Sunbeams baked her cheeks as she woke and birds squeaked in the courtyard outside. She curled her knees deeper into her chest while relishing the warmth of her sheets. She didn’t want to wake up. The scene outside would resemble a Monet watercolor with flowers blooming, willows drooping over the lake and blue skies fostering feathery clouds. She’d seen it many times before through the age-warped glass of her windows. The manor house was beautiful, aesthetically speaking.
Through a small slit in her eyelids, she saw the gleaming white papers on her side table and tried to imagine what they said. Heart: Sixteen-year-old in need of transplant. Liver: Fifty-year-old alcoholic in New York. Arms: Twenty-one-year-old quadriplegic. Skin: Forty-six-year-old Mother of two suffering severe burns. Corneas: Five-year-old born blind. She rolled over.
Years ago she used to sneak out with the others past the security cameras and through the trees to the wall. They’d found a small hole and would take turns watching for differences. She could remember putting her cheek to cold stone, closing one eye and widening the other as far as it would go. She’d only ever seen more trees. One boy said he saw an animal they had learned of called a deer, but it passed too fast for her to see. She’d been two then. She was eight now, as were her twenty-five peers living in the mansion. Thirteen males with identical DNA from a famous soccer player and thirteen females with the DNA of an Olympic skier. They aged faster than those on the outside but it never bothered her. Developing breasts at the age of five seemed traumatic enough; she did not want to imagine growing for sixty more years. Still, more time would have been welcome.
A knock jarred her from her thoughts. “Room C?”
‘Yes,” she called.
“You have thirty minutes.”
Room C, she thought. After a year of being called only that, everyone made names for each other. Her friend Room N, Neil, had chosen Cynthia for her.
She pushed her sheets to the end of her bed and sat up. She looked to the side at her open closet. Those four skirts and five button downs would be preserved for the next generation she assumed. The papers in her nightstand would probably be discarded. Last night she’d ripped up all of her private letters and the picture she’d stolen of a couple kissing in the street. She didn’t want them burned. Her desk held only a single lamp and a pad of blank paper. The only personal item she had was a bracelet Neil had made her from his shoelaces. She couldn’t take it off and even now rubbed her fingers over the ridges of the braid while she thought.
There was a reminder knock at her door. In a few hours she would cease to exist as a whole but would be spread out around the globe. Once, her friends and her had broken into the computer room and read about the world. She was most interested in people’s ideas of religion. She’d always wondered whether those rules applied to her, did she have a spirit, something to preserve her?
Another knock sounded and she stood to get dressed.
Michael grasped his little girl’s hands and eased her tightly clasped fingers from around his knee.
“Come on you rascal,” he teased while lifting her up into his arms. “Mary,” he called out to his wife. “Our daughter seems determined to go to work with me this morning.”
“The coffee’s just about finished. I’ll come get her in a moment,” she answered from the kitchen. Michael waited by the front door and began tickling his little girl mercilessly. Her giggles varied from breathless laughter to high-pitched squeaks and soon his own deep chuckle added to the cacophony. After a moment his wife slipped around the corner with a thermos full of fresh coffee and an open arm for the child. Michael kissed his wife goodbye, held his coffee in one hand, lifted his briefcase with the other and left through the open door.
As he yanked the car door closed he realized the transplants were coming to the hospital that day. He’d forgotten all about their arrival and pressed his foot to the pedal a little harder than normal. Michael hated being late to work, especially on a dissection day. He worked in the only transplant center in the northeast and every three months a new group of transplants arrived.
Michael loved knowing his job gave hope to so many suffering people, a hope that had been absent only thirty years ago. He’d only been six at the time but he would never forget stepping on the chair to peer down at the pale face of his older brother. The only fault his brother had was a loving and caring but nevertheless feeble heart. He’d been eight when he died because the doctors couldn’t get a donor in time. When Michael was twelve they discovered the new transplant method and from that day he had never second-guessed his career choice.
After fifteen minutes he slid his car into his reserved spot and raced through the doors of the hospital. His colleagues were waiting for him when he finally donned his scrubs and arrived in the transplant wing.
“Have I missed anything?” He whispered to Jim, a friend of his since residency.
“Just in time. They’re inducing comas now. We should be cutting within the hour.”
Michael laced up his scrub cap and waited with the other surgeons.
Cynthia walked in a line with the others down the sterile hallways lit only with florescent lights. She hated that this would be her last image of the world and almost wished she had paid more attention to the willows on the lake that had seemed so banal.
“Right this way please,” a nurse shuffled them into a room filled with beds. Cynthia looked for Neil and spotted him against the far wall waiting with the other boys. “Everyone choose a bed: boys on the left and girls on the right. The nurses will be administering a sedative, which will put you to sleep for a little while. Do not be alarmed and please do not intervene in any way.”
Cynthia thought about running for a moment, of crashing through the swinging doors, rushing down the hallway and getting lost in a crowd outside but she knew it would be useless. Something inside her wouldn’t let her run. It was the same thing that prevented her from climbing that wall as a small child and escaping. So, instead, she slipped past the other girls and watched as Neil did the same. She sat on the edge of a small twin bed and smiled slightly at Neil when he lay down on the bed beside her own. The nurses started with the girls and slowly circled around the room. Cynthia’s heart began to pound as they came closer to her. Each time they slid a needle into someone’s arm, he or she went limp. It looked different from sleep to her, much different.
Finally a nurse came to stand over her head.
“This might pinch for a moment, but it’ll go away soon, I promise.” She was a short woman with brown hair and brown eyes and features that seemed plain. Her figure was full and she had a scar on her left arm but still Cynthia felt jealousy.
“Are you ready?” She wanted to scream no and to break that needle right off but instead she turned her head to the side and let her eyes meet Neil’s. He stared at her with water pooling in his eyes. She felt a pinch in her arm and some pain as an icy liquid moved through her veins. She watched a tear travel slowly down Neil’s cheek and tried to reach her hand out to wipe it away but her hand wouldn't move. She wanted to mouth ‘I love you’ but her lips might as well have been stone. Helplessly she watched another tear fall from the tip of his nose to the blue sheet on his bed. Her vision started to blur and blackness spread first from the corners of her eyes until only a pinhole allowed her to see Neil’s warm green eyes and then finally there was nothing. Without her vision there was only the thud of her slowing heart and after another moment she was gone.
Michael heard the announcement and moved his team into the nearest dissection chamber. It was already waiting on the operating table covered in a blanket waiting for the process to begin.
“Nervous?” He asked the intern standing in the doorway.
“I’ve just never participated in one before.”
“I’ll ask you the same question my attending asked me before my first transplant surgery. Do you know why the brain is the only thing we can’t transfer?” The intern shook his head. “Because this is not a human being. It is physically exactly the same, except for the brain, which was altered. It has no freewill, it cannot break an order, it cannot love or hate or feel anger or pain. It is not a human being, it’s just the shell of one. Do you understand?” The intern nodded and moved into the room.
“But what if-“
“What if they can?” Michael broke into the intern’s question. “Then this would all stop and dissections would become a thing of the past. But let’s not worry about that. Let’s worry about getting this heart to a sixteen year old dying in Tennessee or taking this foot to a wounded soldier in New Mexico. Let’s worry about that burned mother who needs new skin to take her children out in public or the blind five-year-old girl praying for these corneas.” The other doctors smiled at the speech, they’d heard similar versions before but Michael was always riveting. The intern smiled, pulled down his medical mask and resolutely slid his goggles on.
Michael turned back to the donor ready to begin and noticed a braided bracelet around its wrist. He grabbed the scissors from the tray, cut the thing in half and threw it into the trashcan.When that was done, he looked over at the intern, pulled his own mask down and said “Scalpel?”