Loving his family was tricky because he feared it would be biting off more than he could chew. He would also enjoy seeing them every once in a while. Besides, people in his family liked eating meat, and he was afraid that would make them too gamey. Then, it came to him – eat their hearts out. He sat them down and told them this. They feared it would mean they could only love him and not each other, but he assured them that wouldn’t be the case. He reached into the chests of his father, mother, and brother. They braced themselves and cried when he broke their sternums and jumbled their ribs, all for just a taste of their hearts, but they let him because they loved him. He held their hearts in his arms, licking his lips with greed. He ate them one by one, making each chew last, letting each pebble of heart meat linger in between his teeth and gums. He was right. They were gamey.
From that day forward, his family members only loved him and not each other, as he’d planned. He felt it impractical for them to divide their love when they could love only him and be just as happy.
They tried hiding all the sharp objects in the home, rounded the corners of tables and desks, and cut her nails before they grew too long, but Jane always found a way. Her nails were short, but still long enough to locate a little glimpse of red to squeeze out at least one drop. When no one took her up on her offer, she would drink the blood herself, because she’d love herself if no one else was willing. As she grew older, the scars on her body increased with desperation.
She was sent to psychiatrist after psychiatrist. The pills she was prescribed stopped her from slitting her skin, but stopped her from doing everything else as well. She couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t love, hate, taste, smell, see, feel, hear, until one day her parents saw her bones poke out from beneath her clothes and her persona change from cheerily self-mutilating to that of a misanthropic vampire.
Her parents threw up their hands in defeat and allowed her to stop taking her pills. She did just that and happily went back to slitting herself. No one liked the sweetness of her blood, but at least she was open. She hardened herself though, because if a man wanted to be in her life, he better be worth the blood loss.
Dick’s whole body shook when he saw the dark brown stains on her jeans, the slender back of her blouse, and by God there were even congealed chunks in her hair. What should he do? What should he do?
“Hey?” he said. He wanted to smack himself for sounding so hesitant. “Hey,” he said, more affirmatively.
She didn’t turn around to look at him, disillusioned with strangers. “Hey.” She sniffed. “Is that you or the river?”
She sniffed again. “I smell meat.”
He chuckled and leaned against the railing next to her. A murky trickle dripped from inside the corner of her mouth. He wanted to lick it. He wanted to strip the insides of her cheeks and rip off her scalp – scalp wounds always bleed the worst because of the amount of capillaries.
She counted the fish in the water, wondering if they could love humans. She thought it over and decided they can’t, since they were fish. Even if they did, it wouldn’t matter much to her. They smelled too bad. “Well, which is it?”
He ran his fingers through his hair, conscious of how inadequately clean it was compared to hers. God, why didn’t he bloody up his hair better? “Uh, yeah. That’s me.” What was wrong with him? People had impaled themselves for him and here he was muttering the romantic words of a person with the IQ of a paperweight. But she grinned.
“It’s okay. I like it. It’s… gamey.”
He took the tip of his forefinger and slid it up her forearm, the warm blood smoothing its travels. He lifted his finger to his mouth and sucked. She didn’t have to look to know what he was doing – she heard his lips pucker and felt her blood caress his insides.
Jane shrugged. “I don’t see why they call it those things. ‘Intimate.’ Heh, people put so little value into everything these days. Why bother putting importance in something when no one else does?” He didn’t think too much about it, or else he’d have seen she was lying.
Eating her heart wasn’t enough for him though. He got greedy.
Jane would wake up in the middle of the night to Dick chewing her arms and legs, licking her neck, and nibbling her forehead. She’d wake up with bits of calf and thigh missing. But it was okay because it meant he really loved her, and that’s all she’d ever wanted. It meant he couldn’t get enough. If he couldn’t get enough, he’d never be tired of her. He’d never leave her. She never dined on him though. Her love for him made her dizzy just looking at him. The thought of his skin between her teeth made her feel faint.
She broke off her ribs and made forks and knives of them so he could dine on her every night. It wasn’t a normal day unless she winced as he sucked her fingers dry.
When the movie ended, he took her by the hand. “What’d you cut yourself for?” he said. “I can barely hold it.” Their hands slipped out of each other when he led her up the stairs to the projection room. When they entered, the projectionist told them to leave. Dick eyed the knife in her pocket and motioned to the projectionist.
She understood what he wanted her to do. Jane didn’t want to do it. The projectionist didn’t do anything to her. But Dick was getting bored. She had to show him why he should keep her.
Jane walked up to the projectionist and slit his throat so he couldn’t scream. He swallowed for air like he’d been underwater for days and just broke the surface.
Dick tore the film reel out of the machinery and they ran out the emergency exit. When they got to the car in the parking garage, he played with it, rolling it around his fingers and dipping it into his mouth like a kid eating fruit roll-up. The second half of the movie was his favorite though. He ravished it, grinding it into dust with his molars and slicing it with his incisors. She watched with jealousy as the last of the film slithered over his tongue down his throat.
In the following weeks, she smelled meat on him, but not her own.
“You don’t have anything!”
He was right. If only she’d eaten his heart in exchange for her own. Now it was too late.
“Alright then,” she said. “You can leave. But I want my heart back.”
“So… for… in case someone else comes along.”
“It took years for me to come along and you think someone else will come in like that?”
“You… you never know.”
Her eyes dropped to her feet as did tears. Dick was glad he never ate them – he’d always loved her eyes, but if he ate them, he’d never get to see them again.
He stuck a finger down his throat and regurgitated her heart. The heap of mush plopped onto the sidewalk. It looked like vomit – in fact it was vomit – and was damaged beyond repair. Despite this, Jane scooped the pathetic bile in her hands, split her chest, and fit the pulp between her lungs.
When it didn’t work out or when she smelled unfamiliar meat or vomit on them, she made them regurgitate and leave. This went on for years.
When they didn’t let her eat their hearts, she did it while they slept. She slit them open and dug in, especially if she knew they were about to leave, because then they’d be even and both their hearts would be pulp.
All this vomiting and regurgitating was bad for her. Eating hearts was already bad enough. They made her queasy. She didn’t know how people did it. It seemed like too much effort.
Soon the stomach acid constantly passing through her mouth rotted her teeth, and her heart turned into something of a puree from being eaten and thrown up so many times. In her late-thirties, she met a man who was different. He waited to eat her heart, just like Dick. He drank from her arms and legs, just like Dick. And after he ate her heart, he stayed to drink more, just like Dick. He didn’t care that her teeth looked like raisins or that her breath smelled of formaldehyde.
But one night, he ripped off her scalp and broke open her skull. How else would he get complete control? Jane fought but it was useless. He grabbed a chunk of her brain and gnashed at it.
He stopped when he tasted the memories of everyone else who’d eaten her heart.
He furrowed his eyebrows and slapped her. “Nothing but a fucking whore.” He spat her brains in her face, vomited her heart onto the wall, and left.
* * *
He didn’t die, but the coronary kept him in the hospital. On a good day, he was allowed to walk around, dragging his IV wherever he went.
That’s when he saw her.
Jane was in a wheelchair, her frail body slouched and her mouth refusing to close. A trickle leaked from the corner of her mouth, but it wasn’t the sweet murky trickle of blood always stuck in his head for the past two decades, just drool. It slithered down her chin and hung there like unwoven string.
Her hair didn’t have congealed chunks in it, but was thin and wispy. Her eyes were fallen to her feet because she couldn’t lift her head.
Seeing her in this state could’ve killed him right there. What happened?
He got closer and pulled the collar of the gown to see her concaved chest.
No one after her was as sweet. He fully realized this now and wanted to hate her for it, but she was damaged beyond hating. The memory of her had crawled around in his insides since he’d left – the first love, the one that got away. Why did he have to be so greedy?
Her eyes were the same though. They were still beautiful enough to drown in. If they still looked that way, so lively, he couldn’t have been too late. He could still fix her.
He leaned toward her ear, a feat for his large frame, and whispered, “I’ll do better. I promise.”
He bit her knee and tried to suck from the wound, but it was hopeless. She’d been sucked dry.
For the last time, Dick reached his hand into her chest for her heart. It passed between his fingers and splashed onto the ground, nothing but fluid and pulp. He bent down on hands and knees to lap it up. Her heart, though worn through and through, warmed him, unclogging some of his arteries and allowing more blood to flow normally. As long as her heart swirled in him, he knew everything would be okay.
An inhalation whispered from her throat and the color in her face appeared in pinpricks. Her eyes did not rise, but a smile flinched at the corner of her mouth.
He curled up at her feet, waiting for her to know someone had eaten her heart for good, and was never going to let it go.
Lisa Mrock is a born-and-raised Chicagoan and is majoring in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago. She currently writes for the online zine I Feel Pretty.
Artwork by Ricky Qi.
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