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"Get the door open, John! I have GOT to get these pants off!"
“I’m trying, babe! We forgot to leave the light on before we left. I can’t see a damn thing.”
The deadbolt successfully negotiated, Kate squeezes past him through the door and trot-squirms her way toward the bedroom, kicking of her flip-flops and unzipping her jeans on the way. She is hopping on one foot and pulling off the second pant leg before he has even removed the key from the lock.
“I don’t know what the hell they did to these jeans”, she yells back over her shoulder, “but something was poking me in the stomach through the entire movie!” She clicks on the bedside lamp, the brightest lamp in the house, sits on the bed, and squints at the front placket of her newly purchased designer jeans. “Damn it.”
She reaches for her reading glasses and takes another look. Nothing. The stitching is tight and sewn with uniformly smooth, soft cotton thread. There are no tags she has forgotten to remove. She sees absolutely nothing that could cause her so much discomfort. She stands and walks to the full-length mirror in the corner of the room. Dropping the jeans, she examines her reflection. She raises her t-shirt and there is the irrefutable physical evidence of her torment. A hot, angry red splotch roughly the size a silver dollar surrounds her navel and spreads upward like the map of a north flowing river delta. In spite of the pain and itch and her general irritation, she can’t help but be pleased with how very trim she’s looking. She hasn’t had abs like this since she was on the high school swim team two decades ago.
“Did you find it?”
John is leaning on the bedroom doorframe, a smirk on his face. Kate is suddenly aware of how ridiculous she must look staring at herself in her boring white cotton underwear and Batman t-shirt. She suppresses a smile of her own. She won’t give him the satisfaction.
“No. There’s nothing.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of COURSE I’m sure. There is nothing at all wrong with those jeans.”
“Then it must be your belly button.”
In a flash, Kate picks the jeans up off the floor and flings them in his general direction. Then she struts toward him, sticking a finger in her navel with a sweeping gesture and, bending back at the waist, she proclaims, “my good man, I can assure you that there is likewise nothing whatsoever in the sanctum sanctorum of my perfect navel.”
Only there is.
Tom sees her muscles tense. He watches as her eyes widen in shock. She tilts her head down and attempts to peer into her navel. “ John?” She says.
“What is? What’s attached?”
“This THING! This THING in my navel! It’s ATTACHED to me! What is it? I’ve got to get it out. What is it?!”
Before he can cross the room to her, Kate grabs hold of the offending object and yanks. Hard. Her tiny yelp, not-so-tiny intake of breath, and the thin rivulet of blood that begins to creep slowly down her abdomen seem to indicate that yes, whatever it is, it WAS attached.
Scarcely noticing the blood, Kate dashes into the adjoining bathroom and fumbles through the medicine cabinet with bloody fingers. She comes away with a pair of tweezers and the magnifying eyeglasses she uses when applying makeup. Swapping these for her reading glasses, she bends over the counter and starts fiddling with the thing from her navel.
Magnified thus, the object is revealed as a metal cylinder, no more than a quarter of an inch long with one pointed end and one flat. Toward the flat end Kate notices a seam and what appear to be concentric rings. A lid? Yes! It’s a canister! Pinching the impossibly small canister between two fingernails, she can just manage to twist the lid with the tweezers. The lid comes away at last and out slides another cylinder. This one is flat on both ends and seems to be a stainless steel bar. There is writing etched into the surface. It reads:
Made in the USA
"GenuSem", she whispers, wondering at the connection. Already knowing. GenuSem. Where her husband works.
She looks at herself in the mirror over the sink. Even under the magnification of the makeup glasses, her skin is flawless. Dewy. Peaches and cream. Thirty-seven years have washed over her face and form and left no trace. Thirty seven years old and not even one toe of a crow’s foot. Her friend Irene just had fat removed from her buttocks and injected into her nasolabial folds. Kate questions for the first time where her own nasolabial folds are. And now that she thinks about it, doesn’t she remember having a mole over her left eyebrow?
“Kate?” John has crept into the bathroom unnoticed. He exhales her name in a short burst, cautiously, tentatively. He looks worried.
And well he should.
“Something you want to tell me, John?”
His shoulders slump. The furrow between his eyebrows deepens. Kate suspects she will never see a similar furrow on her own face. She waits for him to speak.
“Listen, Kate. I didn’t know what else to do. You were so sick last year, and the medical bills. . .”
“Where’s my body, John?”
"You don’t understand, Kate! If it weren’t for GenuSem . . ."
“Where is my body, John? I assume the brain is mine, but what did you do with my body, John?”
“Kate, I . . .”
“WHERE . . . IS . . . MY . . . BODY . . . JOHN?”
He hesitates. The moment is endless. He balances briefly on the parapet of a lie and falls truthward.
“I told them to save your eyes", he says. "Those are yours, too, Kate. The eyes are yours, too.”