Flash fiction By Liz Kellebrew ð Art by Robin Westbrook
It was a morning just like any other morning we could think of. A morning cool and gray, moist with the wet salt spray off the harbor. Men in yellow coveralls scrubbed the shit and bloodstains off the sidewalk as we trickled in to work.
We came prepared as always: some of us with vaporizers, others with syringes, all of us with our wallets and most of us with our key cards. All of us with any experience at all left our hearts at home.
No, we don’t want you to think of this as some kind of symbolic expression. We really left our hearts at home. It was too much trouble to bring them along; something about the sorts of things we had to do for a living made our hearts grow heavy and slow, and as a result we’d go crazy if we didn’t remove them every morning just before we got on the bus.
Once we got some practice, taking our hearts out became easier. We got so good at it we could do it even with our clothes on. It turned out that once we made the initial incision (usually with a box knife or a pair of kitchen shears, sanitized in boiling water), our bodies remembered, and we developed scar tissue. As a result, we had handy skin flaps we could open and close over our chest cavities.
The only inconvenient part was untying the heart itself, but even the heart got used to it after awhile. Sometimes a little blood leaked out, so we padded our skin flaps with gauze. As far as we could tell, our bodies didn’t miss the blood being pumped from our hearts, because who really needs blood to sit in a gray cubicle eight hours a day composing emails?
If we needed more oxygen in our blood, we could always put our hearts back in when we got home. But some of us had impressive amounts of self-discipline, and we were so good at living without our hearts that we could do so for an entire workweek.
We could always tell who the newbies were, because they left their hearts intact. They were so loud! Thumping and pounding and racing and slowing all day long. We found this annoying, found the newbies overly slow, their zeal for their work dulled by the steady pump of blood through their veins. Their hearts told them how to speak, how to behave, and how to create a work-life balance.
But all the newbies needed was time. Soon we would teach them how to take their hearts out, just like us, so they could become better workers and make efficient decisions without the influence of that hot-blooded chest organ. We would shame them with our own cool, calm cavities, embarrass them with our dispassionate critiques, gently guide them to be model employees like us, like the ones with the holes where our hearts used to be— we who work day and night without ceasing, we who promote and are promoted, we who grease the gears of progress, we who radiate success.