CARDBOARD ANGST, Maggie Bàra

CARDBOARD ANGST
by Maggie Bàra

The first human born without a heart was a screaming baby girl. Note here, that the words human and heart are used very loosely – there was a mass of tissue and muscle in her chest forming a heart-like organ, much the same way that a human is an ape-like animal. She did not cry upon arrival but truly screamed; doctors and parents assuming that she was in pain wouldn’t last more than a minute, let alone through the night. But she wasn’t in pain, and this would be the real shame of her existence.

At eighteen years, Zoe had made a hobby of screaming into the voice-recorder on her phone, and listened to the playbacks as she drove or walked or ran alone in gym class. Because of this, her parents had moved her bedroom from the cozy room next to theirs down into the basement. After school Zoe would idle, watching TV and doing her homework before retreating into her room. She’d thumb on the voice-recorder and scream, begging for tears of happiness or pain, or even for her faux-heart to explode. Her parents would come downstairs and call her for dinner, only to find her either half-conscious or still screaming. Either way they would slap her on the cheek and tell her to get upstairs. They knew that nothing could really hurt the girl with no heart, and although this was convenient, it soon became unbearable. Zoe had no sense of right or wrong, of joy or depression, and she never remembered their birthdays. The only doctor willing to operate was two states away, a long car ride of dulled screams coming from Zoe’s headphones.

“In a medical sense, this is a heart.” Dr. Criston labeled a few spots on an ultrasound image for Zoe’s parents as Zoe watched from an examination table, bare-assed in a hospital gown. “It performs the necessary functions of a heart, though a little impeded –” he circled a small area on the upper-right of the heart “– there is a noticeable mass of tissue missing from this quadrant. Surgery to rebuild this area would be straightforward, and help Zoe’s body function more normally.” He smiled vacantly at Zoe’s parents. Dr. Criston topped off his hypothesis. “A healthy body means a healthy mind.” The surgery was planned for the following Tuesday.

No one could sleep the night before the operation, Zoe screaming into her hotel pillow. She almost felt what could be happiness, but knew it to be a fuck-up, so she gave up her routine when the sunrise came. As Dr. Criston forced Zoe to sleep by means of a chemical mask, her parents collapsed on the waiting room chairs.

The surgery was gratuitously red – blood and beating fibers hot on the doctor’s hands. The tiny piece of a dead man’s real-heart was attached and incorporated with the non-human Zoe’s. Once the doctors closed her chest and sewed her up, she was real. She was a human being.

Zoe’s parents were delighted for the first few weeks. The calculated magic of science let Zoe laugh, and smile, and let her eyes light with love as her mother turned 43. The family had begun the process of moving their daughter’s things out of the basement when the muffled screams could be heard again. Zoe’s new friends stopped visiting. Before dinner one night her mother found her, passed out in a puddle of vomit and blood, voice-recorder still running.

“The transplant seems to have become infected, and in the process of cellular death for some time now.” He looked falsely grim for someone with a real-heart. “You’re a lucky lady, Zoe, to have parents that caught this when they did.” Mom and dad nodded, oh so teary. “So what can be done doctor?” Dr. Criston observed the pale-faced child and took a second glance at the ultrasounds. “That’s up to Zoe. Did you like having all of those emotions?” Zoe shrugged and spoke. “I don’t see what it would matter.” Mom and dad gasped, and pleaded wordlessly with the doctor. “In that case, I would recommend a new approach. It seems that Zoe’s body will not accept a transplant, so complete reconstruction is the best bet.” He paused to survey his audience. “How does that sound? We’ll build you a brand new heart.” Zoe shivered as her ass went numb and cold on the table. “A brand new heart, made from the best technology on the planet.” The appointment was set for the next day.

“Now Zoe,” Dr. Criston spoke from behind a surgical mask, “feel free to listen to whatever you’d like as we begin. Whatever will calm you and help you relax.” Without hesitation Zoe turned up her scream tracks, eyes staying open as the doctors again filled her with fumes.

As a makeshift narrator I can’t really explain how Zoe felt when she woke up, I can’t narrate the immense happiness or confusion or hysteria she experienced. The surgery was a medical success – her new, real, handmade heart fully functional and vastly improving her health. I can’t explain her inner world, as I don’t know the workings of a functional human soul, the absoluteness of normalcy and tolerable nuance. There are many of us, with infections and dead cells and thin mechanical shell-casings pumping blood, any arrangement we’d long to call a heart. But we know better, and scream in emptiness and in our lack of true humanity. All I can say for sure in the case of Zoe is what can be easily seen. Her bedroom was put back together, and she kept it bright and clean and her door unlocked. I even saw her late one night, laying in bed, phone against her palm. I watched her as she turned on the voice recorder and opened her lips, but nothing would come out.

Maggie Bàra is currently working as a professional dishwasher until she saves up enough money for her space shuttle back to M’Violemprè. In the meantime, she sends transmissions of poetry and prose in an attempt to stay sane and paints pictures of eyeballs in teacups.

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