Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Ashton, VA, and elsewhere
It was better to take donor organs from bodies that were still breathing, but Tricia Andreoli had the official power of attorney, and she said she could not bear it. She could not bear to let the doctors cut into the breathing, limp-armed body of her lover while that chest still rose and fell.
So they waited until the ventilator was disconnected; waited for the room to clear. And then came in, quick and quiet, with the equipment.
Daphne Worth's liver went to Iowa, to a fifty-five-year-old US Army colonel turned owner of a woodlot on a quiet country road. Blazing stars and Black-eyed Susans grew there in the spring. The colonel was once a drinker, but he had quit ten years back; poured every last little travel-sized bottle he'd hid in the cabinets and closets down the kitchen sink. He flung the last one so hard it smashed into bits in the drain, and then wrapped his arms 'round the knees of his sobbing wife and cried into them for forgiveness.
He was careful of his new liver. A month later, at his oldest son's wedding, he raised a glass to the boy and his brand-new bride, and toasted them with water.
This is all supposed to be confidential, of course. But Hafidha Gates is the woman who opened government databases like her mother could separate an egg, two perfect half-ovals resting in the palm of her hand and not a drop spilled out to the counter, and Charles Villette knows how to bargain.
"Official business?" she says, six a.m., pawing the sleep out of her eyes as he sets up the laptop.
"No," he says, and plugs in the USB mouse. "It's not."
This wakes her up. Her eyebrows rise in tandem; she takes in the set of his shoulders, the quick tight movements. "I should have known. Sunrise on a Sunday."
Chaz half-shrugs. "You know how much time off we get."
All of it, now, the beast in the back of her head snarls, and she puts a hand firmly over its muzzle. "So what're you sneaking behind Daddums's back?" she says; a reasonable compromise. A good balance in the neverending backdoor war that's care and spite, her words and the words that come out of her mouth.
"Harpy was an organ donor," he says.
It shocks all the bad words silent.
"I--" she starts. Wipes sleep from her eyes, but no, she is awake. "You want me to sneak in."
"I just want to know," he says. Fists clenched, head slightly ducked; a little, not a lot ashamed. The subject knows that what he is doing is wrong. But he doesn't care.
And then the rage is building, and it's not just the bug, not just the mad dog that paces her thoughts night and sunless day. "You know what I could do with that thing?" she says, her voice pitched to cut. "You want to know what a city full of traffic lights stuck on green looks like? How about every dam in the country opening at once? How 'bout we find someone else's medical files and smear them all over Times Square? "
He doesn't flinch. He visibly refuses to flinch. "She was your friend too," is all he says, so low it barely reaches over the roaring in her ears.
"She left me here," slips out, and oh God, oh Lord, that is unworthy.
Chaz Villette's face tightens. So, today's going to be a bad one, that crease around the lips says, and Hafidha cannot find it in her to disagree. "There's something in it for you," he says.
He pulls it out of his messenger bag, and she recognizes it. She recognizes it with the kind of start that silences the thing in her head even further, because there are some things, some precious things she refuses to let it touch. She reaches out, but his reflexes are just as fast as her own; he pulls it back an inch, away.
"If you don't cheat," he says, and presses the power button on the laptop with one long, brown finger.
She pulls her chair up to the keyboard.
She doesn't cheat.
Daphne Worth's heart went to a twenty-five-year-old woman, born with a hole in her own heart and one arm foreshortened, allergic to just about everything. Her mother was an engineer and her father an importer, so they could between them afford the quick and precise and sybaritically expensive surgery that gave their middle daughter a new one.
The woman makes clothes: a small, quirky line of recycled fabric and patchworks, sewn on a home machine, her prosthetic holding the rucks of cotton steady. Her parents do not approve: Your great-grandparents ruined their hands doing white people's laundry so you wouldn't have to. This is true. But she says, Ba ba, I love it, and life's too short, and her father turns his face away and cannot bring himself to argue.
Her grandmother still sews, sometimes. When the woman was little, her grandmother made her a stuffed bear from scrap fabric, misshapen and irregular and entirely abnormal. Her parents bring it to her in the hospital bed, wrapped in a plastic bag to keep safe the sterile recovery room where they will know, in a few days or weeks, whether she will pull through or die. She wraps her arms around it in her sleep those next nights, and the plastic crinkles like a lullaby.
Her kidneys went two different directions: one south into the Carolinas, one west to Oregon. They were sutured on the same afternoon into the body of a forty-five-year-old woman with lupus and a thirty-two-year-old man who had suffered from diabetes since he was a child in Brasilia. Her sons held her hands and cried openly; one had begged to donate his, but the hospital had called him too young. His husband held his hands carefully, tracing the half-moons of his nails until he slept.
Her pancreas traveled not far at all: just down the hall, where the doctors slid it into place instead of a New Jersey minister's cancerous one, and a delegation from his church hugged each other and thanked God for the kindness of donors three floors away from where Charles Villette and Tricia Andreoli wept.
"That's all," Hafidha says, and pulls her hands away from the keyboard like it's electric. "That's it. Take it away."
Chaz reaches in, deft as a mongoose, and pulls the plug.
The colour, the light on the laptop screen dies. Hafidha watches it hollow-eyed, hands literally held down between her bottom and the seat. They tremble: little fishes gasping for water, gasping in the plain good air.
"Make you feel better?" he asks after a moment.
"No," she snaps.
"Me neither," he says softly, and tugs the power cable from its jack. It dangles a moment in his hand, and then he wraps it, long-fingered, round and around its own bending black throat.
She waits until he puts the laptop in its padded bag, the cords and components and utterly unnecessary mousepad in the zippered pockets. Her hands are trembling. She will not say Give it.
He doesn't make her wait too long. He hands it over: a black Objekt 775 tee-shirt, rumpled; just another artifact of someone's abandoned laundry hamper. She squeezes it in her hand; holds it to her chest.
"It smells like him," she says.
She knows this can't be true. It's been over two years since Erik died; over a year since the smell of his body faded out of every tuft and molecule and cranny of the world. There is nothing left in the world that smells of him, not even in dreams, and she's tried. But for now she buries her face in the shirt and pretends, breathes in, breathes out, fixes it in her memory as something special and true.
"I'll see you next week," Chaz says, and lets himself through the anteroom door.
She stays there: not balancing, not trading off, not paralyzed with indecision but just present. She stays there in the dark created by worn cotton on closed eyes until the door buzzer rings, and "Ms. Gates?" floats to her ears.
She looks up: a guard and an orderly, the usual breakfast arrangement. Breakfast on an unbreakable plate, with utensils too dull to slice skin, or veins, or pancreas heart and liver. Suicides have a higher rate of organ donation than accidental deaths. Nobody knows why, but Hafidha doesn't have far to go to guess: after enough time in the hole you will do anything, everything to be useful; to make good; to be loved.
She balls up the shirt in her hand; tucks it under the chair. You're safe enough there, love, she tells it, and stands.
"Another day in Paradise, then?" she says, sharply, and picks up the tray.