It was the woman’s fingernail polish that ruined everything: pink, like cotton candy.
I’d grown accustom to a wide range of body modifications over the years. Metal rods that punctured the most tender anatomy. Surgical implants—not always in the places one might expect—distended like engorged ticks, bulging grotesquely beneath overstretched skin. Gallons of ink forced one minute droplet at a time by repeated micro-trauma into subcutaneous tissues. None gave me much pause, but that uneven, inexpertly applied nail polish…
To me, the bodies—in original condition or complete with upgrades—were nothing but empty baggage, and each body mod was just a stamp documenting the bearer’s journey through life. It didn’t matter who they were, or where they’d been; I’d carve a Y in them just the same—one last stamp to commemorate their arrival at life’s final destination.
Once, my mother asked if I ever found my job disturbing. I told her it wasn’t all that different than the summers I’d spent butchering cows with Uncle Phil. She never asked about work again.
As I stared at the woman’s fingertips, I found myself wondering, had the woman applied the lacquer herself? Or had someone else—with tiny painted fingers of her own, perhaps—assisted? Did she always have painted nails? Or had she been preparing to attend a special event? Some happy occasion? Would they still be painted at the funeral? How about in a million years, when alien archeologists unearthed her remains?
I laid down my scalpel, told Dr. Morgan I felt unwell, and drove home.
The next day I called in sick. And the next. On the third day, I called and told him I wouldn’t be coming back. Then I called Uncle Phil.
Cows never had painted hooves.
Rebecca Allred is a senior pathology resident at the University of Utah. When she’s not rendering diagnoses, she spends her time writing. Her fiction has appeared online and in print, and she hosts a weekly flash fiction contest on her blog, The Angry Hourglass.