The Heart of it All | Swetha Kareti

“It’s so ero-guro and just, like, the coolest thing” she says, a screwdriver sloshing around in her hand. “To be honest, I’ve really never felt better—which I guess is a funny thing to say under the circumstances.” She licks her glass before sipping to keep her cherry-red lipstick intact.

Rave music vibrates in my ear drums, the bass line shakes my body to the core, this club’s music threatens to unhinge my sanity. The sharp staccato of six-inch heels enunciates each beat. Exhausted moans echo across the floor. If there is a hell, we’re in it.

“I still can’t believe you actually went through with it, I mean…”  I say.

“What do you mean you can’t believe it? Isn’t that why you’re here tonight?”

“I mean, yeah, but, gosh, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.” The silver sequins of this godforsaken dress keep digging into my armpits, but Roxxy said it looked good on me— “You look like one of those, what’s the line, silver idol kind of things”—which I took as a compliment. “I’m only twenty-three, are you sure that’s not too young?”

“Only twenty-three? Please, that’s not that young at all. The sooner you get it done the better is what I’ll say.” She takes another taste of her drink, long and drawn out this time, tracing the edge of her glass with one spidery finger, the blood-red gloss of her fingernails glinting under the lights of the bar. “I think you’re overthinking it,” she says, “it’s totally worth it.”

“You think I’m overthinking it, huh?” I chew on an ice cube, I can feel the numbness spread to my brain. I’ve always liked that feeling. Maybe that’s why I’m here.

“Hell yes, I do, but this is so you. You’re the same chick who asked me how many milligrams of THC was in that pot brownie I gave you.” It’s true, I did do that. In retrospect, the question was an act of social suicide.

“I only overthink spreadsheets and client dinners,” I say defiantly. Blood-curdling screams from the dancefloor punctuate the point.

“Please stop, this is hardly the atmosphere for that kind of talk.”

Roxxy dragged me to this club after I told her I wanted to have the procedure done. I think everyone here has gotten it, at least that’s what I’ll assume. The dancers on the floor move against each other like colonial bacteria, their outstretched arms beat like flagella that keep the entire beast moving. One girl clings to her date, her head hanging over his shoulder. The sequins on her dress bleed down her back. Holy hell, I think, the whole thing looks like a Goya painting.

Roxxy literally had her heart ripped out about two weeks ago. I met Roxxy about two months before then, in the bathroom at work. “Hey, I’m Roxxy.” She had grabbed my hand to shake it, nearly popping my arm out of the socket in the process. Her mascara was chalked down her cheeks and she kept making these hiccuping noises when she talked. It was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. As it turns out, one of her many boyfriends had finally called it quits on her. “Do you want to go out with me tonight?” she asked.

“Yes, of course,” I said. I was interested in the anthropological experiment.

The entire scene would become a weekly ritual for us.

Roxxy doesn’t really do that anymore, though,  not since that new operation of hers, something that I’d be doing tonight.  In a totally super chill procedure, as Roxxy explained it,  my heart would be ripped out of me and eaten and poof! all emotion forever gone. The coolest people in the world had already done it. I, personally, was really into the ancient Aztec throwback vibe—even if the whole thing wasn’t really FDA approved.

“Anyway, back to the main point. Having it done just makes you feel so… young,” Roxxy whispers in my ear, “You won’t feel your quarter life crisis, your dog’s death, or even a breakup.”

I take another sip of my drink in agreement. That last boyfriend was a gas wasn’t he? He used to talk for hours about how great we were together, I don’t think he even knew what my favorite color was. When he finally broke up with me, I slapped him I guess because he expected me to. I can still hear how self-righteous his sigh was as he walked away. I guess the entire thing was kind of sad.

“Remember, if you can’t laugh, you don’t get laugh lines.” She smiles, unsheathing the ivory daggers of her mouth, as if to accentuate the point. She was right, her face was like marble, flawlessly smooth.

I stare into my drink, at the bubbles that rise only to explode at the surface. People have begun to discard their jackets. The stench of sweat is overpowering; the sleaze of the place condenses right in front of your eyes. Everyone here is bathed in jaundiced light, but I can’t seem to find the source anywhere. The witching hour has begun.

“Anyway, we can talk here all night or we can actually do something. Do you wanna do it or not?” Her big, black, button eyes analyze me for a response, I feel like I’m under a microscope.

“Why not?” I reply. “Seize the day, carpe diem and all that crud.”

“Excellent,” she responds, “let’s go then.”

We both gulp down our drinks before Roxxy grabs my hand. She manages to part the colony of dancers just long enough for us to get through. The music is deafening, the bass line pum-pum-pumps out its rhythm in repetitive gasps.  

We walk into the night. It’s black, or, rather,  devoid of light. My heels beat out my steps as we walk into the abyss. We stumble through it for a few minutes. We’ve entered some primordial world, as if  there was nothing before the club and there’ll never be anything after.

“Just down these stairs,” Roxxy finally says, but she sounds like she’s miles away. Her fingers wrap around mine, guiding me down. Her fingers feel icy, her nails dig into my skin. We descend into the dark.

We emerge in a hallway. I’m sure this is purgatory, it even has the nondescript walls and flickering fluorescent lights as illustrated in the scripture. I can hear my heart beating faintly in my chest. Roxxy lets go of my hand and runs toward the end of the hall.

“C’mon, what’s taking you so long? I’m sure we’re late for your appointment.” I run in my heels to meet her. She opens the door for me and we enter.

“Nice of you both to finally show up,” says the man in the corner. “It’s not like I’ve got anything else to do.” It looks like my pediatrician’s office, it even smells like antiseptic and the barely concealed smell of death. There’s a painting of  a log cabin hanging on the peony-painted wall. There’s a plastic-covered couch in the middle of the room. The man in the corner can sense my judgement.

“Hey, it makes for easy cleanup,” he says in a razor-wire voice. It sounds like he’s speaking backwards. “Well, go ahead, sit down. I’ll prepare the local anesthesia.”

“Anesthesia? For some reason I thought…” I begin to say.

“Please, this is the twenty-first century. It doesn’t have to be barbaric.”

While he preps, Roxxy sits next to me on the couch and runs her fingers through my hair. Her hands are dry, cold.

“When he finally took my damn heart out,” she says, “it was full of holes. He said it was the worst thing he had ever eaten, can you imagine what it was like living with something like that?”

“It’s true,” he says, “that thing was beyond disgusting.” He taps one of his talons against the plastic tube of the anesthetic, his whole body trembling as if he was shocked by a live wire.  “Now, can we get this show on the road?”

“One more thing,” Roxxy says, before turning to me “make sure you think of a really deep memory. After he rips your heart out the catharsis is just unreal.” Back to him “She’s all yours, doc.”

“Thank god,” he laughs, his teeth a little too pointed. He gets close to me and that’s when I can see his skin—it’s full of scales. They’re rough, like sandpaper, they glimmer in this light.  His foundation doesn’t do a good job of covering that up. “You’re going to feel a little pinch.”

“Wait a second,” I say, “aren’t you going to ask me any questions? Like why I’m doing this in the first place?”

“You can go ahead, but I don’t really give a shit. I get your heart either way, right?” he sticks the needle in my chest. I guess I’ll save it for the catharsis.

“All right, if you count down from a hundred, I’ll be done by then.”

100…99…98…I can hear him breaking through my sternum, he cracks through it like walnut shells. The sound is like ice expanding, it makes me grind my teeth. 70…69…68, he opens my ribcage like a treasure chest or a dusty chiffarobe.

I try to think of my memory, but nothing is coming. The paint on the walls reminds me of the princess dresses I was supposed to adore, the smell of antiseptic makes me want to get sick.  All I can think about is how hard it is to get blood out of sequins.

“All right, this next part is going to take a bit. Your heart is really stuck in there,” he says, his spider eyes are glazed over, drool seeps down the corner of his mouth.

20…19…18…a memory arises. When I was in high school, two of my classmates died in a car crash. They were trying to get air off of a hill and they lost control of the car. One of them was in my class, I used to stare at the back of his head.  I think I was in love with him, but I can’t be sure.

“Almost there, just one more cut and…” he continues

10…9…8…I don’t know because I never talked to him, just dreamed of one day conversing with him. I’ll finally admit it, my life has no great tragedy. I’m doing this because I prefer it that way, I’m scared of anything great happening to me.

“Oh, god,” he says, his voice guttural, stuck in his throat. He holds my heart in his claws, still beating. “It’s ravishing,” he barely manages to get out before unhinging his jaw to swallow it whole. He finishes, sated, collapses on the couch next to me.

“Don’t worry, he’ll stitch you back up later,” Roxxy says. “Tell me about the catharsis. We’ll get more drinks afterwards.”

“The catharsis,” I say, “was adequate.”

Swetha Kareti is an international affairs major at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio.

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