s

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"Then he picked up a powerful set of shears. With expert precision and plenty of force he snapped each rib until he was able to open the front of the woman like shutters, exposing her innards..."

self-examination
story: vanessa woolf-hoyle


She lay face up. She was naked. Her skin was soft, slightly discoloured. Her eyes were chocolate brown, her hair was sticky grey. Her fingernails were black crescents and her right leg was pinned where it had been broken and fixed.

“Anyone here know this woman?”

Muna put her hand up. “I took her history.”

“And?”

“Um… she was an alcoholic- and- ” Muna paused. She looked at the woman laid on the table. Two days ago this person had been admitted with a broken leg. Within seconds of their meeting, Muna knew that she was talking to a basket case. She'd thrown herself under a taxi.

“He didn't stop for me!” she'd exclaimed. “Bloody cretin needs an optician!”

The pathologist nodded. “Alcoholic. Anything else?”

“Sixty-two years old… She took Diazepam for seven years…” Muna thought back. “Er…no children…”

“Thank you.” Boldly, the pathologist sliced the skin, down the middle of the woman's chest, right down to the low end of her belly. Then he picked up a powerful set of shears. With expert precision and plenty of force he snapped each rib until he was able to open the front of the woman like shutters, exposing her innards. Dark blood oozed out like treacle.

Muna watched with a detached sort of horror. She'd never seen a dead body before. “I'm a medical student!” she said to herself. “Get used to it.” Suddenly she was thinking of Giles.

Giles was a friend of her auntie. He was a plastic surgeon, with a large practice in Harley Street. Even better, he'd agreed to give her a free consultation.

“So, you're Aisha's niece,” he'd smiled when she came in. “A fine woman. And what do you do, Miss Ahmed?”

“I'm a medical student.”

His eyes lit up. “What year are you in?”

“First year.”

He had a confident smile and a square Egyptian jaw. “First year is the best, Miss Ahmed. Everything is new and exciting- and not too many exams either. Wonderful stuff. What are you studying at the moment?”

“Anatomy. We've got an autopsy next Monday.”

He met her eye. “Autopsy. Do you know the Greek root?”

Muna felt intelligent. “Yes. Auto- meaning self. And 'opsy'- meaning look.”

“Not just a pretty face.” Giles said softly. “Now, what's the problem?”…

…Muna rubbed her face. The autopsy room was cold. It had been a big weekend. Last night had been ridiculous. They had only meant to stay for one drink, but ended up totally slammered. She actually had her sweaty dress shoes in her bag right now.

The pathologist indicated the woman's lungs, withery-black. “if you ever wanted a reason not to smoke…” he announced, then carefully lifted one out of it's chest, severed the tube with his scalpel, and put it on the scale.

Muna felt sick. It was partly the smell, the distinctive aura of rancid lard. She could smell stale beer on her fellow students too. She hadn't been the only one partying.

Giles came into her head again. He was single. Well, he didn't have a wedding ring. And he was beautifully dressed. The suit was Prada, but understated. “What's the problem?” he'd asked her respectfully.

She had blushed. “My friends say it doesn't matter…” she halted. “They say I'm pretty anyway…”

He held up his hand. “If it matters to you, it matters to me.”

“Well, it's…” She indicated her front. “It's here. I'm so flat.”

She had dreaded that he might take off her shirt, exposing her boyish chest, but he didn't.

“There are a number of options…” he began slowly. “They're all straightforward procedures. Let me show you this DVD.”

By the end of the hour, she was sure that she wanted an enlargement. She was also sure that she wanted Dr. Giles Hammed to be her surgeon. She would feel safe in his slim strong hands, no doubt about that. He seemed to understand her completely.

Meanwhile, back on the table, the pathologist was pulling a bobbly brown thing. It looked like a deep fried steak. “This is the liver,” he said. “Advanced cirrhosis. She had probably been drinking for forty years.”

He put the liver in the scale.

Muna looked at the woman's head, hanging backwards off the body block. Her hair was a grey tangle. When Muna had spoken with her, the woman had been wearing makeup. Cherry-pink lipstick, some, clumsily on her teeth.

Her mouth was hanging open now. Her eyes were open too, staring at the plain white wall of the autopsy room.

The office in Harley Street had handsome wallpaper- Farrow and Ball, something out of a magazine.

“You must think hard.” Giles had said in parting. “It's my duty to remind you that this is a major operation, which will affect your body in a number of ways. Chat it over with your aunt, Miss Ahmed. She'll give you good advice. Then, when you're ready, call my office and we'll book you in. The start of the summer holidays would be a good time, don't you think?” He took her hand in his. “Goodbye Miss Ahmed. It was a pleasure to meet you. Please pass my best regards to your aunt and her family.”

She was flushing now, just thinking about the way his hand had felt. Accomplished, delicate, and utterly capable.

Meanwhile, the pathologist was detaching every organ in turn, examining, weighing and bagging. Then he closed the doors of the woman's chest. Suddenly she looked much more human.

Without speaking, he made an incision beneath one of her breasts. Taking the breast in both hands, he squeezed it hard.

A firm oval sack of silicone popped out.

Muna shut her eyes, feeling sicker than ever. As soon as class was finished, she was going for a drink.


"Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle lives in London and spends her time exploring the rivers, tunnels and sewers that run underneath the streets of her beloved Southwark. She has contributed stories to a number of magazines including One Eye Grey, Litro, and Smoke."

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©2009 Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle • Smokebox
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