You Belong to Me: Short Story by Kent Dixon25 Mar 2017, Posted by Fiction in
YOU BELONG TO ME
You have to feel for this guy walking down the street on a clear, dry, almost blinding day somewhere in downtown Phoenix, a day twice beautiful because he’s recuperating from major surgery and is both pleased to be alive and painfully aware of it because his ribs are still quite wrecked where the shears snipped through the inter-costal tissue and the rib spreaders pried open his chest, for hours, while the doctors removed his old and installed his new, heart.
The woman of this story is perhaps harder to identify with, since she is dead, or as good as. It’s her heart the Phoenix man is trading on, when up comes this total stranger, who is me, the third leg of our triangle. “Excuse me,” says me the stranger, to our man from Phoenix, “but that’s my old girl friend’s heart you’ve got in there.”
Phoenix starts to move on—who wouldn’t? But I can insist: “That’s Judy’s heart. I found you through the TV news story, how they had a donor ready but couldn’t locate you? So they ran it across the bottom of that football game.” On television, mind you, like a tornado watch. She’d have loved it. I scroll right with my thumb and forefinger: “Perry Cleveland…call your doctor. Remember? No, how could you? The point was you missed it. Too bad. Good game. Detroit won, but some friends were watching and they called you—”
“I remember,” says Perry Cleveland, and looks off down the street, which, not without some calculation on my part is just about deserted. It’s too hot. Everyone’s in back somewhere soaking up the AC.
So I say to him, “Hey, don’t be alarmed. I’m not a kook,” and I smile. “I don’t want it back or anything.” I have this fairly genuine and reassuring smile, but Perry just stands there, waiting: I’m to explain myself, further. Okay, good buddy…
“Beating within your chest,” I say, “is the heart of the woman, who… you know, had mine wrapped around her little finger. Who once—not now I suppose, hell, I haven’t seen her for twenty years, but once I’d have gladly given her my own. Okay? Though it wasn’t a heart she needed.”
“No, obviously. It was her brain that died, my man. I’d have given her that too, once, come to think of it, though that would have changed things, wouldn’t it. I mean she wouldn’t have been quite herself then, would she.”
“No,” says Perry. “With your brain, I suppose she would have been mostly you.”
“Well, there you are. That’s all I ever really wanted, was to be her.”
I know what he’s thinking: Holy shit, this guy is a kook, be wanting to peek under my bandages in another minute, so I’d damn well better accommodate, at least until someone comes within shouting distance…
So he nods as if he’s been in love. Well, of course he’s been in love. Of course he understands—better than I, perhaps—what I’m doing here. Nothing sinister. Taking a triangulation is all, even if one leg’s a phantom.
“All,” I say. “All three marriages, all my loves, my fantasies”—even my genuine and reassuring smile—”they all have to do with, were learned from, chosen because of, in concert with almost, like dancers…” I give up and point at his sternum: “Judy.”
She used to dance for me, improvising, leaping couches and end tables. The china figurines wouldn’t even tremble. The record would end and she’d keep on dancing, now like a mechanical doll, amused, to the needle going around and around its center—kkxx-kkxxt, kkxx-kkxxt . . .
“She danced,” I say. He looks across the street again so I follow suit; we could both be looking for someone. Then he guesses he’d better be going, has an obligation.
“Damn straight. I’ll walk with you,” and I take his arm. “I like it that you have her heart in there, you understand? I mean if she had to die, I’m glad for you both. You seem like a nice guy.”
“Someone thought we were a good match,” he says and then feels he has to explain: “It’s called a match when there’s compatibility. The organ and the recipient. It’s a joke.”
“I got it. It’s good.” I smile, and stop him by his shoulder. “I didn’t know—I never thought about it, you know?—that they’d give a woman’s heart to a man. You’re a lot bigger than she was. You tired? Want to sit down?”
Actually, he’s not much bigger. I could have ferried him home from piano lessons in my tiny flat-bottom motorboat as well as her. I’d time it so I just happened to be putt-putting out from under the bridge as she walked over, and we’d halloo and I’d swing the boat around and pick her up at the Shipley’s dock. I’d steer for the waves to lightly bounce her on the bow thwart and watch her blouse flutter against her back. She’d be scanning the bay for ospreys diving. They’d plummet sploosh then struggle to rise with a bent fish sometimes too big to lift—which, when it was too big, the fish hawk sometimes couldn’t, or wouldn’t, let go.
“Perry, I had this little red motorboat as a kid. Named it after her. Made her Queen at my fifth-grade luau birthday party. I was King. I stole money from my parents to buy her things for her charm bracelet, 14-karet things. I knew the freckles on her body…”
“As a Bedouin knows his oases,” says Perry, who knows nothing about Bedouins, even I can see that. I point to his thigh: “She had a vaccination scar…was it right or left? It fit my thumb perfectly.” Trying to locate it on one of my own thighs, I catch myself, squint up into that desert sun at him. “This is pretty indulgent, isn’t it. I just wanted you to meet me…us. We three. Look, there must be something I can tell you. You want to know how she died?”
“I know how she died,” he says patting his chest without quite touching it, with an aplomb I’m not really keen on, though it’s hers. It’s silly, but I fancy I can see her in him as surely as in myself.
“Well, quite right,” I say. “But the first stage was an accident. Some stairs. Concussion, subdural bleeding. Actually—just between us—my native dancer could never have fallen down any stairs. She must have been pushed.” But he’s right, the man’s right, pushed or jumped, she wasn’t entirely dead until they harvested her heart. For him.
“It’s not working out,” he’s saying.
“Hm? What’s not?”
“Some signs I’m rejecting it. It’s back to Houston day after tomorrow. More tests, more drugs… One good thing about the drug though,” looking down and patting his head now.
“Cures baldness, for what it’s worth.”
For what it’s what? “Whoa, man, no shrugging allowed. This is all we got, you know. The frog of life hunkers at the lily pad and then hops on. You know? You have family, don’t you?”
“Sure, but I used to ski.”
“And so you will again! She did, too. Hell, she’d tuck in her poles and go straight down, crazy, pow! hot dog it right through the cocoa kiosk.”
“Cross country,” he says. “All day.”
This “all day” of his shakes me like a paperweight, shocks them flakes aswirl—all day shuffling along through a snow-tamped quiet, twinkling like mica beneath the clittering canopies of ice-coated branches, just the two of them.
“You want endurance,” I tell him, “you should have seen the bloody cotton wads in the tips of her toe shoes. I never saw her tired. I don’t think I ever saw her sleep,” being myself always the first to fall and last to rise. I missed that, looking down at my love asleep. Missed her funeral, too.
“It’s not her,” he says. “It’s me. I’m allergic to the cyclo… whatever. Sporine. So they have to temper it with other drugs, so then she starts rejecting.”
“Damn,” I squeeze his other shoulder. “I been there too, buddy.”
Rejection city. That mild surf in the quarter moon, me frantic up and down the beach, calling—wham, she and Rick walking nonchalantly out of the Atlantic as if it had been a so-so movie. “But it was contrived, maybe not even conscious. I was going away for a year so she, you know…”
“Not her. Me, my body she goes haywire. My immune system, sometimes it attacks my own liver. It’s a mess. I won’t get clear of it. These things only last four or five years anyway.” Pat, pat.
I don’t know what to say.
“Eight or ten at best,” he says and then he fixes me with a hard stare, like this is all ye need to know: “Diet, cigarettes, and parents. You’ve got some control.”
Just so—don’t eat meat, cut out sweets. “You know what she would say right now?”
But do I know? And then, pop, she doesn’t have to say it, though it’s nothing she’d have ever said, not to me at least, but it’s nothing I didn’t know either, though I never asked of course—it would have hurt her to tell me no—so I simply never asked if she loved me. Not once. But she didn’t.
At least not in this way, to put herself away from home for a week in a strange city looking for a man with a secondhand pump, the last of her, twenty years since we kissed. She never loved anyone that way, that I know of, at least I hope not. She wasn’t that selfish. Too lazy really. But I can be selfish—which come to think, makes me the goddamn donor here in part.
“What would she say right now?” he asks me.
“She’d say… I think she’d say something like all three of us have made some pretty poor choices in our time, but only mine is in poor taste.”
“I like her,” he says. “But it’s not poor taste.”
“It’s not? How would it be if I gave you my address, you know, just in case?”
“Close,” he says, “but love entitles.”
“Well, you’re nice to say so. Listen, I want to thank you for the chat. Sorry to have bothered you…” Let’s leave these two to their own devices, I say to myself. Your spurned lover, your extraneous third man, is out of here.
“What color was her hair?”
I look back at him, at his eyes—which ain’t hers. Black, you son of a bitch, hair so black you could see your reflection in it. “Look, I’ll let you go now,” and I take his hand between both of mine. “Really sorry, very foolish, bad form. So, take good care of yourself, okay? Ha, you old enough to remember that song? Baa-da-da your overcoat, When the wind blows free, Take good care of yourself...” Shake, shake, then pump, pump as Perry joins in: “Eat an apple every day, get to bed by three...”
All together now, nodding in time, “Take good care of yourself—Wait,” I stop him. “Hush up a sec,” I say, and I turn his hand over and choke up his wrist an inch to feel along the soft inside, to his pulse, and Perry, he’s OK. He lets me.
Kent Dixon is a prize-winning writer with three Pushcart nominations and three Ohio Arts Council awards to his credit. His fiction and poetry have appeared in TriQuarterly, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, Antioch Review, Gettysburg Review, Georgia Review and others. His nonfiction has appeared in The American Prospect, Florida Review, Kansas Quarterly, Energy Review, and others. He is recently retired from teaching Literature and Creative Writing at Wittenberg University. His graphic novel The Epic of Gilgamesh, co-authored with his son Kevin Dixon, is forthcoming from Seven Stories Press. He lives with his wife Mimi in Springfield, Ohio.
Artist: Andre’ Goncalves, Madeira Island, title: Lara Casandra. @andre_goncalves_arts