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Mind over Matter
The room was silent. The students’ gallery lay abandoned, looking bereft without the poised pens and curious eyes. Even the life-giving machines seemed muted. The only light came from a single bulb suspended over the steel table that lay in the center of the room, flooding that area with blinding brightness. A lump lay on the center table, encircled by a ring of white lab coats. All that could be seen beneath the blue covers that draped the lump was a gnarled mass of grisly red flesh. The surgeon’s eyes riveted in concentration as the gleaming silver instruments sliced and cut, leaving a trail of tangled red ribbons in their wake. A bead of sweat slowly formed on the surgeon’s brow and rolled its way down his face. The clock ticked steadily as the circle around the table seemed to draw closer. Suddenly, the surgeon looked up, eyes boring into those of the assistant by his side, as if to say “Now.” He lifted his hand and deliberately pointed at a gently pulsing brain on the side, floating in a blue liquid that emitted an eerie glow.
“Financial advisor, Bartholemew Jakkens,” the newspapers reported, “tragically died in a fatal car accident on his way to work. Mr. Jakkens was well-known for having provided his reliable services to many of New York’s elite. He is rumored to have acquired an estimated 460 million dollars, including his penthouse apartment between York and First. He will be greatly mourned by all, and his bereaved brother-in-law hopes to hold services at the Manhattan Chapel later this afternoon.”
The last thing Luke Cheever ever did was to kiss his mother good-bye as he hastily grabbed his lunch and dashed out the door.
“Bye Ma, I’m gonna be late!” he called back over his shoulder, tossing her a saucy grin. “Bye, dear,” his mother echoed lovingly as her pale green eyes followed wistfully after him, “Take care.” She stood for a moment watching her only child’s lanky frame disappear down the trash-filled alley and into the smoggy distance before shutting the door with a small sigh.
That was the last Lilly Cheever ever saw of her son as she knew him. For in a corner of the same paper in which Bartholomew’s death was listed (though many pages after, of course) a small ad to one side requested the prayers for the recovery of Luke Cheever, who had been involved in a car crash and left fatally wounded.
The double doors blew open as a white-coated doctor rapidly strode out of a room stuffed with buzzing apparatus. At his entrance, Lilly jerkily rose to her feet, her face pale and strained, her hands still knotted around a handkerchief. The doctor consulted his clipboard.
“I’m afraid it does not look good. Your son has been moved to the ICU. We will try our best to keep you informed,” he recited in a cardboard tone. As the doctor turned to leave, Lilly hesitantly croaked, “Doctor?”
“Where ezactly is my son damaged?” The doctor paused, his eyes focused on the woman’s desperate ones, torn.
“He was hit in the brain, Ms. Cheever. He will soon be declared clinically brain dead.” He turned and swiftly retreated from the woman’s anguished moan.
As the surgeon stitched the final flaps of skin together, the machines started up. Hissing and beeping, they monitored the body’s acceptance of the new brain. “What luck,” mused Dr. Bradford as he knotted the twine. An expert neurosurgeon and leading entrepreneur in the budding field of cranial transplantation, he had finally been granted the permit to perform his first human transplant. It was while negotiating terms at the hospital when he happened to come across a man killed minutes before and, in the next room, a woman desperate for her son’s survival. The papers were quickly signed, the state readily agreed to donate the brain, and the woman soon followed suit, signing the consent form with a trembling hand. The brain had been painstakingly preserved, and now, after ten hours of surgery, the transplant was complete. All that was left was to wait and trust in G-d that the surgery would be a success and that the patient would recover.
The first sight Luke saw when he opened his eyes was a pallid-faced woman wearing a tattered housecoat anxiously leaning over him. “How are you feeling, Lukie?” she asked tremulously. Confused, the man looked around. Who was this woman? Where was he?
“I’m sorry, who are you?” he muttered. Startled, he watched as the woman’s face folded like a deck of cards and a tall, austere man pulled her away. The rest of his vision was blurred by the nurse’s rushing form. She hastily applied more of the drug and he spun into a painless oblivion.
Dr. Bradford dragged Lilly into his office.
“Ms. Cheever, we discussed what might happen, remember?”The doctor began urgently. “He no longer retains any of his former memories. In fact, we’re not exactly sure what will happen. He may think he is Luke, he may think he is Mr. Jakkens. He may not even have any recollection of any identity at all. We’re hoping that with time and therapy everything will come back to him. But we’re not positive. One thing is certain, though: you must not agitate him or you could seriously impede his recovery. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Lilly replied quietly, resigned.
Eight months later, the patient was finally prepared to leave the hospital. Throughout his recovery, everyone kept telling him that he was Luke Cheever and that the woman constantly hovering about was his mother. They told him they understood: they knew he wasn’t sure of his identity, but he knew exactly who he was. His name was Bartholemew Jakkens, he had been involved in an accident, and they now told him he was Luke. He was feeling fine, and just wanted to continue life where he had left off. The doctors had noticed his preferences and behavioral patterns as those of Mr. Jakkens , and had advised him to start off living Mr. Jakkens’ lifestyle to ease him into his role. Well, of course he would go home, the man thought irritably. Where else? That was the only life he could remember.
(Excerpt from the local newspaper)
“…Dr. Bradford has performed the first known cranial transplant on a twenty-five year old boy left in a vegetative state from an auto collision. Although the operation has thus far been successful, both the patient and the sixty year old donors’ identity will remain discreet to allow the patient to continue life as normally as possible. The psychologist has reported that the patient’s mother is in a state of denial and refuses to acclimate to her son’s radical change, insisting on treating him as she usually would. The mother refused to comment…”
Just a week after his return, while relaxing in his easy chair with a cup of tea, Luke heard a timid knock at the oaken door. Sighing, he shuffled to open it. A woman stood at the doorway, clutching her threadbare sweater tightly around her scarecrow frame.
“Hello,” she blurted “Ah heard ya might not remember me, but Ah know ya – well, Ah used ter know ya,” she began falteringly, glancing at the cold black pupils of his eyes. “You remember mah son, Bobby, dontcha? You and him grew up together. Like an older bro to him you was. You remember Hardy’s gang? Well, after you lit off, mah Bobby started hangin’ round by them, though Ah tried over n’ over to drag him away, tellin’ him they warn’t no good, rotten through the core, they was. Anyhow, you probly hear about the armed burglary they’re accused of. Hardy’s put the blame and frame on Bobby. An he was home that night, Ah know he was cuz he was a-helpin’ me with the taxes. And after Ah finally come up with the dough for college, he gonna be jailed! I figured ,if it warn’t too much trouble, if Bobby’s old friend couldn’t lend him a buck or two to let him on bail and maybe even enuf for a lawyer, so mah son can have a chance?” pleaded the woman. For a instant Luke experienced a brief flicker of memory: two youths tossing a ball in a gym. He could hear the squeal of the rubber soles hitting the slick floor, the swish-thump of the ball, the rapid breaths.
“Ma got fired today” one of the youths spoke up. “Said she wasn’t what they needed right now, said she could go. Ma stopped by the office today to get her papers,” he continued “said there’s a white lady at her desk now.” Silence. He shot a quick basket and missed.
“Well something else can always turn up. I’ll look around for you.” Said the other, executing a right hook. “Don’t worry, man.”
As quickly as the vision had come, it was gone. The man standing at the door saw none of the mother’s desperate love in her begging eyes, only a poor indigent with chapped lips and cracked nails.
“Madam, it is a matter of supreme indifference to me what happens to your son.” And with that, Luke firmly closed the door. Walking back to his chair, Luke massaged the strange twinges in his chest.
It was Thursday night. After another exhausting session with the woman said to be his mother, the psychologist had suggested that Luke escort her home. So Luke drove as quickly as possible, trying to ignore his mother’s dry sobs. He had told her one hundred times that he didn’t know, didn’t remember anything. Why did she always insist on making a scene? When would this lady finally get over it?
“Here you go” Abruptly, he stopped the car and helped his mother out. At the door, he impatiently turned to leave.
“Wait a second, Lukie” called the mother. “Can you please take this to Mrs. Green? I was meaning to go, but I don’t feel real up to it right now,” she added with a reproachful glance.
“Sure,sure” muttered Luke, “Bye.” He hastily delivered the cake and began rapidly striding back.
“Lukie Cheever!” cried a lady in a bright pink bathrobe, emerging from the adjoining porch. “Why, how are ya doin?! I haven’t seen ya since the operation! Mahy do you look swell now! Ya had us so worried gettin’ your head all bashed up and now look at chya! Fahn as a spring plum!” The lady dug into her basket as she continued her monologue. “whay, Ah have just the thing fer ya! Your favorite: mah chicken pot pahie. Ah ‘member how you used to gobble it raht up lahk a pig at the Fall Fair! Um hm,” she nodded, setting corkscrew blond curls and chins a-rolling. Luke eyed the thin, flaky crust and gelling gravy distastefully. He purposefully let it slip out of his hands and splatter on the ground.
“Whoops! Look at that, sorry, but I’m in a hurry, gotta go now, nice meeting you!” he called back as he stepped through the oozing mess. Speechless for the first time known in the alley, the lady looked back at the retreating pie footsteps.
“Almost at the car, Luke thought gratefully. Suddenly, a small girl shot out from the shadows like a bullet and attacked his knees. “Lukie,Lukie,Lukie!” He looked down to encounter the gap-toothed grin of a stick-like girl.
“I’se so glad to see you’se come back!”she garbled. Really now, this was too much!
“Get off me!” Luke barked, shaking her off. “Get back to where you belong.” He angrily strode off and slammed the door of his Ferrari, oblivious to the two frightful eyes peering from the crumpled mass now hidden behind a wall.
As he drove back to his penthouse, fuming, a flashing restaurant sign momentarily caught his eye. “Chicken pot-pie – only $4.99” it read. A mental image rapidly surfaced his mind: a young boy in corduroys eagerly bursting in to a warm, cramped kitchenette.
“Wayl look who we have hea,” a stout, cheerful lady turned from the stove, wiping her hands on a loud apron. “If it isn’t Luke, come for Mrs. Neodle’s chicken pot-pie! How’s your mama doin’, Lukie?” This was just as quickly replaced by an image of a sweet little girl, pressing her face against a metal fence, adoringly watching a youth play. And after the game, eagerly running up to him, twirling her fluffy pink attire, and piping in a shrill tone:
“Look! Mama got me a tutu and she says she gonna braid my hair for the recital! Someday, I’se gonna be a real ballerina!”
“Ain’t that so, sweetie” he said and his hand, yes, it must have been his hand, reached out to pat her kinky tangles. The hazy images of the girl and Mrs. Neodle wavered in front of him. Gasping, Luke clenched his hand over the sudden aching of his heart.
“So you don’t believe they’ll continue to rise?” The inquiry came from a suited man seated in one of the magenta chairs opposite the large mahogany desk in Luke’s office. Next to him sat an elegant woman, honey frosted hair piled high on her head in an intricate tangle of knots, heeled legs crossed. Only the occasional tapping of her crimson three inch talons belied her impatient disinterest.
“No, I predict this is the highest they’ll go; it’s their biggest rise in twenty years. If I were you, I would sell it as quickly as I could,” advised Luke. “Now let us get down to business.” “But of course.” The sanctimonious man coughed genteelly, granting the entire office a view of his diamond –studded gold rolex.
“We’ve heard you come most highly recommended. It’s definitely time to switch advisors, especially after that last ECO deal. However, there are one or two small matters …” The woman looked up at the ceiling, crystal earrings gently swinging.
“Yes, that’s correct. Now- “ Luke was suddenly interrupted by the jangling of his blackberry.
“Excuse me, please” As he picked it up Luke partly swiveled his chair to the window overlooking the Fifth Avenue view.
“Lukie!” Oh darn. It was Lillly.
“How are you sweetie? I was just going to bring over a peach cobbler…”
“I’m in the middle of an important deal here, I don’t have time to chat.” answered Luke curtly.
“A deal? What kind? You know you must be very cautious, you were never very good at money dealing!” Her gently tinkling laugh grated on his nerves.
“If it’s not an emergency, I must go” he said with a glance at his clients.
“Oh, if it’s an emergency, we’ll certainly leave,” said the woman, wide blue eyes now suddenly focused and alert.
“No, no, nothing of the sort,” said Luke, snapping the blackberry shut. “As I was saying…”The woman slumped back in her chair.
As he left the office, Luke replayed the day in his mind with satisfaction. He had convinced the wealthy patron to switch to his company where he promised to invest it wisely and according to the man’s dictates. In reality, Luke was planning on investing the money in his own bank account, and granting the man his returns once the next client came along. The man had come to him, he said, because of the very thorough investigative report on his former advisor, Mr. Knowles, Luke’s competitor. “Ha! So the article really had paid off,” thought Luke, “I don’t know if Rosa really dug up that dirt or made it up, but it’s better if I don’t know. You have to do what you have to do.”
The next day, the contract was typed up and ready to be signed. Luke arrived earlier than usual; he quickly grabbed his briefcase and ran up to his office on the eighteenth floor. As he waited for his new clients to arrive, he spun his plans in his mind: he would buy a condo in Florida and finally be able to get rid of that nuisance, always coming to visit him, bringing him pies, calling him up. Finally! The psychologist would not be able to push him anymore and the woman wouldn’t be able to follow him! His happy dreams were interrupted by his client’s arrival.
“Congratulations!”cried Luke, heartily shaking his hand as the secretary brought in the contract and champagne.
“Oh, wait, Rosa,” Luke called to her as he examined the contract. “Steve must have forgotten to make another copy. Go tell him to run to office 201 downtown and make another copy immediately. My apologies, “ he added to the couple as his secretary left. The few minutes they stood chatting and waiting slowly stretched to fifteen and then twenty.
“I don’t know why it’s taking him so long,” laughed Luke nervously. “I’ll try calling him.” He did with no result. A half an hour went by. He tried again twice and still no answer. By now the man was discreetly tapping his polished shoe, while the woman had given up all pretense of patience.
“I have a hairdresser’s appointment in twenty minutes,” she pointed out. Jingling her bracelets, she glanced at her watch.
“He should be back shortly,” apologized Luke. He went into the other room to call again. Finally, Steve answered.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he preempted, “But I was rushing, like you said and I accidentally hit this lady - Lilly, Lolly? - something like that I think, and I was held up.”
“Well get over here now!” barked Luke. Steve arrived just in time and the corks were popped as it was finally signed. Not until later did the doctors contact Luke and informed him that it was indeed his mother who Steve had hit and was now dead.
Luke awoke the next morning, refreshed. The night before he had brusquely refused all offers of therapists and the like. In fact, he felt relieved she was gone. He could now continue with his life. He stretched, and got ready for work. Once in his office, he reached into the bottom drawer of his desk for some papers. He then glanced at the top one. Wait, what was this? His old name was sprawled on top of it: Luke Cheever.
I am Luke Cheever.
I am Luke Cheever.
I am Bartholomew Jakkens.
I am Bartholomew Jakkens.
A little toddler wrapped in a towel being rocked before a pitiful fire. A small boy, tattered and barefoot, presenting a warm-faced lady with a bouquet of suffocating dandelions. A boy running in and out of the neighbors’ houses, always leaving with a small something. A youth in school, learning hard so he could go home and surprise his mother. Playing on the court to his mother’s applause. His first job at Gus’s restaurant. Worked so hard he got a promotion. A beaming mother. Always behind him.
A product of a disciplinarian’s home. Always reproachful. Those eyes, those hard eyes, boring into him. A cold being. Heartless. Uncaring. On the playground, beating up the freckled, four-eyed kid. The college exams. Cheating off a paper. Weaseling his way through jobs. Manipulating the system. Eliminating opponents. Reached Financial success. And only that. Nothing more.
With a gasp, the man realized he was clutching his now throbbing heart. Hands shaking, he walked to the window in a trance. Slowly, the fingers his mind no longer controlled opened the latch. He leans out, and looks down – who I am, who I was- He forcefully hurtled his body out the window. Down, down, down. For who he is. For who he was.
(found on the desk of the deceased after the police investigation.)
Dear Dr. Bradford,
How can I ever express my gratitude towards you? When I was left for dead, abandoned as hopeless, even by professionals, you entered my life and gave me a new one. You granted me another chance to enjoy life’s basic gifts: the movement of my limbs, my return of consciousness and awareness... Not only that, but you gave me a chance for a new life filled with opportunities such as I have never known. Yes, you gave me a chance to improve my station, to get ahead, or so you thought. Yes, you switched our brains; you transferred Mr. Jakken’s memories, personality, and habits to me in order that I could live. Yes, you switched our brains, Dr. Bradford, but allow me to point out your one mistake: You forgot to switch our Hearts.