Author : J. R. Salling

A large ripe melon rests on an operating table. Members of the surgical team stand in the wings, preparing long serrated knives. Spotlights illuminate chunks of crushed ice that slip down the sides of the patient. My mouth becomes moist in sympathy. I take another step forward when the nurse’s hateful expression stops me. I have trespassed.

She points to the sign threatening unauthorized personnel. “Can’t you read?”

In answer to her question I retreat to the waiting area, sit down again, and pick up my book. When she fails to notice I rattle the pages. This releases a faint odor of formaldehyde, which makes me think of Kate.

Kate would have loved this book. It has such an interesting typography. Sometimes I piece letters together and make a word, but not often. There’s no need. The important thing, I tell myself, is to forget the other room.

The man sitting beside me suffers from an insatiable curiosity. I have already told him the title of the book. “Honestly,” he says, “when do you find the time?”

I shrug.

He fills the void himself. “I used to have plenty, then lost it all. Every last minute. There’s not a cure, you know.”

This information angers me. “I’m not sick,” I insist.

“Exactly,” he says and smiles, revealing black teeth. From the pocket of his sweatpants he retrieves a partially consumed strand of licorice and wrestles off another bite. The blackness oozes from his open lips as he chews.

One of the surgeons emerges and delivers hurried instructions to the nurse. There must be trouble, I decide. The nurse pops up and disappears into a long empty corridor. When the squeaking of her shoes becomes faint I make my move into the restricted area.

It appears that I am too late. The procedure has begun, the rib cage of the melon spread open to reveal its inner secrets. Wondering where the operating team has gone, I push on into the theatre.

For a brief moment I see Kate lying there in a contented if somewhat waxen pose. My head swims. I fight it off and inch closer, blocking the light, so that I can no longer tell who or what is being operated upon.

When my lips make contact, just brushing the exposed tissue, the melon reappears. Angry electronic noises rake my ears. I stagger backwards, my eyes shut.

The blindness is somehow comforting, but does not last.

“There’s no cure!” I hear the man from the waiting room scream. “There’s no cure.”

“I’m not sick!” I want to shout, but I know that it is a lie.

A curtain slides back and the nurse reappears. She picks up a bowl of moist, pink, fleshy chunks and creeps toward me, baring her teeth like a mad dog.

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