There once was a girl who had been stabbed in the heart. It left a hole an inch long that pierced it completely, leaving a small puncture on the opposite side. The girl used staples to fix the wound that time. She was still young and resilient and staples were what she had available. She would come to learn that the pain from the stapling and the subsequent ache during the healing was half the point. The incident burned into her memory.

The wound never quite healed as much as the girl just got over it and got on with her life. When it almost happened again she was more prepared. What would have been a severe stabbing resulted in only a few cuts. The cuts weren’t bad so she used some Band-Aid’s. These wounds also didn’t heal completely, but the pain lessened and eventually they were all forgotten.

When someone she had allowed to get too close decided to take a bite out of her heart, and another especially cruel person saw an opportunity and cleaved it in two, the pain was almost too much for her to bear. The wounds nearly killed her, but luckily she was still young and strong. She survived, made her way home and set to work.

For the cleaving, which split the heart more than halfway down the middle and left the muscle unable to hold itself together, she used stitches. She acquired some cat gut from a nearby road kill and ran the stitching up one said and down the other. It gave her heart the resemblance of a sneaker or a football and when someone kicked her in her heart months later, she was grateful. The stitching held fast and she only suffered some bruising. The cleaving had been dull and left a jagged line where she stitched, while the piece that had been bitten off was small and clean, it left a hole. Using a little papier-mâché and the remaining cat gut, she was able to plug the hole sufficiently. It leaked a little, but once the coagulation took hold the bleeding stopped.

Even with the care she took bandaging these wounds, they also never quite healed. With every beat of her heart she was acutely aware of the stitches and the patchwork. The entire muscle carried a dull ache. She could feel the weakness in the areas that had regenerated. The fibers had to work harder to keep up with the rest of the muscle and as a result she began to notice fear dripping from her heart down to her stomach. It caused the stomach to upset itself a little bit.

She tried to stay away from people after all that, but avoidance as a solution is rudimentary and can only do so much. In time someone else managed to get close, and another, and a few others. What eventually happened to her was devastating.

Several people had attached themselves to the girl in various ways. Then all at once, they separated. It happened quickly, and was completely unexpected. One ripped, one tore and another put her heart in a blender, which chewed the bottom portion of it to shreds. She was crushed. Her heart had been so damaged that didn’t even look like a heart in the end, just a misshapen pile of muscled flesh that twitched and belched. It was a testament to her work with the staples, the patchwork and the stitching that allowed it to survive at all. Otherwise it might not have, but she had a lot of work to do with what remained.

The girl knew that there had been some amazing work done with prosthetics of late. Thankfully she was able to acquire a prosthetic to replace a large portion in the upper corner of the heart. One section that was extremely painful and raw she decided it would be best to weld a piece for. The rivets were excruciating when they went in and left quite a memorable impression, which was what she wanted.

The shredded section was the most difficult. It was the entire bottom portion of her heart. Everything was there, but trying to sew it up would require skills beyond her abilities. After a long search she found someone who could help. It cost the girl one promise, ten tears, thirteen drops of blood, one poem and the memory of her first kiss for the recipe, but she decided it was well worth the price if it worked. The girl received a recipe that actually came with a money back guarantee, but since she had given no money she wondered how that would work. No matter, the recipe was complex and she set herself to work.

First she gathered some cobweb from the attic. She had to gather enough that she could actually see that there was cobweb. She then went out and collected bark from a one hundred year old oak tree. The wild flower was simple enough, but she had to find one that had grown on the grave of a serial killer which was a bit more trying. After that she had to acquire several tears from a virgin. This troubled her until she realized how simple the task actually was. She went next door and baby sat for her neighbor. During the course of the evening the child had some trauma and began to wail. The girl acquired the tears then soothed the child with ice cream. She already had the duct tape.

She added all the ingredients and crushed them down until they became stinky thick yellow salve. She made a small boat with the duct tape.  The recipe had the spell that contained words from the Bible, the Koran and the Necronomicon. She spoke them as she lit the duct tape. The salve heated above the candle flame and sat smoldering when the fire went out. It was ready.

She was to rub the salve into the heart once a day for a week. Amazing! That portion of the heart healed the nicest of all her scars. Once it was done she decided to tattoo a small design on one of the last parts of the heart that was still undamaged. The symbol was an intricate tribal thing and it allowed the heart to feel complete.

She had spent weeks with the broken heart and somewhere in the middle of everything she decided the responsibility of carrying the heart was too much. She liked the way it felt not to have the heart burdening her. It weighed heavy when she wore it and rather than believe the heart had more to give, rather than understand that the heart, having been through so much was stronger than other hearts, she thought it would be best to remove it permanently. After all it was not necessary. She was alone now and after what she’d been through, believed she would remain so.

It took some doing, but the place where she got the recipe to fix the shredded portion of the heart, showed her how it could be done free of charge as long as she went online and added a yelp review.

The girl first installed a zipper which was easy because the long slit in her chest had been opened and closed so much over the years. The heart would now be easier to access for any further repairs that might need to be done. After that it was just a matter of storage for which she used a large glass pickle jar filled with an inch of white vinegar and several cups of sea salt.

The stitching, the trauma and the subsequent memories that went along with them all went away once the heart was removed and placed in the pickle jar. She stared at it, beating in the glass jar. It was a part of her, but now it had become a thing outside of her. She had no emotions about it. She felt… good was not the word because that was a feeling. She felt nothing. She did not feel burdened and that was the point wasn’t it? She felt light. She blinked and then stared at it almost uncomprehending the muscle.

Then she set the lid on top of the pickle jar then hefted it. She placed it on a high shelf in the back of her cupboard where it wouldn’t be seen and would therefore be forgotten. She would take it down eventually, when she needed it, when she wanted to feel again, when she wanted to remember. She was not content, for that was a feeling. She simply was. She was numb.

In the back shelf of the cupboard, the pickle jar sits, covered in dust, containing the emotions of a life, both good and bad. It still beats, it still lives, but it has been mostly forgotten.

 

2

Suzanne went to work just as she did every day. She worked in a medical office where she answered phones and did filing. This was a good job for her. The only time she dealt with people was when they wanted information. She was good at information. It was facts without opinions and without feelings. When she answered the phones it was pleasant and clinical and right to the point. She never got angry or frustrated. In fact she had been rewarded three times at the monthly meeting as having the best customer service disposition in the entire department.

Monday through Friday Suzanne went to work. In the evenings she watched whatever was on television. She lived alone. She had a cat once, but she didn’t feel anything for it and when it was bad, she was bad to it. Eventually it ran away. She didn’t feel one way or another about that. After a month she threw out the bowl, the food, and litter box. On television she watched sit coms, but they weren’t funny. Dramas were not dramatic and thrillers didn’t thrill. She watched documentaries and reality television which was not reality and certainly not television. She learned and watched people interact, but didn’t understand why everyone got so worked up about so much triviality. Other than that she had no opinion.

On the weekends she tended to chores around the apartment. In the back of a closet was an easel with several canvases and paint. Three finished pieces were hanging around the apartment. She had put them up because she had no place for them and the walls were bare. Somewhere in her head she remembered that she enjoyed painting, but couldn’t remember what or why.

On Monday she went to work. There was a power outage in the middle of the night and her alarm clock neglected to go off. She had no time for breakfast which was usually fruit. She had no time to make her lunch which was usually a sandwich or leftovers. She got to work on time, but she was starving. On her first break she went out to the cafeteria across the street to get something to eat.

The door swung open before she could reach it. “Hello miss, welcome to Camille’s. Please step inside, I am Brian and I will be serving you today.”

Suzanne thought this a bit odd as it was a cafeteria, but she followed the man to the nearest table and was seated.

“And what can I get you to drink miss?”

“Oh, well iced tea, but I’m in hurry. I have to be back at work.”

“Not to worry miss. Do you know what you will be having then?”

Suzanne glanced over her shoulder a moment, “I thought they had a small fruit plate.”

“Yes we do miss. Fruit plate and an iced tea.” He turned on his heal and was gone.

Suzanne watched him, dark suit and thin. She looked around. This was a cafeteria. She didn’t know they had servers in the cafeteria.

A minute later he was back with the fruit plate and the iced tea on a cafeteria tray. He set them down in front of her and smiled. “Will there be anything else?” He asked.

Suzanne looked up from the simple meal and locked eyes with Brian who was staring at her with an intense penetrating gaze. She felt the memory of something that was no longer there, stir. “No thank you.” She said flatly with no emotion.

“Very well,” Brian said turning.

“Oh?” Suzanne called.

“Yes?” Brian turned with a hopeful gaze.

“The check? I have to get back to work.”

“Oh uh, well miss, I know you are in hurry so you can pay when you return for lunch.”

“Really?” Suzanne had never heard of that, but thought it was fine. She finished her fruit and most of the iced tea, and returned to work without a second thought. She never went out for lunch, but now it seemed she had a place to go. She continued her regular work day and at lunch stepped out and headed for the cafeteria once again.

“Welcome back miss.” Brian said opening the door for her again. “Your table is waiting for you.”

“I didn’t know they had waiters here,” Suzanne commented as he led her to a table.

Brian smiled, but made no comment. “And what will you be having?”

Suzanne said she had been thinking about a chicken sandwich and a small bowl of soup, not realizing that she didn’t have a menu.

Brian was off and back in two minutes with the soup and sandwich which he presented on a cafeteria tray. “I took the liberty,” he said and placed another iced tea down as well.

Suzanne nodded and said thank you.

“And will there be anything else.”

“Yes I would like to pay now for the lunch as well as the fruit from earlier.”

“Um… well the manager said that since this is your first time in here you did not have to pay. He hopes that if you like it you will return.”

This too seemed odd and it made Suzanne pause, but still she smiled and said, “Well that’s nice of the management.”

Brian smiled hopefully. “Enjoy your lunch.”

Suzanne knew this was a serendipitous turn of events for the day. She wanted to be pleased. She wanted to feel happy. She wanted to feel something and for the first time in such a long time. She wanted to have her heart back. After returning from lunch she sat at her desk and absently scratched at the zipper on her chest.

That night Suzanne made dinner and thought about Brian. He had been kind and gave her such intense looks. She wanted to feel something about that too. After dinner she opened the top cupboard and pulled the pickle jar down. It was covered with dust. Inside she could see the heart. It still beat and looked strong, but neglected. Suzanne scratched at the zipper on her chest and thought about putting the heart back. She remembered the wounds, now scars, the stiches and patchwork and the tattoo and wondered.

She opened the pickle jar and unzipped her chest. Carefully she took the heart out and placed it inside. She was just about to zip it up when all the emotions, all the pain from all the memories came back to her in a flood. Suzanne dropped to her kitchen floor sobbing uncontrollably as the heart brought everything back. It took everything she had to reach in and pull out the heart again. The moment she did so, all the emotions ceased. She placed the heart back into the pickle jar and stared at it like it was an evil alien thing. She didn’t trust it any longer. She closed the lid and placed it back on the top shelf of the cupboard and went to bed.

Suzanne lay awake in bed staring at the ceiling. She didn’t cry, but had seen enough movies to know that she should be. She didn’t feel anything. She thought about Brian until she finally fell to sleep.

The following day Suzanne conveniently forgot about her lunch and went to the Cafeteria again, but found that Brian was not there. She waited at the door to be seated until one of the women who worked there asked if she needed any help. Suzanne said she was waiting to be seated. The woman explained that it was a serve yourself counter and showed her to the trays, plates and utensils. Suzanne was puzzled. If she had her heart she might have been embarrassed. Instead she chose a soup and sandwich, paid and took a seat wondering about Brian and what the previous day was all about. She finished her lunch and as she was walking out, ran into Brian walking in.

“Oh, um… Hello miss. I… hope you had a…” He stopped. The flat look on Suzanne’s face told him she knew. “I’m sorry.” he said.

“Why did you do that yesterday?”

“I, well I wanted to meet you. I work across the street too. I’ve seen you coming into the building and I know you work on the fifth floor, but… and when I saw you yesterday it was a coincidence and I decided to… well.”

Suzanne listened. She understood. She nodded and took a step past him headed back to work.

“Wait.” Brian said. “Can I take you out on Saturday to make it up to you?”

Suzanne could think of no reason to say no. “Okay.” she said and gave him her number and address.

On Friday Suzanne got off work and went home. She had to get ready to go out. She took a long shower then went into the kitchen. She opened the cupboard and pulled down the glass pickle jar and stared again at the heart beating inside. She remembered what happened Monday night, but she was not afraid. She unzipped her chest, took the heavy glass lid off the pickle jar and took the heart out and slipped it into her chest once again. The memories came back with the same explosion of emotions and recollections of pain.

Suzanne squealed in agony holding her hand over her mouth as tears suddenly erupted. She squealed and squealed until she couldn’t hold back any longer and released a shrieking cry of absolute agony. She reached inside and tried to remove the heart, but her hands were shaking and couldn’t get a grip. A pounding erupted from the front door and she heard Brian calling out, asking if she was alight.

Suzanne covered her mouth with one hand to quiet her sobs and continued to reach inside for her heart. She pulled and with a final effort removed it with an anguished cry that even the hand on her mouth couldn’t quiet.

The front door crashed open. Brian called out to Suzanne who was still in the mist of sobbing. She dropped the heart onto the pickle jar and tried to put it back into the cupboard, but her hands were still shaking and her fingers were wet with tears. The pickle jar slipped and crashed to the floor.

When Brian entered he found Suzanne lying on the floor looking as if she had been crying. Between her legs lay the heart that looked like it had been through hell and was now covered in shards of glass. Suzanne carefully picked at the glass around the heart. A few had pierced the heart and lay sticking out. She looked up at Brian with no expression.

Brian looked confused for a moment. Then he saw the open zipper in her chest and understood.

Suzanne went back to picking at the glass.

“Don’t pull any of the embedded ones out,” Brian said. He pointed to some of the smaller shards that pierced the heart as it beat.

Suzanne looked at him with no emotion.

Brian got down beside her and carefully cleared the loose glass away.

“You don’t wear it very much.” Brian stated matter-of-factly.

“No.” Suzanne said blandly. “Never anymore. I wanted to but…”

“But it hurts a lot when you do.”

“Yes. When you wanted to go out I thought I could… I should… I mean.”

“You know you are the first girl I’ve asked out in years.”

“Really? Why?”

Brian smiled, “Fear, doubt, guilt name it. My brain always gets in the way. I think myself out of it. Then I decided… Well.”

Brian turned around and pulled the collar of his jacket down to reveal what looked to be a latch of some sort. With a simple twist it clicked and the back of his head opened to reveal his brain. He placed his hand on it and tipped his head back. There was a sound of a wet sucking plop. Brian turned back and smiled.

The brain had been patched and bruised as well. Two bands of duct tape held the thing together in the front and back. One section that had turned completely black had a battery and several wires attached and gave off a slight hum.

“Now miss I can tell you this old thing has gone through the ringer once or twice and there are times I simply can’t deal with it at all. The problem is that I lose a lot of myself and my sense when I take it out so I try to wear it as much as possible.”

He bowed his head then and using both hands let it slip into the back of his head and closed the latch. Brian made a face of distress, sadness and guilt, which turned to fear for several moments before he composed himself.

“I left it home the day we met.” Brian said. “I had seen you around the building and when you left that morning, I ran downstairs like a fool and… You know it seems I sort of know things when I don’t have a brain to consider the consequences. Somehow I knew you were going to the cafeteria. And I ran ahead and waited for you.”

Suzanne stared. She felt something wet on her cheek. She wiped it and looked questioningly at her hand. “I’m crying? I don’t have my heart. How am I crying?”

“Could be proximity,” Brian said. “Or it could be something deeper than just a heart.”

Suzanne looked at the heart. There were a few tiny shards embedded in the tissue, but it looked fine.

“Don’t worry. I will be okay, it happened to me once. As it heals it will push the shards out on its own, but it’s best if it heals within you.”

Suzanne hesitated.

“I’m here.” Brian said. “We’ll do it together.”

Suzanne slipped the heart back into her chest and zipped it up. Everything came back in a flood of painful memories and emotion that were as fresh as if it was happening right then. Suzanne screamed and sobbed in agony and Brian wrapped his arms around her. They clung together as Suzanne let it all out.

It took a long time.

They were too late for the reservations, but they went out anyway. They talked and the talk turned to laughter in a way that was real and animated for them both. They enjoyed each other and had more fun together than either of them had in very long time. There was no hiding, no secrets and no games. Nothing ever completely healed for either of them, but healing wasn’t the point. With her heart in place she didn’t miss anything. Everything was richer and more fulfilling. Suzanne found it was easier to deal with the pain of memory and emotion that arose every so often than reliving it all over again when she removed and then replaced her heart. They both understood and supported each other and in time, everything became easier.

 

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