Less than an hour later, the surgeon ushered them into his office. He was dark skinned and short, his long hair pulled back. When they shook, his hands were soft and fine-boned, nimble, how you'd expect a surgeon's hands to be. He wore tinted glasses and had an easy smile.
“Goddamned Johnnies, don't let me keep regular hours.” He smiled affably. “Since you don't have an appointment we're not cutting anything tonight, so I don't mind offering you drinks. I hear you kids have some questions for me?”
“I'm Cecilia and this is Jared. I'm a Johnny already, I was just looking to meet another surgeon. I usually have work done by Grady, but it doesn't hurt to meet someone new. Jared here just wants to learn more.”
“Well, I'm always happy to meet potential clients. My operation is pretty small, but I've performed thousands of operations, from run of the mill cosmetic work to more specialized procedures.”
Cecilia chose a gin and tonic. “Is there anything you refuse to do?”
Song leaned back in his chair, considering. “Well, I won't do anything that I think will kill you, obviously, and I usually shoot down non-medically necessary castration and liposuction.” He swirled his own drink and frowned a little. “Everyone's got to have limits. They're gross.”
“So,” Lane set his glass down, “do you do a lot of work for Johnnies, like Cecilia?”
“There aren't a lot of Johnnies to do work for, but I'd say that about twenty percent of my business is elective, weird, science fiction type stuff, whether it's actually performing the procedures or just consulting on whether or not something is going to be dangerous. It's a very fine line that some of these people are treading here, between fool-hardy and avant-garde. I'm a little more shy about doing things that might not work than some doctors are, but the last thing that I need is someone ending up dead, whether it's on my table or because I put some shoddy hardware into them. People can decide what they want for themselves, of course, but sometimes people want things that I can't give them. Nobody's really happy with what they've got any more, and it's the people who are the least happy who show it the most.”
“Are you trying to say that Johnnies all hate themselves? That's why we do this?” Cecilia was sounding a little defensive.
“No, that's not it. We all hate ourselves. Johnnies are just trying to find a way to love themselves. I admire that.”
Cecilia didn't look especially placated, but Lane pressed on. “Why do you think we all hate ourselves?”
“Well, I trace it back to the Cold War. You kids don't really remember it, but it was a long drawn out war between two super powers scared completely shitless of each other. Either one could have snuffed out the other, and life on the planet at a moment's notice. For years we spent all of our time trying to avoid, and preparing for, large scale death by radiation and war. All we could see in our futures was a scorched, inhospitable waste-land, everyone dead, the sum total of human enterprise extinguished in an instant by legions of normal people lined up to die. Then, it didn't happen. We never got our apocalypse, the doom we'd been waiting for, that we were prepared for and we craved. But then, as the theoretical fallout cleared, we saw that the waste-land we'd been waiting for, the thing we really feared, it never went away. It's made its mark on everything in our culture. It's inside of us. It's still spreading.
“When you see the waste-land, it's a terrible thing, and it's very hard to love yourself when you're a part of it.”
Cecilia looked angrier than Lane had ever seen her. “So we hate ourselves, and we're trying to be something else, that's what you're saying? We're less than human because we defile our bodies and what we were born with, perverts with no sense of self. If that's what you think, then you're preying on our insecurities. How are you any better?”
Lane shifted uncomfortably, he hadn't expected a scene. Song held up his hands defensively. “Hey, now. That's not what I said at all. What the Johnnies do is great, really. Yeah, it comes from a dissatisfaction with their bodies and themselves, but they're trying to find a solution to the problem, and they're not just lining up for the medicine that's spoon fed to them like everyone else, dulling the malaise with the same prozac, nipple rings, meth or breast implants that the doctor prescribed the neighbor.” He smiled wistfully at nothing in particular as he sipped his drink. “The way you do it is innovative, trying to find new ways to solve a problem everyone has and most people don't even want to look straight at, and that's a beautiful thing, if you ask me.”
Cecilia matched his smile, her usual blissful calm returning. “Thank you, Dr. Song. I hadn't thought of it that way.”
They laid in bed together that night, after they'd taken the plastic off of the tattoos, rinsed away the dried blood and smeared them with lotion. Cecilia fell asleep quickly, she always did, but Jared lay awake, watching the light from passing cars play across the walls. In her sleep, her fingers touched the tender skin on his shoulder, traced the lines of his tattoo. He winced and moved her hand away.
The cool air played over their skin while Jared watched the shadows of the night on ceiling and looked into the waste-land he'd never noticed, looming on the horizon. He didn't know how he'd missed it but he was sure it had always been there; omnipresent and terrifying, an inescapable part of his world and himself. It lay all around him, all around his world, like he was on an island built in a vast junkyard of waste and despair, discarded washing machines and toxic filth slowly eroding the ground he stood on and tainting the air he breathed.
After a while, as he started to drift off to sleep, he felt a twinge of disgust with himself for what he hadn't realized he was a part of. He pulled the blankets over his shoulders and pressed himself against Cecilia's body for warmth.