Inspired by Patrick Ryan Frank
Weary traveler in hotel bar at the fade of a sweltering day. Call him Don. Tad. James. Robert, Rob for short. Doesn’t matter. Salesman or consultant or some shit. Doesn’t matter. He does what we all do: enough to stay alive.
The woman in the green dress at a booth by herself. The friendly glance, the chance meeting and inviting smile, one more drink, why not—maybe salvage some bodily pleasure from another shit day on the road in the middle of what’s turned out to be kind of a shit life. His sons do poorly in school and his daughter probably has more sex than he does. His wife’s always in a mood but never the mood—that’s a line our Don, our Rob, our new friend can count on when he needs to get a laugh from clients.
So now he’s already thinking about the small talk after the sex, when he’ll say his wife doesn’t understand him. Some guys take off their rings and pretend they’re doing nothing wrong, but he’s always gotten good mileage from his guilt—plays well with a certain type, like this one in the just-right green dress.
He hopes she’s for real and not a pro because who the fuck has that much money they don’t have to account for at home. Paying by the hour is no way to go through life. He is pleased with himself for these thoughts, proud to have such a clear-eyed approach to this fucked-up world, and then his head swims and next thing he knows he’s waking up in a bathtub of ice, his skin blue like swimming pool water, a note in front of him, his phone right there: Don’t move. Call 911. You’ll be fine.
And he will. Call 911. Be fine.
His doctors will be dedicated and caring. His recovery will be reasonably smooth once he gets over the infection. Sure, his explanation might skim past some parts of the story, like that green dress, and of course his wife will know better, but she won’t care, she has her own shit to leave out of the family Christmas letter. She will fall in love all over again with his scarred and incomplete body. His kids will pull it together and become sales managers or graphic designers or guitar teachers—not great maybe, but good enough. He will be fine.
But across town another man sits in a parked car and cries as he smokes the day’s twenty-seventh cigarette.
His name is Robert, or something like Robert, in one of those coincidences that happen every now and then but teach us nothing.
This Robert can’t go home. He will not be fine. He didn’t get the money he promised to bring, plus his wife thinks he’s sleeping with his partner who looks so good in that green dress.
His plans once seemed foolproof, even downright moral, considering the pains he has taken to be sure his unwitting donor would recover, considering how real his need to feed his family, considering he was a surgeon in the country where he was born but now drives a cab because war took a hatchet to his homeland—and now it’s clear how made-up this version of things was from the start, a story to tell to make himself feel better, a morality tale for unfaithful husbands.
He’s not sleeping with his partner, though he wants to more than anything—she doesn’t even look at him, but when he’s around her, his breath catches in the wake of her plum-scented perfume. What he tastes is so much like love it makes his hands tremble.
That’s why he botched the extraction.
Just the tiniest nick with a scalpel and of course the strangers with expensive SUVs and the money noticed right away, black-market organ trafficking not being the kind of business where almost good enough is good enough.
On the passenger seat beside him is a Styrofoam cooler, and inside the cooler a worthless piece of meat—untouched by blood, how quickly flesh expires.
Amorak Huey, a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in poetry, is author of the poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015) and the chapbooks The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl, 2014) and A Map of the Farm Three Miles from the End of Happy Hollow Road (Porkbelly, 2016). He is also co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the forthcoming textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018) and teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter at @amorak.