As part of the Being Human Festival 2017 Dr Hannah Tweed and Dr Anna McFarlane held a creative writing workshop, ‘Write the Future!’, to encourage young writers to think about science fiction, medicine, and disability. Those who participated were invited to submit their stories in a writing competition, and it gives us great pleasure to share the winning entry, ‘To the Bone’ by Jamie Graham. Jamie is a student at the University of Glasgow and his story considers some possible problems with the commodification of bodily implants.
We’d like to thank creative writers Elaine Gallagher and Russell Jones for leading the workshop and allowing our young writers to benefit from their experiences; thanks to our writers for their contribution to this fascinating event; and thank you to Jamie for his story, and for allowing us to publish it here.
To the Bone
By Jamie Graham
Let me ask you this question: before you laugh at me, I’m not spouting any kind of rhetoric when I say that I seriously want to know. Have you ever felt something in your bones?
They’re a sensitive lot, which is hard to believe when you watch our games. Most of the time though we do pull together, and we always pull through. It’s just sobering to me that most of the lads at the rugby club wouldn’t have a clue about what I’ve just asked.
On Friday, we made a breakthrough. A national championship! The first one under our belts in months! We had some injuries of course: players on both sides went over their ankles, but that’s not a problem. It’s not like the ankle vendors are shutting anytime soon. Besides, it’s the end of the season!
However, that still didn’t excuse the lads their shoddy performance. Credit where it’s due, right, they did listen to me about coordination, but they weren’t running nearly enough with the ball (when they got it that is!). The criticism stung a little, but luckily for them I had neither the time nor the lower body strength to give them a demonstration. I know I’m a fine one to talk. I know what the fans mean when they ask how I can possibly be expected to coach a line up when I should be coaching myself to walk upright. Honestly though, I’ve had worse said to my face during my tenure and I don’t chastise them for questioning. I’ve loved this club since I was a boy. Trust me, it’ll take more than a few weeks of scepticism to put me off. I wasn’t always this feeble after all, but time rubs off on us all.
That’s why most of the lads got them Slipskins. Y’know, as part of that Omni-joint malarkey? If the team knows me for anything, they know me best for my slagging of ‘the extra arsehole’. I am joking, but the second someone unzips their leg or arm in the locker rooms, I just about boak. I was reluctant to get them on my own legs at first, but you get used to it after a while. I admit, it’d be nice to have a set of bones to go along with it, but hey, we can’t have everything. At least I’ve got somewhere extra safe to keep my keys! The Hospital claims these omni-joints make people safer; as far as I’m concerned folk are clumsier than they were, and they take their bodies for granted much more often, so I don’t trust that so much.
Thomas, our team rep, caught up to me before I headed off. He was one of the few who knew where I was going that afternoon, and before I left he passed me something: a business card for some fella … I can’t recall his name … who he said could help me out. Thomas was always big into the old Omni-joint. He’d spent a lot of money getting both him and his wife matching knuckles for their anniversary. Engraved and everything. Surely that can’t be healthy?
At least that was my Doctor’s mindset. A stern one, that bloke. I guess you’d have to be if you choose of your own volition to work behind one of the Hospital’s clinically sterilised counters every day of your life. My problem is the calf bone, you see. They haven’t been broken or anything, they were stolen a few months back. Some lowlife grabbed me in the street, dragged me around a corner and…next minute I was on the ground with no bones to hold me up. It was an hour before anybody thought to come down the lane. I get by. They gave me some drugs a while back to convince my lower half it’s still around, otherwise the pain’d be unbearable. The Doctor shoved a big catalogue my way. Apparently, the synthetic stuff is now really damn durable and very cheap. Call me sentimental, I’ve got attached to the concept of a real bone somewhere in my body, but there’s lots of complex DNA donation stuff to get through if you want something exactly as it was. As much as they like you to believe, kindness ain’t cheap these days.
It was a long time before I got in the door. It always is when the lift is bunged up and I’m too tired to wheel my seat. I heaved my chair over the bump in the door and flailed my coat on the hangar. After it fell off a good few times I left it on the ground, and out fell Tom’s card from one of my pockets.
The fella was kind enough to meet with me. Amiable enough, but he did go a little overboard on the life story. I checked his credentials and he seems to be the real McCoy. We both aren’t keen on the Hospital, he certainly made that clear. Him and a bunch of pals walked out on them. They weren’t teaching them enough apparently. All the same, he promised he’d get me an Omni-joint at a reduced rate, claiming that it was the least he could do to help people get the real help they need. I tried emphasising there was only one thing I wanted, a human-ish Omni-joint that I could keep for sport. I wouldn’t have to walk or run, just keep it for special occasions. He told me I should do some market research.
Before the club’s weekly session, I wheeled my way through the medical district. I was aware how popular the Omni-joint was, but not that it was a fashion statement! There’s all sorts, some even I’d say were practical. Omni-joints that don’t crack or get stiff. Some with built in electric heaters! There were some cheap synthetic mock-ups knocking about for those looking to recycle old bottles and things. I saw proud parents signing their children up for prescriptions. I heard once that some woman in America spent thousands getting her Mother’s whole skeleton reconstructed in Omni-joints. She wears it in memorial. I passed a guy shouting in the street about being boneless: don’t ask. There are plenty novelties. Who’d want what is essentially a leg bone to double up as a dog chew toy? Or a funny bone that laughs when you poke it? What happened to bones that were just there for show? Apparently, I was a bit of an oddity. The unaltered skeletal structure is pricey, especially when there’s little left of it in most to begin with.
The training session helped me lighten up. It certainly did Tom. He’d been complaining most of the day about his hands aching. We laughed and told him it was growing pains. We laughed and told him to stop being an old man. We didn’t laugh the week after.
Skeletal Shredding, it was. A registered disorder now apparently. Something in the Omni-joint. A rancid chemical laced in the marrow. The body realises that the Omni-joint isn’t real, is an intrusion, and tries to get rid of it quickly. The body’s solution? To break it down and try pushing through the skin. Yeah, Slipskins were real useful then. Tom was screaming too much for us to touch them. I don’t blame the fella I spoke to, or any of his friends for all this. I cancelled my appointment.