Nine Hearts


A heart in my upper abdomen seeks expansion, contracts a constant beat. It grew as my second set of teeth cut through my gums, craves the taste of blood, the tearing of meat. I hear it most when I can’t think of anything to do, when I am alone in my apartment and have sat in all of the chairs at least once. Once, when I was cleaning a walleye, I hit it too lightly on the head to stun it, and as it flopped belly down on the cutting board, I hit it over and over until my hand trembled, and all was still. The heart in my abdomen fluttered as I pierced the pale fish in front of the ventral fin with the point of the fillet knife. I cut towards me, careful not to slice any organs and spoil the meat. The heart steadied as I cut the scales and skin from the flesh, clicked the knife against its toothpick bones. I ask the new doctor what she ate for lunch. She says a protein bar, and I tell her that’s a pity. Are you not still hungry? I say. Have you ever sunk your teeth into a bison steak and stopped once the flesh breached the beach of your gums? Have you ever let the life of meat melt over your tongue and chew only again to try to feel the feeling of the first bite again? The blood tastes like I imagine the rings in a tree trunk taste. It’s all there, I say, the wisdom of the plains, if you close your eyes. She says she doesn’t eat meat, and I tell her that’s not the point. When you were in medical school, I say, did you never once feel an urge to feign an accident and know what it’s like to force life from two eyes? I feel her hesitate the stethoscope on the wrong side of my upper abdomen. I tell her she is close. She squints as she stops the aperture over the second heart. Hear it? I say. She tells me there is an aberration, moves her head closer to my stomach. I am hungry, I say as the little heart throbs. I have starved it for you to hear.



It’s right there inside of you, between your lungs, atriums and ventricles, valves, veins, caves and cardiums, ligaments, sinews, tissues. It leans like it’s forever tired, for it’s never finished until it’s finished, and even then can be coaxed back for more work. The new doctor pulls the elastic band tight around my bicep and mashes the Velcro. She squeezes the rubber ball until I feel the blood squeezing through my arm. She reads the gauge, counts the seconds in her head. The band loosens and she scrawls a number down on her form. There is a pulse to the room now, another invisible heart that exists between the two of us. She grabs my wrist, turns it over, and presses her fingers there. She counts again. After some seconds she scribbles another number down. The new doctor is not calm. She is not disinterested. She says my blood pressure is high, one-thirty over ninety-six. She says my pulse is higher, ninety-eight. I tell her it is running higher than it ever has.



Forest meets and climbs mountains, disperses as boulder blocks seed, weeds run amok between crag slabs, sheets of shale staggered by restless fault lines. We are at the mountain base, unable to see what’s ahead of us, but there is the hush of the wind and the quieting of our feet, and somewhere through the leaves we hear the faint trickle of a spring. We follow the sound above us until we reach the clearing, and above a mound of boulders tumbles a rope of water, spinning toward itself a thousand feet below. We climb until we are above the spring. Above the spring we stand when gray shelves of cloud slide overhead, and below the shelf is us, and below us the spring and below the spring the mountain and forest and lake and rotting lumber mill, names scraped on walls, broken glass, scattered needles. Once, my grandma walked me to her humming bird feeder and placed my finger on the red perch. Be still, she said; they will be loud in your ear but do not swat at them. These are not bees. They will not sting. I told her I could barely feel its feet on my finger. Once, I followed my grandpa deep into the northern woods, a whistle around my neck in case we traced the bear scat to the bear herself. He picked up the scat with his bare hand and pointed out to me the undigested roughage of blackberry and raspberry. From the bush, plump black bulbs whumped the bottom of my pail like commencement raindrops on a car roof. I would follow my grandpa out of the woods. Before Grandma’s dinner, we would eat the berries on vanilla ice cream in the garage. The new doctor presses her thumb to the arch of my left foot. The heel, I tell her, not the arch. Her fingers tickle, a test not to kick her away. She tells me to hold still, which I take to mean hold my breath, as she scrapes dead skin off my foot with her fingernail. I wonder how doctors define intimacy, if they picture the fluidity of bodily processes as they make love to another person. In her mind she has surely diagrammed herself as if in an anatomy book. I wonder if she can see through my skin what I know lies beneath it, if when she sees patients she sees plumbing, her eyes x-ray eyes like her sonar ears, charting my constellated hearts.



Joseph Lucido is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama with stories forthcoming in Buffalo Almanack and Strangelet Journal. He was born and raised in the suburbs of St. Louis, where his hockey and baseball hearts keep a steady beat.



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