By M. James MacLaren
Omelets are evil. It does not matter how you make them. You may eat them with or without yolks. You may add only vegetables, staying away from bacon, ham, or sausage. You may add black pepper, salt, or even saffron if you are a gourmand. Light and fluffy or thick and dense, your omelets may be things of true epicurean art. It does not change the fact that omelets are evil.
They are evil because you always have to break a few eggs. And, as everyone knows, eggs equal people when it comes to collateral damage for a desired outcome. Don’t believe me? Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Something more recent? Pick a drone strike out of the thousands that have happened in Afghanistan over the past decade. People died, but the target was neutralized.
There is always the same old argument: “There was no better way.” Perhaps that is true, but tell that to the egg as you are feasting upon your masterpiece omelet. Every goal has a sacrifice.
I was fifteen when they took me. A boy pretending to be a man, still wet behind the ears and masturbating to the digitized breasts on scrambled satellite channels or the occasional skin mag that always seemed to magically appear whenever a group of us got together. Promising myself that I would be laid by summer and occasionally remembering to focus my lessons during class.
I sat behind Ella Rheingold in Geometry and could smell her through the hairspray, deodorant, and perfume that she used daily. She knew I could, and I knew that she knew. We spent our days pretending not to know as she adjusted her bra straps for no reason and I occasionally flicked her hair lightly. Pythagoras would have understood.
Poor Ella. One more egg in that basket of collateral damage. I never got to discover what secrets that bra held. Given how she handled a Kalashnikov, I might have found puckered scars of old bullet wounds. Maybe a tattoo of her lover’s name. Maybe my name.
I did kiss her. That day. My first kiss. My last kiss. She tasted of strawberries and bit my lower lip. I might have loved her, but they came before I could make a decision. They came and took me. Took me and not Ella. Her wide, horrified eyes were a dark, chocolate brown. Her prominent nose was beautiful in her oval face. I think I might have converted for her. Who knows? I was fifteen.
Explain to a raccoon that you have to demolish his home for a subdivision. Try to tell him that you are happy to relocate him. Hell, even tell him that your family is dying with no place to go and they need your space. A raccoon would not understand. I did not understand. Earth did not understand.
There were strikes. There were counter strikes. There were casualties. There was collateral damage. The omelet had to be made; eggs had to be broken.
I did not want them in the U.S. Maybe that was selfish of me. Probably it was selfish of me. They could not live in the cold places, anyway. They needed a wide open area in which to build their cities. They asked me questions about minerals and ores and rainfall and other things I could not have told them had I wanted to. I suggested Africa. I was thinking they would settle in the Sahara. Nothing lives there, anyway.
Do you know how many people lived on the continent of Africa? I did not know, either. I did not truly understand Africa. Ella had been in my Geography class as well. I should have studied harder, given them some place more remote. The continent of Africa is one of the richest on the planet, and they exploited it. Not that we were any better.
Subdivisions grow as subdivisions do. More raccoons to uproot and move to new homes. More eggs for that omelet. I think we humans number in the hundreds of thousands now. Some of us are free range. Most of us are essentially pets. Exotic fauna for the superior species. I hear that some of them are lobbying for our repopulation.
I almost laughed.
Oh, Ella. Why did your parents take you to Madagascar? Why did I study the nape of your neck instead of the Cape of Good Hope? Why did I let them make me a king?
For more from M. James MacLaren, check out his website: mjamesmaclaren.com. You can also follow him on Facebook: M James MacLaren. His novelettes, Harbinger (The Hounds Part I), Chimera (The Hounds Part II), and The Cell (The Hounds Part III) are all available for Kindle through Amazon.com (links are embedded in their titles).
Past Present and Future: Part I
By Jenness Jordan
She couldn’t remember ever feeling so low, so confused and heartbroken before that night. It felt as if someone took a knife, and jabbed her in the chest. A blade jagged along an oak handle. The pain in her chest similar to those she experienced while giving birth to her three kids. With each jolting pain in her chest she questioned if this was the end? Where had things gone so wrong in her life? Is Karma real? Is God?
Approaching the sandy shores, miles from the home she had known and fought to keep for fifteen years, Stephanie felt hopeless. Stephanie did not want it to end, but she could not endure the pain any longer. It seemed to her that no matter what she did or didn’t do, life just seemed to be the same for her. More downs than ups. She felt that she had cursed her kids to the same fate as she watched and listened to each of them struggling with their own demons. Their own battles. The salty air seemed to calm her. Welcoming her in a cool embrace. Whispers from the roaring waves in front of her also welcoming her to come just a little closer. It was as if there was a voice within the waters beckoning her.
This was it! She knew she had to do this. Had to end the suffering. Break the cycle. She hoped in doing so that it would free her kids to have a better life. A chance at least at it. As the cool water pounded against her feet, Stephanie began thinking back on her life before it all seem to go wrong. The last memory she has before it all began was as a child. Life was simple and magical. Her only cares were playing with her toys, her brother, and watching TV. Sometimes, when no one was around she would sing in her room or write about a faraway place. When she would be in the mood for singing, she would pretend to put on a concert. Her favorite people would be in the front row cheering her on. Those who had been cruel to her at school or in the neighborhood would be sitting in the nosebleed section. These bullies would always have a look of shock on their faces. Sometimes, she caught what appeared to be jealousy in their eyes.
These secret moments were the happiest for Stephanie. These moments gave her hope. Hope that she would prove every one of them wrong one day. Prove that she is somebody. That it doesn’t matter how you dress or where you live. How much money your family has or if you are the smartest person in the class. Everyone deserves a chance. Everyone deserves to be treated kindly and fair. To be happy. Other than when her family would go on picnics, bike rides, summer trip to Grandmas’; the only other time she felt that she fit in and belonged was at church.
Even there though, sometimes she still felt as if she was a misfit. She felt transparent. That others could see her sins. This is still true for her to this day. Stephanie has walked around her life always feeling that people can see through her. See her mistakes. Her ugliness. No, she is not a bad person. Stephanie’s driving and criminal record is as clean as rain. However, she was not for most of her life treated as such.
As all of her memories and emotions flooded through her mind and heart, the pain began increasing. Her feet carried quickly and deeper into the cold blue waters. Stephanie just wanted it to end. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. The water rose and rose. Nearing her waist. The pain, numbing the icy dark waters that would normally chill a person to the bone, especially, during the winter season in North Country. Normally, Stephanie would not be anywhere near the beach, whether it was winter or not. She was not one who liked the beach. Didn’t like the cold, and yet, she lived as close to the cold as one could be.
Far off in the distance in front of her, a light glistened on the water. It seemed as if it was singling her out. A light paving the way towards an unknown and unseen darkness. This seemed very odd to her. Odd and yet familiar, almost comforting. Her eyes stayed focused on the lit path in front of her.
For more information about Jenness Jordan, check out her site: jennessjordan. You can also reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
It Takes Heart
By Tony Wassom
It is so hard to remain compassionate.
That’s not true; I’m still compassionate. The truer statement would be: it’s so hard to appear to remain compassionate.
Surgeons have a code that laity just do not know about. Never get close. Anyone who ever had surgery probably felt that attitude from the surgeon. They were right to feel that way.
It’s not specifically taught to us. I mean, there’s nothing in the Surgery 101 text book that directs us to act cold and calloused—although, I’ve overheard a few nurses tell families we learn it in school. No, it is helpful advice handed down while in residency. It is advice I told myself I did not need because I’ll always be compassionate; I didn’t need it because the reason I became a doctor was to help people feel better.
After the first walk to the waiting room to tell a family there was nothing more that could be done, I realized why the advice is necessary: follow it, or find another profession.
There are really good days.
There are really bad days.
Sometimes, the hardened façade just isn’t enough. Sometimes, I need to go for a run; a drive; a drink.
Some of the worst and best experiences happen at the same time. That’s my life the last couple years. I’ve never cried as much as I have since I started running the transplant program. There’s a big difference, though: a lot of the tears are happy.
The trip to the waiting room is still tough. It’s one of the hardest parts about my job. It’s hard because I’m allowed to appear compassionate, again. I’m better at my job because I can let the families see how much I care about their loved one. They can see I’m genuinely saddened by their loss.
Crying with them also makes it easier to ask them to give-up all hope so I can use viable organs in someone waiting down the hall. There’s always someone waiting, down the hall. Sometimes—most times—that hall isn’t even in our hospital. That hall may be several thousand miles away. Still, sitting with the grieving family, crying as I suffer along with them, it is easier to tell them how their loss can save three, four, sometimes five other people.
“That’s what he would want.”
I’ve heard those words so many times. Those words mean I’ve done my job well.
I explain how the loved one—never the patient—will stay on a machine, keeping the organs alive while we wait to make the final arrangements.
“So, he’s still alive?”
More words I have heard, over and over. The last glimmer of hope before I tell them only the organs are alive. The brain is dead and there’s no life, no understanding, no essence left in the body. Only useable organs that will bring relief to others that are suffering.
We cry, together, one last time before I return to the suite and tell the team to proceed. The softie in me—the doctor I neglected to be for so many years—reaches down and holds the hand of the lifeless donor on the table. My way of thanking him for his help. Sometimes, I almost expect him to squeeze back, thanking me in return.
Visiting the family down the hall, delivering the morbidly good news of their windfall, is the good part of the job.
I hope this part of my life becomes my legacy. I hope I’m remembered as a doctor that fostered closure with one family as I brought hope to another. I hope my protégé is as caring and compassionate as I have learned to be, and he only takes my good qualities throughout his career.
I’m encouraged as I feel him gently squeeze my hand, lay his other hand on my forehead, and thank me for my help.