Replaceable Parts
Mary Stein


FOR YEARS I have worn the glass eye my uncle gave me for my sweet sixteenth; it dangles from a strand of twine, hanging heavy like a lead pendant beneath my medical gown, at the ready, because soon I may need this replaceable part to impart the illusion of sight.

I lay supine on the examination table; the ophthalmologist leans over me then lifts this old glass eye––her three fingers pronging its blooming iris like a gem––promising that the lingering blur in my periphery is not my uncle’s faraway ghost. She promises that without replacing my retina, my prognosis is blindness.   


At home, my cyborg dog trots into my line of vision, appearing from nowhere. He has mechanical hind legs where previously there had been no legs and, before that, where his original legs had once carried his hindquarters. I wonder if any or all cyborgs miss what they’re missing; lest our impetus to miss, too, has been replaced with something more functional such as a pure Aristotlelian notion of logic––to deduce that missing is nothing––or the ability to brace oneself against the electric blue impetus toward rage. My cyborg dog’s hind legs clack against the kitchen lino as he ambles up to sniff behind my knees. He likely thinks nothing of any of this––unconcerned about my concern, unconcerned that impetus, in its original Renaissance origins, implies violence, unconcerned about both my real eye and the glass eye that droops from my neck when I lean to pet the parts of him that are still so soft.


In the restroom before my pre-op appointment, I compare my real eye and glass eye in the mirror, and find they both have a realistically clotted cream color of sclera. Outside, a voice calls my name, and I listen to it again and again––the mechanical sound of my name repeating until I cannot recognize it as my own.


Before surgery, the anesthesiologist removes my decorative glass eye, claiming it’s routine procedure. As I’m going under, instead of counting down from twenty as advised, I imagine one hundred ways to lose an eye; it occurs to me that, in truth, if I were to lose an eye in any of one hundred ways, I wouldn’t likely depend on the use of the glass eye around my neck because it makes such nice jewelry and besides, nano technology has devised more realistic eyes since my uncle offered me this gift. I imagine myself with a retinal prothesis, and I already  miss my uncle’s lingering blur. I imagine my uncle would miss this––my decorative glass eye that cannot impersonate sight.


While I’m under, I tell my dead uncle that conventional spiritual wisdom encourages me not to be angry with his rusted green Datsun that veered toward my happy healthy dog just to prove a point that’s still unknown to me. I tell my dead uncle I may have created this situation. But perhaps my dog has a spirit and it was he who fabricated this disaster for himself, or perhaps it was predestined and my dog’s spirit chose me for my inherent empathy, and when I hear the staggering clack and drag of his body stumbling down the stairs, I think maybe he has always wanted those mechanical legs or maybe he has always wanted me or maybe I chose this situation to make a display of my compassion or maybe I have no compassion after all. Maybe it was me, after all, behind the wheel of the Datsun, my dog running slow-mo to greet me because our animal spirits were determined to collide. 


While I’m coming to, bright whiteness consumes my faulty visions and they are replaced with the milky illusion of light. In my state of bright blindness, I listen for the stumbling melody of my ambling dog, and in this silence I miss him and the lingering blur of my uncle’s ghost; I miss my useless glass eye as I feel for the weight of it on my shallowly-breathing chest.


Mary Stein lives, writes and works in Minneapolis. She received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an editorial assistant for Conduit literary journal. Her fiction can be found in Caketrain and is forthcoming in The Brooklyn Rail.