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"Don’t move. I mean it. If you do, you’ll get blood everywhere."
It’s not that what he’s doing is painful. But I can feel him in there. Poking, prodding. It’s so weird, but this entire thing is surreal. So I try my best to control my body. I do what the man says. I sit there.
He says, “Tell me if anything hurts, okay?"
I almost nod, but instead say “I don’t hurt", but it all comes out a moan.
I hear the clink of instruments being put down behind me.
"I know," he says, “but still. It’s very important you let me know if there is any pain. It could mean the entire procedure has been compromised. Then, we’d have to start all over. And you don’t want that, right?"
I almost nod, but then I’m reminded that my head is splayed open. My scalp flaps at my temples. Again, I struggle to stay still, and say “Right."
So one morning, I wake up, and I’m just not there. In a physical sense, I’m all there, sure. I’m sitting in my bed. Nothing is wrong. But I didn’t feel myself. Not like I was sick, or ill. I just didn’t feel right. It was like my heart and my head had taken a step to the left. And my head, it was pounding.
I turned to my wife. “Honey," I said, “I think something is wrong."
Or at least that’s what I thought I said. But apparently it came out wrong. Because when my wife heard me, she rolled over and looked at me. Then she screamed. Not the normal kind of scream, either. This one was all movie-film terror, real shock and awe. Her face becomes one huge wailing mouth, and she scrambles out of bed. She grabs the phone, and punches numbers.
"Oh god, oh god. Oh, Jack. Jack baby, it’s okay. We’ll get this sorted out. Everything’s going to be okay."
I open my mouth to ask, “What’s wrong?", but it all gets garbled. So instead I sit there, hammers beating into my brain. My wife won’t look up from the phone. She’s sobbing, almost hysteric.
"Hello? Yes, I’ve got an emergency. My husband, something’s wrong with him. He… He…"
She bursts into tears then. My head hurt so much, I can’t sit up. So I lay back down instead. I hear my wife give our address. The edges of my vision start turning black, and my last thought is Hey, nobody looks good in the morning.
I wake up on a table. Everything feels stiff. The light above mean is so blinding, I almost shut my eyes. I try to turn my head, but it requires so much effort, I just let out a groan instead. I hear foot steps, and soon see a middle-aged, balding man in a white coat standing over me. He smiles, and snaps on a set of rubber gloves. He grips my head, and turns it left, than right. I catch a glimpse of my wife sitting in a chair. Her hands are in her lap, and she’s fidgeting with her rings. Her eyes are red and puffy. On the other side of her stands a large, dark skinned man. He’s built like a rhino. His arms are crossed in front of him, and he stands, watching me.
The man in the coat turns my head back towards him. He pulls out a pen light, shining it in both my eyes. I feel him pull my mouth open. I try to move, but I can’t, so I just sit there and let him work. He stops, and puts the pen light back in his pocket.
He clears his throat, and says “Mr. LaCroix. Can you hear me?"
I try to say yes, but all I manage is, “Uhhhhhhh…"
The man nods, and pulls out a notepad and pen. He scribbles something down, and looks back at me. “I’ll take that as a yes," he says, pen poised. “My name is Doctor Reinfeld. Do you know where you are?"
I don’t say anything. Not because I want to stay silent, but because the thought of moving my jaw and forming words is daunting. So I lay there instead, staring at the doctor.
Reinfeld nods, and scribbles something down on the pad. “Can you say anything, Mr. LaCroix? Can you move?"
I remain still. The doctor barely moves himself. He scribes another note, and tucks the pen and pad back in his pocket. He motions to someone, and the dark-skinned muscle man comes into view.
"Carry him down the hall. Gently. the first stages have started. We’ve got to act quick."
The man nods and lifts me up, cradling me in his arms. He doesn’t look down at me. I want to move, but I can’t. I want to ask them what the hell is going on, but I still can’t move my jaw. The man carrying me begins to move, and goes out a door. For the first time, I hear the sounds of the outside world. People talking to one another. Phones ringing. Wheels turning, rushing past. And the clip-clop of a thousand pairs of feet. Keys are struck on desks. Someone laughs. And from the room I was just in, I hear my wife ask, “Is he alive?"
As he’s cleaning the scalpel and bone saw, Reinfeld turns to me. “This is a completely common procedure," he says, instruments gleaming in the light. “In fact, since the outbreak, we’ve performed this over a hundred times. And we’ve only had twenty-five terminations. Most of those were because we were too late. Imagine if we hadn’t been!"
The way he says termination, so clipped and professional, it does nothing to hide the smell of death. I roll my head and look at him. I try to say “Let me fucking go, you piece of shit", but all that escapes my mouth is drool and a gurgle.
My head bobs on my neck, and I’m looking at my wife. She’s still fidgeting with her rings. At first I think I’m watching a TV show. My wife, watching me, watching her. A closed loop of love, a private moment shared between the wires. But then I realize she’s even closer, just on the other side of the room. She’s looking at me through a window, and she smiles, mustering all her strength. She mouths, I love you, and blows me a weak kiss.
I try to move. I’m on another slab again, but this one comes complete with straps. I try to pull at the restraints, but I’m tired. I let my entire body go slack.
I hear something like a beehive start up behind me, and Renfield is standing over me. He’s wearing a plastic box over his head. His entire body looks like it’s wrapped in a condom. When he talks, it sounds like he’s in the next room.
"Mr. LaCroix, if you feel any pain, I want you to make all the chaos you can. Say something if possible. Just let me know, okay?"
I will myself to nod my head. Reinfield smiles, and steps behind me. I feel the saw burrow into my skull. Blood spurts up, and lands on my face. But I don’t feel a thing. And moments later, when Reinfield asks me if I feel pain, I say nothing. He continues sawing into my head, blood splattering him all the way down to his feet.
Even a month after the operation, I still catch my wife giving me weird looks. Studying me to see if I’m acting funny, or strange. If I still seem “Displaced", which is how I described my “condition" to her when I awoke. It’s a month later, and she still won’t tell me what happened that morning. For that matter, she won’t tell me who Reinfield was. I don’t even know what his doctorate was in.
I have to take this pill every day. Not because I want to, but to fight infection and ensure I retain my motor skills. I didn’t one day, and it was apparent within the hour. My hands grew stiff, and my jaw couldn’t move. Just like that morning. My wife cursed me out for an hour. She said she thought I knew better than that.
That conversation was so awkward. I couldn’t move my jaw at all, so I just kind of grunted and accepted it.
But there are some things my wife does know, and won’t. Like why I have this coppery taste in my mouth when she kisses me sometimes. Or how, on occasion, when she’s looking at me and we lock eyes, I think about biting her. I wonder what it would be like to rip into her jugular, and taste her flesh, just for a moment. I wonder if she tastes like copper, too.
I don’t tell her how bad my insomnia is. Or if it’s even really insomnia, since I don’t feel tired anymore. I don’t let her even think I’m wandering the streets at night.
I don’t offer my thoughts on why there are so few strays in the area. I don’t give clues as to why bums have been reported missing in the area, with bloody footprints found in our neighborhood.
But most of all, I don’t let her see me in the morning. I want her to think the operation was a success, after all. That Reinfield was right, and her husband is okay.
Because that’s what everyone does for the people they love. Sometimes they budge, but most of the time, even if you’re literally falling apart, you just act like nothing is wrong. Because you care for the person. Because you love them, and you’d give anything to keep things normal. Sane. Even when they’re not, and you’re constantly hungry, with food tasting like ash in your mouth. And all you can think about is that copper taste, smacking against your pallet and filling your mouth.
You ignore it, and smile, and go on living. That’s what everyone does, right?
I kiss my wife at night. I lay in bed beside her, feeling her warmth and ignoring her mouth watering scent. And when she’s finally asleep, I slip out of bed. And I stalk the streets. And I go on living, with a smile on my face.