A journal of narrative writing.
The Kidney

There are alternative ways of coping. That’s what my therapist says. Then again, she thinks all issues come back to bruised auras and wanting to sleep with your mother. She gave me a picture of a man’s esophagus after he tried to kill himself with Drano. Burnt all the way from his tongue to his stomach, and not just the red blistered type of burn. Charred black. There are worse things than dying.

Today was her idea. I guess. Even if it wasn’t, it’s probably still her fault since she’s the one who’s supposed to be turning me into a normal human being. Whatever that means.

It starts with a kidney.

A kidney belonging to some unidentified man probably executed by the government in communist China. Twenty-one unclaimed, probably illegal, cadavers were infused with silicone as a preservative, posed in various states of dissection, and put on display to the public for an outrageous price. Which I paid.

There’s no glass.

I can smell it. Only faintly since they’re pumped full of plastic, but there’s the unmistakable smell of a body. Of death. Behind the bodies, the walls are white. One of those non-rooms used for everything from symphonies to makeshift morgue. It’s empty except for me and this older girl. Which is good. I hope I look passably normal, but I feel weird and bloated. My hands, my guts, my thoughts. I should leave, but I don’t.

Short, squat bodies that barely come up to my shoulder. Brown, almond-shaped eyes rimmed by a ring of pink flesh holding the eyelashes. Flaccid penises the size of your little finger. They leave the skin around the eyes and ears, but peel it off the penises. I stop a healthy distance away from one of the bodies, and just stand there. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Examine it, like a doctor? Hold up my thumb, with one eye closed, and say, “Ah, I see”? I scratch the back of my neck, and try to look like I know what I’m doing.

This one’s mostly muscle, but his shins and wrists are cut to show bone. He’s propped up to look like he’s dancing. One leg’s bent, both arms go straight up in the air, but his expression is a little too surprised. More like he’s surrendering. Telling me, “No don’t shoot.” My stomach hurts. The eyes are probably fake, but they look real. Real and sad and terrified. For a second all I can see are their dark eyes peering from slanted eyelids, from those raw, red faces like they’re saying, “Jake, do something.”

There’s not enough air in the room.

No, it’s okay. I’m okay. Breathe. Just breathe. I need a distraction. The girl? Breathe. I’m not going to say she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, because that’s dumb and we all know it’s not true. She has a pointed nose, like a greyhound, and short hair in two tiny pigtails. Something about her reminds me of my therapist. I have no idea why until I remember she sometimes wears skirts with tennis shoes. Other than that, they have nothing in common.

The girl plays with her necklace as she walks. A tiny jingling noise follows her around the room. She gets bored with that and starts digging through the pockets of her enormous leather jacket. A box of Tic-Tacs falls out and goes skittering across the floor. When she bends way over to pick it up, the pleats of her skirt ride up. I can barely see cotton panties with little Bugs Bunnies all over them, and the two half-moon curves of her ass. She stands up, and I turn my back because suddenly my face is hot. I figure I’d better start thinking about death again in a hurry.

Seconds, maybe minutes, go by. I can hear the Tic-Tacs crunching in her mouth.

The next time I look she’s touching one of the bodies. Not just poking it. She runs her hand along the muscles, the ribs, the sternum. When she gets to the body cavity where everything’s been cut away to show organs, she touches those too. Her eyes tick up and down. She cups the organs one by one. The stomach, the liver, the spleen. Like she’s picking out melons at the grocery store. She’s reaching deeper, burrowing in until her wrist disappears. Her lips are parted and her chest is going up and down.

Her hand closes around it.

She pulls out the kidney, puts it in her pocket, and moves on to the next display.

My lungs hurt from not breathing. I breathe, and her eyes flick over to me.

“Fun, huh?” She smiles with thin red lips. There’s lipstick crusted in the corners of her mouth.

Nothing normal comes to mind, so I say, “You stole it.”

“Yes.” She looks back with a perfectly innocent expression. Her eyes are green.

I can’t think of anything else to say. I keep thinking of Bugs Bunny. The silence is huge after the sound of our voices. Everything echoes, and there’s a forced sort of hush like a church. I’ve only been to church once, but I kept getting this feeling God would hear me if I coughed. I never went again.

The girl crunches her Tic-Tacs and watches me with her head cocked to the side. “So what’s your name? I’m Tosca. Come here often?”

“Sure, I hang out with dead bodies every weekend.” I laugh, but she keeps right on talking.

“Oh man, me too. I’ve been here three times already. I love this place. This might be our only chance to experience a human corpse, you know. Or any body, really, in its truest form. How sad is that? There’s something wrong with society if this is how we deal with death, by just closing our eyes and going ‘La la la, I can’t hear you.’ Are you a vegetarian?”

“I– No.” I realize I’m raising one eyebrow and wonder if this is some sort of joke, but Tosca lets out a big exaggerated sigh.

“Thank God. I can’t stand vegetarians. I mean, it’s cute, don’t get me wrong, because who doesn’t want to save the furry little animals from being cut up and spread on our sandwiches, but you have to face the facts. I mean, what are these for?” She pulls back a red lip to show me her canine. “Exactly. And anyway, who do these hippies think they are? Go back to Bellevue, motherfuckers. What did you say your name was?”

The more she talks, the closer she gets. By now she’s right next to me. I can smell weed and spearmint on her breath. It’s a little weird having some random girl this close to me, but it’s nice I guess. The bump in her jacket brushes my leg. I wonder if the kidney’s bleeding or leaking fluid onto her. Suddenly it feels very un-nice.

“It’s Jake.” I take a step back.

“Psh, that’s a dippy name.”

“You’re the one named after an opera.”

Tosca’s mouth contracts to a little red O. “What, are you like an intellectual or something?”

I grin and shrug. A better term would be loser with nothing better to do than go to the opera with Dad and Dad’s fuck buddy, but intellectual works for me.

“Figured.” Her necklace clinks back and forth. “The glasses and pretentious shoes say it all. And wipe that fucking smile off your face. It’s not a compliment.”

I force myself not to look at her feet. We’re wearing the same shoes, except mine are cleaner and not pink. “Sorry.”

“Not like it’s my fault my parents are crazy as fuck.” She’s quiet after that. Our footsteps echo through the exhibit.

“So you’re keeping it?”

She puts a hand to her mouth in mock surprise. “Why, whatever does he mean?”

“Come on.”

Tosca’s face hardens, and she looks back at a display of the intestines. “So what if I do?”

“Fine, keep it.”

“Fuck off, Jacob. Why should you care?”

“I don’t.” I sneak another look at my shoes and try not to think about the question. “I just can’t help thinking it’s a little perverted.”

“Like I give a shit what you think.”