PADGE: I’m not sure if it’s a good idea or a bad one that I can see her before the surgery. Right now, it feels too much like shopping. Disrespectful, I suppose, to be looking at her face while she’s behind it. She is sitting in a pleather chair, her hands laying politely in her lap, and she looks as if it’s uncomfortable, but she doesn’t move. She’s is a weedy, blonde creature, far more breakable-looking than I am — well, than I used to look, before I got sick — and she’s only sort of pretty, which disappoints me.
I immediately feel bad about this last thought.
What I need, and what my mother says I don’t have enough of, is gratitude. The truth is that I am plenty grateful for lots of things, but I don’t always show it. Do I always need to have thank you spilling from my lips? Because there’s enough that’s happened in my favor that I’d never say anything else.
I am sort of eating a chocolate bar while I wait. I peel down the wrapper. I wish this was over with.
I don’t know if she can see me, too, or if this glass I’m behind is a mirror for her. I do know her name, however, because they warned me that people might recognize her for a long time afterward, and call me her name.
The whole thing makes me feel a little sick, actually. My stomach’s turning over and over like someone’s mixing a cake batter in there. Nerves. Or maybe just more of me dying. So hard to tell the difference now.
CECILY: Thoughts flutter in my chest, knocking my heart against my ribs and making my hands shake in my lap.
I don’t think this is the wrong thing to do.
She’s sitting on the other side of the glass, the brand new me, but I don’t want to look at her. I won’t let myself off easy and allow myself to believe I’m doing this to save her life, because I’m not.
I’m doing it to fly away from all of this.
I look down at my limp hands, my long, bony fingers. I had a friend in grade school, my last official friend, and she had blocky, useful-looking hands that I always coveted. I wonder if the new girl will hate my hands too.
My mother should have gotten the notice by now: Cecily Barnes has completed the donor application process and will be removed on January 23rd at 2:00 p.m. Immediate family is welcome during the surgery.
But she didn’t come. She probably expected I would do this a long time ago. And I would’ve. But the fact is that the clinics actually have waiting lists. The demand to be removed is so great, they’re understaffed to complete them all. Plus, I was in an administrative assistant position, and the government put a temporary hold on admin assistants getting removed, because they were having a manpower shortage. Apparently I’m not the only glorified secretary who just wants out.
PADGE: It occurs to me that I really don’t want to do this. Of all the treatments I’ve done to ensure my survival, the pills, the transfusions, the radiation, this one is the worst. Because, yes, the others hurt, or made me want to puke, or worst of all, gave me false hope. But they all let me keep the mole on my left arm and my high cheekbones and my chunky hair with the impossible girl-cowlick.
When this is all done — when they have carefully extracted my soul from my diseased body and found it a new home in someone who doesn’t want theirs anymore — I’ll be that girl sitting there. How much of me is that mole on my arm?
I wish I hadn’t told Caleb to stay home today.
A nurse has come into the room. She is such a pleasant-looking woman, all plump huggable bosoms and fuzzy eyebrows, that it’s hard to believe she kills people every day. “Hello, love, we’ve only got a few more minutes. We’ll need to prep your soul for extraction.”
My heart crashes catastrophically inside my chest cavity. “Can I use the bathroom first?”
She looks amused. Soon this bladder won’t be my problem. “Of course.”
So I trade the dark gray waiting area for the sanitized baby blue bathroom. I stare for a long moment at the emergency exit map on the back of the door before turning around to the mirror. I don’t really have to pee. I just want to say goodbye to my face.
CECILY: When the nurse comes in, I wonder if I should’ve been praying this whole time. But what would I say? ‘Wherever I go, let it be less horrible than here?’
He doesn’t ask me if I’ve changed my mind; it wouldn’t matter, because I’ve already signed the paperwork. Instead, he asks me if I have a preference for which container the byproducts will go — the bits of my soul that will be left over after they pull it out of my unwanted body. He shows me a fake-marble urn and a small wooden box that reminds me of a coffin.
I tell him he can just throw it away.
“Relatives often would like something to –”
“Just throw it away,” I say again. “Wash it down the drain.” I imagine my little soul pieces rushing in a circle, suspended in water, rushing down to the ocean to disperse like one million tiny krill. “Can you do that? That would make me happy.”
“Sorry, we can’t, regulations,” he says, looking bored, not sorry. “We have to dispose of it in an approved container. All that soul floating around would eventually –”
“I don’t care,” I say, and I don’t. He gives me a pissy look like he’s glad I’ll be gone soon. I give him a pissy look back, because I’m glad I’ll be gone soon too. Suddenly, meanly, I’d like to write down everything about my body that the new girl ought to know: I have less hair on the left side of my scalp than my right, I have athlete’s foot on one of my feet, my periods are long. I have no muscle tone in my stomach. Guys look through me.
I look over to where she’s sitting, but she’s not there. I want to tell her: no one will ever love you in this body. At least they didn’t for me.
PADGE: I stay in the bathroom too long, pressing my fingers into my cheekbones and running my hand over my earlobes and elbows. I try to imagine what it will feel like to have Caleb make love to me when I don’t have these earlobes and these elbows. Will he still love me when I look like her? Would he rather I had just died?
“All okay in there?” the nurse asks. When I don’t answer, she says, “The other soul is being terminated right now and we really need to have you in there before too much time has gone by.”
I guess I really am going ahead with this then, because I can’t let the other girl do that for nothing. I realize I’m still holding the chocolate bar in my left hand. I put the last bite in my mouth, for luck, and then I throw the wrapper away.
image courtesy: giulages