The Cold Heart

One from the vaults…

The Cold Heart by Derek Thompson
I can see by the way you’re working that you’re preoccupied. You have a kind of sombre intensity radiating from behind your glasses. I offer you a nervous smile, but you look straight through me. It’s okay, I don’t take it personally; it’s my first time here at the Path Lab, a new intern.
I move behind you silently, peering over your shoulder; watching as you delicately peel back the layers of flesh. And as I listen to the methodical, monotone delivery of your investigations, my mind starts to drift. You’re not wearing a ring – divorced maybe? Nah, you look too clean-cut for the rigours of marriage, bereft of that lived-in look. I’ll bet you’re the sturdy, independent type.
“Subject was between twenty and thirty years of age.”
You don’t pass comment on the body before you; you just stick to the facts. But there is a kindness in your voice, a softer side that I hadn’t expected. When I arrived early this morning, they’d said you were abrupt, more used to lecturing than teaching. I’m pleased to say that they were wrong.
Your hands have the gentle artistry of a surgeon. A pity then that you work on the dead rather than the living. Maybe you prefer it that way, no complications or risk of emotional attachment. Two hours straight without a break – such dedication. I wonder what drives you, what allows you to do this kind of work, day in day out? It’s different for me of course, first time here and all; but you look as though you were born to this strange vocation. There’s no let up, not a hint that you’re anything other than quietly enthralled with your work. And I wonder to myself, could you love a warm human being the same way?
You’ve switched the microphone off now and called for the orderlies. The job is almost done. I shuffle to the side and wait nervously. Stripped of your white coat I get other glimpses of you. Your jeans bear the scent of the park in autumn, your musty jacket of too many Sunday mornings in cheap cafes. The ID card doesn’t do you justice – I guess you’ve heard that many times before.

I stand there beside you as you write up the last few notes. Even now, you make a point of pausing to watch as the orderlies put the cadaver back in the cold store. There’s so much care, though your demeanour betrays nothing. I try to catch your eye again, wonder how to make the first move and I’m lost in that mane of brown hair, aching to ruffle through it like the wind. Picturing us on warm weekends, camping under the stars, that same, calm voice promising me forever.
It’s a moment before I realise that you’re walking away; I feel like an idiot. It’s all finished now, the session is over and not a single word has passed between us. I’m glad to have met you Dr Richardson, whoever you are. It’s just a shame I had die for the privilege.

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