Fiction · 01/20/2021

The heart first, then the rest

Here you are, knees knocking against the operating table, the shape of your head shadowed on the body in front of you — no, not a body, an abdomen, a part. Pay no mind to the damp behind your neck, the thick sound of breath from your own chest. Focus: it is noon, exactly. Eight more hours, eighteen hearts and livers, thirty-six lungs and kidneys before you can curl up on your bunk in the corner of the factory. The demand list for organs is long. What does it say beside this body’s citizen number on the list, next to that procedure poster (like you need step-by-step instructions, like you would forget how to cut)? What blood type? O. See? A donor. Consider this body a source, a donor, a thing giving sustenance to another thing, like the sun, like all those mothers whose babies you helped into the world. Don’t think about the straps around the ankles, the muzzle that is probably holding the mouth closed. You are plugging into the cycle of life, doing what you trained for: extracting life from another life. Remember your years in medical school? You were taught to be cold; be cold. Don’t forget you must detach to aid life. Steady your hand. There is no anesthesia, yes, but here you have Dettol, thread, needle. It won’t be pretty but you can sew her up real quick after. No, not her. It — you can sew the hole. You can pretend there will be healing. This is no time for regret — you are a member of the special Medical Force, don’t forget; you serve your country. These bodies are unsuitable, yes? Homeless or immoral or both. Didn’t you want to understand your part in the process of life and death, to find out where you belong? Well, here you are, belonging. You are one of them, also a body, also a source, also a hole. Do not fall into yourself. Do not get attached to your subjects, do not think they are the same as you. Feel the epidermis under the point of your knife. Watch it rise, erratic, then fall. Ignore the pulse jumping in your own stomach; look away from the plastic cooler waiting for your harvest. The whimper you hear is nothing, not yours, nor the one that’s coming from behind the sheet, from the half of the body you can’t see. Not body, source. Press into the dermis, through the connective tissues, past the follicles that only learned to grow hair, what, nineteen or so years ago? Dig into the fat. A few moments more and you can rescue the organs, slice their arteries, nestle them in ice. When the cars have sped away and the uniforms have retired and you are left in the yellow light with a body whose head you cannot see, you can pull the sheet then and fall, into the hole, and bleed.

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Hananah Zaheer’s recent work has appeared in Agni, Smokelong, Pithead Chapel, Virginia Quarterly Review, MCsweeney’s Internet Tendency, South West Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her flash chapbook Lovebirds is forthcoming from Bull City Press. She is currently working on a novel. You can find her @hananahzaheer.