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It was Dom and Tony’s second day in anatomy lab when Philip the cadaver started speaking to them.
“I’m an excellent specimen. If you don’t fuck this up you could end up being cardiothoracic surgeons one day. Maybe ENT oncologists. Hemorrhoidectomy specialists,” Phillip said. His voice was dry and harsh like a smokers angry whisper.
Dom looked at Tony who looked back at Dom, a scalpel held tightly in his hand. Tony shook his head.
“This shit ain’t right,” Tony said and stabbed Phillip in the right hepatic lobe. No blood came out. It was all coagulated and dense—purple, Jello-ed pudding. Phillip stayed quiet while Tony pressed the blade into the edematous, dully-maroon organ a few more times until he was apparently satisfied with the amount of puncture wounds he’d inflicted and went back to cutting Phillip’s left ear off.
“This fuckin’ guy,” Tony said.
Dom continued to slice Phillip’s skin away at the forearm revealing the taut, white tendons layered and parallel to one another.
“It’s like lifting the lid of a grand piano. All those strings ready to be struck and ring out a chord,” Phillip gargled.
Dom began to sweat as he dissected the fascia away from the muscle bellies, revealing clearer and clearer anatomy until it fit the image from his textbook and he felt like he finally could understand, now, that the body was not a book.
The next day it was time to open the chest cavity. Tony held the bone saw in one hand; his clear safety goggles fashionably askew in his glistening, pomade infested hair. Dom plucked Phillip’s palmaris longus tendon at the same time as the flexor digitorum longus tendon and a perfect F sharp rang out in the basement anatomy lab.
“No music!” the instructor shouted from a few tables over.
Dom smiled and looked down at Phillip’s dead, stale and suspended eyes staring laterally at nothing.
“Nice,” Phillip croaked.
“This oughta’ shut this bastard up,” Tony said, revving the bone saw and placing the now blurred with pomade safety goggles over his eyes.
Dom watched the air fill with floating bits of bone and skin as the spinning blade dug deep into Phillip’s breast bone—his sternum, just below the manubrium.
“I want to be a psychiatrist, though.” Dom said to Phillip, barely audible over the roaring sound of bone splintering. It smelled like burnt marrow. Dom imagined bone particles entering his nose and triggering his olfactory nerve.
“Examine my brain then,” Phillip said. “I always thought of myself as a left sided brain type of guy. I might start there. The left side that is.”
“I’m gonna do tits,” Tony said, applying the chest retractor. With some effort, Tony split the chest cavity open revealing a large tortuous heart, nestled between two black and hardened lungs.
“I was a smoker,” Phillip said. “Menthols.”
Tony held a cigarette between two gloved and bloodied fingers. He brought it to his mouth and took a long pull. The red ember glowed and then vanished into grey ash.
Dom placed his hand on Phillip’s heart. It was cold and lifeless. He could feel his own heart pressing against the inside of his chest as it swelled and deflated around ninety times per minute.
“This is what happens, isn’t it?” Dom asked. “I don’t need to see your brain. You’re dead. We’re all dead, right?”
Tony masterfully cut the heart out and then held it at arms length, examining it from different angles and light. He grunted.
Phillip didn’t move.
“Hey, hey!” Dom yelled shaking Phillip’s lifeless body. “I don’t want to be naked and cut up.”
“I never knew it would be like this. At least you know. You know how it ends,” Phillip said.
Tony ignored them both. He strung a severed finger along with Phillip’s ear on a necklace that he placed over his head.
“How do I look?” Tony asked.
S. R. Schulz is a physician living in the Twin Cities. His work has appeared in Maudlin House, Pidgeonholes, Minnesota Medicine, Apocrypha and Abstractions and others.