They Always Say That

They said it wouldn’t hurt.

Doctors always say that, especially dentists. Or sometimes it will only hurt “a bit” – as if they know what you will feel, where your nerves run, and how many of those tiny electrical impulses zap from your skin to your brain every second. No one ever tells you it’s going to hurt like bloody hell, or that you’ll pass out and wake up on the floor with a bunch of strangers in medical uniforms surrounding you. If you’re lucky, you fall face-up, vulnerable derriere safely flattened against the tile floor instead of peeking out of that flimsy paper gown for all the world to see. And laugh at. Being laughed at usually hurts more than whatever made you faint. Why don’t they ever tell you that?

I like to think about things when they’re poking at me. Sometimes they’ll have headphones for me to listen to: jazz music, the local radio stations, some evangelist preaching about the end of the world. Other times they’ll have posters to study. My favorites are the 3D-image kind that you have to cross your eyes to understand. There’s one on the ceiling now. It’s beautiful in a chaotic way, all green and blue specks and yellow streaks. When I feel the scalpel dig into my skin and cleanly divide my last barrier to the world, I try very hard to focus on the poster. In a way, those little 3D posters imitate reality. Art mimics life, they say – whoever “they” are. Life mimics art, say others. I wonder which I am. I don’t think I’m a “they”, so I must be an “other.” Shallow, distant, faceless, flat… one of the ill-defined masses of society known simply as “others.” Being a “they” must be more interesting; every witty quip and poignant proverb is attributed first-hand to your lips. The steady razor-edge of the blade traces its graceful line down, down, down, down, separating the epidermis and the thin layers of fatty tissue below.

Definitely an “other.” Because “they” said it wouldn’t hurt.

“They” muttered now and then. Doctors speak like they write – unintelligibly. I wonder if their minds are like their handwriting. Small, cramped, missing various pieces, and totally mystifying to the outsider. To the others. Maybe they’re more like that poster: small, chaotic, and totally mystifying. There’snot much difference, really. Maybe that explains why so many of them have these little 3D posters all over the place. A glimpse at familiarity. My eyes keep trying to adjust focus to bring out the hidden image, but just when it solidifies it disappears again. A glimpse at madness. And we trust these people with our lives.

I’m pretty sure it’s a fish.

The blade lifts momentarily before piercing the flesh in the same location, different angle. Connect the dots, paint-by-numbers, please be careful about staying inside the lines. How do they make such straight cuts when they can’t even write legibly? How do I see patterns in a massive blur of strokes and dashes? Another lift, another angle. That smooth, eerie feeling of my skin peeling back from the intruding edge. It feels dryish. Arid. Bloodless. Maybe they’re really vampires. No one would ever suspect someone employed in saving lives of siphoning those lives away.

The scalpel stops. Hands replace it. Latex fingers the edge of my slit in the most intimate of fashions. Skin is lifted, and something long and hard slides inside me. The connective tissue which hold flesh to muscle are severed. Terminal unemployment, you might say. They, others, and you. Introductions all around. I’d giggle if I could.

They withdraw then penetrate once more, then again, each time caressing the opening their steel makes. Connectivity lost. No carrier. Can we re-establish the connection, Lieutenant?

Finally the skin is lifted a final time, folded back and set to rest to either side of my opening. A blurry figure of a man appears. Perhaps a woman. One of “them.” They stand over me, look me over, raise a hand. There is something small and dark encased there. Squarish, like the poster.


“White female, approximately 20 years of age, hair brown, eyes blues, height of 5 feet 6 inches, weight approximately 135 pounds….”

At last the chaos clarifies and the poster reveals its secret. It is human, the hidden item within. Was? Is? Dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes. Her gaze is vacant. Her chest is cut open along the central line, down the sternum, into the abdomen, with two diagonal cuts over the lower stomach. The flesh had been peeled away and neatly folded, giving full view to the delicate organs encased in the abdominal cavity. There I lay, out for all to see, lacking even flimsy paper gown to hid my nakedness. At least they weren’t laughing.

“Brought in at 9:43pm, November 10th, 2000. Cause of death: negative reaction to anaesthesia during benign tumor removal.”


The mortician’s hands set down the tape recorder and begin examining my innermost secrets laid bare by his razor-steel. I wonder if he knew what death was like. They always mention a light in the tunnel, sunshine in Heaven, brimstone in Hell. I wonder if when they die they’ll realize just how wrong they are. Harps, pitchforks, glowing lights… no 3D posters, though. Sorry, Doc, wrong again. I shouldn’t really be surprised. They said it wouldn’t hurt, they said death leads to a better place.

They always say things like that.

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