The surgeon has hands like a polished sword. That’s what her husband says, like a polished sword.
He buys her roses for their anniversary; he opens a bottle of cheap red wine.
Cheers, he says.
The surgeon is on call that night, holds her goblet to her mouth, pretends to sip. The wine is sweet against the cup of her lip, sweet like a first kiss, she thinks.
Across the table, her husband smiles. The surgeon smiles back.
The day before, the surgeon removed a mass from a patient’s belly. It was 26 pounds, 7 ounces.
Hospital record, the anesthesiologist thought. There were people who kept track of things like that.
The surgeon had been on her feet for seven hours; the surgeon bent her knees and straightened them, bent her knees and straightened them.
She thought: I am getting old.
The surgeon is an expert at removing things from people’s bodies. She says to them: Hello, I’m going to be taking care of you.
You sound like a waitress, says the anesthesiologist once the patients are under.
The surgeon has removed kidneys, appendixes, portions of lungs. The surgeon is always looking at people and seeing missing organs. Her therapist says this is natural; her therapist says there’s no need for concern.
When the surgeon looks at her therapist, she sees an emptiness where her gall bladder would be.
When the surgeon visits her therapist, she speaks of cuttings, hollowings, speaks of sharpness and cold, speaks of the weight of a scalpel in her hand.
She says: My husband says I have hands like a polished sword.
The surgeon has removed bullets, shattered bits of bone, long pieces of metal.
The surgeon’s hands are precise. When she wakes in the morning, she holds them out in front of her face, curls and uncurls her fingers. She has done this since she was a child.
These are my hands, she thinks. These are my hands.
More wine? says the surgeon’s husband. He hasn’t noticed she hasn’t been drinking. The surgeon tips her goblet in his direction, lets him pour from the bottle.
If he had gotten a nicer wine, she thinks, she might have had a drink.
The 26-pound tumor went in medical waste, with the rest of the things the surgeon has removed.
The surgeon likes the word medical. She doesn’t like waste.
The anesthesiologist snapped a picture of the tumor with his phone before it was taken away.
Hospital record, he said, I swear.
The surgeon’s husband has been having an affair. While she is in long surgeries, while she is on call, an affair. He doesn’t think she knows. The woman looks at the surgeon sometimes, in a guilty way, the woman, a coworker of her husband’s, wears navy blue pumps and pantyhose that always seem to snag. The woman, the coworker, is always at the front desk when the surgeon stops by her husband’s office.
I’m here to see my husband, she says. She smiles in a bland way, like she doesn’t know, like she can’t tell this woman has been in her house, in her bed. The woman smiles back. She is missing, when the surgeon looks at her, a portion of her small intestine.
The surgeon’s husband comes up to the front desk, pecks her on the lips dryly, says shall we?, with his coat draped over his arm.
The surgeon nods, wishes she had seen when they first met, before she fell in love, the hollow where his heart would be.
The woman with the 26-pound tumor was a small woman, the size of a child, the surgeon thought.
How could she not notice? the anesthesiologist wondered. She must have noticed.
Some things, said the surgeon, staring at his missing lungs, just feel like they are a part of you.
The surgeon’s husband tips his goblet toward hers, clatter of glass-touch, tip of curved-lip smile.
Cheers, he says again.
I know, says the surgeon.
Her husband says: What?
The surgeon tips the goblet up to her mouth, lets the cheap red wine touch the tip of her tongue.
It’s sweet, she says.
The woman with the 26-pound tumor woke crying in the recovery room. The nurses said she wouldn’t stop, called for the surgeon. She sat down on the edge of the patient’s bed, took hold of both her hands.
I feel so empty now, said the woman.
The surgeon ran her thumbs along the curve of the woman’s knuckles, thought of polished swords.
I know, she said. I know.
© Cathy Ulrich
[This piece was selected by Rachel Wild. Read Cathy’s interview]