art by Seth Alan Bareiss
by K. C. Norton
She takes him apart, bone from meat from ventricle.
"You have nimble hands," he tells her. "It barely hurts. The pamphlet made it sound much worse."
The Engineer smiles at him without looking up from her work. She prods the waxy blue bulge of his aorta. "While the patient may experience some emotional discomfort in the days prior to the procedure," she says, quoting from the right-hand interior flap of the informational trifold, the section labeled simply Q&A, "the surgery itself registers in the surviving portion of gray matter as a pinch, no more painful than the common bee sting."
"Yes," he says, jerking his chin into the air, "yes, exactly. Bee sting. It isn't nearly so unpleasant."
At last his heart comes free in her hands, and the Engineer lifts it out. His arteries flap around her fingers like rubber tubes. "The heart," she says--she is still quoting, this time from the middle interior panel, "is nothing more than a battery, fulfilling the same functions as the potato in the classic school science project."
The way she leaves the silence hanging registers, in the surviving portion of his gray matter, as a question. "That's what the literature says."
She nods. Her cheeks glint platinum under the white lights. She does not speak. Perhaps, he thinks, she cannot speak, except to parrot the literature.
When his heart slaps onto the steel surgical tray at the Engineer's side, the patient feels an unexpected pinch of nostalgia. Like a bee sting. Nothing he can't survive.
"May I see it?" he asks.
She frowns at him, reaching for the obsolete muscle, her fingers tightening into its clammy surface.
"No. Not that. The new one."