It was one of those nights—a hot night, a dirty night, the sort of night when you woke up with your face stuck to the pillow. The air conditioning was malfunctioning again, the apartment nowhere near the 64° Fahrenheit recommended as the optimum temperature for sleep. As if to testify to this fact Clairvoyance was awake. Turning on her side, she spooned up to Pilates. His bare skin was slick. Slotting herself around him, she reached down and pushed the button at the base of her penis. With a faint click the arterial gate opened and the organ began to tumesce. The penis graft had been a birthday present to Pilates in the autumn of ’36. Clairvoyance would never forget the look on his face, how his eyes had narrowed with delight, as she’d stepped jauntily out of her knickers that first time. She pressed herself gently against her husband’s lower back. He loved that. Correction, he usually loved that. On this occasion, as on too many occasions recently, he muttered and rolled onto his front.
He was practically hanging off his side of the bed now.
‘I’m trying to freaking sleep.’
‘Fine,’ she snapped back. ‘You go to sleep.’
Retreating to her side of the bed, Clairvoyance let her hand stray beneath the covers. The penis was a little small, and aesthetically it didn’t really suit her body—her hips were wider than her husband’s and these days, alas, her thighs heavier too. A cock with more girth would have been better, maybe an extra inch on the end. Although tempted to ask their plastic surgeon to enhance the organ, she’d denied herself—it wouldn’t do to have a penis bigger than your husband’s after all.
Toying with it, like she’d seen him do so many times, she remembered the excitement of the early twenties. Pilates and Clairvoyance. They had been one of the first couples to see the potential of transplant surgery—in particular, the new generation of immunosuppressive drugs, which meant that any tissue or organ could be grafted onto or sewn into the human body. Unlike some of the other publicity-seeking charlatans, they had transformed themselves for love. Clairvoyance and Pilates. From the initial swapping of minor body parts, a toe here, an ear lobe there, to his sacrifice of a testicle (grafted next to her labia) and her gift of an ovary and fallopian tube (implanted into the body cavity beneath his stomach), every operation they had undergone had been an expression of their togetherness. Several years later her remaining ovary had contracted a rare, incurable cancer and had been removed, but even that hadn’t phased them. More than enough for each other, they’d never wanted children.
Then came their pièce de résistance, the most beautiful demonstration of love between two individuals ever attempted—a simultaneous kidney transplant. The symmetry was breathtaking. Two transplant teams, made up of four surgeons and eight theatre staff, carrying out the operation in identical operating theatres. Side by side, they’d held hands in the anaesthetic room, only letting go when the gas had begun to take hold. Pilates’ kidney had proved more difficult to remove. As the surgeon had been about to lift the organ out there’d been a complication, a problem with the renal artery. Her kidney had remained outside their bodies for over an hour. The thought of that reddy-brown bean, throbbing and eager to germinate inside her lover’s body, all alone in a polystyrene box full of ice, made Clairvoyance shudder. They had been the first couple in the world to exchange internal organs, their place in history assured by the time the final suture went in.
History was all very well but it wasn’t much help for Clairvoyance’s horny mood or her insomnia. She pushed the button to deflate her penis. As she got out of bed Pilates gave an angry grunt. She’d never known him so bad-tempered. Perhaps he was having trouble at work. She mooched into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of milk. Her husband’s briefcase was next to the fruit bowl on the table. Pushing aside a flutter of conscience, she pressed open the catches. Inside were work reports, his electronic organiser, pens, a calculator and a clear plastic folder containing newspaper clippings.
Clairvoyance slid the folder out of the briefcase. Underneath was a large colour photograph of Pilates and his team from the office. Pilates was in the centre, holding up a certificate, his secretary Jasmine on his left, the company president on his right. Everyone was grinning as if their lives depended on it. The photograph must have been taken last year, on the day Pilates had won an industry award. The team had celebrated with dinner and drinks in the evening. All the husbands and wives had gone except Clairvoyance who’d had a bad stomach. Pilates had rolled in drunk at five in the morning, shirt unbuttoned to his second navel, clutching the certificate. The mental picture made Clairvoyance smile—sometimes he acted like a big kid. Since the award he had, if anything, worked even harder. No wonder he was stressed out. They really should take a holiday, head up to the summerhouse for a week or something.
Next she turned her attention to the plastic folder. The cuttings were from twenty years ago, a time when casual organ transplantation was still a controversial subject. Clairvoyance pulled out the reports and read avidly. She’d forgotten so much. All that bigotry and hatred. The media coverage had been vitriolic, the right-wing press and church groups howling in outrage and condemning them as ‘sick body-fusing freaks’. The commentators had advised their viewers and readers that ‘this warped twosome’ should be imprisoned without trial for daring to speak a love with no name. Even Clairvoyance had to admit that in the early days the majority were of a similar opinion, but soon hundreds, then thousands flocked to their cause. Many sent messages of support, praising the couple for their bravery. Websites and support groups flourished. Throughout, Pilates and Clairvoyance were comforted in the knowledge that all human beings courageous enough to push back boundaries had been doubted, mocked and persecuted. Ignorance was by far the most dangerous of the human conditions. Hugging the cuttings to her chest, Clairvoyance felt like a young girl again, in the first flush of love, believing—no, better than that—knowing, what was right and true.
The newspaper reports towards the back covered the euphoria of the thirties, the decade when accelerating developments in medicine began to offer infinite routes to a corporeal nirvana. Organs and body parts could now be grown in vitro, in Petri dishes, flasks and specially adapted organo-chambers, then, in a stunning advance, in vivo on the body of the recipient. Preprogrammed progenitor cells could be transplanted into tissue then activated. It was as easy as planting beans or peas. This was the method by which Clairvoyance’s penis had been graft-grown, using cells from her husband. Recently things had come around full circle. Retro organ transplanting with original body parts was in vogue once more.
With a yawn Clairvoyance returned the folder and photo to the briefcase, wondering why on earth Pilates was digging up the past. As she snapped the catches into place, the calendar hanging up beside the fridge caught her eye. They were halfway through July. That meant next month was August and their wedding anniversary, their 25th wedding anniversary. Suddenly Clairvoyance had an inkling why Pilates had the newspaper cuttings. He was taking stock of course, but his reason for taking stock, if it was what she suspected, was so fantastic, so wonderful… Fear and joy surged through her body, and she knew, despite her tiredness, there would be no more sleep that night.
Clairvoyance spent the rest of the week preparing for their annual barbecue. All their friends, relations and Pilates’ work colleagues would be coming. She liked to think that the evening was one of the highlights of the town’s social calendar. It was certainly one of hers. This year, however, Pilates had not been keen.
‘Not again,’ he’d groaned. ‘All those ghastly people.’
‘They’re our friends!’
She’d talked him round, she knew come the day he’d enjoy it, he always did. On Friday afternoon the caterers arrived to set up, laying out tables in the garden. On top of the white linen tablecloths they arranged a huge punch bowl, plates, cutlery tucked in pink napkins and neat rows of glasses, ready for the food and drink. There was a brief panic over a blocked nozzle on the barbecue, which was an old machine with an industrial-sized grill and roasting spit, but thankfully once the gas canister had been changed, it sparked up first time. As usual the first guests didn’t arrive until 7.30, half an hour late, but the trickle of people in the hallway soon became a throng.
Clairvoyance greeted them all, kissing cheeks and smiling, resplendent in a black cocktail dress, made of a shimmering material that was transparent in all the right places. Viewed in profile the subtle protuberance of her penis could be seen. Once everybody had accepted a drink and a plate of nibbles, Clairvoyance was able to relax. She soon found herself by the pool, sitting on the edge of a sun lounger, next to Pilates’ secretary Jasmine. The conversation turned to transplantation, a subject the younger woman appeared fascinated by.
‘I mean what does it feel like?’ she gushed. ‘It must be amazing.’
‘Well, I suppose it is pretty amazing,’ replied Clairvoyance, flattered by the attention. ‘It feels like nothing else in the world. There’s no greater expression of love or trust in another human being. The feeling is almost sublime.’
‘I think I’d be too scared.’
‘The first time is the worst, but once you’ve got over that… You support each other through it. In a funny way, the fear actually brings you closer together.’
‘I mean, these days people are very blasé. You have these dreadful multiple transplanters who go from one person to the next. They have any number of body parts stuck to them. I hate that! It’s cheap, completely devoid of meaning.’
‘It’s just incredible, to actually change your appearance, to give some of yourself to somebody else, I mean, wow.’ Jasmine tilted back her head and drained her glass of Chardonnay. Her bra strap had come clear of the straps of her dress. Annoyed, she flicked at her shoulder.
‘The only thing I can compare it to is getting pregnant.’
‘I don’t really see…’ began Clairvoyance.
‘The way your body is totally transformed. I never would have guessed how different that could feel, something inside you that’s not your own, I mean.’
Pilates loomed over them, stiffly holding out a glass of cola.
‘I wanted wine.’ Jasmine brushed away the drink.
‘I think you’ve had enough,’ he answered severely.
‘Oh, for goodness sake, let the poor girl have a drink if she wants one. You’re not at work now.’
Pilates glared at Clairvoyance. ‘Fine.’ He stomped off and returned with a glass of white wine. ‘Here you are. You two enjoy yourselves.’
‘Ignore him,’ Clairvoyance said. ‘He’s been a real grump recently. Cheers.’
They clinked their glasses together.
‘Bottoms up,’ Jasmine giggled.
‘Say, I love your nails. What shade is that? It goes perfectly with your dress.’
Next morning, while clearing up the bits and pieces the catering company had missed, Clairvoyance mentioned their conversation.
‘I didn’t know Jasmine had been pregnant.’
Pilates was at the sink, scraping charred meat from the barbecue grill. ‘What makes you say that?’
‘Something she said last night. I didn’t follow it up.’
Pilates resumed scrubbing. ‘I think she had a miscarriage a few years ago when she was going out with that basketball guy.’
‘Yeah, I think so, she doesn’t really talk about it.’
‘Why did they split up?’
‘I don’t know. As I said, she doesn’t talk about it.’
Clairvoyance crossed the kitchen and threw her arms around her husband. Her sleeves caught the top of the soap bubbles, which were flecked with black shards, but she didn’t care. She was happy—last night had been a real success, everyone had enjoyed themselves.
‘You know how lucky we are?’ she said, resting the point of her chin in the small of Pilates’ back.
‘Hiring a catering company that didn’t clean up properly?’
‘Having each other.’
Pilates squirmed from his wife’s grasp. He turned round and leant back, his hands gripping the edge of the sink behind him. His face contorted, the colour veering towards puce, his lips moving as if about to speak. No sound came.
‘What is it?’ Clairvoyance clutched at his wrist, pulling his hands away from the sink. ‘Come and sit down.’
‘I’m sorry Clair, I’m sorry.’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Just a funny turn that’s all,’ he gasped. ‘Too much to drink last night.’
‘What’s brought this on?’
He slumped back on the sofa, his face now a bilious apple white.
‘We’re not getting any younger…’
‘It all seems to be slipping between my fingers. Sometimes it feels like we’ve changed everything and nothing.’
‘What exactly do you want to change?’ Clairvoyance asked coyly.
‘Oh, I don’t know.’ He shook his head. ‘Don’t you feel the same?’
She smiled radiantly. ‘I’ve never been happier. I honestly mean that. I feel that we’re building up to something, to something wonderful.’
‘I know you’re stressed but try not to worry. Whatever will be will be.’
She left him on the sofa and finished the clearing up herself. When she came to the sink the soap bubbles had long burst. Still smiling to herself, she plunged her hands into the cold greasy water, searching for the plug.
The following Wednesday, Clairvoyance played her usual round of golf in the morning then met up with friends in the clubhouse for lunch. After a few cocktails the conversation, as always, was steered onto sex, or lack of it. The only one who didn’t complain about her husband’s loss of libido was Ecstasy Conroy, who was happily divorced and shacked up with a 23-year-old lifeguard.
‘We can’t get enough of each other,‘ she crowed. ‘Honestly, I feel like a teenager again.’
She did have a healthy glow, Clairvoyance had to admit.
‘Pilates and I were the same until a few months ago. Recently he’s been blowing hot and cold. All over me one minute, then not interested, nada.’ She paused for effect. ‘Not a dicky-bird.’
The girls laughed, apart from Ecstasy Conroy who simply said: ‘Oh dear.’
‘You’re telling me,’ Clairvoyance replied. ‘I’m going to explode.’
Ecstasy stirred her cocktail with a twizzle stick. ‘No, I meant, oh dear.’
‘Leave it, Ecstasy,’ warned Grace Wenders. She was Clairvoyance’s golfing partner, a tall woman, good off the tee but lousy around the greens.
‘No, I want to hear this. What do you mean?’
‘Blowing hot and cold is one of the first signs. Let me guess. I bet you that Pilates is working harder than ever before, that when he is at home he’s tetchy, that he’s started wearing new aftershave and taking an interest in his appearance.’
Clairvoyance was open-mouthed. ‘One of the first signs of what?’
‘Oh, gosh, do I have to spell it out. An affair, of course.’
Ecstasy sat back triumphant.
‘That’s… that’s just where you’re wrong.’ Clairvoyance’s face reddened with anger. ‘I know for a fact that he has a lot on his mind at the moment. He’s planning a surprise for our 25th wedding anniversary.’
‘Don’t you just love surprises?’ Ecstasy countered drily.
‘It’s not just any old surprise… I think that… I think that he’s going to propose a simultaneous heart transplant.’
The table erupted, all the girls shrieking and trying to speak at once.
‘Are you crazy?’
‘It’s too dangerous.’
‘You’re surely not going to do it.’
‘What’s Pilates thinking?’
‘Do you want to die?’
After the uproar had died down and lunch was finished, Clairvoyance was left on her own with Grace.
‘You’re going to do it aren’t you?’
Clairvoyance nodded. ‘If Pilates asks. The odds are much better these days, over 50% that both partners will survive. Surgical techniques are advancing all the time. Professor Hardwick is a world leader in the field. It just feels that now is the right time.’
‘Well, if you’re sure,’ Grace gave her friend a little hug. ‘Then I’m happy for you, I really am.’
‘It’s something that we’ve been heading towards all our lives, our destiny, you know?’
Never before had Clairvoyance waited so nervously for a day to arrive. Not for Father Christmas, not for her 18th birthday party, not for her wedding day. Every time she looked at the calendar she got a jolt of nervous energy and she was sleeping less than ever. She longed for the anniversary to be over and done with, for the chain of events that would crown their life together to be set in motion. More than anything she wanted to talk the operation through with Pilates. Maybe he had already booked them in for a preliminary consultation, paid a deposit at the clinic even. But she fought the temptation, not wanting to spoil the surprise. Instead, she searched online for support groups and found a website of a couple who had undergone the operation. They gave a glowing testimonial—how close the surgery had made them, how their lives had been transformed. Check out this neat poem, they signed off. It’s over 500 years old. Little did Sir Philip Sidney know that one day his Song from Arcadia would become reality!
My true-love hath my heart and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;
There never was a bargain better driven.
His heart in me keeps me and him in one;
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own;
I cherish his because in me it bides…
Clairvoyance printed out the poem and kept it in her bedside cabinet, taking it out to read whenever she felt anxious.
On the morning of their anniversary, Clairvoyance awoke Pilates with a breakfast tray of eggs Benedict, freshly squeezed orange juice and a carnation from the garden.
‘Surprise,’ she cooed.
‘What’s this in aid of?’
‘Aren’t you the funny one? Happy Anniversary.’
She gave him a card and a silver Rolex she’d had engraved. My heart forever yours.
He thanked her gruffly. ‘I’ll give you your present after work.’
‘Must you go in today?’
‘Important presentation.’ He pushed aside the tray and kissed her, a crumb of egg on his upper lip. ‘I promise I’ll be home early.’
As he showered, Clairvoyance slid the poem out of the drawer and read it through, although by now she knew every word.
Despite his promises, Pilates wasn’t home early. In fact he was an hour late and stank of whisky. He threw the largest bunch of flowers she’d ever seen on the table—tiger lilies, roses, exotic orchids and antirrhinums.
‘Happy anniversary, darling,’ he bellowed, lifting her off the ground.
‘Put me down, you brute,’ Clairvoyance laughed. ‘Put me down.’
During the meal Pilates put away a bottle and a half of wine. She’d heard of Dutch courage but this was ridiculous. If he drank any more he’d be under the table.
‘Easy, darling,’ she heard herself saying as he topped up his glass yet again.
‘S’our anniversserary,’ he slurred. ‘Time for your present. Where did I put it?’
He patted the outside of his jacket ineffectually before extracting a slim envelope from an inside pocket. It must be an appointment card for the clinic, Clairvoyance thought excitedly, fingers fumbling at the seal.
‘Oh? Is that all you can say to a fortnight in China! You’ve always wanted to go.’
‘Sorry, darling. It’s brilliant. I just thought that…’
‘You thought what?’ barked Pilates.
‘Nothing.’ Clairvoyance glanced at the receipt stapled to the back of the tickets. ‘You bought these today,’ she gasped. ‘The date’s on the ticket. You had forgotten.’
Pilates snorted. ‘I booked the trip ages ago, I just picked the tickets up tonight.’
She knew he was lying. ‘Were you scared I might say no?’
‘It’s a big leap I know. But I’ve been reading up about it. We can do it together.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The operation of course, the heart transplant.’
Pilates’ face twitched from confused to sneering. ‘You thought I was going to ask you to have a simultaneous heart transplant?’
Her husband’s chin slumped forward onto his chest. For a moment he was silent and she thought perhaps he had passed out, but then the laughter began, quietly at first, building gradually to a howl. ‘You thought… heart transplant… oh, that’s a good one… might as well sign our own death warrants.’
‘What did you mean then?’ Clairvoyance yelled. ‘All that stuff about life slipping through your fingers, about changing everything and nothing.’
All of a sudden the laughter stopped. ‘I was talking about children, you silly bitch. I was talking about having children.’
An hour later Clairvoyance hunkered down in the kitchen, sweeping up the aftermath of the row. When she’d stormed out to the garden, Pilates had started on the whisky. She’d come back inside to try to talk to him, to apologise for getting it wrong, but her words had only served to re-ignite the argument. He’d been on the point of throwing his glass at the wall, changed his mind, then dropped it accidentally, then stood on a piece of glass. The idiot. The sight of his own blood had diffused the situation. Sorry, sorry, sorry, he’d repeated as she’d helped him to bed, yanking off his shirt and trousers when he got there. As she brushed the glass into a dustpan, the rage flared inside Clairvoyance once again. She felt like throwing a glass herself, she really did. Why did he have to bring up children? After all this time, and on their anniversary to boot. She’d told him to shut up, that it was too late to talk about freaking kids. They’d made that decision years ago—no regrets was part of the deal.
Towards dawn Clairvoyance got up to use the bathroom. The anger had turned sour inside her and upset her stomach. Sitting on the toilet, it suddenly came back to her where she had seen that colour, the miniscule trace of purple she had noticed on Pilates’ little toenail when checking the cut on his foot. Rushing back to the bedroom, in her panic she forgot to wipe herself. His right foot was still sticking out the end of the bed. She turned on the light—no danger of him waking—and knelt down to peer at the toe. There was no doubting it. The surgeon had done a skilful job but the join was still visible. The toe did not belong to Pilates, and it certainly wasn’t hers. The thin line of plum nail varnish near the top of the nail gave it away. Only a few weeks earlier she’d admired the same colour at the barbecue. The little whore had been wearing open-toed sandals and a summer dress. Jasmine. The toe belonged to Jasmine. Clairvoyance retched onto the floor. His secretary. How freaking predictable, how freaking obvious. How could she have been so stupid?
Pilates turned onto his side and scratched at the breast that squatted awkwardly in the middle of his chest. He was unable to sleep for thinking of the past. Surprisingly the breast reduction had been the most stomach-churning operation to watch. If it had been anyone but Clairvoyance under the knife he would have turned away in disgust, but as it was her body he had kept his gaze trained on the surgeon’s gloved hands and tried to love the yellow streaks of fat being vacuumed from her tits. The excision of the half-formed third nipple on her right thorax had been a breeze in comparison—other people’s blood had never bothered him. He let his fingers caress the breast. The nipple was smaller than his own and never changed in size, remaining the same little pair of pursed cherry lips, even when Clairvoyance had wetted it with her tongue. Physically he had felt nothing when she’d done this, mentally he had experienced the most exquisite surge of pleasure and intimacy. He knew that he would never have that sensation again, not with Jasmine who lay sleeping beside him, not with anyone.
Clairvoyance and Pilates. They had tried so hard to become part of each other, a fusion, the embodiment of the word togetherness, flesh become one. Pilates and Clairvoyance. They had been pioneers, discoverers of a new mode of expression. In the early days transplantation had been pure, meaningful, a magical flowering of love. Now, taken to extremes they could not have guessed at, any purity had vanished. A bitter tear leaked from the corner of Pilates’ eye. Perhaps they should have known that their attempt was doomed to failure, he thought, that the end result was inevitable. Perhaps their mistake was that they had considered themselves different, better than other couples, joined irrevocably.
From Jasmine’s side of the bed came the sound of gentle snoring. Heavily pregnant, she’d taken to sleeping on her back. He hadn’t told her that she had been the trigger for Clairvoyance’s suicide. One afternoon while out shopping Clair had seen Jasmine in the street. The younger woman had been wearing a maternity dress, the swelling of their child clearly visible. It had all been in Clair’s note. I have fed my heart on fantasies, the note began.
As Pilates considered what his wife, for she had still been his wife, had done afterwards, tears swamped his eyes. That night she had brought his power tools, his drills, saws and hammers, from the garage into the kitchen. Benumbed with tranquillisers and alcohol, she had first scrubbed at his nipples with wire wool and bleach. Then she had sliced of his testicle and the penis graftgrown from his progenitor cells. Next she had sawn off all the fingers and toes that had once belonged to him. She’d also managed to cut out most of his eyelid and smash the tibia in her left leg. How had she been able to bear the pain? It will be nothing compared to the pain I am feeling now, she had written. His kidney she gave her best shot. After all no one can say I’m a quitter. Summoning up the last of her strength, she’d flung his tools to the floor, then, leaning back in a chair, kitchen table awash with blood, had chosen her favourite kitchen knife, the one with the smallest and sharpest blade, to make the final excision.