You could say that I had a rough life.
My mom died. My dad was alcoholic and whacked me around. The boyfriend I had in highschool promised me the moon until he got me pregnant. Then those promises were quickly forgotten. I had to drop out. Became a waitress. Waited tables all day to come home at night to a cold one bedroom apartment. It was just me and Jessie. Life was dull and gray. Any dates mysteriously became busy once they realized I had a kid. Bills piled up. Nothing felt good anymore.
Then Paul came into my life.
I had been on my feet all day when he came in, asking for a slice of apple pie and ice cream on top. I’d slapped it down in front of him and walked back to another table that had been demanding to say the least. When I finally managed to get back to him, he was out the door and he’d left a one hundred dollar tip.
I chased after him, sure he’d made a mistake, but he quietly reassured me and told me the good news. He was cancer free. And the whole world should feel that joy.
Once I was off my shift, we sat down and we talked for hours. My neighbor called me to make sure I hadn’t gotten mugged on the way home. Paul ended up taking me, just so we could talk more.
Paul hadn’t had it easy either. He’d been victim of a broken home, fought over by two parents who moreso wanted to make a point that they could have what the other could not. His mother committed suicide by drug overdose when he was eleven and he was sent to live with his uncle. At age fifteen he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Two years later they ended up taking off his right leg from the knee in an attempt to stem the tide.
He’d shown me his prosthetic, told me that when his girlfriend at the time saw it, she recoiled so strongly they broke up on the spot. I held his hand and told him that anyone that could leave him like that didn’t deserve him.
We fell in love so fast it was almost inhuman. Life had color again. Orange for the favorite shirt he’d wear. Blue for the sky when Paul would take all three of us to the park, and push Jessie on the swing as she’d laugh and ask for him to push harder. Red for the apples we picked together in the fall. And white, ivory white, for the wedding gown I wore when we said our vows.
It was amazing how something so small could make life worth living again. Only more colors came into my life. Green for our pretty lawn of our new house in a nice neighborhood. Yellow for the dog Paul got Jessie for her birthday. Pink for the tulips that we’d plant in the garden.
It was perfect. So. Fucking. Perfect.
Then everything came crashing down when the cancer came back.
My Paul. My sweet Paul
He tried to play it off. Saying if he beat it once, he can beat it twice. But day by day he grew weaker. He couldn’t push Jessie on the swing anymore, or take the dog for walks. It went from weekly visits to the hospital, to every other day, to a full inpatient.
His reddish brown hair fell out. His skin became pale and his freckles faded away. He became gray.
So was my world.
I felt hopeless. Like the reason my life had meaning was fading away.
Then Ms. Burns from down the street came to visit with peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and a way to fight back.
Ms. Burns was an elderly widow with a face buried in wrinkles and thick veins popping from her hands. Jessie was practically at her house every other day, and at Halloween her house would become the candy house from Hansel and Gretel. Full size candy bars were handed out to every boy and girl, she even made sure she had candies that didn’t have nuts or were gluten free.
So when she sat me down and told me that she knew of a way to cure my husband, I laughed in her face.
Thankfully, she wasn’t offended.
“Oh no, dearie, it’s true. I can take the cancer from your husband,” She told me, quite casually as she worked on her knitting. “I did it for my husband, when he had kidney cancer. I made the cancer go away, and he lived for many more years. Then he jumped in front of a train, but my cure doesn’t take away diseases like depression or bipolar disorder. Nope. Only cancer.”
I flicked crumbs off the table. “Ms. Burns, if you could cure my husband, you would have done it by now. Why do you need to tell me?” I asked.
Ms. Burns smiled, quite proud. “Oh, I would have, if I was able! Unfortunately, these arthritic hands and bad back of mine won’t let me get the ingredients I need. I’ll tell you want to do, my dearie. I need three hearts. This is the only chance Paul has, Alex… my question is, will you take it?”
So here I am now. On my third heart.
I had to get three specific hearts.
The heart of a loyal beast.
Killing Buddy was rough. I did love that little dog. But there was no beast more loyal. I gave him a few sleeping pills and waited until he was out until I carved him up. When Jessie returned from her friend’s house, I told her Buddy ran away. She was inconsolable, but I reassured her that Buddy would come back.
The heart of a traitor.
Jessie’s father. He’d left me, all alone, and never once tried to help us. One year he sent her one of those knock off Barbie Dolls that were at the dollar store. I threw it out before she saw it. A Barbie was a slap on the face when for Christmas Dinner that year we ate off the dollar menu at McDonald’s.
It wasn’t hard to kill him, at least emotionally. It was just a pain in the ass to track the bastard down and get him alone. Once I brought up sex, he was oblivious to the knife. It was messy, but I got his nasty, black heart. Thankfully Ms. Burns let me bury his body in her backyard, next to the bodies of the people she had to kill to cure her husband. “One more body on my record won’t hurt,” She told me as she brought me lemonade as I dug the hole.
The third and final heart will break mine, but it’s the only way to cure Paul. The only way I can keep him with me.
The heart of the innocent.
We had a good last day, Jessie and I. I took her to the park. Let her eat all the junk food she wanted. Took her to see all the new movies. We’d never had a double feature before. At the end of it all, I sat her down on the couch and asked if she wanted Paul to get better, and if she’d do whatever it took to make that happen.
She loves Paul as much as I do. So of course she nodded.
I gave her a soda laced with sleeping pills. She’s asleep across my lap now.
It’ll be painless for her. She’ll be with her Buddy again. I’ll miss her, so much…
But at the ultrasound two days ago they told me I’m having a girl.
Paul is going to be so happy.