Parts Place

by Cameron Bocanegra
Parts Place by Cameron Bocanegra

Lalo weaves us around pedestrians until we are standing before the looming mirrored doors of Parts Place. We raise our wrist splinters to the screen, the bulb blinks, and a beeping timer rushes us into the greenhouse plaza, an overgrown doctored garden looping around the building’s core. 

I reach above at a vine drooping from the ceiling rafters. I snap a leaf off and squeeze out its milky blood. I bring it to my nose, smell, and ache for a time before me when life grew without this discouraging amount of support.  

Lalo steers us to the elevators without considering a moment of pause with the peach tree and honey bee hymns. He has a lunch date in ninety minutes, and he wants to drop by Parts Place just to make sure he’s fine with his Parts before then. When he’s depressed and angry at the world, he wears a neck stacked with wrinkles, twisted bowlegs, and a misshapen skull, and then he patrols the city, forcing strangers to look at him. But today, before his date, he’s feeling as close to himself as he can with all his Parts the same caramel color, although no Part is our original shade of brown.  

We arrive on the third floor, where Parts bought directly from Original Hosts (O.H.) are displayed. A radically sterile smell welcomes us like an icy hug, lifting our colognes and anchoring a bitter antiseptic in our coats. 

My stomach swirls and tightens like butterflies hustling into formation when I see Parts gracefully suspended with reflective cords running through their flesh, pumping Universal. I straighten my back and wander from my brother intentionally like we’re at a party where I only have a chance with someone handsome if Lalo isn’t around. 

I stroll alongside the aisles of legs, arms, heads, necks, torsos, buttocks, and genitals more unique than mine. I could spare my originals and a bit of my savings for something small like a nose that doesn’t lean right and toes that don’t breed ingrown nails like mine. I replaced my eyebrows in secondary school when it was trendy, but now I’m tempted to trade in what no one sees and Parts Place would charge me to give: an outie belly button and a back of benign skin tags. 

An arm with twisted, serrated scars crowning the shoulder stops me in the UPPER LIMBS aisle. I jump as Lalo slaps my back.  

¿Qué pasa?” He chews his bottom lip, sharing a clammy, wet sound. He cringes at the Part and leans in to read the Part Description. “It was registered a few hours ago. Should be free when it looks like that.” He is slow to blink, watching me, waiting for the creases of my face to convey a reaction so he has an idea of how to respond to my silence. 

“I’m buying it,” I say, with no breath in me. I raise my splinter to the Part’s barcode and wait for the accompanying bulb to blink. It flashes orange. I ask Lalo what it means. He’s here biweekly. He knows. He opens his mouth to speak, pauses, and says nothing. I roll my eyes. I head for the Parts Resource Center, where a technician scans my splinter and reads from a one-way laser display.  

“Mr. Avalos, your bid has been denied,” the tech says, without looking around the image at me. I turn to my brother for support or insight, but he’s sidelined himself, planted by the elevators. He’s not looking at my face but watching my tense body. 

“I don’t understand,” I say to the technician. My hands hug the counter’s edge. The person in line behind me sighs. I look back at the scarred Part a few aisles away. A shopper hesitates in front of it, troubled. 

“Mr. Avalos, every damaged Part has a transcribed history provided by its O.H. and subsequent hosts. To prevent further intentional wear to a Part, we do not sell Surviving Parts to their Assailants.” The tech finally peers around at me, stretching a smile that doesn’t curve upward. “Please continue browsing for your perfect fit.”  

They gesture to aisles beyond UPPER LIMBS. I do not react. I cannot move. I am jerked back to who I was years ago, someone who did not handle rejection well. I am one feeling at a time like a Rorschach Test of emotions. I am confused, then nostalgic, and finally spiteful.  

Lalo comes to me, tugs my jacket, and nods toward the elevator. 

On our way to the ground level, he says, “Did you do something wrong, hermano?” 

I say something vague with a map of mannerisms he’s known for decades. He reads the flipping pages of my expression, but they all say the same thing. Wet suspicion fills his eyes and a cringe wrinkles his nose like he smells rot. He thinks he knows but doesn’t want to. Only I know what was buried alive in a grave shallow enough to crawl from. 

He surprises me and asks if whatever happened was an accident. I step forward with drooping arms, reaching out for him with a light shrug; he moves backward and bumps a bony shoulder into the wall. He slips through the opening doors with his head low as if we are two spies who just exchanged lethal information we shouldn’t have.  

But I do not feel abandoned. I have the comfort of my former self, warming my conscience until I’m boiling, spilling, solidifying into something primal. 

I linger in the greenhouse and think of Her, here today, possibly reassembled with unrecognizable Parts. I hunt between young pecan trees and examine every bystander. She could be any of them — the father dragging his toddler from a beehive’s vicinity or the woman in a gray suit reading on a bench. 

She and I admired the same orchids and pressed the same elevator buttons as if touching each other again. I inhale what She breathed first, searching for a smell I can’t remember, her oily skin like honey so warm I wanted to wear it.  

A gag punches up my throat, and I know it is the pieces of Her I swallowed, growing inside me like a deformed fetus that’s been waiting for her signal, to feel its old heartbeat nearby so it could claw its way out of me and back home to Her. 

I turn on my heels. But She isn’t there. Her face, finally clear and indifferent like I left Her, blurs my vision like cataracts. I remember, see Her like a silent, twitching film. She was here today, brushing past cacti without a flinch, leaving as I arrived, and thinking nothing of me.  

Cameron Bocanegrais a queer Latina and Texan lucky enough to write for a living in the beautiful Austin, Texas