Outside the Box

Our university imports its corpses from the continent. We never asked why, but I assume it’s to prevent students from seeing granddad splayed open like a frog in Biology. It certainly isn’t like European cheese and wine. These bodies aren’t high quality. Not that I’m complaining! It’s not like we should only accept the fittest dead (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) – it’s not as if the living are any better. Anyway, I shouldn’t think those who donate their body to science would have much in common, let alone regular exercise and vegetable consumption. If anything, they’d be united by a woeful ignorance of the damage that a hungover medical student can inflict. I once watched a girl spill an entire small intestine onto the floor, and painstakingly drape it back into the abdominal cavity. At 9am. With the whole class watching. That wasn’t her best day. It wasn’t her worst either. That came in the brain session.

She was working at the same station as me, our group handling and examining preserved brain samples. The use of preservatives meant we were holding brain tissue examined by thirty classes prior. Thankfully, as undergraduates we weren’t permitted to use the university’s illicit collection of Victorian-era samples. Ethics were different (or non-existent) then, and doctors felt no qualms taking organs from the dead without permission – organs which could be obtained at discount prices. Touching brains is always going to be a little gross, but there is comfort in knowing that the one in your hands was legally obtained. So anyway, this girl was holding a brain. She was also suppressing a sneeze. Though it wasn’t said explicitly, sneezing on the dead is generally frowned upon. When she couldn’t hold it in any longer, reflexes took over, bringing her hands to her face. With the brain still in them. Being face-palmed by an organ isn’t a great experience for the person involved, but it is *hilarious* for those watching. Safe to say, she took the rest of the session off. Which is where the box comes into play!

Our dissection classes being mandatory, she had to return the next day to complete the second half, about the circulatory system. It would’ve been weird for her to spend over an hour just with the anatomy professor, so I joined her. It did help that the professor was super cute. I was also very conscious of how good our origin story would be if we ever married. Plus, I wasn’t very good at the circulatory system. After donning lab coats, gloves, and notepads, we found him standing next to a metal box.

I’d noticed the box before, and to my eye it looked about the right size for freezing a whole human body, with some wiggle room for lifting it out. So when he told us that he’d be introducing us to his favourite specimen, an *exclusive* honour for our 2-on-1 class, I almost felt disappointed. Been there, done that etc. Instead, we find the box filled to the brim with heads and arms. Attached though – bodies cut off just below the collarbone. After a moment of intense side-eye with my friend, we watch the professor rummage and mutter. By piling unwanted specimens to one side of the box, he managed to find one at the bottom. He lifted it into the crock of his arm, with all the care of cradling a baby.

“This is George! He always manages to hide from me. Just look at that carotid artery. He’s not my favourite for nothing!”
Dropping a wink, the professor leaned in conspiratorially. “Of course, no one’s perfect. He has no jaw.”

Looking into George’s eye-sockets, he whispered “and he’s French.”

Winning entry of Hour of Write’s ‘Outside the Box’ competition, for which you are given an hour to write a piece in response to the prompt.

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Outside the Box

Closed Curtains

Three days now

spent stale in the refuge

of my bed,

tucked between cupboard

and potted fern,

bought in a hopeful moment

of self-care and

function.

 

I think I peaked

at seventeen.

Why else

would a sixth form savant

be eight hundred pages deep

in Stephen King,

to escape the four due next week.

 

Three days of morning.

A quilt cocoon, and the same

cornflakes

poured for breakfast

lunch

and dinner

a fair exchange

for any moments stolen

from knowing that I

am not good enough.

 

Originally published by Forward Poetry: Mind Matters 2 anthology.

Closed Curtains