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by Josephine Whittock 


He told me it was like looking in a mirror. Sometimes we come out wrong, he said. The differences aren’t substantial, or else we wouldn’t be useful. Same organs, build, blood. But the arrangement of our faces, the slant of our cheekbones; slight technological distortions. But he said I was perfect. An exact copy. Uncanny.

I know what I’ll be used for. I wait in my room until then. He calls it my room. It’s small. Cold. All of us, one after the other, lining the walls, watching and waiting. I don’t know why he arranged us like this. I don’t have his memories. But we line the walls, and we watch.

He comes for us one by one. I think there are certain things he can’t do unless we’re perfect. But other procedures are easier. He smiles when he unlocks the doors to our rooms. At least, I think it’s the same for the others. I don’t have a view of most of us, usually, but there are so many of us that I can see those positioned across from me; they’re a long distance away. The place where he keeps us is large. But if I crane my head to the right as much as the wires will let me and squint right underneath the operating lamp, I can see him at eye level. I’m lucky. My room lets me look at all the screens. I can’t read them – they’re too far away – but I can see the heartbeat monitors and the anesthesia cart and a direct shot of the table. He put me right in the center.

We don’t get put on the table right away. He has to measure us first, to confirm our similarities. Height, weight, BMI, blood type, blood pressure. MRI scan, CAT scan, bone scan. It takes a while. Not as long as it used to, he says. He’s got the process down pat now. We come out standard. Less hiccups, less challenges, more progress. It’s easier this way. For him and for us. Who likes being measured?

The last time I got taken out, I got to sit in a bigger room, with beanbag chairs and posters on the walls. Everything was so clean. Really kind of him, to provide that for us. There were two more of me. We were waiting to be measured. We don’t often get to talk with each other, the others and me. I didn’t really know what to say. I asked what they were going to be used for, if they knew already. I didn’t at the time.

One said that he had a slight defect in his jawbone so he couldn’t be used as a control for anything important. He knew that his procedure would involve his liver, but he didn’t know exactly what would be done to it, or how long it would take. The other me was quiet. I don’t think they wanted to talk about it. So instead I said that the posters on the walls were funny, and they agreed with me, and we talked about that for a bit instead. I think being agreeable is normal for us. We’re very nice.

Eventually he came in. He, capital H, the first of all of us. He put his hand on my shoulder and I knew it was my turn to go back into the large room, where all of us sleep and spend most of our time. I remember thinking that I must have a very charming smile, because his smile was charming, and looking at him is like looking in a mirror. He talked to me the whole time he was taking my vitals. That was a while ago. He laughed at me when we finished, said we were like two peas in a pod. I’m just like you. I told him that was silly, because there are a lot more than two of us, but he wasn’t paying attention to me at that point.

I think it’s good that there are so many of us, because he messes up a lot. I don’t think he wants us to know, because he never talks about it. But my room looks directly at the operating table, so I get to see it every time. It’s usually the anesthesia. I don’t think he knows how to work it properly. He gets through most of the process okay. The other me climbs up onto the table, lies down, and he fits the mask over their face. For the first few minutes he chats with them, makes them feel comfortable, but after a while he stops. When it works well, he keeps turning the knobs and making adjustments, typing, until the other me stops breathing and he finishes taking his notes. But a lot of the time he never gets that far, and he swears and knocks things over. At first I thought we might be too breakable, not meant for anesthesia, but every time he brings out the cart he tries something different. Different gasses, different concentrations, different configurations of the dial. I don’t know why he tries so hard. I think he’s afraid.

We see him on the news, sometimes. He leaves it playing whenever he has to go to work, on the big monitor screens next to the table. I’m glad he doesn’t want us to get bored. He smiles really nicely on TV, too, whenever he’s talking about his newest project. Creative. And clever. I’m lucky to be him. He must be a very big name in the industry. I can’t read the scrolling captions because the screens are too far away, but they show him alongside close-up shots of new phones and tablets and more big monitor screens so it must be somewhat important. To afford all this, at least. All of us. To keep making more of us. Maybe we spoil, like fruit. He doesn’t put us back after he’s done. I think it would taint the data.

When I’m in my room I can’t stop thinking about when he took my measurements. He wrote down everything. I got to see my hands holding a pencil, typing on a keyboard, my face furrowed in concentration as he wrapped the pressure cuff around my upper arm. My body in nice clothes, my body in shining shoes, my body holding a tongue depressor to examine the back of my throat and uvula. We never had our tonsils out. He seems so happy on the news, and when he talks to us, but in the spaces between he doesn’t look like anything at all. He pressed his hand to my chest to feel my heartbeat before he used the stethoscope and I thought of how warm his hand was, that maybe if I used my own hand it would feel the same way.

It didn’t, though. I tried later, in my room.

The quiet me was put on the table two days ago. I know that time passes because I see the date change on one of the monitors; the numbers are big enough for me to see if I squint. The quiet me came back from being measured with a long cut down the side of his face. I wasn’t there to see what happened; I was waiting in the room with the nice posters. But his shirt was popped open and the front of his chest was all bruised. Weird, small bruises. He didn’t say what happened, but I helped button his shirt back up anyway. Maybe that tainted him, made him not-useful, because he didn’t get the anesthesia machine. He got a shot instead, with a syringe, in the really big vein on our left arm. I’m not familiar with everything else that happens. I see us take pills, sometimes, one after the other until our chests seize up and we spasm and vomit all over the table. Other times we’re polka-dotted with electrodes to manipulate magnetic fields and muscle activation. I like watching those. They’re easy.

But the quiet me had to lie down on the table. He buckled him in this time and I remember thinking that things were about to get messy. I guess he couldn’t get the anesthesia machine working because he made the first incision without the usual 30 minutes of messing with it. Whatever was in the injection definitely wasn’t to put the quiet me to sleep. He was so gentle with him, even with all the thrashing and wriggling, and he made a big cut right down the center of his chest, right through the still-healing bruises. He put something inside to keep it open, something metal. I remember looking at our ribs, the organic symmetry of them, each a perfect copy of the other. But the heart’s only on one side. The thing that has power over the rest of the body, that throbs and beats heavy and can shut everything down if it goes wrong, only gets to nestle within one side. It looks like it’s in the center, but it isn’t. If I got to design our bodies, rearrange them like he does with us, I’d put the heart right in the center.

He always puts a towel over our faces when it’s time to take us away, when we stop moving and stop being useful. I don’t think he can during the process. He probably would if he could. I wouldn’t want to look at our face either, once it’s all slack and grey. But my room faces the table, and I have to. I can close my eyes, but I still see it on the inside.
He left the volume on today when leaving for work, so we got to hear that he’s entering the medical field for the first time. He talked for so long about the innate fear of death, the tragedy of lives ending, how he wants to do his part to make sure that everyone gets to live the life they want, for however long they want. Anti-aging, miracle cures, the fountain of youth. That part seemed like a bit of an afterthought, because he didn’t mention it much. I think the newscasters were getting antsy, so they cut him off after a while. He kept talking about the worries of how things could go wrong. Underfunded hospitals, mechanical errors, the natural risk that comes with every operation. Wouldn’t it be nice, if we never had to worry about that? Wouldn’t it be nice, if we knew exactly how much medication we needed? What organs were likely to fail? How long we could go under?

The newscasters laughed a little, once he’d left. Quite self-assured, isn’t he? I don’t think they believed in him. I do. He’s spent so much time with us. He must know us very well by now. Two peas in a pod. He’s just like me.

Maybe he left the news on just for me. He told me yesterday that I’m lucky. Very, very lucky. I get to be the first one to try something new. Someone at his work told him about the likelihood of men his age developing a cancerous neural tumor, and he wants to see if he’s right. I’m exactly what he needs, because I don’t have any defects. It will help prevent a lot of worry, he says. I’m doing something really good. And because I need to be awake the whole time, I won’t need general anesthesia. Mostly.

 I think it will go well. I don’t think he’d have asked me if I weren’t so perfect. Maybe if it goes well, he won’t need to be so afraid anymore. Maybe it will be only me that this needs to happen to.

I put my hand over my chest again, when he put me back in my room. I tried both hands, even. He’s really lucky. Maybe he has someone else on the outside who can put their hands on his chest, someone who’s warm, to hear his heart beat without writing it down.

But they’re not as useful to him, probably. They don’t get to help him with this. They don’t know him as well as I know him, as he knows me. They don’t know how many amphetamines he can take without undergoing respiratory failure. The pattern of his resting heartbeat. How much force it would take to crack his ribcage. They don’t have his perfect cheekbones, the cleft of his jaw, his bright blue eyes that never crinkle when he smiles. They haven’t died for him. They wouldn’t keep dying for him. They’ve never heard him say they’re perfect. That they’re funny. That looking at them is like looking in a mirror.

What more could you need than that?

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