Thievery: The Rental Heart
17th Jan 2011 in Thievery
Thievery is a series of blog posts about my story inspirations.
‘The Rental Heart’, first published in PANK #4.
Soon to be reprinted in Best British Short Stories 2011 (Salt).
The problems came when the hearts got old and scratched: shreds of the past got caught in the dents, and they’re tricky to rinse out. Even a wire brush won’t do it.
But the man in the rental place had assured me that this one was factory-fresh, clean as a kitten’s tongue. Those heart rental guys always lied, but I could tell by the heart’s coppery sheen that hadn’t been broken yet.
I remembered perfectly well how to fit the heart, but I still read the leaflet to the end as a distraction. A way to not think about how Grace looked when she bit her lip, when she wrote the curls of her number. How she would look later tonight, when she. When we.
It was very important that I fit the heart before that happened.
I’ve been with my girlfriend, the adorable and talented Susie McConnell, for over two years now. But before I met her, I dated. I dated a lot. I lined up dates like items on a To Do list, and I was ruthless about it. Boring date? She hasn’t called? Caught some girl’s eye in a bar? On to the next one!
But before that – before I became a mercenary girl-heart-shredder, that is – there was this one girl. Let’s call her Girl A. We only went on about four dates and we were never a couple, but she was the first person I’d been interested in since coming out of a four-year relationship. I can’t even explain what it was about her; she was self-absorbed and boring, but something about the shape of her mouth and the way she held her shoulders made me want to stare at her all day. She talked too fast and she collected fruit stickers in a little notebook because her uncle and grandpa did. She was an apologetic smoker. She teased me for being a lightweight drunk, for being obsessed about time, for drinking black coffee and red wine, for being terrible at pool.
She worked at a club, and if I said I was going to a bar nearby she’d hang around in the rain on the pavement outside just in case I came by. Then she’d ignore my text messages for a week. Then she’d call me to say we were still super-casual and not in a relationship, but we weren’t allowed to see anyone else. And then she’d spend all night sending me dirty text messages, and then I wouldn’t hear from her for a week again.
My head span, and not in a good way. I told myself that no-one ever died of a broken heart. I thought if I kept saying it, over and over, then maybe it would be true. But it hurt, it fucking hurt. It felt like my heart was too big and it was crushing my lungs; it felt like there was a chunk of wood in my chest, a chunk of wood still smouldering, filling my chest with smoke so I couldn’t breathe.
Anyway, one night after I’d spent an entire evening staring at my phone and willing it to ring, I thought fuck this shit. I deleted her number, and I went out and met other girls.
I pretended that I had a rental heart. I pretended that I could use it to be with someone and then return it afterwards, that it would be like nothing ever happened. I made sure that no-one I went out with left a scratch on me.
And then I met Susie. She was a cute nerdy tomboy musician with cropped bleached hair and very soft skin. She had strong opinions on fonts and was going to be a rock star. I didn’t expect to fall for her but she played grandmother’s footsteps with my brain, tiptoeing in when I wasn’t looking. Every night I would go round to her tiny tidy flat and she made me dinner and we drank wine and listened to riot grrrl and fucked. The next morning she would get dressed in the dark and kiss my sleepy cheek and go to work, then I lounged around and drank her coffee and watched daytime TV. It was love, love, love.
By the time I had gained enough distance to write ‘The Rental Heart’, I’d dug my heels into my life with Susie. We are still together, and I have learned to trust in my internal tick instead of fearing it. I have learned that hearts do not shatter after all. There is no need to return them; the one you have will do just fine.