Monday, August 20, 2007

Vignette: Heart in a Box

The cold gray morning seeps into the bathroom, pale light puddling across the grimy blue-and-white patterned tiles. Fatima steps into the stall, dropping her robe on the floor, and turns on the shower with a graceful flick of the wrist. Water slides off her skin, her hair, drips off the tips of her fingers like crystal tears. She watches the light reflect against the drops of water, shimmering prisms that dance at the corner of her eyes. Soap sluices off her back, her shoulders, foam around her feet before swirling down the drain. She watches the suds disappear down the grill before shutting down the water and toweling herself dry.

The door to her bedroom is slightly ajar. She is sure Cathy won’t mind – after all, she hasn’t been sleeping in the apartment for the past week. Her boyfriend Jericho is in town, and the lovebirds are probably holed up in Jer’s studio apartment just past Shaw. (Fatima remembers tasting Jer once, his lip cracking open when she kissed him, when Cathy wasn’t looking and they were all wasted from three pitchers of margaritas and San Mig; he tasted of oil paints and history, canvas primers and parchment paper.) The blood on the floor of her room has coagulated to a dark brown stain. She makes a mental note to buy floor cleaner after work, and a new scrub brush.

The body is curled up on the floor in a rictus of pain. His form reminds her of a flower just before it bursts open, a thousand tiny petals unfolding to the wind. The wound at the back of his head has already congealed, the blood matted and drying against his thick black hair.

She remembers running her fingers through the strands, separating each fine line from the other, her body bucking underneath his, all sense of rhythm abandoned. She remembers as he slumped above her, exhausted, his skin cooling with sweat and sticky with their mingled juices. She remembers plunging her talons into his chest – he was still half-awake, half-asleep, treading the line between dreams and nightmares – and pulling out his heart. It was still beating when she took it into her mouth, her tongue tracing the swollen scarlet cavities, reciting the names of each part like a prayer bead: aorta, left ventricle, right ventricle, superior vena cava, atrium. She remembers the taste of him: smoke and sadness, the need to be loved. She takes him in her arms afterwards, cradles him to sleep.

Now she drags his body out of the room, forcing his arms to stretch to full length. She hears bones crackle and pop, the skin on his chest flopping open as she turns him on his back and pulls him out of the room. A trail of blood marks the floor, sweeping lines that curve and snake across the hallway. She pulls him into an old blanket and rolls him up, a human pig-in-a-(paisley patterned)-blanket, and then hopes to God that there’s no one outside the apartment as she crouches down and slings the body over her shoulders. There’s a five-second pause as Fatima looks out the door and nervously waits for a sound, a sign – anything that would tell her that someone is coming. She trots to the main garbage chute and pulls the industrial-sized hatch open. It takes her only moments to watch the body slither down into oblivion, and listen to the satisfying crash as it lands above the mound of garbage.

She takes a deep breath and returns to the apartment. The mess is appalling. The clock on the wall reminds her that there is work, and that she will be late if she doesn’t get her ass on the MRT in twenty minutes. Throwing caution to the wind, she grabs her cellphone and texts Cathy, telling her that the apartment is a mess and could she delay coming home until the weekend so that Fatima could clean things up?

While she waits, she patters towards the refrigerator door and opens the ancient appliance. On the top shelf, just behind the box of Oreos and a carton of half-finished milk, she takes a small jeweled case into her palm and strokes the intricately inlaid surface. Her mother passed the box to her on her deathbed, and she knows that it is worth more than the entire universe. The delicately carved surface is covered in precious stones, forming a mosaic of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Cathy never noticed the box; nobody ever noticed the box. It protected itself, and Fatima knows that it would never be seen by anyone other than her own kind.

Her fingers carefully touch the clasp. The lid springs open. On the velvet inside layer, nestled like a precious pearl inside an oyster, is her heart – bright and beating, quietly mimicking the pulse in her throat. She sighs in contentment and closes the box again. Things are all right, she tells herself, humming as she returns to her room. Her bare feet absently skips the blood tracks drying on the floor.

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