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Spare Parts

by Jill Hand

Gregory Simpson awoke one morning from uneasy dreams to discover he had a tooth growing out of his left shoulder.

He’d dreamed that teeth were sprouting from his shoulder like horrible mushrooms. It felt so real that upon awakening he’d immediately gone into the bathroom, pulled off his t-shirt and examined his shoulder. To his horror, he found the skin was red and tender around what looked like a molar.

It can’t be, he thought incredulously. He gingerly brushed at the little white lump, desperately hoping it was just a piece of lint or something. It wasn’t. It was attached to his shoulder as firmly as barnacle to a rock. It was hard and white and looked exactly like a tooth. He clung to the sink, feeling faint.

“Caroline,” he called to his girlfriend, who was still in bed. “Come here and look at this. There’s a tooth in my shoulder.”

He could hear her in the next room, turning over in bed. “Um-hum. Right,” she mumbled drowsily.

He went into the bedroom, rubbing his shoulder, his heart pounding wildly in his chest. “I’m not kidding,” he said shakily. “Look at this.”

He leaned over the bed and Caroline sat up. Her hair was tousled and she was still wasn’t fully awake. She looked at his shoulder and gasped. “My God,” she said. “It is a tooth. How did a tooth get in your shoulder?”

“I don’t know,” Gregory said miserably.

Caroline told him he’d better go see the doctor. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious,” she said doubtfully, eyeing the tooth with distaste. “Maybe you swallowed a tooth and it came out in your shoulder. Can you wiggle it?”

Gregory doubted he could have swallowed a tooth without realizing it. Even if he had, it seemed highly unlikely that it would have migrated to his shoulder. He tried to wiggle it, but it was stuck fast. He could feel a small lump under the skin next to it. “I think there’s another one,” he said incredulously, feeling cold all at once. “Maybe it’s cancer.” He sat down on the bed and put his head in his hands.

* * *

“It’s not cancer,” said Doctor Morton that afternoon. He thought about it for a moment and added, “At least I don’t think it is.”

Morton wasn’t much older than Gregory, who was twenty-seven. Gregory wondered if the doctor was really qualified to determine what was or wasn’t cancer. He certainly looked puzzled now, frowning over the tooth that was somehow, improbably, growing out of Gregory’s shoulder.

“Can you wiggle it?” he asked.

“No,” said Gregory.

“Hum,” said Morton. He took up a little electronic device that looked like a BlackBerry and quickly typed something, squinting at the results and frowning.

“What does it say?” Gregory asked nervously.

Morton said he’d searched for “tooth in shoulder” in a medical database and had gotten no results. “It certainly is strange,” he mused. “You’d think somebody, somewhere would have gotten a tooth growing out of their shoulder before, but it doesn’t look like it.”

On the back of the door, behind where Morton was seated on a little rolling stool, there were two signs, one notifying patients that their copayment was due at the time of their office visit. The other, which was probably put there in an attempt to lighten the mood of whatever unpleasant news Morton might be delivering, said: NEVER ATTEMPT TO DO ANYTHING THAT YOU WOULDN’T WANT TO EXPLAIN TO THE PARAMEDICS.

Gregory didn’t think it was funny, not in his current state of mind. “Listen, do you think I got this from eating sushi?” he asked worriedly. He and Caroline had gone to a new place for sushi not far from where they lived on Staten Island. Gregory hadn’t liked the look of the place. For one thing, the floor had been sticky and the table where they’d been seated still had bits of food on it left over from the last people who’d sat there. For another, they were the only customers, despite its being lunchtime.

The sushi he’d ordered — it was called Lucky Dragon Roll — came wrapped in black seaweed and had orange fish eggs on top. Thinking about those shiny little eggs gave Gregory a queasy feeling. What if they were alive? What if he’d become the host to some kind of horrible parasite that was taking over his body?

He described the orange eggs to Morton as best he could.

“Big and shiny, not little and crunchy? Those sound like salmon roe,” the doctor said, adding that the little, round, crunchy orange eggs that were sometimes found on top of sushi were lumpsucker roe.

“Lumpsucker? There’s really a fish called a lumpsucker?”asked Gregory, momentarily distracted from his concern over the tooth in his shoulder by the idea that there could be a fish with such a disgusting name.

“Yeah. It looks pretty much like you’d expect, too,” said the doctor.

Just then, Gregory felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. “Ow!” he said.

Morton leaned closer to take a look. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he breathed. “There’s another one.” It was another tooth all right. This one looked like an incisor. There was a trickle of blood where it had burst through the skin. Gregory winced as Morton dabbed at it with a gauze pad.

Gregory remembered seeing something on television once in one of the medical dramas that Caroline liked to watch that gave him an awful sinking feeling. He asked, “Do you think it’s my twin? I mean, could I have had a twin brother that I absorbed before I was born, and now he’s growing inside me?”

He found the idea completely repulsive, but apparently it happens sometimes.

“I don’t think so,” said Morton, looking thoughtful. “Why don’t we schedule some tests? Have you experienced anything else unusual? Any pain? Any weakness?”

Gregory said he might have strained his back lifting some heavy boxes from a high shelf at work. His lower back ached.

“We’ll get you checked out. Try not to worry,” Morton said soothingly. Then he arranged for Gregory to have some tests.

* * *

“That’s impossible,” an incredulous Gregory said the following week, when Morton gave him the test results. He’d been anxious and irritable all week, expecting to hear that something was seriously wrong with him. Caroline tried to cheer him up by saying it was probably nothing.

“It’s not nothing,” Gregory snapped. “I have teeth growing out of my shoulder. It’s not normal to have teeth growing out of your shoulder.”

“I meant it’s probably nothing serious,” she said, hurt by his tone of voice. “It could be just a harmless fluke, like the man who had a pea plant growing in his lung, or the woman who had some kind of plant growing out of her nose because she’d inhaled a little seed that grew in her sinuses.”

Caroline was a devotee of weird stories about spontaneous human combustion and people who found eight-foot alligators in their basements with no idea of how they’d gotten there. Gregory would prefer not to hear about such things at the moment.

“Can’t we please change the subject?” he said.

With great dignity, Caroline got up and went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

The tests showed that what he had, besides teeth in his shoulder, was something even more remarkable: an extra set of kidneys and another liver. According to Doctor Morton, it wasn’t unheard-of to have four kidneys, but an entire spare liver was unprecedented, as far as he could tell.

Morton looked positively giddy with delight when he gave Gregory the news. “This is extraordinary,” he kept saying. “Four kidneys is a little unusual, but it happens sometimes. It’s called duplex kidneys.”

“Duplex? Like an apartment?” Gregory asked. He would have thought there was a dignified Latin term for his condition instead of it being named after a type of real estate.

“Yes, duplex,” Morton said. It was also called a duplicated collecting system, leading Gregory to think of trash disposal, which is exactly what kidneys do, when you got right down to it. Having an extra set of tiny kidneys was one thing, Morton told him, but the sonogram showed Gregory’s were full-size, about eleven centimeters long. “Just right for transplanting,” he said, with a gleam in his eyes.

“But how could I have another liver?” Gregory said, stunned. “People don’t grow new livers. I mean, Prometheus did, in Greek mythology, but an eagle kept eating them.” He stopped talking, realizing he was babbling. He could feel sweat pooling in his armpits and trickling down his back. He thought, This can’t be happening. There must be some mistake.

The year before, he’d had a physical when he was starting his new job. There was no indication that he had more than the usual number of internal organs then. Now here he was, suddenly growing more. It gave him a queasy feeling.

Morton said he’d probably had the extra organs all along and he just didn’t realize it. It wasn’t something that would be picked up by a routine physical. “It’s not as if you had an extra heart, like Doctor Who,” he said laughing. “Why don’t we get them out of you and give them to people who desperately need them? You wouldn’t believe how long the waiting list for a kidney is. You’d be doing a tremendous service. You’d literally be saving lives.” He smiled enticingly, adding, “You don’t need those extra organs. They’re only taking up space. We’ll get those teeth out of your shoulder, too.”

By then, Gregory had four teeth sprouting from his shoulder. He hated thinking about the possibility of his spare liver being cut apart and its lobes being doled out to multiple recipients, as if his liver were a piece of meat that was being cut into smaller portions in order to feed unexpected dinner guests, but there seemed to be no other choice. Insisting on keeping it would be terribly selfish.

A month later, he’d had the surgery and was starting to feel like his old self again. The people who’d been given his extra kidneys and liver had been tearfully grateful and had flooded his hospital room with flowers, fruit baskets and Mylar balloons. A woman who’d received one of his kidneys had sent him a thank you card in which she wrote, “You’ll always be a part of me.” Underneath she drew a smiley face. Gregory threw it in the trash.

He was starting to think of his odd experience as just one of those inexplicable things that sometimes happen to people, like seeing a ghost or finding a bag full of money by the side of the road. But then Gregory Simpson awoke one morning from uneasy dreams to discover an eye blinking back at him from his right wrist.

“Caroline,” he said, shaking his girlfriend awake. “You’re not going to believe this.”

Copyright © 2015 by Jill Hand

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