Discover more from The Sprawl: Speculative Fiction
One kidney was necessary. Two kidneys seemed excessive. I figured love was worth the inconvenience.
I lay face-down on the operating table. Dr. Hsieh crouched and stared up at me through his protective polycarbonate eye gear. A breathing apparatus covered his mouth like a tentacle. The room was light gray, the floor a damp tile, the walls almost pulsing with dim light.
“Are you sure about this?” he asked, words coming out muffled. His tube hissed and sighed.
“I’m sure,” I said. My naked back was exposed to the room. I felt sunburnt and lightheaded from the drugs they’d given me.
He nodded and stood. I watched as his shoes moved away and were replaced by a new pair. “Take deep breaths now, dear,” a female voice said.
A wrinkled hand pressed a plastic nozzle against my face. I sucked in air and tasted antifreeze.
These people, they came highly recommended—their reviews online were impeccable, their waiting room looked modern-contemporary, their receptionist gave off a comforting mix of polite condescension, and I thought, what was the worst that could happen? Two kidneys was one too many.
I sucked in another breath and the world slowed, spiraled, went away.
Cordie leaned across the uncomfortable hospital bed and put his hand on my knee. I blinked a few times, getting used to the smell of antiseptic. He’d been there when I’d woken, and I wondered how long he’d waited.
I dreamed of fields of organs, growing on trees that climbed into the air like monoliths.
“How do you feel?” Cordie asked.
“Okay. Fine, I think.” My back ached and I wanted to puke my guts out, but I couldn’t tell him that—not him, not my blue-eyed boy.
He forced a smile. “You didn’t have to do this, you know.”
“I know that. But I wanted to.”
“Yeah. Well.” He pulled his hand back and his smile disappeared. “How much will you get for it?”
I moved onto my side and felt the thick stitches along my flank. The market value of a kidney was around thirty grand, but nobody got market value unless they had serious connections.
“Fifteen, after expenses,” I said.
Cordie nodded as if to say, that’s not enough and you know it.
But it would be. I could almost feel the gleaming steel beneath my fingers, the metal smooth and cold, something solid in a world dominated by a flexible, pock-marked plastic. I wanted to taste the hum of its motor, feel the cold rolling from its insides—it was all I’d thought about for months, for years, and now finally, I could make it mine.
I leaned back in my pillow, grimacing through a smile that Cordie didn’t return.
The room was a riot of junk stacked floor to ceiling. I basked in the sheer weight of it all, glowed in those forgotten things, the sort of physicality most people had given up on. Cordie seemed desperately bored as he tapped at his tablet.
I followed the dealer along paths carved into the piles and stared at his long black ponytail bobbing against his back. He stopped in front of a teal monster, chrome handle gashed across its front, a logo emblazoned in black: HOTPOINT. He smacked a palm against its side.
“This is from 1948, comes with all the original parts, minus a few of the finnicky internals. Drawers are original, ice trays are original, minimum scuffing and rusting.” He pulled the door open and stepped aside. “Go ahead, take a look.”
I ran my fingers down the wire racks and thought I might cry. My side pulsed a deep rotten beat, and I leaned on a cane for support, but this was it, the perfect refrigerator. I stuck my face inside and breathed deep, smelling chemical wash and the tang of metal.
“Seems like you’ve made up your mind,” Cordie said.
I looked at him and blinked back tears. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”
“Will it work?” Cordie crossed his arms and gave the dealer a look.
The dealer beamed. “Absolutely. Redid the plug so it’ll run off the new grid, otherwise it’s good to go.”
I shut the door and let my fingers slide down the smooth exterior. It was a dream, the culmination of years, of organs, and now—it would be mine.
“I’ll take it.”
“Thirteen thousand. You make delivery arrangements.”
I nodded and Cordie let out a sharp breath from his nose. I looked back at him as he sighed and touched his fingertips to his temples, and I knew that meant he’d given in.
I pressed my cheek against the door and felt a deep groan emanate from somewhere inside the beast.
Two men carried her up the steps and dropped her into position. I cringed away, every jolt and movement sending electric arcs down my spine. Cordie lounged nearby, his face buried in his tablet, a glass of red wine dangling from his fingers.
“Let them do their job,” he said. “Stop hovering.”
I lingered, unable to help myself, and when the movers were done I shoved cash into their hands. Cordie stood as I plugged my girl into the wall and we listened breathless when the motor turned over, and it began to hum.
“It works,” I whispered.
“Better work. That guy ripped you off.” Cordie tossed his tablet onto the counter and studied me with that discomforting stare. The lights dimmed based on our moods and the side screen played media updates, but none of that mattered, none of it registered—there was only my Hotpoint, her electrical beauty, her steel austerity, and I wanted to crawl inside its guts and let it preserve me forever.
“Do you know how many of these still exist?” I asked.
“No, but I’m guessing you do.”
“Fifty, at most. Fifty, Cordie, and I have one of them.”
“Great.” Cordie walked to our wine rack and took out a bottle of white. “Shall we chill this then? I got it special for your new obsession. Call it a refrigerator warming present.”
I took the bottle, gingerly opened the door, and placed it down on the rack. It looked like heaven.
“Amazing.” I shut the door and stepped back.
“How long will you be out there?” Cordie asked, turning to the living room and flopping back down on the couch.
“A little while longer.” I leaned against the counter and stared. “Just a little bit longer.”
The refrigerator stared back, droning its deep, throaty drawl, and I rubbed my back where the stitches pulled against my shirt, and wondered if maybe one day I’d afford a pig-grown kidney to replace the one I sold, but that would cost another three-months wage, and even then, there was no guarantee I wouldn’t reject the thing—and it didn’t matter. Even jaundiced and half-dead, I’d prostrate myself at the feet of this behemoth, and pray it always ran.
“You’re a sick man.” Cordie peered at me from behind his tablet. “Come spend time with me when you’re finished with your new toy.”
It wasn’t that simple, but I didn’t expect him to ever truly understand.
At night, for weeks, I heard it out there, belching and popping, metal expanding and contracting, plastic giving off slow fumes, its filament bulb gone cold, its freezer section covered with ice crystals, its steel frame glowing—and I wanted to crawl beneath it like some broken creature. Cordie rolled over onto his side and snorted. I could barely sleep.
“You haven’t talked about it in a few days.” Cordie peered at me over his sunglasses as we lounged lakeside and watched kids splash in the shallows.
“Talked about what?”
“You’re losing interest.” He sounded oddly hopeful.
I laughed and ignored him. On my tablet, images of ancient grand pianos stretched along in a grid pattern. I tapped them, pinched and zoomed, and stared at their wood grain, their ivory keys bright and clean, their blacks so deep my screen had trouble reproducing their beauty—and I knew I had to have one, or maybe two, stacked like kindling.
“How much do livers go for?” I asked off hand, and Cordie didn’t answer. He stood and walked to the water’s edge, his toes in the surf, not looking back. “I’d only need to sell a piece. Nobody needs an entire liver, right? They grow back, sooner or later.”
I kicked my feet against the sandy rock and held the tablet closer to my face, and thought of Dr. Hsieh’s shoes, of that soothing waiting room, of Cordie’s never-ending patience, and of the weeks it took me to recover—the scar still raised and patterned on my skin—and I knew they’d take care of me, slice it out with precision, and the black piano skin could wrap itself around my dining room, packed into a corner, perfect and there.
Object obsession: it’s something I’ve always been fascinated with. Why some people collect, or some people take it to an extreme—hoarding, unhealthy fascinations. Andy Warhol was a famous hoarder, and there’s this idea that hoarding manifests from an inability to divorce memory and associations from physical objections. Imagine that, living in a world where things are so important that the idea of removing one would feel like destroying all the memories, ideas, belief, thoughts, and feelings associated with it. A receipt, a toothbrush, anything could hold thousands of memories. In a world like that, bodies are important, and it would be almost overwhelming to be surrounded with all that memory, instead of keeping it locked up and stored away.
Refrigerators themselves are strange. They’re completely essential to modern life and yet so often they’re hidden away, in garages, in basements, covered in panels and made to blend in, made to disappear. But then the refrigerator is arguably the center of any home, more central than a television, than a bed. Life couldn’t exist the way it does now without refrigeration, although of course life existed without it for such a long time.
Combining these two things, refrigeration, object-obsession, has always made a sort of sense. Nostalgia for an imagined better world is always a part of wanting vintage objects—old, ancient refrigerators are somehow better for their aesthetics and their longevity, but they’re absurdly inefficient and horrible for the environment. They can go for thousands of dollars: true, restored vintage refrigerators are a cottage industry, and business seems as though it’s booming.
Collecting is a kind of love, one that places emphasis on the physicality of the world around us, especially now when so much of what we do ignores the physical entirely. Objects are single-use, they’re disposable, recyclable, not meant to last: new iterations, new updates. Collecting is a kind of way to push back against the drive to always replace the old with the new, always growing, always expanding. It’s a way of imbuing objects with meaning again. I like the idea that in fifty years, in a hundred years, there are going to be iPhone collectors stacking boxes and boxes of ancient phones, so outdated and absurd as to be completely useless, but important in their uselessness.