We’d been fighting all month, all week, all weekend, and for today had gone on without saying a word to each other through our dinner of reheated leftovers, which we’d eaten in separate rooms. Alan broke the standoff. “Do you want to see the cadaver?” he asked. Since mentioning that he’d been performing a human autopsy in his anatomy class, I’d bugged Alan about taking me to see the body, to which he always replied with a vague brush off. And even though I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of winning me over now, he’d found his in. “Sure,” I said, like I was the one doing him a favor.
When we arrived at Alan’s medical school, he handed me a white coat, latex gloves, and a pair of safety goggles. “In case anything pops out,” he said with a grin. He led me across the bright room, past rows of stainless-steel operating tables. On top of each, a body bag laid still, like a human eggshell. Reaching Alan’s cadaver, he rested a hand on the tables edge, and before revealing the corpse, said, “Sure you’re fine, Paul? He’s pretty chopped up.”
“It’s okay, I’ve seen a dead body before,” I lied, not wanting to say anything that would jeopardize my viewing.
Alan unzipped the bag and I braced myself for a stringent smell, but none materialized. The man’s skin was pale and covered in ridges where a knife had sliced him. “Can I touch it?” I asked. “Him,” Alan replied and moved my hand to the man’s still furry chest, guiding my fingers down a deep ridge in the sternum. “We had to use the bone saw for this.”
Inside, the man had been hollowed out, robbed of most his organs. I pinched the flaps of his pulled back skin and applied a little pressure to his ribs, testing their resistance. It amazed me how sturdy everything felt. I’d always viewed the body as such a fragile vessel.
There were a collection of cut-off arteries and veins in the chest and I asked, “Where’s the heart?” Alan bent down under the table and rustled around in a plastic bag. When he stood up, he was holding the heart in two pieces, dripping with formaldehyde. “I bisected it,” he said, and placed a half in each of my hands.
I looked back and forth between the identical parts, entranced with the beauty of their intricate design, and after a while, brought them together, curious to view the organ as a whole. But to my surprise, I found that the halves would not match up. I tried turning one and then the other, flipping them around, upside down, but each attempt resulted in an uneven merge. Unsure of how I’d managed such a bungle, I turned, seeking Alan for his support, but he wasn’t behind me. He’d already gone.
Matt Broderick is a writer and artist, currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Rutgers Newark. He is an Assistant Editor for The Review Review and has served as a fiction reader for both Ploughshares and Wyvern Lit. In 2016, he placed 1st in the Boston Book Festival Writer Idol for his short fiction. His work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Redivider, The Review Review, and Turning Art. Find him on IG/Twitter: @NotMyDayOff.