I meet the man in a hotel outside of town. Room 304, just like he said. He’s there when I arrive, watching football on the television. “Shut the door,” he says, and I do.
He opens a briefcase and shows it to me: seven ounces of flesh suspended in liquid and plastic. “We good?” he says.
I reach into my purse and unfurl the bundle of money. Six hundred pounds, made up mostly of fives and tens, scraps of cash collected over the months, small enough to avoid drawing any attention.
We make the exchange, and the man walks towards the door.
“I don’t know how to do it.” I hesitate. “Can you help?”
“It’ll cost more.”
“Another two hundred.”
“I don’t have that much.”
He sighs. “How much you got?”
The forty pounds left in my purse is for groceries, but I can worry about that later. I hold it out to him.
He takes it, opens his briefcase, and finds a bottle of clear liquid with a syringe. “You got a knife? Needle and thread?”
He passes me the bottle. “Use this before you begin. Rest’s up to you.”
When I get home, it’s ten o’clock. I should have an hour before my husband gets back. I work quickly, checking diagrams on the internet before injecting the liquid into my side, just above one of my bruises. I use a kitchen knife, sterilised in boiling water. It stings at first, but the injection takes most of the pain away. I slice and carve with the knife, using a mirror to guide my trembling fingers until I make the final cut. For a moment, my senses plummet and the room feels darker, smaller, like all the texture has been buffed off the edge of the world. I make the switch.
He could be home any minute. I stitch myself back together with needle and thread, and it’s only then that I realize I haven’t thought about what to do with my old heart. I bury it in the garden.
I wait for the thump of his footsteps on the staircase, the sound of him fumbling at his clothes and climbing into bed. The smell of his breath, stale alcohol and smoke, his fingers in my hair and on my body. But the door never opens.
In the morning I find him asleep on the sofa. There’s a beer can on the floor, and a pool of sticky liquid where the dregs have drained out. I clean it quickly before making breakfast, and when he wakes he’s in one of his good moods, so things are okay.
When he leaves for work, I examine the stitching. It’s already healed. The lines I drew with the knife have come back together, and my new heart beats underneath.
Things feel different now, like someone has turned the volume down by a couple of notches, like they’ve gone into the settings and fiddled with the contrast.
In the garden, a flower has grown on the spot where I buried my heart. There’s a single rose at its head, red like blood.
The rest of the week is okay. I keep to my normal routines, making sure the house is clean and dinner is on the table when he gets back from work. The days blur into each other, a steady grey.
One day he throws a plate at the wall. It takes ages to clean all the grease, but I know he doesn’t like his meat cooked that way so it’s my own fault, really. He apologises later.
In the evenings, while he sits on the sofa watching television, I bring him drinks but I keep the pace slow so he never goes beyond the dulling stage. He touches me in bed, but if there are any marks still left on my chest, his groping fingers don’t find them. On Friday he comes home with flowers and a bottle of my favourite wine. The weather is fine so we eat outside in the warm air. I try to enjoy the wine but it doesn’t taste of anything. While we sit there he says it reminds him of one of our earliest dates. I see the rose in the garden and I wonder.
On Saturday night he goes out with the guys. He kisses me when he leaves, but when he returns in the small hours he slams the door and I know it’s time. He swipes at me clumsily, but when he tries to grab my arm his sweaty fingers slip and I escape into the kitchen. I grab a knife with one hand, the cordless phone with the other. I tell him to leave.
He smiles stupidly and slurs his words. “Come on, baby, why all this?”
In my chest, my heart is steady. “If you come near me, I’ll use this knife, and if you don’t leave, I’ll call the police. I mean it.”
“You’re feisty tonight, eh?”
I begin to dial the number.
He holds his hands up, smirking. “Okay, okay …”
When he’s out the door, I put it on the latch and speak through the gap. “I don’t want you to come back. Not ever. It’s over. I mean it.”
He laughs. “You can’t live without me, honey. You know that, and I know that. We love each other. We need each other.” He walks away. “I’ll see you soon,” he says.
When he’s out of view, I close the door.
He thinks it’s going to happen like all the other times. He’ll come back grovelling, tell me how much he loves me. That he’s sorry, that it will never happen again. And I’ll take him back.
This time the locksmith will be here in an hour. This time I’ll change my details at the bank. This time I’ll go to the courts, get one of those orders. And this time I won’t feel anything.