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Jenny Hall

I get off the bus a few blocks short of the bookstore because I am early. Everything about this day has been planned in advance, including my early arrival. The sky is drab and gray–the wrong kind of weather, it doesn’t match the version of this day that I’ve been carrying around inside my head in the preceding weeks. The street is crowded. It’s the end of the workday, so the sidewalks are jammed with bodies, bicycles, and dogs on leashes. Two men approach, holding hands. I guess this shouldn’t startle me, but it does. I try to get out of their way, but move the same direction they do. They laugh, and separate, one passing on either side of me. I want to smile back at them, but I don’t. I look over my shoulder and see that they’ve joined hands again. I walk toward the corner; my legs feel like they belong to someone else. It seems like I am in a whole other place, like I am having another life, or maybe a glimpse of the future.

The streetlight on the corner is plastered with posters and advertisements, a thick, lumpy layer of them: new fluorescent lime greens and neon pinks stapled on top of fraying and faded grays. I want to stare at them, to take in the blurry photocopied images of drag queens so that they are burned into my brain, because I want to carry them home with me. When I go back to my everyday life, my life of 7-11s and microwaves and homework, I want to remember everything I saw here today. But the light changes, so I cross, carried along by the press of bodies around me.

On the other side of the street, there’s a boy about my age sitting with a big black dog asleep at his feet.

"Spare some change?" His clothes are dirty and he has rings in his nose and eyebrows.

Startled by this intrusion, I realize that it has been almost two hours since I left home. I’ve made a long trip via train and bus, and I haven’t spoken to anyone along the way: I’ve been living entirely in my own head.

I’ve been asked this before, when I’ve come to the city with my parents for baseball games. Still, I am unprepared. In Eden Acres, people who sit on the street corners are there for a reason, like to sell lemonade, or because they’re locked out of their houses.

"Um, sure." I open my shoulder bag and root around. I pull out a book and shift it to the other hand while I locate some quarters I know are floating around in the bottom of the bag.

"Hey." He’s pointing to the book. "Hey, are you here for the reading by that guy?" He gestures down the street in the direction of the bookstore.

"Yeah." It’s strange to be having a conversation while I am standing and he’s sitting: I tower over him. It makes me uneasy, and I shift my weight from leg to leg, and hand him the quarters. His dog stands up, suddenly. The boy looks at me like I’m under a microscope. I want to leave, to go back inside my head. But I don’t know how to extricate myself.

He asks, "The talk of the town around here. You read it yet?"


He nods, but he’s still staring at my face. I wonder if he’s read this book too, but I don’t want to prolong the encounter. I extend the hand with the quarters and instead of opening his palm to take them he closes his hand over mine, squeezing. He doesn’t let go. I kind of pat the dog’s head gingerly with my other hand, trying to break his concentration.

It works. He dismisses me: "Well, thanks man." He rattles the quarters in his hand and nods.

I turn and walk the two blocks to the store purposefully, avoiding eye contact. The street becomes residential for a small stretch, populated by red brick buildings, maybe three or four stories high, interrupted by the occasional storefront. There are tiny gardens in front of some of the buildings, and chairs set up on porches and stoops. It’s overcast, but warm, so there are people outside in front of some of the buildings. Some of them nod at me as I walk by, like they think I belong here. Like they might know me. Like we have something in common.

There’s a banner slung across the façade of the bookstore. "Edwin Canning reads from his controversial new novel, 5 PM today." Just inside the door is a table covered with copies of the book, called Billy, in both hardcover and paperback. There are lots of other books displayed up by the counter: Our Bodies Our Selves, Epistemology of the Closet, The Best Little Boy in the World. I browse through one of Canning’s older books, which are also on display. No one notices me. Canning is supposed to be kind of a curmudgeon. He rarely makes public appearances, apparently, and has only agreed to come here because one of the big urban high schools has banned the book, making national headlines, and catapulting it onto the bestseller list. I’ve read about the controversy in the paper.

There are a bunch of chairs set up in one of the back corners of the store. They’re mostly full, so I go over and sit in an empty one at the end of the fourth row. There is a plump, middle-aged woman in the chair next to me. She smiles at me and says, "Have you read it yet?"

"Yes. Have you?"

"Yes, it’s really amazing, isn’t it? I came here to buy a copy for my son – and to hear the reading." She beams at me. She looks kind of crazy, a bit unhinged.

I nod. She’s wearing a long flowing purple dress and chunky, heavy-looking wooden jewelry. Her gray hair is twisted into coils that she must intend to approximate dreadlocks. I wonder how old her son is. She doesn’t look much older than my mother. I can’t imagine my mother in a place like this.

She goes on. "You know, I don’t understand what all the controversy is about. So the kid is gay. If anything is objectionable it’s that horrible scene where he gets beat up by his friends." She’s wearing buttons. I notice one displays the PFLAG logo and the other says, "I love my gay kid." I want to laugh, suddenly, because an image appears in my head, of my mother wearing hippie clothes and a button like that. I am reminded of the time the school sent a bumper sticker to our house that said "Proud parent of a Kennedy High honor student." It sat on the kitchen table for a few days until my mother threw it in the garbage. Not wanting to offend this woman, I cough to cover up the snicker I can’t beat back down my throat.

She rummages around in a giant wicker bag, and produces a cough drop. "Here, dear."

"Oh. Thanks." Not knowing what else to do I unwrap it and pop it into my mouth. It’s stale, and kind of soft. I look around and realize that I am pretty much the youngest person here. I planned for this. I was going to say I was in college, if asked. But no one asks.

The cough drop lady starts to hum softly. I flip to the back cover of the book and read the "about the author" blurb. It is brief: "Edwin Canning has published seventeen novels. He lives in New York." There’s a grainy black and white photo of Canning posed on a sailboat. The wind is blowing his hair and he is squinting into the camera.

The place is filling up. People are lining up along the side wall because there are no chairs left. I’m glad I’ve got a place to sit. I’m glad I planned to come early enough. I look back up and scan the line of people along the wall.

Holy shit.

The only thing I didn’t plan for is this. Thick, longish black hair, pale face, long lanky body, faded red REM t-shirt. I can’t think of his name, but there is no mistaking him. I didn’t plan this part. I didn’t plan to see someone who knew me here. Or, in my worst-case scenario, I imagined seeing a teacher or one of the neighbors. I never planned to run into someone like him, here in this tiny hole-in-the-wall bookstore in this great big city. I look down at my book for a long while, trying to think what to do. My chest is vibrating like I’m inside a microwave. When I look back up, he’s gazing back at me, blue eyes calm and clear.

His face doesn’t move, but I know that he sees me. I know that he knows me. It isn’t like when you’re scanning a crowd and your eyes snag on someone for a moment because there’s something strange–or familiar–about him. No, I can see clear recognition in this look. Acknowledgement.

There are two possible outcomes that might follow from this chance meeting, two scenarios that seem to me equally likely.

One: we ignore each other. We look away, and that’s it. We go back to school tomorrow, and it’s like any other Wednesday. He’s in my biology lab, and so we make sure that we’re not anywhere near each other when the teacher partners us up for the frog dissection that’s going on for the rest of the week. If we chance to meet in the halls, we look at our watches or shuffle our books around until we’ve safely passed.

The other is…what? The other possibility is everything else. Someone talks, someone says something, something happens, something. In this scenario, the specifics of which I can’t imagine, this moment of recognition means something. It is the cause which leads to a certain chain of effects. It makes a mark. Things change. Something happens. Maybe we cut up a frog together.

Somebody has to decide something. So I do. I smile, just a little. Then he does, too. He grins, in fact, and raises his eyebrows. Just then an employee of the store comes over and stands in front of us. The crowd settles down, books and bags are stowed under chairs, the woman next to me puts on a pair of glasses. Canning is introduced, and emerges from a door marked "employees only." He stares at his feet while the clerk talks. He doesn’t look at all like the man from the book jacket photo. He doesn’t look like someone who spends time on a sailboat: though creased, his skin is pale, and he looks like he belongs inside, in the dark.

Canning announces that he will read from four sections of the book, which seems excessive. One woman in the row ahead of me gets up and leaves. Canning reads quickly, without looking up. It’s hard to sit quietly and listen to the reading with him–why can’t I think of his name?–standing against the wall behind me. I want to turn around, but I can’t. I wonder what the back of my head looks like. It starts to itch, but I resist scratching it.

During the reading, I run a mental search. The new kid. He isn’t someone I have much data on. He appeared sometime earlier in the year, just after Christmas, I think: He was just there one day, when he hadn’t been before. A new kid, a blank slate, he had no history with us. His arrival made no ripples in my life. He’s in the band, I decide after some thought. Plays the trumpet or the trombone or something, which I know because my brother’s also in the band. A bit of a loner, but not in an anti-social way. He seems like a good student. Inconspicuous. He blends in. You wouldn’t notice him. Kind of like me. The high school is huge, one of those sprawling suburban monsters that draws kids from a large catchment area. There are 700 people in our class: pretty much impenetrable to new kids, I guess. It’s funny how you can see people every day without ever really knowing anything about them with certainty.

I am startled out of my thoughts when the reading ends. Despite the fact that he’s said he will read four excerpts, Canning has stopped abruptly after two and announces that he will take questions. Several hands shoot up immediately. It is jarring to realize that this event I had anticipated for so long has ended without my noticing: it’s taken a backseat to the unsettling circumstances surrounding it.

"In the end Billy stays closeted. Don’t you have an obligation to your younger readers to model a more positive and self-accepting outcome?"

The writer is irritated. "No, I don’t think so." He doesn’t say more.

"Who do you read?"

He shifts uncomfortably in his chair. "I read magazines mostly. The Economist. U.S. News and World Report."

"But you are influenced by bell hooks and some of the leading queer theorists of the day, aren’t you?"


"Is this a coming-of-age story?"


"What do you have to say to the PTA at Hoover High?"

"Not much. Thanks for putting me on the bestseller list."

"What is the significance of the name Billy?"

"Nothing. It’s just a name. It’s a perfectly fine name."

"But why Billy in particular?"

"He just seemed like a Billy."

The clerk hovering nearby is frowning, though I’m not sure if it’s the questions or the answers that are not meeting her expectations. She moves toward Canning and announces that the event is over, and says that we can line up at the table that’s been set up near the front if we want to have our books signed.

I’m not quite sure what to do, since the house of cards that I’ve built around this day has been toppled by the unexpected appearance of a classmate. I gather my things as slowly as I can. I have to stand, though, because the crazy PFLAG lady wants to get out; I have to move into the aisle to let her through. It seems too odd, then, to sit back down.

"Goodbye, dear." She’s moving up the aisle as she talks, as if she thinks I’m right behind her, so I have no choice but to follow. She looks back at me, over her shoulder, and stops, waiting for me to catch up. She leans over, like she’s going to whisper in my ear, so close that I can smell that she has cough drop breath herself. She hands me a business card. It’s an advertisement for "Moonbeam Psychic Services: healing, tarot, palmistry, chakras."

"You have a very blue aura, dear. The most intense I’ve seen for a long time."

"Uh, thanks."

She smiles and lopes away.

As I move along the aisle toward the front of the store, I’m relieved to see that he is simultaneously moving down the aisle, to meet me halfway.

He says, "Hi."


"Are you going to get your book signed?"

He doesn’t have a copy of the book.

"Uh, no, I don’t think so."

"He’s not exactly Miss Congeniality, is he?" He rolls his pale blue eyes, and goes on, "But the book is pretty good."

"You’ve read it?"

"Yeah. I work in a bookstore. Smithbooks. In Eden Dale Mall?"

I nod. I have been in that mall many times, in that bookstore. It is nothing like this one.

"You need a ride home? I have a car."

I do. I do want a ride home. I want a ride home more than anything. "Yeah, OK. I came on the train."

"And the 55 bus?"


"That bus takes forever."

"Yeah." I guess he’s been here before.

"Ok, I just have to pick something up on my way out. A gift. For my mom." I nod again. "It’s her birthday this weekend."

"Sure," I say, and follow him through the shelves toward the new books on display up front.

"I have no idea what to buy though."

We hover over a table while he looks at titles. He stops to touch a new edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, all three volumes in a boxed set. It has raised print and images on the front; he runs his fingers over the interlocked rings.

I ask, "You a fan?"

"Yeah." He picks up the box, turning it over to look at the back. "You?"

"Yeah. That’s supposed to be a nice edition. A new introduction."

Nodding, he says, "I’ve only got ratty old paperbacks from when I was a kid."

He pulls one of the volumes out of the box and opens it. "My dad and I used to have big fights over these books, and once he threw this one in the pool in the backyard, and it got all wet and warped. But I still have it."

"What, like, you had arguments over the characters or something?"

"No." He cocked his head to one side. "No. It was more like the beginning of him hating everything about me."

In the end he decides on a book for his mother from the Oprah table. "Safe," he says.

By the time we exit the store most of the signing crowd has dissipated, but there’s a cluster of people hovering in the entryway. As we near the door, I realize it’s pouring outside. I didn’t plan for this either. The day is spinning away from me. He looks at me, grinning again. My vision is sharp despite the hazy rain and I notice he has a little gap between his top front teeth. "I would say I’m parked at least six blocks away." He seems to be daring me. About what exactly, I can’t say. I get a prickly feeling in my stomach, like someone’s poking around in my insides with something sharp.

"Let’s run for it then," I say.

We push through the crowd of people milling in the front of the store. It’s still warm, but it’s raining so hard that water has pooled along the edge of the street, ankle-deep; the storm sewers can’t swallow it fast enough. I can smell the electricity in the air. We pause under the store’s metal awning. Even though we should be protected, the rain is coming down at enough of an angle that we’re getting sprayed. I have the feeling that events are beginning to diverge wildly from my plan. I have the feeling that after today, I won’t be able to right things once I’ve let them totally derail. I have the feeling that time might split off from this doorway, from under this awning being pounded with rain, that it might spin into a future where things are different from–and maybe better than–how they were when this day started.

He asks, "Ready?"


We run.

The funny thing about the frogs is that they aren’t green, like you would expect. They’re kind of gray, nondescript. They look like the formaldehyde smells: unpleasant but you get used to it.

We have these tasks we’re supposed to perform, procedural ones. We’ve already cut open the chest, or stomach, or whatever you want to call it. We’ve made two incisions at right angles, in the shape of a cross. The resulting four flaps of skin are spread open and fastened down with heavy-duty steel pins apparently manufactured just for this purpose. With the skin pinned back, the frog’s insides are exposed. Amphibians have skin that lets in air and water and stuff–it’s permeable–and so the boundary between inside and outside isn’t so fixed as in humans. We have this sheet of paper, like a worksheet with different areas blocked off and labeled: liver, heart, kidneys, pancreas, and so on. It’s laminated. We’re supposed to locate the specified items and then plop them onto the correct squares. There are some extra credit squares to do with extricating the stomach from the small intestines. And the brain–the brain is worth the most points, which is funny because unlike some of the other parts, it’s not like you’re going to confuse it with anything. I guess you get chutzpa points for cutting through the skull.

This is a three-day operation. Day one was devoted to instructions, threats to do with not removing the frogs from the room, and the preparation of work surfaces. Day two–today–the real action begins. We can use books or whatever we want to aid us, but Mr. Larsen, the teacher, won’t help. He’s sitting up front reading a paperback. It’s open book exam, I guess, but it’s an open body exam too. We have to pull all the stuff out and when we’re done we get graded on the organs. Not on how they look as specimens but on whether they’re all there and are sorted out correctly. Looking around at evidence of the surgical abilities of my classmates, it seems to me that we should also get points just for not mangling the little guys. It is unclear what good will come of being able to identify a frog’s pancreas, but I can sort of see how some of these kids might end up as doctors, and it seems like the real skill here is a deft touch.

There’s a group of girls missing, who object to the whole thing on moral principles. They’re in the library working on essays about vegetarianism and the Third World or something. But for the rest of us, by the end of Day Three we have to have all our insides removed, lined up, and labeled. Tidy, order imposed, reason must triumph over jumbled chaotic bodies.

After we cut in, there was initial hubbub surrounding a few oddities. One frog was filled with eggs. Another was filled with tumors. A third had an extra leg growing inside. Mr. Larsen discarded these frogs and issued new ones, to the dismay of all. I think about how if only our flaws could be so easily dispensed with. It makes me start thinking about who in this room might get thrown away if you could see inside them, and why.

Jack is bent over our frog. That’s his name–Jack. His head is almost at frog level and he’s digging around delicately with a little pointer, taking an initial look-see, his nose wrinkled in concentration. He is absorbed, eyes narrowed. A single vertical crease runs from the middle of his forehead to the top of his nose. His hair falls over his face, and he pushes it back with his forearm, because his hands are covered in frog juice. It does not seem possible to look away.

He glances up and catches me watching. "What’re you looking at?" He aims the pointer at me–it drips on my arm–like it’s a microphone, or a magic wand. The crease in his forehead disappears. He continues to hold the pointer aloft, his arm extended.

I don’t know how to answer. I look down at the lab table, which also doesn’t seem right, so I look right back up. He nods his head slowly, still pointing at me.

But then, suddenly, he lets me off the hook, making a face like he’s just tasted something bad. "This," he swivels the pointer toward the frog, "is going to be more complicated than I thought." But then when he’s done speaking he flicks the pointer back toward me. With his other hand, he picks up a tiny scalpel and hands it to me. "I think we need the horizontal incision to be longer, and I think you should do the honors."

He sits back on his stool. "Is there supposed to be an appendix?" He picks up the textbook we have opened to the section on amphibians and starts flipping pages. I’m not sure if he’s talking about the book or the frog.

I am not at ease as I unpin the flaps of skin and start cutting, lengthening the incision we’ve already made. I am aware of my hands in front of me, performing the assigned task, as if they are unconnected to the rest of my body, as if I’m a doll being controlled by someone that I can’t see. But I–the me that’s more than these hands and more than this arbitrary collection of other parts–I am not at ease. It is not easy to be with Jack. But strangely, it’s not hard either. It’s something else less obvious and I think about how if you know you don’t feel one thing, and you know you also don’t feel its opposite, then what is it that you feel? What’s left? My own brain feels less familiar than it did yesterday, like some of the categories that used to be there have been moved around, or subdivided, or replaced altogether. I can sort of see why the brain is worth the most points.

Because I am working on the frog, I don’t have to look up, so I feel different, like I can say things that might not get said if eye contact were required. So I ask him, "What’s the opposite of easy?"

"The opposite of easy?"


Before he can answer a scream punctures through the din of the room, a shriek that crackles on my eardrums like breaking glass. It’s followed by the clatter of a series of stools being knocked to the floor. I jump, and sort of fall forward onto the table and the scalpel slips and rams though a bunch of goopy frog insides and then through one of the front legs, severing it from the torso entirely.

Everyone is looking around. Marie Mendelssohn, a skittish girl known for a tendency toward theatrics, is whimpering. She holds her purse out at arm’s length, swivels her head in the opposite direction, and turns the bag upside down while holding it open. Pens and gum and tampons and bits of paper scatter. Loose green Tic-Tacs bounce when they hit the floor. There’s a pause–time suspended–then a splat, as a frog hits the ground, too.

Mr. Larsen, who seems familiar with this scene, is calm: he begins the process of ejecting the culprit from the lab. I turn back to survey the damage. I have indeed severed a leg–a front leg, or what would be a left arm on a human. Jack is leaning over the frog as well. He grabs a pinkish-gray bit with a pair of tweezers. It’s ripped.

"Hey, I think you’ve broken his heart."

"That’s the heart? Sorry. And the leg is ruined, too."

"I don’t think we need the leg for anything." He’s fishing out the other little pink chunk–it looks like a tiny piece of spoiled hot dog. He lays both bits of flesh side by side on the space of the worksheet marked for the heart. "And this," he kind of squishes them together with his thumb and index finger, then stands back to regard his handiwork, as if he’s an artist putting a final touch on a painting, "this is easily fixed."


He snorts and says, "I hope this isn’t predictive."

All the air whishes out of my lungs and it feels like someone’s stomped on my stomach, but in a good way. I have been trying to arrange the severed leg so that it at least looks like it’s still attached and I pivot to face him. He’s turned away and is writing something. He sits back a bit and I can see that he’s writing our names on the sheet of paper underneath the broken heart, the sheet that, in the end, will display all our internal organs. The scene, the labeling, seems surreal somehow.

"And the opposite of easy is possible." He’s still writing. "Possibility."

I am not at ease with Jack. But he’s right because suddenly I can imagine many possible selves, selves that I wouldn’t have recognized a few days ago. The opposite of easy is possible. This seems right.

Nothing was said on that ride home two nights ago. He simply deposited me at my doorstep, wet and uncertain. The rain had stopped by then, but he didn’t say a word, just smiled as I tucked Canning’s book inside my shirt before I got out of the car. But yesterday, on our way down the hall from the regular science classroom to the lab, when Mr. Larsen announced that we should pair up, we were already next to each other.

I don’t know what to say, so I just say, "Thanks."

He offers more explanation. "The opposite of something is not always the obvious answer," he says, as if he can see inside my head, as if it’s my brain laid out under the glare and heat of the work lamp. I concentrate on arranging the detached leg and say, "There. Good as new." He peers over and seems to agree. I ask, "What’s next?"

"Well, I would say, let’s start with the easiest. Do you see anything you recognize?" He picks up the book while I peer into the frog. "The first layer is supposed to contain the heart and the liver."

"Yep, I see the liver." I spend the next few minutes detaching the organ and then plunk it on the worksheet.

He says, "It looks kind of sad, sitting there all by itself, dead and useless." It’s kind of oozing so I blot it with a wad of brown scratchy paper towels.

"Layer Two," he reads, "gall bladder, stomach, small intestine." He hands me the book and picks up a pair of tweezers. We get into a rhythm of switching off: one picks through the frog while the other consults the textbook and sort of back-seat drives.

As he’s working on the intestine, he says, "Ok, then, what’s the opposite of alone?"

We’re speaking in code. It’s a game, but an important one. I know this, and I know he knows it. I also know he will wait while I think of an answer. He pulls something out of the frog, a little nondescript gray glob, and holds it under the work light.

"And why can’t I find the gall bladder?" he asks while he waits for my answer.

"That’s not it," I say. "It’s supposed to be bigger than that." He nods, and uses the tweezers to position the random bit back in the frog, but then says, "should I even bother putting this back in?"

"Maybe the opposite of alone is multiplex."

"I guess I’ll put it back, we might need it later." He squints, bent over the frog until he seems satisfied with the repositioning and only then looks up at me.


"Yeah, you know, all these people in the dark, seeing the same movie, and a bunch of other people in the next theater, seeing a different movie, but really all looking for the same thing."

"Looking for the same thing? What are they looking for?"

"I don’t know, truth? Escape, maybe?"

"But they’re all looking, like, collectively, right?"

"That sounds dumb, doesn’t it?"

He points the tweezers at me, just like before, but this time he lowers them and taps them on the back of my hand, up and down, up and down, again and again. The tapping is not as loud as the pulse that pounds in my ears, or as fast.

"No, it doesn’t. I get it." And he does, I think.

As the end of the period nears we’ve got everything excavated except the missing gall bladder, and we haven’t attempted the extra credit brain. It’s remarkable how even with all the important organs gone, there’s still a lot of stuff in there. According to the book, it’s blood vessels and connective tissue. Connective tissue. Generic, it doesn’t distinguish itself the way, say, a heart does. It doesn’t perform a particular, isolatable function. But it seems pretty important to me, like there should be a square for it on the worksheet.

We’ve been stalled on the gall bladder for the last ten minutes. He thought he saw it but it kind of disappeared into the ooze as he tried to stab it. A frog’s gall bladder is the size of a pebble, says the textbook.

"Do you think that random gray thing you had before might have been it?" I ask.

He answers with a question. "Or is it possible that this frog is just totally lacking a gall bladder?"

"I don’t know. Is the gall bladder one of those necessary organs?"

"It seems like sometimes people get them removed. You know, gallstones?"

"So maybe this frog has already had his taken out?"

He laughs, shakes his head. "I don’t know, I give up. You want to try?" He puts down the magnifying glass and stretches his arms over his head and rolls his neck in circles as if he is stiff. I watch his Adam’s apple disappear and then reemerge as he rotates his head. It’s last period. I’m tired. This has been hard work, this dissection.

"Let’s wait till tomorrow," I say. "We’re making good progress. We’re almost done."

"OK," he agrees and begins to rummage through our supply bucket. "You want to go?"

Go where? Go: as in leave the classroom? Go: as in go somewhere together? Where I would like to go is somewhere away from all these body parts–amphibian and human–somewhere where hearts and brains and guts work like they’re supposed to, automatically and in concert, without scrutiny, unselfconscious, away from the intense beam of the work light. The opposite of easy is possible: his speech thus far has been so precise, so efficient, that I think this vagueness must be intentional. "Go where?"

"I don’t know, somewhere." He laughs. "The multiplex?"

Yes, please. "Yeah, OK."

Everyone’s kind of milling around and starting to clean up. Marie stops by on her way to the sink, apparently recovered from the purse prank.

"Hey, what’d you guys name yours?"

We both look at her kind of blankly.

"You didn’t name yours?"

"Did you?" asks Jack.

"Stella!" she squeals. "Don’t you think it’s kind of impersonal if you don’t name your frog?" She’s got a hand on a hip and her head is tilted to one side, so that her blonde hair appears uneven, longer on one side than the other.

"Impersonal? I don’t know," says Jack. "It seems pretty personal to have your insides gaping out, whether you have a name or not."

Marie’s looking at him. Her eyes are wide, with a hint of accusation.

He goes on, "Like, you have to be careful, you know, when you see what’s inside someone. You can’t just be all casual and make jokes."

Marie doesn’t say anything, she just raises the left corner of her top lip, almost imperceptibly, in disdain. "What are you talking about?"

A spring-loaded silence ratchets out between them, but Marie doesn’t leave, she just gazes at him, eyebrows raised. She fiddles with the gold class ring on her right ring finger, twisting it around in circles: A standoff. He seems to need rescuing somehow. And it seems like there is a right answer here, and a wrong answer.

"How about Billy?" I say.

He breaks their stare, meets my eyes. "Billy?"

"Yeah. It’s just a name. It’s a perfectly fine name."

Marie echoes, "Billy?"

I add: "He just seems like a Billy."

He nods, slaps the lab table with his open palm, for emphasis. "Yeah, Billy." He’s looking at Marie, but he’s talking to me.

Marie accepts this answer, at least for today, and leaves us to clean up after Billy as best we can. We have to make room for the next class. We store the organs for tomorrow, on a tray which we label with our names and slide into a thin storage drawer. We clean the tools with disinfectant and return them to their case. Last, we cover Billy with plastic wrap, Billy who’s been turned practically inside out, scooped clean, nothing left inside him but connective tissue.


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