Arthur Thorpe murdered his girlfriend Kitty Check by cutting out her heart and eating it raw. No one knows this, no one was ever supposed to know any of this, but Kitty knew it all instinctively when she found herself without a heartbeat one morning, alone in her bedroom, lying in her own blood. She had bled through the sheets, damaging the mattress beyond repair. She was confused at first, dizzy and lightheaded. She felt awful, tried to remember if she blacked out last night, if she had been drinking. It was only when she ran her fingertips across the deep wound in her chest that she was certain of what had happened. It felt like a tooth suddenly gone missing.
It occurred to Kitty that she ought to be dead, and that there was no real reason to stay alive, but here she was. She figured that he must have wavered, that he must not have had the guts to see it through. But Arthur was always hanging in and out of commitments like a pedestrian loitering around, kicking rocks, waiting for his ride to come pick him up. A carelessness that was present even in his absence. She saw it in the bloody fingerprints on the headboard and the splatter on the bedside table. She saw it in the red, crusted streaks on the doorknobs and on the newly painted walls. The sink, too. Red fingerprint smudges on a crystal whisky glass from the set he had gifted her for Christmas. He had a drink before leaving and couldn’t even rinse the glass. Did he think he wouldn’t get caught? That no one would notice, that no one would hold him accountable?
In many ways, Arthur Thorpe felt very bad for what he had done, but he also felt that Kitty had it coming. She must have known somewhere deep down that this wasn’t going to work. Arthur had been wanting to break up for a long, long time. He kept trying to cut things off with her, but they somehow always ended up together again. They were drawn together like a knot being untied and tied again; the memory of the rope remained. But he had outgrown her. Or they had outgrown each other. Either way, their relationship felt like living in the past, and Arthur was a man who wanted the future. He believed that it was not an inherently selfish thing to want different things, to end a relationship. Even if it was selfish, he didn’t mind that very much. People, he thought, have the erroneous tendency of viewing selflessness as a virtue. The right amount of selfishness is almost always perfectly reasonable and, to be perfectly honest, often preferable.
And she needed him so much, all of the time. She needed him to come home, to call regularly, to do all of this willingly and gladly all of the time. But he couldn’t do it, he always failed to be what she needed. Her tears were always coming. It was as if he inspired some deep ocean pit of grief inside of her, had been the sole maker of every pain she felt, and was also consequently responsible for the repair of every following rupture. It was unfair. He needed to go, and he needed it to be absolute, because he needed to be himself. There was no way he could live up to the romantic ideal that Kitty had created and still retain his own identity. The image of what he ought to be, in her eyes, drained him.
He knew she wouldn’t see things from his perspective. He could see it now, that face of hers hovering before him. Her scowl, that disdain, her sighs and pleading to make him see reason. Rolling eyes, scoffs. It always made it harder for him to speak, to express how he felt, because no matter what, no matter the situation, it was Arthur who had done something wrong. There was only one way with Kitty, and it was her way. She had a very firm and unwavering way of thinking about the world, about people, and Arthur could barely breathe with her. The bottom line, Arthur felt, was that the relationship had long been a burden to them both, and maybe they would be better off alone or with other people. The only way he ever saw it ending was by making sure it really ended. He didn’t mean to hurt her; it was never his intention. No, death severs all emotion. It was an attempt at humanity.
That was the story Arthur hummed to himself as he tried to floss out the bits of heart-flesh stuck between his molars. He knew it would be hard to eat a heart, but this was downright absurd. He wished he hadn’t tried to chew it so much. It might have been easier to just swallow some of the bits whole. Faster, too. Maybe he could have used a steak knife. Or a blender? Any other man would have cooked it on the stovetop. Maybe with a bit of rosemary, garlic, salt and a sinful chunk of butter. Butter sizzling away on a cast iron skillet.
He tried pulling the engagement ring off her finger before he left. It wasn’t because it had been expensive, though it had indeed been the entirety of his first big paycheck. He didn’t need the money anymore. Now it only came down to the principle of the thing. It was over between them; no use dwelling on symbols of the past. He hadn’t expected the finger to pop off with the ring, but it did, so he pocketed her finger with the engagement ring still on it and decided to sort the rest of it out later. He would come back for her body, or his assistant would, or someone else entirely would figure it out. Arthur was now grateful for Kitty’s scattering of distant relationships. No one would suspect her missing for days, maybe even weeks. The air was cold and crisp that morning. It felt good to breathe in. It smelled like a fresh start.
Kitty stayed in bed for hours. The hours extended into days and the days uncoiled into weeks. Time was a ridiculous thing. Grief was concrete and stable. She rotted away in her bed, stinking and crying. She tried anger, reasoning, denial. She tried sitcoms, she tried working out. She tried staples to keep her toenails in place, tried soaking her body in ice baths to preserve it. She knew nothing about dying, had not prepared, and now she was alone and in decay and could not cope. She watched his social media like a vulture.
One morning, as Kitty was soaking in an ice bath, she noticed that she was missing her ring finger. Arthur. She imagined him pulling at her finger, then twisting, then using his teeth to bite it off. And he must have disposed of it in some careless way, her finger now tumbling around in a coat pocket along with loose change and old receipts. She could see it happening, the image looping in her head again and again. She could also see him, sometime next year, uncovering his old winter jacket and pulling out her shrunken finger. He wouldn’t know what it was, he would have forgotten all. He’d toss it. How silly she was for expecting this to end in any other way than Arthur cutting and running.
Kitty went to the wooden chest at the foot of their bed. Her body felt unstable. Every limb felt loose; she needed something to keep her together. At the bottom of the chest she had found a dusted, old jewelry box. It was mostly filled with worthless charms and costume jewelry, and then the necklace. She unclipped the back and draped it on herself, the crimson beads warm against her skin, little glass buds of spring. It started as a choker, tight and strangling, strands of red looped into one another and draped down her chest in chains of intricate designs, the beads chiming with movement, the longest strands touching the top of her breasts. There was something remarkably comforting about this necklace, she felt that it contained her emotion and gave her dignity.
She went to the mirror to see herself, which she had avoided this whole time. She was still ugly, still dead, still cold. Her hair hung in wormy strands. Her fingernails were discolored blue and green. She looked like a body that had been fished out of a river. She thought about calling her mother, who wouldn’t pick up. She could get a cab and go somewhere rural, lie down by a river and die there, or she could go and fuck a necrophiliac and try and make herself feel better that way. She also wanted to call Arthur and beg him to take her back and to please bring the heart, please can we work this out, any adult relationship is characterized by partners’ ability to repair conflict, has this all been for nothing?
And then she went to their closet, where his clothes still hung. His cologne, his leather shoes, his suitcase. That ugly sweater he insisted on wearing. She dressed herself and left the apartment. She was glad it was November so she could reasonably wear mittens to disguise her missing finger. That open, dark wound.
There he was.
And there again.
She saw him everywhere she went. Posing for a new cologne campaign, some high-end brand only found in department stores. He made the scent look like it’d be musky and sophisticated, like the smell of rainy weather when you stood in the doorway. It smelled like ash, ash, ash from the fire that burned inside. And there he was again, the star in a new action flick, or drama, or maybe trying his hand at comedy. How distant he felt from her, like a caricature of himself. And how sad it was that this was not a new feeling.
No one asks about her, just as he knew they wouldn’t. Wait, no, his hair stylist does. What was his name again?
“Kitty’s doing alright, then?” The man asks, hardly listening and hardly there, oily fingers digging into Thorpe’s scalp.
“Yeah.” And that’s the end of it. And he says something else to Thorpe, who starts to reply but there’s this thump thump thump thumping that keeps pounding in his ears. And then the hands push him that way, and then the other, and he tries to go along as best he can. But that thump thump thump thumping keeps getting louder, keeps drowning out everything else. And again, his tongue catches onto a piece of heart-flesh, a piece still stuck between two molars. He holds his tongue there, feeling the resistance of that heart piece. And he swears that it’s got a pulse; it’s faint, but it’s certainly there. That little piece of meat in his teeth, he digs around with a finger after it, he tries to spot it in the mirror. He can’t get rid of it, that little piece of meat stuck somewhere inside him.
Arthur has work to do, people to meet, places to go. He has every manner of business imaginable and he cannot concentrate on a thing. He can feel the specter of his ex pulsing between his teeth, in the very flesh of his gums, sometimes even as white-hot pain at the center of a molar. His agent asks him a question, to which he replies something, no clue what. Probably nonsense. His assistant schedules an appointment with the dentist tomorrow morning, no appointments available sooner. He thinks about going to the ER. He gets desperate. There is a manuscript on the table in front of him, but he can’t make out the words.
Kitty held her fingertips to the warmth of the necklace as she followed the beating of her own heart towards Arthur. She could walk without tiring now, but not without little pieces of her breaking and flaking off her body with every step. She would retrieve the heart. She would demand answers. There would be a grand confrontation and he would cower before her. He misses her, he needs her, he must be living in regret. Or maybe he doesn’t care, or she never really knew him, or he is a psycho, or he is the cruelest living thing in all things past, present and future. Thinking in terms of extremity was satisfying to Kitty; it gave her something to walk towards.
The necklace seemed to guide her, too, now her only reliable companion. Heartbreak necklace had long been with her, had started only as a single string and a handful of beads. Kitty remembered each one, could feel their memories hot beneath her touch. Each little glass seed held painful memories, anger and contempt that Kitty couldn’t quite work through. Whenever she and Arthur argued, she added a bead to the chain. The chain turned into a collar and the collar turned into a necklace and the necklace turned into something that was nothing less than a wearable chandelier. Every step she took sounded the voices of hurt, arguments past, tears and injury.
And then the heartbeat changes directions. It is a sudden change and Kitty feels something drop within her. She halts in her path and listens for it. She stands there for seconds, minutes, hours. Rain pours and dries again, passersby ask if she is alright, and then they hurry along once they catch a whiff of her. She is concentrating on Arthur and his journey, her heart with him still.
She smells ocean waves, hears their crashing and the spray against the rocks. This is where her heart is, then. He is at the beach house, the little cottage they bought together. She stands still a while longer, remembering. She remembers what it was like to be human, to be alive, to feel the sea of love and be lost in it. She remembers their first night there, no sex, he just lifted up her shirt and kissed her on her waist, and they fell asleep next to one another, not touching because it was too hot. She remembers sitting beachside the next day with a paperback, its broken spine and thin pages, not reading but being only very, completely, supremely happy. Arthur had gone inside because it was too hot and he could never handle it for very long. Time was fast and sweet, a perfectly paced film. Seagull shrieks sounded like bells.
She thinks about Arthur a while longer. She thinks about the way he looked at her. His weird, long limbs around her. The reflection of them both in the window of a shop as they walk by. Her thin soul could be passing through heaven and still, she would rather be on earth, dead earth, wherever he is, as he thinks of all the things that are not Kitty. The necklace burned hot against her skin. She turned to walk in the new direction of her beating, crazed, broken heart.
Arthur stood at the edge of the cabin, right where the patio met the white sand, which now was gray and charmless without the light of day. The breeze was cold, the waves relentless. The constant push and pull, fatiguing to even look at, the churning of the ocean’s body like intestines in the full swing of digestion. His assistant left an hour ago, maybe two. He had gone outside to watch the sun dissolve into dark, the splitting of the day, when the sky’s ablaze. He was only miserable. He could not truly appreciate it. His mind was preoccupied, his body tight and anxious. There was an ache in his lower back from standing. His neck was stiff. He had not been sleeping well lately. His assistant scheduled an appointment with a masseuse for the following day. She would be back in the morning to fetch him.
The dark, twinkling sky began its glow and the moon made her arrival, a half-moon, both luminous and hidden. He felt very sorry for himself and he felt very small. The heart had been beating madly all the while but he had grown used to it, and although he knew he would not sleep that night it was almost tolerable. As he stood looking to the sea and, for a moment, the beating even began to dampen into background noise until it was gone entirely. This place held good memories. The waves slapped against the worn sand. Everything would be alright, everything would work out in the end. He tried to think of Kitty but he found that he already could not remember her face so clearly anymore. It was indistinct to him now, and at least half missing.
He turned to go inside, but there was something that caught his eye as he turned to go. Between the peaks of the waves, far off in the distance: a body, upright, as if standing. He could see it from the hips and up. It was pale and glowing. He looked closer, getting a better impression with every wave that revealed its figure. Was it a buoy, or a pelican? Was it a small fishing boat, or had he finally gone really, truly insane? But there was a strange something about this figure in the distance, it seemed to be anchored into its position, far off in the distance, unaffected by the movement of the sea. And it seemed to be looking directly at him, studying him as he was studying it.
It seemed now to be coming towards him. As it came closer, he could make out the body: nude, slick, wet. He began to make out the swell of a belly, of hips, of breasts that were firm and high and with dark nipples. Her wet hair was plastered down her back, her eyes were fixed on him. The closer she came, the more certain he was that she was coming directly for him. Something sparkled inside of him, a feeling he had not felt in many years. He was not afraid. It was something new and good. The woman came closer and closer, the waves revealing more with every swell and fall. He was aroused, almost painfully so, and as she neared the shore he saw also her tail and its glittering scales that reflected moony light.
She swam up to the sands like an ocean snake, holding his eyes in hers. He was totally transfixed by this creature, as if under a spell, completely lost in the possibilities of the night. When she met the sand, she began to crawl across it with her long body towards him. She struggled on the sand, graceless and desperate, and as her tail slapped against the sand with every movement towards him he felt a bud of regret and fear motivating him to turn and run the other way. But there was something so magnetic about this body of hers, naked and coming towards him with complete wanting. He could hear her belabored breathing as she came closer, and he saw the steam that came from her warm body in the cold of night. She was close, until she was almost directly in front of him. She stopped and looked up, her body flat against the sand, but she craned her neck up high and propped herself up on her hands and gave her face to him. It was round and pale and glowing, perfectly shaped and immediately in front of him. Her lips were shaped like rosebuds, her eyes were narrow and intense and searching for something in him. He wanted to give her what she was looking for. As if knowing his thoughts, she opened her mouth.
Kitty was falling apart. Soon there would be nothing left of her. She was close now. Soon she would be reunited with herself, soon it would be over. She was close now. There it was, the cabin in the distance, a glowing little thing like a postcard picture. The winds were wild that evening, the waves even wilder. The world was so loud that night, so full of chaos and disgust, that she could not hear the wailing from the beach.
Arthur was nearly rendered senseless, blinded and the air pounded out of his chest. The shrieking that came from that creature’s mouth struck him down, the waves of it upon him like a natural disaster. When the shrieking stopped, he found himself flat on his ass on his patio, arms wrapped around himself in a pathetic attempt at self-soothing. The creature was still there, watching him expectantly. She was no longer beautiful. Even in the dark, he could see its cataract eyes, saw that its mouth was only a slit, a rotten wound, plastered across its animal face. It began to crawl closer to him, a frantic and wormy movement, a low groan, a gargling, coming from its mouth. Its tail also seemed to be decaying in real time, the scales popping off and leaving little open pockets of flesh.
The closer it came, the less of it remained. Its skin seemed to ripple and detach itself from the body. It seemed unaware, or perhaps indifferent, to its own end. It kept going towards him, even when its fingers had fallen off and lay in the sand, even when the tail was left behind like a gecko, and it was only left pulling a lump of an upper body towards him. It kept coming until it could not. But Arthur found he could not stop himself from looking. There was something there, something he had not seen before. He saw it in her face, in her eyes especially; there was something about this creature that bore a remarkable resemblance to his ex-girlfriend, Kitty. It opened its mouth and spent its last breath howling at Arthur as he disappeared indoors.
It was exactly how she remembered it. It had the same smell, the same warmth, the same old lighting fixtures that they never got around to replacing. It had been a long time since they’d visited together, even before the breakup. She didn’t linger for long; she could sense that the warmth and nostalgia was no good for the body. She knew where he was, exactly where he was, by the sound of his crying and the little drops of blood on the floor leading to the guest bathroom.
She found him hunched over the sink with pliers in hand. Blood was sloshed around the room and on every surface. He was groaning and she could see that his left eye had popped a vessel. This was not at all what she expected. She expected to find him on the couch with his busty assistant, smug and unsurprised that Kitty had come to confront him. She expected him to laugh at her, to ask why on earth she thought to come. She didn’t expect this, to see Arthur tearing himself apart, to find him with pliers dug into his mouth and his molars pulled out and clinking on the porcelain counter. She felt sad for him. She then felt embarrassed on his behalf when he finally noticed that she was there. Upon seeing her, he stepped back, screamed, tripped over the bathroom rug and fell and bashed his head into the side of the claw-footed tub. He lay unconscious, blood from his mouth dribbling out into the floor and pooling there.
Kitty stepped over his body and kneeled down beside him. She opened his mouth and reached inside. There, the last piece of her heart. She pulled it out and saw it in her hand. It was the last living piece of her, and as she held it in her hand it finally shriveled and died. It turned into dust and that was it. That was all. The chase was over. Kitty looked at Arthur one last time, and turned his body to the side so that he would not choke on the blood. He would find himself in incredible pain tomorrow morning.
Just as she expected, she found her finger in the outside pocket of his jacket. She took her finger and left the ring. She left out the backdoor, past the patio, and went to the shoreline. She unclasped her heartbreak necklace and let it fall to the sand. She felt the water with her feet and found the cold water welcoming, knew instinctively there was some sort of rest there, and she was thankful for it, so she waded out until her head disappeared beneath the surface.
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