The Tall Tale Heart

Jan O'Connor

It was a dark and stormy night when my heart skipped a beat – and then another! I needed a trade-in fast and the nearest Rent-A-Heart closed at 9pm. It was 8:46. 

Slapping my chest a couple of times to keep it going, I drove there frantically, flung myself in and fell to my knees. “Rental… I need a rental!”

The emaciated attendant was sucking the remains of his dinner from his teeth. “Ya sure, lady? This ain’t Beverly Hills Hearts. We only got refurbished rentals.”

Pulling myself up, I croaked: “Just install something quick.” 

“Okay, but I gotta show you what’s in stock so you can pick.” He pulled me down a long dark corridor with dusty display cases of hearts on sticks. Yellowed post-it labels proclaimed: “Just in. Still fresh”; or “Only one previous owner”.

“This here’s a nice one. Only 63 million heartbeats. It’s got a big ding in the left ventricle but we can slap on a piece of muscle with some crazy glue.” 

“What’s the warranty?” I gasped. 

The attendant peered at the label. “30 days or death; whichever comes first.”

My heart lurched. “No, no good. I need something reliable.” 

“Okay, look, I got a model just come in this morning. I can give you a one-year warranty, as long as you’re not picky about it.”

I slid to my knees again, clutching my chest.

“Picky? What do you mean?”

“Um… it’s not exactly in your species.”

“What?” I cried, wondering why he’d used ‘your’ rather than ‘our’.

“It’s from an Emu.”

As I started to black out, I screamed: “I’ll take it.”

When I came to, I was on a plaid couch that smelled faintly of formaldehyde and baked beans. I could feel my heart thumping rapidly. I looked down. My chest was a web of thick black stitches like shoelaces. The attendant was just completing the last stitch.

“Look who’s up,” he said cheerily, gnawing off the leftover thread. Doc says you’re good to go.

“Wait. Wait a minute. Where’s the Doctor? Do I have a new heart now?

“Yep, Emu. And not any old ordinary one. A Tasmanian Emu. Top of the line, Doc says.”

“A foreign Emu? But I only buy American!”

The attendant shrugged sheepishly.

“Oh, never mind. And what is an Emu anyway?”

He looked thoughtful. “It’s sort of an Ostrich, only not as gaudy. Sleeker lines, but surprisingly roomier.”

“Wait” I sputtered, “it’s not human. Is it going to do anything weird to me?”

The attendant peered at a greasy scrap of paper. “Oh, yeah, Doc said:  ‘Aftereffects are mild. You’ll probably demonstrate one major characteristic of the donor’.”

He leaned forward and whispered juicily to me: “You might just be able to fly.”

I sat bolt upright. “Really? I could fly! Really fly?”

“Naw, I’m just messing with you. Emu’s a flightless bird. Like an Ostrich. You’d know that if you took high school biology like me.”

“I did, you moron. And I know what Ostriches do when they’re scared. They bury their heads in the sand. And then they get killed and eaten! Am I going to bury my head in the sand?” I shrieked.

“Not if you don’t get scared,” the attendant chortled, pushing me toward a peeling wooden door. “Doc says come for your 30 thousand heartbeat checkup in six months…if you can.”

As he yanked it open, the door groaned on rusty hinges. In a daze, I stepped out into the blackness, a rising wind suddenly howling around me. The ground felt oddly squishy.

“Be careful now,” said the attendant. “Ya never know what’s out there.”

And with that, he slammed the door shut.