Authors: Raoul Wientzen
Copyright © 2013 by Raoul Wientzen
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The song “Dark Eyed Molly” is reprinted here by the kind permission of Archie Fisher MBE.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Wientzen, Raoul L.
The assembler of parts/Raoul Wientzen. pages cm
ISBN 978-1-61145-891-6 (alk. paper)
1. Families—Fiction. 2. Abnormalities, Human—Fiction.
3. Washington (D.C.)—Fiction. 4. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
Ps3623. l3845A37 2013 813’.6—dc23
Printed in the United States of America
For Judy, luminous and beautiful as a constellation. You light my life.
THEN* AS NOW*
forgive him. I forgive Dr. O’Brien, now*, forgive his thought as he laid eyes on me. After all, he was the very first to see me, varnished with glossy vernix and tarnished with rusty blood, worming my way out into the lance of his light, and I’m afraid I took him by surprise. I see his big hands on my head, cradling it gently like a priceless gem or a barely hot baked potato. He eased it down toward the floor a little, as if he wanted me to see something important, his blue paper shoe covers or the marbled pattern on the hospital linoleum or the drops of episiotomy blood that had collected in two intersecting pools like the symbol for infinity.
But I was allowed only the briefest look, because the perfect pair of shoulders I had been awarded by the Assembler scraped clear of my mother’s springy pubis just then. They popped free, announcing their beautiful symmetry, just as Dr. O’Brien was giving me a look at the ceiling. Nothing much there to see, really, so unlike the stucco ceiling that would be in my bedroom, above my crib rails, with stars that glowed at night and animals that sprang from the ridges and savannahs of plaster during the day. The rest of me—what there was of it—was quick to come then. He lifted me out—chest and belly, arms and legs—gently as a flyfisherman easing a speckled trout from the stream.
His first thought: “My God! She’ll never hitch a ride home.”
I forgive him.
I was born without thumbs, the four blue fingers of my right hand even in the cold of the delivery room trying to hang on to the folds in the sleeve of his green OR gown as he suctioned my mouth of the gobs of my mother’s secretions.
I forgive him, too, the slight, boneless wavering I then felt in his one-armed cradling embrace. It was just for a second as he jiggled the red rubber tip of the bulb syringe in my mouth, trolling for the bite of my breath, but I felt his arm go slack as if he’d rather not be holding me at all. I was not a sparkling trout, but an alien spider crab or scary scorpion fish, instead. The fingers of my hand tugged a tiny pleat in his sleeve just then, and even before I spit out my first mewling cry, his arm tightened. I grew used to that—how I could pull people back to me with tiny claw hands after they’d first turned away, wanting to let go.
I forgive him for that slight sag in his arm, his soul.
I knew I had cried by the look Mother gave Father—the quick turn of the head from her hard concentration on her supernova’ed perineum to smile at him. It is a good thing to have here* in heaven, the first memory of your mother smiling through the pain.
I knew I’d cried by that look of relief on her face—“My baby’s breathing! My baby’s breathing!”—but I could not hear in all its lionesque claim on life my roar made of baby’s breath, the fierce bouquet of cries I presented the world. One needs ears to hear, ears that are more than the pretty pink spirals the Assembler had so nicely stuck to the sides of my head. One needs passageways and pearly membranes, ossicles that clang with sound in the cleft of the skull and set up tides of noise in the canals of the brain. These parts I was not given.
My newborn cry was for others to hear, not for me.
Still, I looked cute in the pink blanket and cotton cap the nurses fitted me with against the chill of the delivery room. The cap came down to the tops of my ears, each perfect as a coiled nautilus but without its sweet-salty susurrus. But, now*, watching my birth, I know the day will come at twelve weeks when my quiet conches fill with the sea’s loud tumble, speech. The surgeons would see to that, slicing through my silence and fitting me with aids. Then, words would sink through gelled fathoms to reach me. “J-l-e-a-s-s-h-h!” I would hear my mother say that day of surgery. “S-h-w-e-e-t-a-r-h-h.”
I would have seven years of double listening with my eyes and with my ears to the lips of the world. My glossy black eyes read the purse and pucker, my electric ears heard the pulse of lips, and words were born in my missing parts. I took them in, tasted them, and they were sweet enough to kiss. But they nourished my voice poorly. My thin newborn cry would never fatten normally on the dumpling coos, the buttery “ahs,” the syrupy “sweetheart Jesses” that the lips of my world served. I could see the words leaping from mouths, could hear them thrashing like hooked fish in the dumbing weight of the sea, could taste them all with my lips. But I never could fully digest the alpha, the beta, of the soup of sound. I would grow fat on a slaw of slurred words and sunken sounds. It would be a peculiar kind of plumpness I would grow, turns of fat around my neck, lumps above my knees, clots between my tiny toes. The doctors told us it was part of my syndrome. I knew better. It was love. And my voice shared in this comic dysmorphism, words emerging from my throat with bloated middles or overstuffed suffixes or mountainous prefixes—like pastries made by psychotics. At seven, I told Cassidy, “Chewww’l ah-bya okay.” It made him stop crying and put down his glass and kiss me. It really did. And he really would be okay.
All the perfect sounds came to me at seven, when I died. The Assembler saw to that. They came like a swarm of honeybees and filled my ears full of honey buzz, all the words, all the songs, all the laughter and sighs, speaking perfectly at once. It was good because the perfect words also brought me my new svelte voice. Which I bring to you now*. More work of that artful Assembler who replays my life for me now* so I see it all as a piece, so I hear it all with His air ears.
I would like to say I first met Him, the Assembler, yesterday*. At least it seems like yesterday* when His brightness woke me. I was somewhere alone in a dark and tiny place, then here*, bathed in His buzzing bright whiteness that got in my ears like the sand at the beach. But instead of that gritty itch I’d felt before, now* there was a sweet, resonant, humming tickle of sound. He stood before me and smiled at my amazement. “Watch,” He said, and the whole black vault above filled with the images of my birth. “Film, the First,” He said grandly, “in the review of your life.”
As I watch, I am here* and there*, I am then* and now*, at once observer and performer, naive child and evolving cosmic consciousness, one and the same. It makes me dizzy, watching. It makes me long for the simpler stories off the flat pages of brightly colored books I so loved in life. But I review my life with my new ears, my eternal eyes, my perfect voice, as if I am living it both then* and now*.
I am bold enough to ask, “Assembler, what is it I search for in my life? Why do You show me my birth and the doctor’s faltering? Is it so I can forgive him, as I do forgive him?”
“What was hidden from the wise,” He tells me, “has now been revealed to the blind!”
Blind? Dare I tell Him? No, not now*, not yet*.
“It’s a girl!” Dr. O’Brien said to my parents after examining my genitalia in the light of a lamp like an exploding star. I felt as if I had eclipsed my mother, my bright sun of a mother, put between her and that blinding lamp. “Call the pediatricians,” he whispered to the circulating nurse as he double-clamped my wormy cord and snipped me free to squirm in a heated blanket.
My mother had my papoosed body in her arms. Her face was flushed from the final push of placenta. But the faint pink blush around her mouth was pressed away by her wide smile, a smile that never faded, not even when Dr. O’Brien said, from the crux of her limbs, “Kate. Kate. I have to tell you. The baby . . . she has no thumbs.” He stood there so tall, so still, lost in the whiteness from the light.
“Jessica. Jessica Mary,” is all she said to that, to me, and her smile warmed me softly. I felt the hand of my father on my knee. His finger made tentative half circles on my blanket. I would have regarded his face then if I could have, but the transfixing stare of a smiling mother is something all-entrancing. We regarded each other—I, her sweaty pinkness, her Chiclet teeth, her crinkled eyes; she, my coal-black globes and womb-squashed nose—even as the nurse took me away to be studied.
Well, examined, really. Under the bronze glow of a radiant warmer in the newborn nursery. The nurse with her cold hands set me free of my cotton confinement, free to wiggle my ten toes and eight fingers in the exploration of face and flank and fanny, the latter graced with the briefest of my tender touch when she flexed my legs from the matting to introduce me to the rectal probe of her plastic-sheathed thermometer. To this day* I fear that kind woman mistook my thorny shriek for a cry of pain, when in fact it was pitched jubilation; the joy in the little things, holes and tubes and skin! “Rejoice,” my cry announced, “there is a way in and there is a way out!” But she heard my quick exclamation and placed her free hand on my head for comfort. I felt the heat go out of me into that cold palm. I reached with my hand and hooked her thumb with my forefinger. The timer beeped, my temperature done, but the nurse stayed in my grasp until her hand glowed pink with my warmth. Then I let her go.
The doctors came. They were the first of what would become a white-coated invasion of my life, seven years of Viking raids on my body and my blood, parts of me carried off to other lands, made to work in the labs of the world in the service of science. I didn’t really mind. There was so much of me to share, to spare. I let them all have their way with me.
The first was Dr. Burke. He was younger then. His face hadn’t yet grown the furrows where seeds of concern would sprout, seeds planted by me and a host of other patients. He stood over me as I bathed in the warm glow of the heater with one hand behind my head. What he said tasted like a sweet, cold drink. “Well, look at you, young lady, catching the rays during spring break!” “Young lady”— I liked that so much that, when it came time, I helped him hold his stethoscope against my heart. It was near midnight when he arrived. Bedtime Listerine was still fresh on his breath.