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Mears, Yvonne, Hecate


She lies on a steel table. We are waiting to take out all the stainless steel pins, plates and screws which hold her together. Her face should look grotesque, strangely it doesn't and the delicate scaffolding of grey metal protruding from her temples, her brows, her jaws, merely serves to frame her haunting face.

Outside I know it is a clear day. Twenty minutes ago as I walked to work there was a blustery wind blowing my uniform about; I was thinking of windsurfers skidding across the bay. I passed an old man flying a long tailed Chinese kite at dawn in the park beside the hospital. There is hardly ever a wind at dawn, such days fill me with suppressed excitement. Days for doing great things.

Soon we will be doing things here but I'm not holding my breath. My legs are aching and there is a metallic taste in my mouth. The fluorescent lights give us all a bluish cast as we mark time. We can't do anything until the transplant team have finished with her. It's not any big deal today, the team is just a surgeon, a medical student, horribly eager, and two bleary eyed nurses on overtime from their nightshift.

They've come to claim parts of her body she signed away. One insignificant little tick on her driver's licence and here she is with us. I don't know why she did it, perhaps it was the healthy arrogance of an athlete or maybe it was nothing but a party dare. She must have done ordinary things like going to parties. Probably she was someone's lover and once she was someone's child. Running then with a child's lightness.

They work efficiently. Soon all the bandages and bloody pads are gone. Now she is naked under a glaring multifaceted light they've switched on. A nurse works quietly at her chest, rhythmically pressing her sternum. Down, pause, down. So the red blood, carrying its precious load of oxygen, can go pulsing to those pieces of her they'll retrieve. Through a hole in her neck air hisses in and out along a plastic tube. A black rubber bag beside her mimics slight movements at her chest, a nurse stands watchfully by. The surgeon is gowning up, to take out kidneys, corneas, heart and liver he needs only one assistant. It is a far cry from the drama of the transplant teams who'll take and use her offerings.

Here, now, the surgeon jokes with the medical student. Faintly down a corridor drift sounds of a radio and laughter from the nurses' station. Inside the theatre the nurses are all relaxed, everyone except me. It's Sunday and there are no other patients in any of the fourteen operating theatres. She is centre stage in theatre 1. Outside there is the faint penetrating wail of a siren as an ambulance races closer with an emergency. We're all listening but it roars past with its police escort to the maternity hospital down the road. Everyone is slouching back, no emergency to disturb this easy shift.

The surgeon signs at the nurse to stop cardiac massage as the medical student starts cleaning various incision sites with bright pink hibitane. When he finishes, the dreadful opaque-black of bruised flesh clashes with coloured disinfectant and small areas of smoothly tanned skin. Neatly across her body, in all directions, in short and long lines, march tight rows of blue stitches. Her skin is pinched into minute hills between each suture. I see she is a human collage.

The surgeon begins his first cut. His scalpel slipping smoothly through her skin, crosses into a bruise mark. Behind the blade a glistening pink ribbon, one quarter inch wide, curves under the line of her ribs. They are trying for the liver first.

Life is so strange. Nearly as strange as death. A month ago I saw her. I was at the state track and field championships on my day off. I often go to these things and look. Though I've never been any good myself, I always wonder what it would be like to run, to jump and almost fly. I didn't know her. I watched as she raced over rows of hurdles, her head tipped back, easy and wild like a gazelle, breaking through the tape as lean and savage as a greyhound, lengths ahead of the others. …

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