Coming conscious in his nest of morning bedsheets, he assumed the hard mass under him was some trapped detritus, his phone or the edge of a book he’d rolled onto. Even when he turned over and found the white plastic switch adhered to his chest, he prodded at it blearily, expecting it to drop off like the coins he often found stuck to the skin of his ass and thighs after sleeping. He did not keep a tidy bed.
But the switch did not drop off. It remained well-fixed, even when he gripped the surrounding plate with his fingertips and pulled at it. It came up barely a half-inch , and the surrounding skin stretched with it as though the assembly had been glued to him.
For ten minutes he sat quite still in bed, occasionally poking at the thing, unable to panic with the strangeness of it. Then he called Ted. It took another five minutes to explain fully the switch in his chest.
‘Your housemates glued it to you last night.’
‘They’re not here.’
‘They must have. Were you drunk?’
‘Nope. early night.’
‘They must have. Try getting a knife or something to pry it off. Or see if it’s glued on.’ Dominic went to the kitchen at got a butter knife.
‘That doesn’t feel nice. It’s like pulling at a fingernail.’
‘You’ll have to go to the ER. They have this stuff that dissolves glue. For when idiots glue things to themselves.’
‘It doesn’t feel glued.’
‘Dominic? Have you tried switching it yet?’
‘On or off?’
‘Well is it off?’
‘How do you know?’
‘The top is in.’
‘That means it’s off.’
‘Are you sure? At our house they were all wired the other way. I never knew which was right.’
‘I think that usually means off. But what if it’s upside-down? Can you tell? Switch it.’
He went to the cupboard for a roll of electrical tape. Tearing twice, he taped the switch against the plate so he wouldn’t flip it accidentally on the way to the hospital. In the hall mirror he regarded the hard-edged bulge under he shirt, and went back to the closet for a jacket. At the bus stop he stood hunching slightly, hiding his chest in the folds of his clothing.
At the emergency room the nurses laughed and left him shirtless in a humming room. When the doctor arrived she laughed also. ‘Glue? We have a dissolvent, it should be quick and painless.’
Her smile turned to a curious frown as she prodded at the switch, pulling it out as Dominic had done so, and pushing at where the plastic met skin with a metal file. ‘Is this glued? Your skin seems really packed in there.’
Dominic explained his morning. ‘I can’t see any residue,’ she said. We might have to cut some of it off. I’ll be back.’
A nurse came and painted glue dissolver onto the switch edges. ‘I don’t think this is going to work,’ he murmured. ‘There is no glue visible.’ The switch didn’t budge.
They laid him on a table later that afternoon and x-rayed his chest. ‘We’re trying to find out where we could slice away a piece of it,’ explained the doctor. ‘So we don’t cut into you. Your friends really did a number on you.’
He sat for a long time in the waiting room. When the doctor returned and brought him back to the surgery, she was orbited by four satellites in colour-coded scrubs. The doctor did not explain nor introduce them.
His x-rays were pinned to the lit board. He could clearly see his skeletal chest and the white block of the switch plate at its centre.
‘What we’ve found is not what we expected,’ she stated crisply. ‘You can see the switch here, her pen drew a box around the white square. ‘But beneath is there seems to be some kind of mass of threads. It looks like wiring or a thick bundle of nerves. But nerves don’t come this thick. You can’t usually see them in x-rays, not in people anyway.’
In the side x-ray he could see the threads clearly, white lines from the switch back into his chest, some reaching half-way, some reaching as far as his spine. ‘What is it?’
‘We don’t know. It could be wiring. It shows up like pacemakers do in x-rays, except the wires are not attached to a pacemaker.’ She shrugged. ‘We’d like to keep you in for observation, of course. Have you tried flicking the switch yet?’
He took the bus home, hand hovering protectively in front of him. In the bathroom mirror he gritted his teeth and pushed his fingernails under the edge of the crack until blood ran. A small amount of blood, but enough to stop him prying.
In the late evening he almost forgot about it several times, slowly cooking dinner and eating in front of the television. He’d agreed to go back to the hospital the next day to see different doctors. ‘You need to flick it,’ texted Ted several times.
‘What if I die?’
‘What if you don’t?’
Dominic applied more tape before going to bed, and lay on his back in the nest of his sheets running his fingers around the plastic. After an hour he rose and went again to the bathroom mirror. He pulled away the tacky plastic and, barely pausing to catch his own eye in the mirror, flipped the switch.