenly there was a tremendous gasp of disgust from the Doctor. The tin fell to the floor. The boy couldn’t take his eyes off a small brown stain on the Doctor’s chin as he watched the Doctor splutter and spit and gag.
“Ahhhhh, it tastes like shit!!!”
“My God, save me. Doctor, it is shit, if that’s the medical term for it then let’s call a spade a spade.”
“Oh, my Lord, Oh, my Lord, it’s disgusting, oh, it’s disgusting.”
The door opened and the Doctor’s receptionist popped her head in, her face a question asking what all the noise was about. “Sorry, “she said, “I heard a commotion. Is everything all right?”
She sniffed the air. “It smells like lunch in here. Have you been eating?”
The boy looked back down at the carpet and if you could you would have seen a huge, delicious smile spread across his face.
“What is it you had?” continued the receptionist. “My goodness, it smells like roast chicken.” The mother burst into loud, sobbing tears.
The Doctor’s name was Winston Chalmers. The incidence was reported in the renowned Medical Journal, Lancet. It was an item in the Medical News section of Lancet, Vol 235, Issue 6088. It became quite a celebrated case for Dr Chalmers.
After a few Sherries at his Club, he would often refer to it as the Case of William Jamison the Turd. In more formal settings it became The Unusual Transformation of Faecal Matter into Roast Chicken.
I first heard the story at a friend’s birthday party. Jeremy Chalmers was a school friend and it was told by his grandfather. Jeremy’s Mother and Father listened in horror as the faces of the children scrunched up in disgust, “… and then I stuck out my tongue and licked it.”
He had a guttural, croaky laugh that was common to most old people. The children at the birthday party responded as only kids know how: “Ohhhh, oooo, ahhh yuuuk,”
“I even got a bit stuck on my chin”, the guttural laugh followed, “The boy was just a freak of nature. No explanation.”
I saw a girl dry reach. The party food was barely touched that day, particularly the chocolate rolls Jeremy’s mother had spent so long making. What also intrigued me was the life of William Jamison.
As an adult I found out that William had often accompanied Dr Chalmers to conferences in Sydney and Melbourne. The intensification of the Second World War put a stop to this. And the story and the notoriety fizzled out except for birthday party stories fueled by Sherry.
William grew up and worked at various jobs, a laborer, a kitchen hand, a brickie, a tram conductor. Just a normal life really. However, he never married and it seems that he never actually had a long term relationship of any kind.
When he died only one person attended. He died in 1972. It was suicide from an overdose of amphetamines. On his bedside table was the newspaper. It was open to an account of the death of Doctor Winston Chalmers who had passed away peacefully in his sleep a few days earlier.
I spoke with Winnie Fallow, who lived in the apartment next door to him. William finished work around 3.00pm and so would be home at the same time as Winnie’s children from school.
She would wait outside on the balcony and they would often chat about the weather or some current TV show. She described him as an intensely shy man, the smell of after shave ever present.
She said he never spoke about anyone; not his family, friends, lovers, anyone. She never knew of any visitors. In fact, she knew something was wrong when she hadn’t seen him in a couple of days.
She knocked on his door, but there was no response. After a week, the smell that was coming from William’s apartment was the sign that made her contact the police. She remembers the intense, acrid smell of death when they opened the door.
He was lying on his bed. She had never been inside before. It was clean and tidy. Nothing out of place. “I felt so sorry for him. I never knew he was so lonely. To go that far. Horrible, horrible.”
That was her summation of her time living next to William. “Did he leave a note, or something?” I asked. “No, but the funny thing was that in amongst all the smell of death was the smell of food.
The poor man must have been getting his dinner when he decided to do away with himself. There was the smell of roast chicken in the kitchen. But all the police found when they opened the oven was a couple of turds in a tray.”
She laughed loudly. “Can you believe that?” She continued laughing. “I don’t know why it’s so funny. Poor bugger. Just a couple of turds in the oven are what he left the world.” She thought about it for a moment, “You have to admit, that’s a weird thing to do, but funny. It’s like sticking your middle finger to the world.”