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Noggin(4)
John Corey Whaley

But they wouldn’t let me just call her. I kept asking when I could call her, when I’d be able to see her, when she’d be there, and my parents just kept looking at each other like they were in a contest to see which one could go the longest without being helpful. Then Mom finally tells me some bullshit about how Cate probably needs more time to “process” all that’s going on. Time to process? I mean, I was the one with the stranger’s legs and arms and, let me remind you, private parts. I figured if I could process things so quickly, then why couldn’t she?

“Can I just call her? I know she’s waiting for me to call her.”

“Travis,” Mom whispered, “I have to tell you something.”

“Okay.”

“It’s Cate, Travis.” She was speaking in this calm, almost weak voice, like she was on the verge of being completely speechless.

“Cate? Is there something wrong? Did something happen?”

“She’s engaged.” She immediately covered her face with her hands and started crying.

I wasn’t quite ready for that. This new body wouldn’t react the way it should have reacted. I could barely make myself do anything at all; instead I just sat there in the sad quiet of the room. I mustered just enough energy to slump down a little in the bed and let out a kind of whimper that made me sound less like a human and more like a dying animal.

Cate was engaged. My girlfriend had a boyfriend. More than that, she was going to marry someone I’d never met. Maybe he was better than I was. I bet he even had his own body. I’d told her I’d come back for her, and even though I hadn’t really believed it myself, I’d thought surely she’d believed me. I’d thought she’d wait. Why hadn’t she waited for me? Why couldn’t it be that I came back to life and now every little piece could fall perfectly back into its place?

But neither Kyle nor Cate ever showed up. I kept expecting it, though, every single day. I couldn’t figure it out. Nothing about them not being there made any sense to me. They had just been there. They had just seen me. I had just seen them. I had said good-bye to them and I had closed my eyes. I had opened them and nothing. No word from either of the two people I wanted to be seeing more than anyone. Were they so different now? If it was really five years into the future, could that be all it took to change them? I mean, what’s the point of getting another chance at life if everything’s going to be so different that I can’t stand it?

Then one night after I’d begged my parents to go to the hotel and get some rest, this nurse came in and asked if I needed anything. She was kind, and you could see that in her face and hear it in her voice.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“This all must be very strange for you, huh?”

“You have no idea.”

“I was there, you know.”

“Where?”

“Here, I mean.” She sat down in the chair by the window and looked over toward me. “When you were here before.”

“You can say it,” I said. “Go on. You were here when they took my head off.”

“Yes. You had this little smile. It was the most surprising thing. There we were, the entire staff, watching this surgery that none of us could believe was happening. And you were so young. It was different with the other ones. You were just so young that I held my breath the whole time.”

“Did you think it would work? Did you really think it was even a possibility?”

“I stayed,” she said, standing up. “Some of the others transferred out after that, after what we did to you.”

“Why’d you stay?”

“I needed to see it,” she said. “I didn’t know if it would work, but I knew if it did, then I had to be here for it, if I could.”

“Ta-da.” I raised my new arms slowly into the air.

“I know you’re sad. Confused and probably in shock. But you don’t get to come back for no reason.”

“Sorry?”

“You’ve just been handed the keys to the kingdom, Travis. Don’t waste a second of it feeling sorry for yourself.”

The next day I asked to see the nurse again, and they told me she’d quit a few weeks before, that she’d resigned and moved away somewhere. Then I wondered if I’d just dreamed the whole thing up. They say you can only dream about people you’ve seen—either in real life or on television—that we don’t have the power to create new faces in our minds, but that we recycle the thousands and thousands of faces subconsciously stored in our memories. So maybe I’d seen her five years before, in that operating room, just as they’d put me under. Maybe I’d seen her and seen her kindness, and that was all my brain had needed from her. Maybe I was remembering her now to bridge the gap. Maybe the past me and present me could find a way to coexist, keys to the kingdom in hand.

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