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Noggin(10)
John Corey Whaley

“Well, listen, Travis. I should probably run, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m here. Any time you need to talk, just call me, okay? And maybe we’ll eventually figure all this weird shit out together. And don’t be fooled by that guy in the truck commercials, okay? I don’t have a damn clue what I’m doing back here, but I figure I might as well make a buck or two off my fifteen minutes of fame while I can.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “Thanks, Lawrence. Talk soon.”

“You bet, Travis.”

We didn’t talk long enough to discuss what it was like to be attached to a new body, but I knew we’d get to that eventually. He’d been so easy to talk to, and I could tell he felt the same way about me. Relief, I guess. I think we were both so relieved on the phone that it was hard to decide which of our million questions to ask first. Like, I wanted to know how long it took for his friends to treat him normally again. And I wanted to know if things with his wife were the same as they’d been before he left. He’d obviously had to make this whole new persona up for the media, so maybe I’d need a Travis, the Head Kid character to get through this too. I couldn’t hide from reporters my whole life, after all. There’d be a day when I’d have to know what to say to them.

But first I had to go back to school. And I had to do it without Kyle or Cate. I wouldn’t know a single person there except the teachers and the principal. I’d be stuck in high school while all my friends were off living their lives and working their jobs and going to their college classes and partying. This was all so ridiculous, and when things got this way before, the only two people I could talk to were Cate and Kyle. But now they were part of the problem. They weren’t there. They weren’t there when I woke up, and they wouldn’t be there when I went back to school. Some people say dying alone is a fate worse than death itself. Well, they should try being alone during the living part sometimes. There’s no quicker way to make you wonder why the hell you ever thought you’d want to return.

CHAPTER FIVE

THE RETURN

The day before I went back to school, I found out that there is an urn containing my ashes hidden in the closet of the guest bedroom. I discovered this when I was in there looking for an extra blanket for my new cold-natured body.

Oh, I thought to myself. This sure is an odd place to keep a heavy vase.

So I brought it out to the living room and asked my parents, who were both staring at their cell phones, what was in it.

“Shit.” My mom was no longer looking at her phone.

“Why would you keep a vase full of shit in the closet?”

“Travis, watch your mouth,” Dad said.

“Have a seat, honey.”

There is no delicate way to tell a person that he is holding a container full of the incinerated remains of his own body. Had there been a better way, I might not have accidentally dropped the urn right onto the hardwood floor, which made my mom scream and my dad immediately jump down on all fours and start sweeping the ashes into a pile with his bare hands, almost as if he were trying to save each and every molecule of my former self.

“Go get the vacuum!” Mom shouted.

“We can’t use a vacuum on Travis’s ashes!” he yelled back.

This is about the time I walked outside and sat down on the front steps. It was October, so it was pretty cool in Kansas City, too cool to be wearing just a T-shirt and gym shorts borrowed from my dad. I still didn’t have any clothes, or much else for that matter, so my parents had planned to take me shopping later that day. I was guessing that dropping my leftovers all over the living room floor had slowed things down a bit.

Ashes. I don’t know why I was so surprised. I mean, they had to do something with what was left of me after the surgery. God knows that body wasn’t worth a damn to anyone. By the time Dr. Saranson offered to turn me into Frankenstein, I was barely able to sit up by myself. I spent most of my days in the downstairs guest bedroom, in a hospital bed, watching old TV shows all night and sleeping all day because of the pain meds. I’m not sure why so many people get addicted to pain pills because, at a certain point, not feeling anything becomes much more painful than the disease eating away at your cells.

So yeah. They burned that mother, stuck it in a nice blue-and-white vase, and it’s probably been on the mantel for five years, reminding everyone who visits that these people, my parents, are broken and sad. No one else got to know, by the way. Just my family and close friends. You don’t want to go telling everyone that a dying kid volunteered to be decapitated and that his parents signed off on it. At least not until it all turns out well.

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