- - -Burning Bridges- - -
by Matthew G. Roen
A Cyborg Story – Winner of the November 2009 Beloit College Pocket Lint short story contest "Interruptions."
OH GOD. REMEMBER THIS. Take stock of everything, and know what it is, what it's like. There aremillions of things in the world, and I need to remember them. Grandma's fuzzy chin, her letters. Mum and Dad'ssmell of sandlewood and engine oil. His hands dry and catching like velcro.The doctor comes in. Quick! This room. Diplomas on the wall, his son's watercolor turkey by the desk.What about my son?“How are you doing today?” He asks. How am I doing. “Fine,” I say. “Fine. Nervous I guess.”“Well, who isn't!” he says. “Today's the big jump.” We both know what comes next. The paper sheetscrackle as I shift uncomfortably.The doctor walks out after updating my computer record one last time. This is all ceremony by now.Like Thanksgiving, oh please God let me remember the turkey meat, and the jellied cranberry falling out of thecan still in that shape. I want to taste the smells that come out of the oven; the nutmeg and cinnamon from the pies; the acrid burn of the filling, bubbling out of the side. To feel the cutting pulse of the burn through the weak spot in the oven mitt. My wife's face when I present my master work: a pie of my own devising. My son's facewhen he spits the first bite back onto his plate.There are two orderlies leading me down the hall. The one on my right has pores as big as culverts on hisnose, just ripe for blackhead growth. I want to remember college, and the care I took to scrub my face before bedevery night. I want to remember the colognes I tried. The taste of mouthwash before a kiss. The soft hum of thecomputer wheezing under my hands. The essays I wrote, and the walks I took to consider a thesis. The taste of the first snowflake. The crackle of the first autumn leaf.In the next room, I sit down opposite the new body. The plasticine skin real but unblemished. Only thescars I wanted retained in the dermis. There are strong eyes, just a little bit greener than mine, but the sameshape. They let me try wearing contacts to make sure I could get used to the different look. I sit down in the chair facing it, and the orderlies step out to give me a minute alone. “Remember this,” I tell myself. “Remember itall.” How my mouth gets after a night of no sleep. How it was dry when I started taking blood pressuremedicine. Remember the swinging hips at the dances and clubs. Remember the feeling of sweat dripping out of and down my back when I would try to climb the stairs.The doctor comes back in, “Well. Shall we get started?”“There's no time ... like the present,” I reply. Remember this gnawing in my hands. The arthritis and theanxiety chewing away at my bones. The grip of skin touching skin. The flush and thrill of feeling, buried in awarm touch. Laying in bed with my wife. The cold starch of the sheets against my frenzied back.“Three minutes to Bridge,” a monitor blinks behind the new head. I turn around and see a similar monitor behind me. The new head is full of hair died to match my DNA perfectly. I loved my hair; not going bald on me until just last year. The same spring pneumonia took my wife. Remember the phone call. The plasticin my hand, the tinny voice in my ear. The bacterial tickle as the two surfaces touched. Remember the sound of the phone dropping. The blood from a bit tongue swelling over my taste buds. Oh God, God of Mercy, please letme remember this.“Alright, Simon,” the Doctor says, “We're going to link you up now. Alright?”“That's … fine.” I mumble feebly. Remember my grandmother's voice. Remember the story of Grandpaand the bear at the window. Remember being read to in bed, the static carpet during winter, the smell of cocoaafter school. The paper nightgown shifts as they readjust me in the chair. Remember the tearing of my shoulder from the thresher at Grandma's house. Throwing it in the fire with the rest of the barn, and the hay. The year of sheared sheep wool that had rotted in the shed.The wires delicately brush the chip on my spine. Everything sounds orange for a moment before theyhitch into place, threading onto the poles. Remember Christmas morning in slippers, and the cool interior of thestocking felt by my little soft hand. The veins in Grandma's nearly translucent arms, but her strong lilac hug. Thegolden ring on my own palsied hand. The liver spots. Bunyans by my toes.
1 - Roen