He held the FridgePak plastic bag close up to his eyes, but he couldn’t see anything special. He saw no spark of life, no memory of love, nor any trace of meaning. He just saw the pulp of a heart. Liquidized. Red and purple, twisted through with fragments of yellow fat, white sinew, the strings and cords that held the organ together. Floating in the melted mushy blur.
He squeezed the bag. He felt the texture of ground meat, some gristly chunks remaining. He felt the fluid rush of blood, filling the bag’s vacuum, the indentations of his fingers, his fingerprints transferring to the plastic.
He wanted to smile but he couldn’t.
He placed the bag into his briefcase, closed it and locked the number dials, then got into his Mercedes and drove off.
Image from David Ehlen.
She lay in the kitchen. A bowl of Kellogs lay finished on the table. The milk carton lay on the floor, curdling milk over dried blood on the terracotta tiles. The gaping wound in her chest attracting flies. On the table beside the Kellogs sat the blender, still lit up and plugged in, juiced on the insides with blood and ragged yellow tendrils. Next to the blender, the red splattered lid. The countertop dashed with droplets of mounded red matter. A droplet in the bowl of the spoon, sitting idle in its empty breakfast bowl.
On the fridge, a picture of her and him. Their dog, back when they had one. On her finger in the photo, lying cold now with the bread knife nearby, a ring. On his finger in the photo, a ring. In her ribcage, where the heart should have been, his ring. Resting in the muscle at the back of her ribcage, twisted sideways to squeeze between the crush of deflated lung and spine.
The room stank of curdled blood and milk.
The look on her face, mouth all bloodied round, was torn open with horror.
He’d known it since he’d heard it on the radio. Three years ago. Before they transferred him to the executive board, before the affair with Miss whatever her name was, before his wife had started trying to suck his cock every night to make him stay, except he couldn’t grow hard and the Viagra she kept buying for him was more of an embarrassment when he faked taking it than anything, before all that, he’d heard about it on the radio.
They’d been having a picnic, and it wasn’t his radio. They’d been down at the Carter Canyon, which was only a canyon in name since they’d dammed it up and made the whole thing into a reservoir, silting the spruce down an inch a day until the place was a clear lake with only the tops of the tallest trees poking up like the tips of icebergs from the crystal clear depths. They’d been sitting at one of those damn picnic tables and he remembered his sweater was itchy and how the crick in the back of his neck wouldn’t go away, and how he wished his wife would just stop staring at him for a minute and about the things he could do if he’d had a fishing rod down with him, or even just a fly-reel, or a coke can with some nylon line, for god’s sake, that’s all he’d need, and his sweater chafed at his neck where she’d kissed him to wake him up that morning and dammit the radio over there was too damn noisy.
She was eating. When she ate she made little slurping noises. When she ate an apple it was all smooching like a high school lover. When she ate meat he couldn’t stand to see the red juice dripping down her chin. Her lips were lazy. They were slack. She let the juice dribble down. She did the same with him in bed. She was lazy.
The radio was playing for a man in purple rubber waders, stepping out carefully onto the under-rocks which used to be the peaks of high canyon crags, and cast his line.
The radio was a song about boats. A boat called dignity. Fishermen. Then something on the news. It was all chiming in the background as she was saying something and he’d occasionally nod and say “Hmmm.”
It all began with that.
He’d come down to breakfast that day, and all was normal. He’d seen the blender, and her body on the floor, and he’d sat down and eaten his Kellogs, like he always did. He’d talked to his dead wife, lying on the floor. Her lips turning blue. He didn’t care that she was quiet. He liked it that she was quiet. He’d come down the stairs the same way yesterday. And the day before that.
This was marital bliss, he’d thought.
I get to sleep, I have space. I have no whinings about sex. I can stand when I take a piss. I can eat what I want. I’ll do the damn dishes when I want to, bitch. You see that? Who’s the man now? You see that? You see that bread knife in your chest? You know who did that? You know who put that shit there?
Yeah, well. Don’t forget it. Don’t you damn well forget it.
He’d come down to dinner a week ago. Back from work, whatever. He’d had a drink or two. No more, because he knew she’d be waiting. She’d be waiting. She was always waiting. He wanted to scream at her, tell her to get her own damn life, But he hadn’t done that ever.
He’d sit down on the couch. He’d say: “I’m home”.
He always said: “I’m home”
It was nothing new. Her coming over next to him was nothing new. Her panting like a puppy dog was nothing new. Lapping at his hands, until he looked at her, and she’d catch the disdain in his eyes at the routine they were running through, and she’d say something hurt and poignant, like: “Am I making you uncomfortable?”
And he’d say: “What, honey?” in his soft voice, the voice for her, the voice for little children, and she’d smile and point at his knee, her feet on his knee and say: “This? Does this hurt? Am I too heavy?”
And he’d smile and think for one second gee this smile feels real, but it wouldn’t be, because she’d already have scored enough points from him that he’d be down for the rest of the night. He was weak. He needed her. He had weak knees. He couldn’t support her. He needed her, to support him.
She’d lead him through to dinner and he’d eat quietly and she’d ask about work and he’d try to make it sound interesting- why? Because that was his job with her. To entertain her. To keep her around. Why?
And she’d sigh and say I want to watch TV now.
She’d go watch TV. She’d sit exactly where he’d sat before. She’d hold the remote control. And he’d think: “Can I snuggle up to her now? Can I pant like a dog? Can I ask if I’m hurting her?”
And he knew the answer was no. Because if he did, she’d raise the stakes. She’d rub him off irritably, if he came too close. She’d say: “Don’t you like the television channel I chose?” or she’d pat him on the head and say: “My baby”, and press his face up to her clothed breasts and say: “Suckle, honey suckle.”
So he’d sit in the kitchen.
The kitchen often felt very quiet.
He’d look at the paper. And he’d wait for her to come to him, now he wanted her. But she wouldn’t
He’d made out with his secretary at work. 2 years ago. A year after the picnic, 2 years before he stabbed her. She’d been watching him. He’d known it. She was young, 22, an intern in his office. She flirted with him, and he’d held back. He’d held back, until one night she stayed late, and came into his office, plush, with red leather chairs and those fake books in cases on the walls that were nothing more than just glorified siding, glorified wall paper, and she was in tears.
They sat on the sofa.
She told him her father was trying to stop her from working. She said she was terrible at her job. She said he was probably going to fire her. She said she was so sorry for everything that she’d done wrong. She ended up crying in his lap, her balled fists pressed against his crotch.
He knew what was happening. And he asked himself: “Can I handle this? Can I do this?”
And the fingers balled against his crotch told him: “This is no problem, buddy. We got this. Go ahead.”
So he did.
That night was just a promise to talk to her later. And that time came. And she cried again, in a downtown café, top of the Wreigler building so he wouldn’t be easily seen, and he reassured her and told her all was well. She got drunk. He did too. They went to a bar and she kissed him. She pushed him back into the toilet and she sucked him off.
That was the whole thing.
For 3 nights in a row she sucked him off, in different toilets in different bars. She got hostile at work. She got angry. He didn’t know why? Did she expect a promotion? Did she expect him to make her a manager? All for a few blowjobs in toilets that stank of piss and lemon fresh detergent?
She sucked the next time and bit him. Teeth marks.
His wife found that. She said: “What’s this?” She was always trying to please him in bed. She was always buying new toys. He didn’t want that.
At work the secretary got angry in the workroom. Before everyone. She broke down in tears. He followed her. She punched him in the face.
The next day she quit. There were photocopied and signed papers detailing their affairs in all the bars. Times and dates. She even had a photo in one. The bartender was her friend.
He went home, and his wife had a copy too.
She made a point after that of sucking him off. It was his reward, she said, for going no further. But every time it was guilt. She was sucking out his life and putting in the guilt. And when he couldn’t get it up anymore, the thought of the agony of ejaculation into her, her spitting and scouring her mouth afterwards, wanting a kiss, of him taking on that extra load from her in return, it bore him down. But she bought the drugs, she injected him, she gave him pills, so every night she could drain the life from him.
She complained softly he didn’t enjoy it enough. She wanted him to moan. He went down on her and she made no sound. She went down on him and he tried to please her. He moaned and wailed but none of it was real. He tried to make it alright. She started slapping his butt while she did it. He wanted her to stop but she laid him back and said: “It’s OK honey, it’s OK, enjoy it.” And he tried, but he couldn’t make it feel right.
That day he came back from work and there was a young man in the living room. He had his shirt off. She turned to him, said hello, then back to the young man, and she said: “Get dressed, you can go home now.”
The young man left. He left a hole.
His wife looked at him.
“What did you expect?” she asked. “What did you expect?”
She put his dinner before him. He felt white vomit in his stomach. He said nothing. He felt like: ‘I am accepting this’. ‘I am accepting this’. ‘I am accepting this’.
She sat down opposite him, took his hand.
“Come on honey,” she said. “I only sucked him off. I promise. You know how good I am at that now.”
He stood up. She said: “Where are you going?”
He felt compulsion driving him. He felt his reality slipping away. He felt his life drowning in her malice, in her pretended love, in her pain swamping him like the trees in the canyon and the radio broadcast, like her lips over his member, sucking out the marrow, the life, the future.
He stepped to the counter, white knuckled.
“I’ve been thinking,” she said, casually, not looking at him, over her shoulder. “We should have a baby. Don’t you think so?”
He picked up the knife, turned around. It was the bread knife. It had a serrated edge. He thought: “Why am I holding the bread knife?”
She laughed at him when she saw it. “Oh dear,” she said, “you are silly. Let mommy make it alright.”
He walked to her. He didn’t know what he meant to do. She stood. She took his head in her hands and put it against her shoulder. He felt himself start to cry. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He knew that for sure.
He smelt the man’s aftershave on her cardigan. She took his face on her hands, wiped his tears with her thumbs, kissed her lips against his forehead, the lips that had just sucked another man, then she pulled down the edge of her blouse, revealing one white breast. The nipple was already hard and red. Nipping teeth-marks arrayed around it.
“Shh,” she said. “Go ahead. It’s all yours now.”
He bent to sup. He actually bent over. He affixed his lips to her breasts and through his tears he suckled on her nipple.
“There there,” she said, “doesn’t that make it alright?”
Then he stabbed her with the knife. It slid right through her breast. He stepped back. She stepped back. She looked at him, at the knife, and a faintly ridiculous snarl came to her lips. “I only sucked him off,” she said, and dropped to her knees. Blood started to leak out of her. She coughed it up. On her knees, she scrabbled to him. He backed against the counter, terrified.
She pawed at his crotch. She pulled out his member. To his horror, he found he had an erection. She stuffed it in her bloody mouth, coughing up blood, and she sucked him off. With her death throes, she sucked him off, and he came inside her, and she swallowed it, choking, coughing, splattering blood all over his groin, his pants.
Then she gasped. Fell away from him.
He watched her. She lay still. He was panting.
It was the best orgasm he’d ever had.
He took a shower. He went to bed. He slept more peacefully than he’d ever done. Her smell on the sheets, but her absent. Her hairs on the pillow, but her absent.
He worked for 3 days. He came back and smiled at her on the floor, every time. She stared vacantly back up at him.
On the fourth night he woke up sweating. He reached out for her, but she wasn’t there. He touched the bed, but she was gone. He started breathing heavily. He couldn’t stop it. He knew he could stop it but he couldn’t stop it anymore than he couldn’t stop himself from plunging the knife through the breast he’d been suckling on. He couldn’t stop it and soon he was pushing his body to howling tears and he was screaming into the pillow, then out loud, and he was roaring into the night, and he didn’t know, except that she wasn’t there, she wasn’t there for him, and he was alone.
When he stopped screaming he felt like half of his head had been removed. He felt like a man who wasn’t hungry, but who just wanted to eat, but there was no food. He felt like a man frustrated. He felt like a ladder that wasn’t quite long enough. He felt like a piece of string too short. He felt like a heart that wasn’t wide enough, big enough, open enough to let her live in the way she chose. The way she saw fit. He knew for a fact he should have let her have her boyfriend. He knew for a fact he should have tried harder when she was sucking him. He knew for a fact he should have thanked her for letting him suckle at her breast. He knew it for a fact, because now she was gone, and that he couldn’t take.
He saw it in her final gift, as she choked to death, fear in her eyes, the best orgasm he’d ever had. The first time she’d ever swallowed for him.
He sat haunted on his bed, unable to sleep, eyes wide and staring, seeing it all over and over again, until morning came.
With the sun he rose and he cut out her heart with the bread knife. Her flesh was hard and cold. It took one hour, and he was sweating by the end. Drops of his sweat fell into the hole in her chest. That more than anything made him want to throw up. He dropped his wedding ring in to make it better.
He heated the heart in the microwave. He put it in the blender. He packed it in a plastic bag then in the briefcase, then he took off.
He drove to the canyon. The lake, it was now. He saw families out already. Sons and fathers, and he was cold but he felt her last words to him, “Let’s have a baby”, and he knew he should have done. He knew it was his fault that he had no children. He knew he should have been stronger. Able to accept more. Able to live through more.
At the water’s edge he waded out onto the crags. Water filled up his black polished shoes. The bottoms of his pants soaked through and hung chafing against his calves. He was reminded of a day 3 years ago when he was here, and he’d heard the radio, and what the radio had said.
It was an agony aunt. A snippet. She was advising someone. She said: “Your roots must grow together underground.” She said: “Once that has happened, there’s no going back. There’s no point trying to run away. You’re bound. You’re fixed. You need each other more than you need air, or food, or friends, or anything. The chains of love will hold you beyond death. Two hearts become one.”
And he’d looked at her, sloshing away noisily at her food, and he’d thought: “So this is it?”
And he’d asked her: “What do you think about that, hon?”
And she’d looked at him, looked right at him, and he’d known she was listening, but still she’d said: “Of what?”
“Of what?” she’d said. But she’d been listening. He knew it.
And he’d laughed. A little nervous laugh. Was that the first time he laughed like that? Maybe yes. He laughed and then he said: “Nothing, honey.”
And she’d eyed him for a second, the first time she’d eyed him like that, and gone back to her eating.
Now he knew it was true.
He opened the bag and drew out the mush of heart. He opened it. The liquid sloshed inside. It was cold, like a milkshake. A smoothie, like pulped orange juice, the kind with bits.
He poured the heart down his throat. It splashed around his collar and down his suit and he heard some people shout something in the distance but he didn’t care, because next thing he was jumping, and he was sick of everything, the lot of it, her heart inside him just as his seed was inside her though never to make a baby, and he dived and he swam until he found the remnants of trees at the bottom, the light clear and bouncing down, and he clung onto the base of a once-huge fir tree until he saw stars, and he’d breathed out all the air he had.
And he waited. And he waited. And he gasped. He breathed in the water. He thought it would be finished. But it wasn’t. He breathed it out and in again and the panic overwhelmed him. He roared airlessly into the water, his neck muscles working frantically, his lungs shipping in and out the fresh water. His hands remained tight around the fern. Finally he watched her heart vomit free from his body, and he felt a sudden peace.
The red floated in the water, mixing with the silver and gold lights in his eyes, and he knew, that moment 3 years ago, that’s when he should have ended it.
He saw a picture of him standing up and saying: “I hate this canyon, what are we doing here?” And her saying: “But honey you wanted to come here.” And him saying: “I only came here for you. Because it’s what you wanted. Because I wanted you to think all this was worth something.” And he saw her starting to cry. All slobbily over her food.
And he stepped clear of the picnic table. The radio buzzed and he ignored it. She was sobbing in seconds. He wasn’t even surprised. He stepped clear and he walked away.
She cried out behind him: “Stay, honey, don’t leave me,” pathetically. And he walked away.
“I need you!” she cried out, and he walked away.
“It’s true,” she cried, “I do need you, and you need me! Don’t walk away! Don’t leave me alone!”
And then louder “If you leave now, you’re never coming back! Ever!”
And he walked free. He ignored her.
The heart drifted free of his body. Blood snaked from his lips. Silver filled his vision. And he died.
The police found her body that day. They found his that morning. They never found her heart.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]