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Sloan, Joseph

Joseph Sloan is a writer and psychologist from New England. His short fiction has appeared inOne Teen Story, The Red Line, The James Franco Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Amygdala, and Hyperlexia and is forthcoming in The MacGuffin. He is at work on his first novel. He can be found online

Without Notice

Joseph Sloan

My pancreas didn’t give two weeks’ notice. No notice at all, in fact. It just quit sometime in the middle of my thirty-third year. Maybe it was fed up, though I didn’t think that I’d treated it so poorly. It actually had things pretty good: a free ride in my abdomen, dutifully discharging just the right amount of insulin for a slice of pizza or an ice cream cone, and then continuing on about its business with an ample supply of well-oxygenated blood untainted by anything particularly toxic.

Evidently, though, it had unarticulated grievances. I didn’t notice, at first, which is odd for an essential organ. I lost weight, which was great, and felt tired, which was normal. It didn’t make a big deal and suddenly shut down like a prima donna brain having a stroke. In fact, it continued to work part-time for a while, showing up unpredictably and offering bits of the life sustaining hormone I’d always taken for granted before finally hanging it up for good.

That created problems. Just like in any organization, if one member doesn’t come in then someone else has to pick up the slack. So it was that my kidneys found themselves suddenly working overtime, nights and weekends, trying to clear their inbox of an unexpected sugar excess. They stepped up to the challenge until I lay on an exam room table on Sunday afternoon, dry and parched, my body screaming for fluid even as it scrambled to purge it.

We brought in a white-coated consultant who made it clear that we had to hire a replacement and that it wasn’t going to be cheap. It was a smooth plastic pump and it stuck to the outside of my stomach trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, but just like any new hire it didn’t quite fit in. Everyone tried to be nice, of course, and to offer encouragement. “Great job!”, we’d say after an extra helping of Chinese food failed to kill us. “Just like the old pancreas would have done it! Shall we try for a beer, too? Ah, better not…”.

The truth was that I missed the old pancreas. It did its job well and without complaint. Perhaps in the dead of night it dreamed of life as a more glamorous, poetic organ, like the heart, or as a better appreciated one, like the prostate. But day by day it toiled in silence, never failing to notice the slightest thing requiring its attention: a mint, a sip of juice, a bit of toast. And we’d been together for a long time. It was family, really. It had metabolized my mother’s milk and my first beer, my wedding cake and the crappy food in the cafeteria of the hospital where we’d had our first baby. And, like all family, I hadn’t appreciated it as I rushed from one task to another, preoccupied with nameless, pointless things that clung to me like fishhooks. I didn’t know that it wasn’t forever. Didn’t see the end coming. Didn’t appreciate the lasts: the last easy meal, the last uninterrupted night, the last time reporting an unremarkable medical history to a bored nurse. And then it was over and it was too late to pull back the spool of time for even one more moment of feeling what it is to be healthy, and to be young.