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The Other Side « Fiction365
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Today's Story by Osmond Arnesto

The trick is to find someone who came alone. There's no such thing as being picky in this line of work.

The Other Side

I spend a lot of evenings walking down by the waterfront, but tonight I brought Shelley with me. I like it for a couple of reasons. One: it’s around the time that the visitors decide to go back to their motels so we don’t get a lot of questions asking us where Maxwell’s or Elysian Park is. Two: when the sun sets behind this side of the Hudson, the light catches on the Manhattan buildings across the way. For a few minutes they’re bars of gold, and I could just pick one up in my hands and put it in my pocket. Looking into the sun is supposed to blind you, but I swear there’s something more than sunlight and glass there that makes my eyes tear up.

Three: it’s relaxing. And work is a killer.

The September breeze is cold, but this city’s always cold. It helps having someone with you because at least the people are warm. We are walking side by side like two the two lines dividing the lanes on the highway. It’s a funny feeling. We met at this birthday party for someone who I knew enough about to consider a friend. He threw it at this bar he’s a regular at, and as far as anybody else knew, it would have just been another night if it weren’t for the balloon he taped to a bowl of peanuts. I only went because I didn’t want to get drunk in my apartment alone before jacking off into a napkin. At least here I’d be able to do it with other people. The drinking, at least. Nothing about her or me stood out from anyone else there but we were honest about looking for someone to come home with. We ended that night with her naked chest on top of mine, our sweat mixing and the both of us heaving like we just ran the Boston. One night became two, and two became a week. We became regulars.

She breaks off and walks up to the railing that they put there to keep wandering toddlers and adventurous drunks from taking an afternoon dip. She turns back to me and leans on it, letting long, blonde curls fall towards the water. I always thought to myself that if she ever had a kid, it would have that same hair.

“So you wanted something?” she asks.

“Besides your attention?” I reply, taking the space next to her, but facing the river.

“You’ve got it.”

“You’re looking good.”

“You noticed.”

“You make it hard not to.”

She throws her head back and laughs. “You haven’t tried this hard since the first time you tried getting into my pants. Alright, I think you’ve buttered me up enough. Who died, Mike?”

“Nobody I know.” I look down the other way. There’s a couple of kids standing there, holding hands. “I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.”

“I’m flattered.”

“I’m serious.”

“I’m listening.”

I liked that about her. To the point. No bullshit. I lie, “They’re letting me go down at the office.”

“I’ve never saw you to be much of a paper jockey anyway.”

“It’ll be a good time to screw my head on right,” I say as I look back to her. “Find a new job. You know. Start over.”

She nods. “I think I see where this is going.”

She never misses a beat. I envy her. After all of those trips to the clinic, and the hours of sleep we lost to talking about whatever we could reach leaning on the headboard, she was the one who kept enough sense in her head to say it would have been best not to see each other anymore. You never even would have guessed she was the one who had the abortion.

The sun checks out and the skyscrapers go back to just being skyscrapers. It’s Friday night, so I figure the bars are going to be full of college students and suits that celebrate every weekend like it’s the Second Coming. I don’t think anyone ever really lives in this town. Jersey’s sort of the place you just pass by when you want to get to New York, so if anything a city like Hoboken only exists to politicians looking for votes and cartographers bent on getting their maps right. And if you are stupid enough to plant your roots here it won’t be long until you start looking for the exit sign.

She checks her watch. “Aren’t you going to be late? I’m sure they’re looking for any reason to keep your last paycheck.”

“A couple of the guys told me they were putting together a little goodbye party. Figured I’d have some extra time to talk to you at least.”

“We can finish talking tomorrow.”

“Right.”

“No rush.”

“None at all.”

“Gives me time to think.”

“Sure.”

She smiles a wave goodbye and I watch her walk away. I can’t help but get the image of her walking down the aisle in my mind, but I shrug it off. I walk back to the car and make sure my bag has everything I need for tonight. Mini-cooler full of ice. A box of latex gloves. Sewing kit. Carving knife. Paring knife. Rohypnol. I stash it in the trunk. I made the mistake early on of keeping it in the passenger’s side seat. My patient that night was drunk enough to believe me when I told her I was a surgeon. I don’t know what they teach in school nowadays but a dozen shots of whiskey or not the sight of sharp blades should sober you right up. I start driving as it gets darker, Manhattan disappearing behind some apartment buildings soon after. I think about the gold bars across the river. I’m so close I can feel the weight of them.

***

I remember when Shel and I first found out that my sperm wasn’t, in fact, defective. I’m not the most religious person I know and I say that coming from a family of Catholics who treated going to mass like a holiday that came once a year. But once Shel started throwing up in the mornings I started sending up prayers to whoever would listen to me. Too little, too late, or the powers above weren’t taking calls, because later that month she missed her period. It was a couple of nights after that I remember we had dinner together for the first time. I don’t know when it was after that when I fell for her, but I did. I fell so fast the air slapping me pulled my face into a smile, and even though part of me knew that the second I kissed the ground it’d be over, I relished it. We couldn’t keep it, of course. You’d have to have been an idiot not to see that. We barely made enough money to keep our own necks over the water, let alone a bouncing baby boy. Or girl. Sometimes I wonder what the kid would have been like, but even I know it’s useless to miss someone you’ve never met.

***

The bar is full tonight, like I guessed it would be. It’d be stupid to do a job at the same place twice, but luckily for the people in my profession there are enough in this state to accommodate everyone who wants to welcome Saturday morning through the bottom of a bottle. That doesn’t mean of course that nobody frequents different bars but some risks can’t be helped. The trick is to find someone who came alone. Maybe the single life isn’t exactly keeping them warm at night or they’re so horny they think by sheer force of will, someone’ll come over and stick it to them – or let them stick it into them. See, there’s no such thing as being picky in this line of work. An organ’s an organ and as long as it’s something you won’t miss too badly I can consider myself above the murderers. Take a heart from a straight woman and it’ll work just as fine in a gay man’s chest. Take the liver of a white man and the black man isn’t going to know the difference. And if you don’t have the dough for a new kidney? No problem, as long as you’re willing to do a favor or two for the boss. It’s not exactly what Martin Luther King, Jr. had in mind, I’m sure, but I’m sure he’d be happy to know that at least one occupation has grown out of the notion of discrimination.

I’m nursing a bottle of Coke when I catch the woman sitting at a table by herself eying me. I’m not saying I should be a model but she isn’t what anyone would call pretty. You remember those girls in high school no one paid any attention to? Maybe they were an inch shy of being alright looking or they didn’t seem like the desperate kind of comely that put out easy. They weren’t ugly. No, there’s brushing against the ugly stick and then there’s being attacked by the whole goddamn forest. The ugly ones got attention, even if it was the bad kind. It’s everyone in the middle that gets ignored. The world doesn’t stop spinning for the average John or Jane.

An organ’s an organ.

I smile at her. She’s had two shots already.

***

The other trick is not to spike their drink until you leave the bar. Someone will notice that kind of thing. Her name is Elaine, and she works accounting for some office building in Tribeca. She has a nice place, although it isn’t really furnished at all. I guess if you’re not planning on entertaining very much company you don’t need much outside of a bed, a shower, and somewhere to take a shit in. I can’t say I’m a big fan of anyone who decides to combine any of the above, but you get all kinds in this city.

I lay her face-down on the bed, leaving the few towels I found in the closet to catch most of the bleeding. Kidneys are the only thing you can take from someone and still have them right as rain to see the next day while being marketable. Hearts, brains, lungs – those patients need to be fresh off the mortal coil, and the cops tend to get a little antsy when the death toll goes up. I wouldn’t touch that end of the business with whatever length pole you can think of. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a killer. I rub an area of her back down with alcohol after I put on my gloves. I know where I need to cut. I can almost see it swelling, underneath her skin. If I don’t work fast enough, she might wake up and the shock of finding out someone’s digging into your back makes people less than willing to stay quiet.

I take out one of my sharper blades and make the incision. A small pool of blood starts to flow out over the cut. My eyes wander to the back of her head, and I whisper, “Breathe. Breathe.” When the cut is big enough I pin her skin to her back to keep it open and wrap my hand around her exposed kidney as gently as I can. I’ve done this so often that I don’t really even have to think anymore – it’s become natural. Still, it takes a learned hand if you don’t want to kill anyone and I’ve been lucky. It feels warm, even through the glove, and I can almost hear the blood pumping through her veins. It almost breathes. Her back has started to sweat and I use my free hand to wipe it off with the end of the towel. Sweat can infect. The hand busy performing the extraction slowly turns, and lifts, just enough for me to see the lifelines keeping my subject connected to the rest of Elaine’s body. My free hand grabs the scissors, and cuts the cord. I cradle her kidney for a while, looking at it. This is going to make someone very happy. Maybe give them a new purpose in life. They’ll learn not to take things for granted and try to make up for all their wrongs. A new lease. Rent-controlled and everything. And maybe I’ll take up macramé. I lay it into the icebox, locking it up securely, and start to sew Elaine up again.

It wasn’t always like this. In fact I had a pretty sweet gig using my car as a pizza delivering machine. But that was before I found out that if the lonely days were taking too long to go by then liquor makes a rather good substitute for something demanding like a hobby. I didn’t have the insurance to pay for my little stay at the hospital room I was so kindly provided after the car accident, but one of the orderlies pointed me to an alleyway doctor who could use a nurse at the time. Every job keeps me afloat for a couple of months, if I decide against living too extravagantly. I stopped it a long time ago, though. The drinking I mean. I didn’t want to be a bad example.

I finish sewing Elaine’s back closed just as her bathtub fills up. The rest of the ice that didn’t make it into the mini-cooler along with her kidney goes in before I lift her up and try to place her in as gently as I can. Before I leave I make sure that Elaine from accounting still has a steady pulse and I look at her face. As I wipe the sweat starting to come down from her forehead, I see that I was wrong.

She glows with beauty. I kiss the top of the icebox, and I start to cry.

***

I get to the waterfront at the usual time, taking a seat on a bench that gives me a nice view of Manhattan across the way. There’s almost no one here to bother me. Normal people like taking Sundays off, spend it with their family or something. As the sun starts to set, I put a hand to my phone and watch the day end. The light makes golden pathway leading across the water, connecting the two cities for the few minutes it exists. I look away. People are always getting worked up about how pretty the oranges and the reds are and I think that’s why there are so many pictures of sunsets. Thing is, they never notice the black and purple sky coming up behind them. The other side of the sunset is just as good. I dial in Shel’s number but I can’t bring myself to press the ‘call’ button yet. I look back and see my bars of gold for what they really are. Nothing at all.

—–

Osmond Arnesto is presently studying under the year-long sunshine of California. His work has been featured before in The Molotov Cocktail.

—–

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