By Emilian Wojnowski
The abandoned hospital in Żelazowa Wola reeked of cement and musty clothes. I was sitting in the hallway, raindrops trickling down my yellow raincoat, and I could feel my heart ache. Literally.
Unable to stop thinking about Marysia, about her victoriously curled hair, about her scent of basil and complexion sprinkled with pink glitter, I was trying to listen to Chopin’s étude on one earphone—which was better than listening to the rustling of the plastic bag that someone next to me was crumpling, as if really looking forward to their visit.
Waiting, I read the door plaques: General Surgeon (WEEKENDS ONLY). Cardiothoracic Surgeon (WEEKDAYS ONLY). Neurosurgeon (ON HIATUS). Then I was turning a paper cup in my hands, from which a straw protruded, and I was trying not to look at the other patients, whose ailments reminded me of the customers of the Mos Eisley Cantina.
There was a screen in front of me mounted on a cracked wall, which displayed internal organs for sale. Stomach (50,000 PLN, good condition), Liver (35,000 PLN, very good condition), Lungs (7,500 PLN, acceptable condition, long-term smoker).
It wasn’t a thing two hundred years ago, I thought.
The rattling of the doctor’s office door drew the attention of every patient. Finally, it opened with a creak.
“Tolek,” the surgeon said.
At last. When I stood up, it stung my heart. I had to prop myself up against the wall for a moment, and then I entered the room.
“It’s jamming. Others will have to use the door next to my office,” he said, then sighed and asked: “How many times has it been, huh?”
“The first time was already one too many,” I answered.
The surgeon was thin and as long as a queue to a National Health Fund facility, and he had cobwebs in his office and cracked floor tiles that resembled them as well.
“Love knows no bounds, huh?” he said.
“Neither does stupidity.”
The relationship with Marysia was a tough one, but she was the only one who’d accepted me. Me, a Misfit. Which was why I found it so hard to simply leave her.
“Sit down, will you? I’ll be right back.”
I put the cup down, stripped off my clothes, and lay down on the operating table between the green curtains. Then, out of habit, I crossed my arms over my chest.
The surgeon came with a metal case inside which the tools rattled. He picked a rusty scalpel and pointed a tarnished mirror at me. I couldn’t see myself in it, so I had to trust him.
“Weird,” he said. “The wound hasn’t healed after the last surgery.”
I hissed when he’d ripped my pinkish scar open and looked inside me.
“I treat all sorts of Misfits,” the surgeon said. “But your affliction’s a strange one. A breaking heart. Ugh. Looks bad, as if it’s been cut.”
The surgeon produced a metal thread.
“It isn’t silver, is it?” I asked.
“It’s not, relax.” He proceeded with the surgery.
I could feel him squeeze my heart, but I felt no pain when he inserted the needle. The stitching didn’t take him long.
“Done,” he said.
“Thank you.” I sighed with relief.
I put my raincoat on, grabbed the paper cup, and pulled out the wallet from my pocket. It was empty. Five hundred zlotych had disappeared from it.
“The twenty-seventh surgery is free of charge,” said the surgeon, staring at the transparent screen.
Why? I thought, and then I simply nodded and left.
Feeling peculiar, I stood in the hallway for a while. The screen that displayed organs for sale lit my face orange.
Because I needed privacy and some of the grayish daylight, I made my way to what was once a restroom and walked up to the window. From there, I could see my Dworek manor house and my pond. I snatched the straw out of the cup and stuck it between the stitches on my chest. I half-closed my eye and tried to look inside myself. My heart gleamed. It’d been stitched so many times that it was nearly all made of metal.
I zipped up my coat, put on my hood, and walked out into the hallway. Some new patients had shown up, and their gazes were hostile.
Somewhat shattered, I sat back in the hallway chair to calm down. The plastic bag that now occupied the chair next to me rustled quietly.
I noticed some flecks of pink glitter on the floor.
No, impossible, I thought. But this glitter, it’s the same. Marysia? How did she know that I . . . that I was here? Is she a Misfit, too? Was that why she’d accepted me?
I looked around, but she wasn’t there.
Dots of glitter led to the door of the neurosurgeon’s office.
Did she have an appointment with the neurosurgeon? To change for me?
I heaved myself up, knocked on the door, and shouted: “Marysia!?” I knocked again. “Marysia?!”
I could feel the patients’ gazes crush me. Even though I no longer had any feelings for Marysia because it was impossible, I felt so stupid. I sat back to calm down.
The plastic bag rustled. It’s Marysia’s, I thought, and took the receipt out of it. The first item on the receipt was “fresh basil leaves.” I had no doubt that it was hers, that she’d come here for treatment, to change for me.
Thoughtlessly, I glanced at the orange screen: Heart (500 PLN, 95% complete).
There was no photo of it, so it must’ve been mine. My heart. But how? The surgeon must’ve been collecting pieces of it after each visit. Had I known this, I’d never have agreed. One of the Hunters would surely buy it. That was why the twenty-seventh surgery was free. Five hundred zlotych. Was that how much my love for Marysia was worth?
I glanced back at the receipt to make sure . . . Toothpicks! Toothpicks were on the list: The ones produced in Poland, which meant they’d been made of aspen. With difficulty, I swallowed my saliva, then I saw SOLD appear on the screen under my heart. I remembered the neurosurgeon was absent that day, and that the patients had to use his door to enter the office of the cardiac surgeon.
Marysia had bought my heart to finish me off, and with my money she’d stolen from me. She knew I loved her, so I, blinded by the love, had trusted her too much.
She’d wounded me so many times while I slept . . . But she’d finally learned that merely cutting out my heart wouldn’t kill me. She’d always wanted to finish me off. But was it out of love or fear?
With all my might, I kicked the door. All for nothing. Now all I could do was shout my last words, words that were painful and true: “I don’t love you anymore!”
The door opened and Marysia, dressed all in black as never before, stood there with a toothpick in her mouth.
“Good,” she said.
Marysia didn’t kill me: She didn’t even want me to pass my Dworek down to her.
She did something worse.
“Here,” Marysia said, then she threw my heart at me and told me to leave.
With my heart under my yellow raincoat, I ran out of the hospital.
Then I saw Them. Five people, dressed all in black, with dark glasses. I knew who they were, and that Marysia belonged to them. They were waiting for my dead heart.
Damned vampire hunters.
Now I understood. Marysia had always wanted to save me by trying to cut out my heart. She’d always loved me, always tried to protect me.
But now, where should I hide my heart? Whom should I give it to?
and all the girls
who go where they want, when they want
About the Author:
Emilian Wojnowski comes from another planet, which is why he feels bad on Earth. A philologist and translator by education, a hobbit by nature and appearance. He’s constantly looking for peace, lost time, and books. Emilian’s never drunk alcohol but fears the future all the time. Find him in such literary places as Intrinsick, Curiosities, Amon Hen, Crimeucopia, Flash in a Flash, and Graham Masterton’s official website.