He Wants It Back

By Ron Tanner

he says she has his heart. She keeps it in a jar beside her bed. It glows in the dark. It sings like a caged bird in the morning. Sometimes she shaves the thinnest slices from it to fry with her salty scrambled eggs. Then it is silent for days afterwards.

One afternoon he ran into her at one of the mega-bookstores downtown, buying a pile of magazines he was convinced she had no time to read. He cornered her at the candy counter. She was wearing a yellow sundress. Her hair was pulled back in tortoiseshell barrettes. She was as beautiful as ever.

Nearly breathless, he said: Listen to this, just listen! Then he thumped his chest. Hear that?

Her face registered surprise, then Madonna-like wonder. Yes! she said.

An echo as grand as a canyon’s! he declared.

Yes! she said.

Her enthusiasm startled him.

Then, with a small smile, she said, Let me hear it again!

He ran away in fright.

Occasionally she takes his heart from its jar and floats it in her tub like a sponge, poking at it intermittently with her forefinger to watch it bob.

Once it crawled out of its jar and fell to the floor, where her Corgi got hold of it and chewed it like a knot of rawhide.

You poor tattered thing! she said when she retrieved it. Carefully she wiped away the Corgi’s slobber with a paper towel, then dropped it back into its jar.

His lawyer sent her a letter, demanding restitution.

She ignored it.

In the dark hours of the early morning, he thinks he hears his heart breathing weary blue notes from the glass well beside her bed. It glows like radium. Always she sleeps soundly, her Corgi curled at her feet.

He hopes his heart haunts her dreams, howling its eerie ballad across the moors of her selfish thought.

He is convinced that she will not let it go until it’s been whittled to a nub, a scarlet scrap in the palm of her hand. Only then will she admit that years ago she should have set it free, perhaps in one of the smaller parks uptown, where the possum and foxes wouldn’t get it.

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Ron Tanner is the author of the story collection, A Bed of Nails, which won both the  G. S. Sharat Chandra prize and the Towson Prize for Literature. For more go to www.ronaldtanner.com.


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