Pound of Flesh
iktor slept clean through the long, typically uneventful ride home, and when he awoke from disturbing dreams to find the other passengers queuing up to leave, he jumped against his seat belt, unlatched it with fumbling hands, and rushed to abandon the train. His mind seethed with turbulence; his sense of taste wrestled with a fetid tongue. Almost home, he thought, I will not stop until I get home. I will not.
Viktor stepped off the grimy train platform, clutching his briefcase full of actuarial tables like it were a beloved idiot child with a tendency to stray. The dreams had left nothing behind, except for the usual feelings of displacement, and one odd little tickle of dissociation. Like his internal organs did not belong together, like they fomented mutiny, planned war against each other. The other train passengers, his neighbors, fragmented into purposeful bits of shrapnel, bee-lining for their various homes. Viktor bought a paper from the poor old man with mis-matched eyes, and began the depressing walk home, through the long, hideous corridor of second-hand boutiques.
Viktor tried to keep his eyes focused on the street's receding distance, forced them away from the display windows full of used goods. His muscular right leg strode forward; his blue eye drifted toward a store-front containing racks of faces. His wiry left leg stepped, and his burnt-umber-brown eye caromed to the left, to a window reflection of penises, penises of every color and description. Viktor held the paper up to the left side of his face, an improvised blinder. This street never failed to test his sanity, but there was no other way.
When Viktor came to the middle of the block, a large woman with the heavy fists of a man stood in his path. He felt his heart beating panic, in some alien person's rhythm. The woman made no move to let him pass. "Excuse me," he said, with a polite movement of his hand. "Stuff it in your nose! Shake a leg! Stomach! Armpits! Toes!" she spat the obscenities, the foul, forbidden words. The woman grinned, and opened her shirt. Seven nipples stared out at him, each a different color, each a different size. Viktor made a little squeak, and hurriedly pushed past her, back on course, heading for the pale sanctuary of home.
In his mind, Viktor placed himself safely in his little room, the paper unfolded before him, a glass of sherry at his elbow, a small tray of crackers balanced on his knee. With violent effort, he willed his gaze away from the shop windows into a narrow beam, pointed straight up the street at its vanishing point. "Almost there," he chanted beneath his breath, "thirty steps more." A flashing glint of metal caught in the extreme of his peripheral vision; he turned to it out of reflex, and regretted it immediately. He stopped in his tracks, staring straight into an artful display of limbs. Each of the used body parts had been carefully cleaned and hung against a foil backdrop in positions of action, intended to communicate a sense of life. He absently rubbed at the thin pink scar that circled his right wrist.
Viktor hesitated only a moment. As he entered the shop, a tiny bell above the door rang happy. He walked slowly between the rows of arms and legs, not touching, just looking. A huge neon sign hung across the back wall; it said "A PREVIOUSLY OWNED BODY PART IS A PROVEN BODY PART." The proprietor, a portly man with a brilliant green eye, watched a small television, a rapture across his face. "Excuse me," Viktor said, "but could you tell me the price on this?" The shop keeper turned to him, and pointed to a poster at the back of the aisle. Viktor read the list, blushing at the nasty words: FULL LEG, 40.00; ARM, 25.00; ALL JOINTS, TWENTY PERCENT OFF; FEET, 75.00 A PAIR; THE ABOVE PRICES INCLUDE INITIAL EXAMINATION; INSTALLATION EXTRA. He picked up a strong, tanned knee, and felt its cool surface. It bent easily, in all the right places, smooth and powerful. "Excuse me." Viktor placed the knee on the counter before the proprietor. "I think I'd like this one." The man nodded an automatic nod, pointed to a curtained booth. Viktor swallowed hard, pulled the curtain, went inside.
Viktor lay naked on a cold, hard table, his hands clenched into hard, tight balls. A bored nurse ran some noisy instruments around the pit of his stomach, jotted numbers onto a clipboard. "You're okay," she said, without commitment. "It'll take." She handed him a slip of paper; it read: THIS CERTIFIES THAT ______________ HAS BEEN EXAMINED, AND IS DEEMED MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY SOUND. DONOR'S SIGNATURE INDICATES THIS VENDOR IS RELEASED FROM ALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR COMPLICATIONS, EXCEPT IN CASES OF VERIFIABLE NEGLIGENCE, AS REQUIRED BY LAW. "Just fill in your name," the nurse said, "and take it back to the doctor. Follow the blue line." "Uh, excuse me," Viktor said quietly, "but this is wrong. Shouldn't it say DONEE?" The nurse glanced at the paper, clucked her tongue in annoyance. "Look, pal, it doesn't matter what the damned thing says." She scratched out the word DONOR with a surprising violence, and replaced it with a scribble that looked to Viktor like the word "DAMNED." He clutched at the paper, and with his clothes under his arm, he followed the blue line.
Some small time later--a time filled with small pains, small tools, small adjustments, and not-so-small fees--Viktor lay back in his favorite chair, the paper unfolded before him, a glass of sherry at his elbow, a tray of crackers balanced on his brand-new slightly-used knee.
Safe in his own sweet home, for another day, safe at last.