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

55 thoughts on “Wrappers

  1. Whoa, that was fast! Here I am posting it in the middle of the friggin’ night and here a comment manifests two seconds later! Thank you!

  2. “Do I always need to have thankyou spilling from my lips? Because there’s enough that’s happened in my favor that I’d never say anything else.”

    I had to quote it cldnt help myself…*grin* really melancholy, eerie yet beautiful, you guys are all just so great!

  3. 😀 Thank you! Halfway through this, I was saying, “oh man, is this too relentlessly dark!?”

  4. Thats cool and funny! If anything happens to me please don’t flush my soul down the drain, let me trade up to a woman’s body. I’ll treat it good. Shower twice a day and get in shape. I’d be able to heal the long periods. I’d have to have a sister though. I always wanted a sister.

  5. Showering twice a day will dry out your new woman hair, Simon. Obviously you’d have to be trained up in the ways of the fairer sex.

  6. Why are you still awake? I thought about you tody. I was working with spirit and then Gegu was talking about you. I looked at my hands and I’m sure they looked like yours. Not that I know what your hands look like, but it felt right. Strange moment. Gegu has these names for people. I’m ‘my son’ and he calls you ‘the one who flows’. He says you’re a gift to us. Happy writing, S.

  7. I’m up late/ early with a head full of snot. Didn’t want to keep lover awake with my tossing and turning, so came downstairs to write and nurse some ibuprofen.

  8. You just creeped my shit out. I mean right the heck out.

    Even for the right reasons, the disposability of it all, the clinical suicide far worse than what people would stop Kervorkian and his ilk from committing…just…

    I’m glad I read this now, instead of before bed, because there would be no sleep for me otherwise.

  9. One likes to creep people out. Also, to make people think. If I did either, I’m a happy bunny.

    Which seems sort of wrong to say directly after this story. But heh.

  10. I like it- quite creepy, interesting ideas with the soul transplant. Extremely descriptive, which paints a clear picture of both the girls and their insecurities

  11. Another wonderfully complex story. I always think of Marlowe when I read a “Merry_Fates” story: “Infinite riches in a little room.” 🙂

  12. That is possibly the nicest thing that I have ever heard about my writing.

    ETA: for cold medication induced grammar problems.

  13. This reminds me of “The Host” with the whole soul thing. I like this though 🙂

    A. J. Spindle

  14. LOL, well I am California, so three hours earlier than you and I am a night owl!
    I really enjoyed it, so thank you!

  15. Have you read The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist? It deals with a similar idea, in that case, the donation of vital body parts by healthy people. Very bleak and depressing, but provacative!

  16. This is reminding me of another book I read (scampers furiously to remember title): NEVER LET ME GO. Talk about relentlessly depressing . . .

  17. It’s bleak – and flawed – but fascinating, too. In a horrifying, depressing way! It left me feeling pretty blah for awhile. I may check out the one you mentioned, though!

  18. Okay, so I am loving your idea here. You could go a long way with this! I agree with someone above that it just reminded me of The Host only in the fact of the actual souls being manifested in something visual and kinesthetic. I love the thought of that…

    I like!

  19. It should worry me how deeply I go into these stories…
    But I’m really grateful for this one, because as I complain to myself about my lack of abdominal muscle tone and my long periods and the stupid athlete’s foot and the weird thickness of hair on the right side of my head, I realize this: I am loved, have been loved, in this pudgy, squidgy body.

    No matter what happens, it’s good to know that it’s a fit with me and my soul.

    Kinda worried about Padge, though…

    Thanks. This was stupendous.

  20. Thanks, Tanita. I agree, I think my wrapper is pretty reflective on the inside at this point and I’d be loathe to give it up.

  21. Having just discovered this website, this was the first story I have read on here. Maggie, I know from twitter that you didn’t have a lot of time to write this (which was quite amusing!) so I think you’ve done a sterling job!! How do you come up with these fantastic ideas as such short notice?!

  22. 🙂 Some weeks are better than others! When we first started the website, we were all doing a short story every week, and that was insane and productive and mostly insane. You got really good at grabbing ideas during the week and nursing them until Sunday, when you would spin them into . . . something. Anything. It was a great way to try out ideas or points of view or characters or tenses that you couldn’t practice in your novel.

    This one I got from a news story about suicide rates. Right now, we have one story a week, first Brenna, then Tessa, then me, and the final week we all do a story on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, on a common prompt. It certainly teaches you a ton about discipline and character development in a short time, that’s for sure!

    And thanks!

  23. Mmm… I love it! The whole thing has this sense of the bizarre, the slightly off-kilter, edging along an abyss. And yes, it makes one think. I’m glad I started watching this group!

  24. It is entirely possible that this story will haunt me for a long time. It’s terribly creepy! Wow. *shudders* I’ve known a fair amount of Cancer patients, including some terminal patients, and this is just a scary thought, ethically and all. What about children, would a parent be able to authorize a donation, or would they put children in adult bodies? Very thought provoking. GJ! 😛 *shudders again*

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