GRISTLE
Elizabeth Morton

 

The floppy-disk contains what is left of my heart, in JPEG format. Now and then I hole-up in an internet cafe and scroll through its contents. I zoom in on the valves and piping, rotate the muscle at right angles, increase the resolution. Sometimes I edit it in Microsoft Paint. I thicken the septum, harden the arteries, make the whole thing robust. Then there are times when I print out a copy, and fax it to a law firm in Tokyo, a medical office in Berlin, a school in Singapore. My heart is blue-tacked to a blackboard in Toronto, masking-taped to a street post in Sydney. LOST says the caption, RETURN TO OWNER. Sometimes I get phone calls—at odd hours and in foreign tongues. Most people think my plea is a joke, a botched Valentine's, an April Fool's along with mislaid couches and running fridges. I’m not kidding, of course, though I expect you won’t believe me yet.

Let me compare it to a stonefruit. A nectarine. A doris plum. What is left of my heart is less than a cherry. It has been replaced by the organ of a pig. A bioprosthetic-intended swine, Miss Wilbur. I met Miss Wilbur twice before the butchering. Her body was finely downed, personlike. I stood behind the window and tapped it where she nuzzled. (The prospect of pig viruses meant we never touched.) My wet palms made butterflies on the perspex. Wilbur, I said, I’m taking your heart. But the perspex was intransigent, voiceless. Miss Wilbur never heard my confession.

In dreams my heart sits in a Tupperware container on the mantelpiece. The doorbell rings, and I answer it and it's Miss Wilbur. She grinds her teeth at me. I feed her stonefruit from an earthenware bowl. She grinds her teeth at me again, and this time she's wearing the face of my ex-lover. And she has my heart between her teeth. She swallows and I wake up, panting against my duvet. And then it occurs to me that my heart has been taken, and I feel my chest under my pyjamas, and there is a hole the size of a fist. 

Then I wake up—this time, for proper. I pull the bedding over and open the shutters. The peach tree outside is barren and blighted. The clothesline spins gently. Waxeyes chitter in the hedge. Let me tell you about my heart, before it disappeared.

It was the conical fruit, clenching against the backwaters, sputtering salty juices along anatomical corridors. Sometimes, I would wear it on my sleeve. I would give segments of it away. My ex-lover claimed a whole ventricle. I would hack with nail scissors, snipping the heart-strings which would snap back like bungee cords. I suppose I gave too much away. I was generous. I had a heart of gold, don’t you know, and I would sacrifice my aorta in a heartbeat. People reckoned I was an OK guy—even my ex. But I gave her my left ventricle—the most lovely thing I had. 

The surgeon had red hair and a voice like wasabi. She told me a joke about the cardiologist who thought he was God. On a clipboard she noted my strained laughter. At the hospital they scanned me for sentiment. My heart was less than a cherry. They handed me a ViewMaster with slides of fluffy koala bears and tasmanian devil pups, while they hooked me up to an electrocardiogram. My heart twitched a little, then gave up. You are technically a dead thing, said the wasabi voice. Oh right, I said. And at reception I paid my appointment fee and swallowed a peppermint, in the manner that dead things do.

Miss Wilbur’s heart was a Plan B. A human organ was the original plan. I was on a list—for weeks I waited for an airbag malfunction, waited for somebody to get smashed between dashboard and steering wheel. I was praying for some poor sod to land up on a ventilator. I crossed my fingers when I wished my clients good health. I would spend evenings fetching autopsy photographs from the underbelly of the internet, lusting after that dreadful organ. The pig heart was easier. Miss Wilbur was butchered within eight days of the idea. I visited her twice. Miss Wilbur, I said, I think I love you. But she just yanked at her water tube. 

So now I’m looking for my birth heart, for the little slivers I handed out like candy. Miss Wilbur thrusts and flaps inside me. A foreign body. I love her, really I do. But she is meat and I am hunting down something like soul. My ex-lover and I still tussle over the left ventricle. And I’ve created a page on Facebook where people can post tubes and meat and gristle. Some kindhearted folks paid for an advertisement in the local rag. And it’s working. My inbox is flooded with heart. My phone rattles with foreign tongues. Things are looking up for me and, by extension, for Miss Wilbur. Take heart, people tell us. And bit by bit we do.