It is what it is, it wants what it wants
It’s just a muscle, isn’t it though, says Caz. It serves a very prosaic function, he says. He is leaning in towards the girl. His chair is tipped forwards. His body is balanced on his sharp, scabbed elbows, which are planted firmly on the table. The date is going well enough that they’ve ordered a second bottle of wine, but not so well that he’s stopped worrying whether she can tell.
But let me tell you, says Angela, to her two-year-old-son, when something bad happens, when someone betrays you, that’s where you feel it. That’s where it hurts. The child looks up at her, goggle-eyed. He is too young for such conversations, but he’s the only one who’s there to have them with. He squeals and reaches upwards, towards her left hand. He wants the knife. He wants to play with it.
When you’ve taken your knife and cut it out, says the queen – briefly touching her tongue to the tip of her left canine – when you’ve done that, she says, bring it back to me, in this ebony box. If I’m not here, if I’m otherwise occupied, give it to one of the footmen. Tell them to keep it warm, she says. They’ll know how.
So this is how you preserve a heart in a jar, writes GoreFanatic, on the usual subreddit. It might be your mortal enemy’s – lol lol lol – or you might just want to scare someone. I tried it with a pig’s heart, you can get them from the butcher and, as you can see, it worked pretty nicely. Here is a list of the things you will need:
Scalpel, says Nabir, hearing the beep, beep, beep of the monitor, but thinking far beyond it, to a bleached concrete villa, with a giant glass façade that looks out onto the sea. As he thinks, and makes the incision, there is a clenching in his own insides, a light feeling in his stomach, more than desire, a hunger.
Get loads, I’m hungry, says Ben, ignoring Gabriel’s expression. The two of them landed in Narita at 9 am, which is midnight back home, and they haven’t slept since. To Gabriel, who has the beginnings of a headache, Ben’s voice seems too loud. They leave the ordering to Naoki, because it’s all in Japanese. The waiter, nodding briskly, writes it all down then bows. Ben whips out his phone, asks him to wait, so he can take a picture.
These pics are awesome! writes Carl45 on the subreddit. @GoreFanatic – did you drain it first?
At first, says Angela, it’s like you’re blinded by each other. Everything about them is shining and golden. She still has the knife in her hand. She is wondering where to put it. Her son is at the age where he climbs on chairs, opens drawers. The knife is a monstrous thing, too sharp, too long, too pointed.
I will be very disappointed, says the queen, if it is not brought to me warm.
Saw, says Nabir, a warm glow inside him, as he thinks of sweet coconut cocktails and body lotion in tiny bottles. He pictures the boy’s fine features. His long, slim, neck. How his body will look in a white towelling dressing gown. He imagines the dressing gown falling open as he lowers the saw tip, towards the incision. He hums a tune distractedly as the metal grinds down, into the breastbone, sending up a fine spatter of blood.
You can drain the blood if you want, writes GoreFanatic, but it doesn’t matter if there’s a little left in there. A little blood gives the liquid a nice yellow tinge.
Yellow, no, straw-coloured, medium bodied, notes of honey, says Caz, sniffing at his glass of wine, doing a bit for the girl, taking the piss. She laughs and they both laugh; then, as the laughing becomes a sigh, there’s a moment of discomfort, an eerie split second of silence. So, tell me something about you, says Caz, leaning in even closer. Tell me something no one else knows. Actually, wait, hold that thought. I’ll be right back.
Dozo says the waiter, who is back now, placing dishes on the low table. Some kind of Yakitori. Five blackened nuggets on a stick. What’s that, says Ben, pulling a face. What am I looking at, here?
Okay, let’s have a look, says Nabir, wrenching the ribcage open. He pictures the dressing gown, dropping to the floor. He stares absent-mindedly at the thing in the cavity. There it is, pulsating, shivering. An alien life form. A strange, exotic fruit.
It’s strangely beautiful, actually, writes Carl45. I mean it’s gross, and I love it, but it’s also, sort of, shapely, and the texture, it’s sort of, how to say it—
Haatsu, says Naoki – it’s a borrowing, a transliteration, an approximation of the English word. Hearts. From chicken, says Naoki, very tasty, very delicious. Ben looks at him, blankly. So Naoki thumps his chest, and says it again. Haatsu. Still, Ben doesn’t get it.
But then they get inside you, says Angela. In little ways. With the tiny jabs. It’s the passing criticisms. Those little off-hand comments. They demean you, little by little, so that you don’t notice, so you have to agree. Her knife hand is shaking now, and she has that weak feeling in the knees again, a fluttering and a hammering against her ribs. She starts to feel short of breath, and knows what’s coming. So she puts the knife down on the kitchen worktop, and fumbles for the drawer, while the child tugs at her skirt. She pulls the drawer open, and rakes through it, until her hands close around the foil packet. She squeezes out two capsules, and swallows them back, and waits for the wash of calm, that light, floaty feeling.
Om, says the universe, as the patient floats up into it. The anaesthetic is like a big, thick blanket, and then a magic carpet, lifting him up, out of his body, and now he is sitting on top of it, cross-legged, his thumbs pressed to his index fingers.
And he is flying, and free, with the wind rushing into him. Rushing in through the glowing fissure that runs down his chest
and the blood rushes out of him, and pours behind him, leaving a delicate filigree, a vapour trail, hanging in the air
leaving behind all of the following:
two failed marriages
four bank accounts, three crippling mortgages
somewhere in the region of 200 flights a year
a wallet full of cards promising VIP benefits
a vague unease that the benefits aren’t exactly worth it
the kind of lifestyle – let’s face it – here, in the universe, that isn’t life, really more hopping from restaurant to restaurant, from drink to drink
Plus, too many takeaways
All that salt
All those chemicals
I’ve tried to keep to chemicals that are, you know, not carcinogenic, writes GoreFanatic. But the ethanol solution is not exactly good for you. So you should probably keep your hands out of it as much as you can.
And something something something, says Caz, washing his hands in the sink of the customer toilet, as he looks at himself in the mirror, mouthing along to the song that’s playing. He doesn’t know all the words, but he knows almost all of them. He feels normal. He could get away with another bump. Just to keep the energy up. Just to keep the conversation flowing. He pulls a baggie out from his jeans pocket. He shakes it, a couple of times.
You took your time, says the queen. Do you have it then?
Actually, I have one more question, writes Carl 45. Can you do it with a brain?
Not sure I can do organs, says Ben – with a big smile on his face, like it’s funny, like it’s all a big joke. I think I’ll give those a swerve, he says. I like salmon teriyaki. Do you think they’ll have that?
Yeah, for that you’ll need formaldehyde, says GoreFanatic. Brains quickly turn to goo. It’s actually a bit of a different procedure. Let me walk you through it:
Cannula is in, says Nabir. Cross clamp is on, he says. He stares down at the patient’s open chest, the pulsating mess of it, and watches as the potassium solution takes effect, and the heart begins to slow. He looks for the blocked artery, catalogues every blue vein. He thinks of the boy’s translucent skin, and counts the days until they leave, together, because that’s what they’re doing, that’s what they’ve decided. He blinks a few times, and then the heart is still.
It’s still warm, like you asked for, says the hunter to the queen. But, if you don’t mind me asking, he says, what will you do with it?
I’ll eat it, I’ll try anything says Gabriel, swiping at the skewer, opening wide. He tears all the meat off with his teeth, devours the whole thing in a single motion. See, he says, his cheeks full and bulging. It’s just like chicken. Nothing to be scared of.
Oh, no, nothing like that, says the queen to the hunter. Nothing like what you’re thinking.
I like the way you think, writes Carl45. You’re completely sick, aren’t you?
Coronary graft complete, says Nabir, willing the minutes forwards, because nothing will seem real, now, until he is on that plane, and they are sitting next to each other, holding hands. He has gone past the point where he cares about the consequences. What will happen with work, his wife, what his mother will say. He has made a decision. Where the boy goes, he will follow.
Follow me, then, says the queen, and turns and walks away. She walks, it seems, without moving her hips. She holds the ebony box out in front of her, like an offering. The hunter walks behind her, unsure what is happening.
It happens to all of us, honestly, says Angela. She’s on sitting on the floor now, with the boy in her arms, clutching him to her chest, humming and swaying and smiling. He’s still reaching upwards, towards the knife balanced on the countertop. He is beside himself. But when it’s like this, when she’s in a calmer place, she can rise above it, to believe in a greater good.
Aortic graft looks good says Nabir, and imagines the relief of being somewhere together, where no one knows who they are. Who they are supposed to be. How they met, in a chat room. How easy it was.
Easy boy, says Caz, as he taps the powder out and a thick clump of it falls onto the edge of the sink. It’s a little more than he was planning to do.
Because you always do it, says Angela to her son, who is there and not there, purple-faced, open-mouthed, howling, still enraged about the knife. It sounds perverse, but it couldn’t be more true, she says. You yearn for them, always, though you know what they’re like.
Know this, says the queen, to the hunter. She has stopped outside a golden door. It’s covered in designs of leaves and branches, all moulded finely in relief. Once this door is opened, she says, it may never be closed. You will never be able to un-see it. Do you understand? Do you, fully?
Flow fully restored, says Nabir. Electrodes, please, he says. He manoeuvres the metal sticks towards the heart, to resurrect it, and he thinks of how happy they will be, how his own heart will jump into action, at that precise moment, not far from now, when they finally meet, in the flesh.
It’s just pig flesh, just meat, at the end of the day, writes GoreFanatic. Nothing sick about it. But I’ll take that as a compliment. Sounds like we’ve got a lot in common. In fact, I don’t usually do this, but… Can I send you an email?
Shock coming in three, says Nabir. Shock coming in two.
Two’s no big deal, says Caz, leaning forwards, with the rolled up note.
And that’s how it rolls, says Angela, that’s how it is.
In one, says Nabir.
The queen opens the door.
Nabir prods the heart, gently.
Caz snorts the line.
Gabriel wipes his chin, and stands, breathing heavily.
(at this precise moment, everybody is speechless.)
Then the queen walks through the door, and steps aside, to show what lies behind it. A verdant hillside. A purple sunset. A mess of star-shaped flowers, crawling vines, waving grasses. It is all intensely beautiful, every inch of it, every detail, but the hunter’s eyes are drawn, above all, to the trees. These tall, gnarled forms, stretching upwards, seemingly infinite. Branches like lithe limbs, curling sensuously round each other. Golden leaves catching the falling light. Red fruit, engorged and muscular, each bulbous form clenching and pumping, scattering precious red droplets to the wind, to the air, to the skies. It’s almost too much to take in. Too much to look at. But the hunter looks anyway, noticing how each one sways and grows.
Ow, says Angela’s son, as she squeezes him to her chest.
Wow, says Caz, walking back to the table, his body humming like a chainsaw.
Aw, writes Carl45. I mean, that would make my day.
Hey, says Ben. Looks like someone needs to go.
Oh, says the patient, as he wakes up, wired back together.
(He will not remember the universe, it is not his to remember.)
There, says the queen.
There it is.
My beautiful garden.
Adam Welch is based in London where he works as a copywriter in the fashion industry. His fiction has been published in Ambit, Salt’s Best British Short Stories 2019, Shooter Literary, Open Pen and Short Fiction Journal. He was the runner up in the 2021 Bridport Prize for short fiction and a 2019/20 Jerwood/Arvon mentee for fiction. He’s currently working on a collection of short stories.