Christopher Santantasio is a native of New York’s Hudson Valley. His fiction and reviews have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Atlas
and Alice, and elsewhere. He is a founding member of the Frontyard Writers of Philadelphia and tweets @CRSantantasio.
There’s a bit of extra weight that diet and exercise cannot banish.
Keeping us all tethered to the Earth—
the accumulation of memory
in the organs.
Without such weight, our bodies baffle gravity and shift celestial.
See, it is all in the organssss.
The doctor stretches the word out, dragging a phrase of music from the vowels before the sibilant diminuendo. He is a doctor of history, specifically of mummies, which are part of history in many places.
It isn’t easy to prove, he says, because a single memory possesses roughly the weight of a fraction of an atom of carbon. Traumatic ones may be slightly more dense, joyful ones a bit lighter. Each organ holds a piece, and the body can only hold so many. Hence, the extra weight.
I had thought the brain—just the brain—held onto memory. I decide to tell him this.
The brain? he says. No way! The ancient Egyptians figured out that the brain is mostly just goop. Cat food. Truly. They would siphon it out of the dead Pharaohs’ craniums and feed it to the cats.
That’s hard to believe, I say.
Do you hear that? he replies. That’s the brain talking. It’s hard to convince the brain of anything that undermines its sense of self-importance. The same goes for Homo sapiens.
He pulls out a grimy handkerchief and blows his nose.
For example, I bet you think you’re pretty important. A walking brain full of important thoughts and special feelings, no?
I muster a shrug.
You know, sometimes I imagine people as nothing but brains that sleep and walk and eat and shit.
I do not correct him.
That’s what I thought, the mummy doctor says. He smiles and drops his pen onto the desk.
My shoulders are so heavy. The shoulders must hold onto memories just like the organs.
I remember that the skin itself is an organ. Then I remember a joke I learned in elementary school: Your epidermis is showing.
I tell the mummy doctor my joke, but he just looks at me, not comprehending.
Then he says:
Before the procedure, I’m going to administer an anesthetic derived from a rare fungus that only grows on the underside of branches of a particular tree native only to one mountain in the Chilean Andes. It will make you susceptible to hypnosis. Then I’ll put you into a trance so that you will, on some level, be conscious of everything, but you’ll feel no pain.
I don’t get it, I say.
It will be a dissociative episode—an out of body experience. I will then cut you open, remove your organs and cleanse them of memory using a special solution derived from an ancient recipe. Are you interested in its composition?
No, I tell him.
Very well. Then I’ll put your organs back into a configuration that actually makes some geometric sense. You’ll be a new person. A much lighter one at least.
Let’s go for it, I say. I’m getting heavier by the second. If nothing is done, I’ll sink right into the ground like a railroad spike.
One more thing, the doctor says. He stands up from the desk and leads me through a door into a tiny room. The opposite wall is mostly window. He flicks a switch and the room beyond the window lights up.
The operating room.
You may hallucinate as I remove your organs. Your brain may try—in vain, I assure you—to hold onto those pesky memories.
Hold on, the brain thinks.
I have a disease.
Most of the time,
I imagine my memories are more burdensome than everybody else’s.
But I know this is false.
Compared to most people, I’m quite young. Compared to some, I’m quite successful. By that I mean: job, no debt, friends, lovers, affordable rent, straight teeth, a good ear for music, a penchant for hygiene. I know many people who would trade places with me in an instant.
For others, it would be a fate worse than death.
The truth is: my memories are no more burdensome than anyone else’s.
I have a disease.
A sickness like scoliosis, but in the brain. There’s a kink somewhere. A twist in the structure.
I know that I cannot manage to hold my memories up much longer before they all tumble down and crush me from the inside.
This procedure does not frighten me. I have had out of body experiences before. In fact, they happen quite regularly now.
Typically, I spend my first waking hours in a stupor. I do not become fully alive until I get on the train that brings me to work. As soon as my consciousness becomes aware that the day is unfolding—that new memories are being formed—it leaps out and perches upside-down on the ceiling of the train car to watch my blank-eyed body sit there and absorb nothing. It’s some defense mechanism that my rational brain won’t understand.
As soon as the train pulls into the station, my consciousness zips back in.
I long to know what would happen if my consciousness ever tried the same stunt outdoors, with nothing but immaterial gravity and atmosphere keeping it tethered to its earthbound shell.
I imagine the procedure will provide temporary relief at best.
But it’s all right because the mummy doctor takes my insurance.
The first cut is a huge slice from neck to navel. Flesh is peeled back like the skin of a banana. It is icy cold and the body lies there with organs churning and pulsing and pumping out in the open.
Blood spins through the arteries and I imagine the cells as little round rafts like in the educational videos. “The Amazing Human Body Volume One: The Circulatory System!”
Then I feel myself being undone. The memories will soon flash one final time before they are gone forever. With them will be all traces of the people I used to know. The ones who aren’t around anymore will be gone for good. As for the rest, I’ll have to get to know them all over again. Or not.
He lifts out the stomach and something—maybe a slice of pepperoni or a chunk of pineapple—slithers out from where he cut the intestines away. I’m six years old and there’s a bee tangled in my hair. It stings me when I try to pick it out. It hurts so much I vomit.
Already I seem lighter.
I don’t feel much of a difference when he scrapes out the lungs. They’re mostly air, it turns out.
He goes for the bladder next. One of them grabs the front of my Pokémon T-shirt while the other laughs, “little dweeb.” There’s a warm rush as I piss myself. I’m nine.
The hollow arch of the ribcage opens like the pointed door of a church. The mummy doctor siphons away the darkest blood that pools around the spine. Bless me father for I have sinned. This is my first confession. The priest crosses two candles at my throat as if to snip off my head. They are unlit, but warm from the heat of his palms. I’m eleven.
Then the heart has to be loosed from its cradle. Vessels and membranes are snipped and peeled away until just the knotted muscle is left. When it’s finally gone, the body nearly floats off the table. I like you, she says. Want to be my boyfriend? No, I think. Yes, I say. I’m thirteen.
The doctor was right. The organs are heavy. It seems the body is no longer moored to the earth, but free to mingle with airborne molecules.
That fat, blood-glutted sac of a liver is next, and the cavity it leaves behind gapes stupidly at the ceiling. It’s a long hallway, but I don’t know how I got here. Everything is blurry. From nowhere a voice: Damn. Is he breathing? Should we call an ambulance? He probably just drank too much, another voice says. Then everything goes black. I’m twenty.
The rest soon follows, the intestines and all their floppy appendages. Then the body is just flesh draped on bone. A woman’s voice: we got that appendix out just in time. Another twenty minutes and it would have ruptured. He might have died. Twenty-two.
He takes out the brain somehow. Maybe he vacuums it right out the nose, or splits the cranium and scoops it out like a squash’s stringy innards. It isn’t clear. Help me carry her to the car. If we get to the vet in time they can revive her. No, they can’t, I think. CPR is different for dogs. Twenty-four.
The doctor sighs with relief and heaves the bucket containing the organs over to a trough on the other side of the room. He busies himself for quite some time.
I cannot describe how I feel, seeing the open, empty body. There’s no pain, of course, just a lot of tingling.
Then he brings the organs back and starts returning them to the body.
Soon the cavities of the chest and torso are filled, but not with the old chaos of twisted vessels and messy overlaps. It is packed neatly and efficiently. Everything makes sense at last.
The organs are all back inside, but there’s so much extra space now. He leaves the brain out, of course. Even the ancient Egyptians figured out the brain is mostly just goop. Cat food. Then he folds the ribs back in and stretches the skin taut. After a few enormous stitches, he’s done.
It takes a minute to adjust to all the emptiness, but soon I am up and walking. Even the bones—which have become my own once again—feel lighter.
The doctor shakes my hand, and the receptionist leads me out the door by the elbow. It swings shut behind me before I have the chance to ask them what to do next. The sunlight outside is dim compared to the fluorescence of the operating room.
I walk about a block before I hear the doctor’s voice. He is yelling at me from a second floor window. You’re going to get hungry soon! he calls. Don’t overdo it. Your stitches need to heal!
I must still be hallucinating. There’s no way I can be up and about already. I finger the stitches above my navel, trace the twisted line up to my solar plexus.
The street is deserted at midday. I have nowhere to go. No one to see.
At least, not that I can think of.
I feel so light that I decide to run, but when I brace my legs for the first steps, I’m spring-loaded. I push off the ground like a grasshopper and float higher. Below me is a patchwork of browns and grays and blues. Way down there, white smoke belches from factories. Birds sail by, while a few million invisible strangers scuttle across the landscape. I should be panicking, but there’s nothing left for me down there.
Soon I’ve left the atmosphere for black space and the moon looms enormous above me. I feel the beginnings of its pull. The tug of fishing line knotted around my finger, reminding me of something. When my bare feet touch surface, the tiniest amount of dust is knocked loose. It dissipates in the vacuum and I breathe it in. I feel it settle on my neatly packed insides. I kick off from the moon, and suddenly my appetite is stimulated. I whirl through the emptiness again, feeling nothing but the ricochet of tiny grains of space dust on my skin.
Many of the grains float mindlessly away, but I’m aware of some passing through my pores, into my body. I’m filling up with the stuff: dark matter, crumbs left behind by a comet’s tail, miniscule meteorites.
The stitches on my chest strain and stretch, but they do not burst.
I do not burst, nor do I plummet back to Earth,
Space dust must be lighter than even the stuff of memory. How much can I absorb before I sink back to the surface?
I remain intact—still anchored by gravity—as I stare down at the Earth from my orbit.
A lone satellite.
The first of many.