When the car crashes, we don’t feel it at first. We’re on the passenger side, all of us, belted in because that’s Amada, always protecting us, her insides, her organs.
[A rule follower, Amada: single glass of cabernet with dinner; thirteen daily servings of fruits and veggies; yoga twice a week (Mondays, Flow; Thursdays, Yin); the occasional cleanse, salt water our favorite, how it tickles the capillaries.]
But the car spins out on the rain-slick ground, the oncoming SUV brakes, cannot halt its impact, and Amada, not crushed to death or flung through the busted windshield into the wide, wet world but held securely in place, suspended, awaiting the shard of glass from who-knows-where that slits her left carotid artery and Amada, sweet human, buckles forward, a bleeding mess.
Panic ensues inside.
Derrick and Dwayne, the kidneys, Lyla and Josie, the lungs, Mack, her heart, Desi, her brain, me, Andie, her liver, all of us organs from zero to manic in seconds—fractions of seconds. Each of our lifelines stuttering, faltering, careening toward death.
We will soon be meat, the lot of us. Our sentience fragile and unenduring.
An ambulance siren, voice of an angel—high-pitched, electronic, unyielding—comes belting down the road, and each of us, light fading like a late December evening, does our best math to see how long we have left. Desi, a goner, the kidneys, of heartier stock, me, somewhere in between.
[I haven’t mentioned Amada’s driver, her partner Janice, because we don’t know whether to blame her or the weather or God or even blame her insides; the tickle of indigestion a major distraction, believe us, we know, and Harriet, her small intestine, has always been the irritable type.]
We all black out at some point and when we come to, those of us left viable are dizzy, wiggling to stay warm in the now cold block of Amada’s corpse.
“My God, these organs are fine!”
A tall man, gowned and capped in pale green scrubs and a surgical cap, like honeydew against his dark skin, stands over us, a scalpel in his hand. Our doctor, our savior, at last.
Carefully, he peels Amada open. The fat, the muscle, the skin, once our casing now drawn back, and we face exposure to the fluorescent light above. One by one, we are separated. The air against our edges like the hard, pale burst of smoke from a gun.
Some of us are put aside, others held gently like newborn pups, rich and dark and dewy against the gloved palms. Held almost with a beat of reverence, for we offer life, we are life, I think, each of us, small, complex, necessary.
[I cannot neglect to mention Darlene, the gallbladder, or Nicky, the spleen, or Dirk, our dearly departed appendix who never stood a chance. True friends, despite their less appreciated roles.]
There isn’t time to say goodbye. Slipped into what will be our temporary homes, packed against ice, or like Debra and Kayla, the corneas, first laid in saline-soaked gauze, or like Mack, a special chamber, a space to pump however impotently, his continued beating a reminder of what was.
Amada undone, and we her disparate parts no longer united in the common purpose of a single life. Each of us realizing, if we have not already, our viability only as true as the next jointly drawn breath.
Turbulence. Darkness. Numbing cold.
30,000 feet, and I dream of bones, cages, my former nest against Amada’s ribs, now a disembodied blackness. Hours ticking toward obsolescence.
I did not think I could know this feeling. I that was never an I, always a We.
Loneliness like a woman awake in the middle of the night, shut out from sleep, the prickling feeling of being left behind despite the warm person beside her.
I cannot hope to join the impermeable bodes beside me on this plane.
And why, why do I want another life?
[To be owned, subjected to an avalanche of abuse, fat salt sugar cascading toward me, my predecessor removed, fatty and discolored, powerless and wrecked, the brain’s inability to correctly process pain and suffering. The devastation of living wrought on us, the innocent parts within.]
30,000 feet above the earth. Clouds part in our wake. Passengers dream, but I am nothing. Without sensation.
Life, imperfectly short.
Purpose slips away in isolation.
Perhaps, I gave life, not I give.
Bright lights. Tarmac. Another emptying vessel.
Minutes flake away like the crust of pastry.
[ How I loved the feel of warm blood, oxygen rich exhalations, to witness the service of my bile.]
Darkness of the cargo hold unlike the darkness of the body. Full of emptiness.
But now, a voice.
A shove. A hand firmly gripping my packaging.
I am remembered, handed off. Another body holding my container, me within it, chilled in this inhuman home, groggy.
Through the crush of an unseen crowd I move past other organs embedded in their fleshy homes. Strangers these, though intimates to one another. Awakened, I crane to hear their songs, the gurgles and pops and whispers of their daily chores, their best attempts to function, to sustain. A familiar struggle, wrought in failure and joy.
Survival, always a collective effort, whether we believe it. Parts belong to the whole, though see how the whole changes.
Whoever I am coming to replace—poor, unknown cells—I am not more worthy, only lucky. Lucky to be worth anything. To be anything, really.
Life itself a kind of luck.
Rebecca Bernard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, Southwest Review, Colorado Review, and North American Review among other places. Her debut collection of stories was selected by Nick White as the winner of the 2021 Non/Fiction Prize, held by The Journal, and is forthcoming from OSU’s press in fall 2022. She recently started as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Angelo State University, and she serves as a Fiction Editor for The Boiler.