Fiction from Nathan Willis
Wholesale Ghost Hearts
The ghost hearts fill my body like Styrofoam nuggets. I can only take them out one at a time and only at certain places. So far, those places include the roof of the high school that Karen went to, the house grandma lived in before the home, the church where we had all the funerals and any cemetery in the world as long as it’s not the one where my dad is buried.
The surgery itself is easy. The whole thing only takes ten minutes. I lay on my back and close my eyes. I don’t listen to music and I don’t need to remove my clothing. I hold my hands over my chest. They rise and fall without rhythm. My fingers pluck and squeeze until my rib cage splits open. Then I feel around inside until I find a ghost heart. When I get home, I put it in a jar and mark the lid with my initials. I don’t know if that’s necessary, but it seems like if it was inside of me, it should go in something else. And the jars are working. None of the hearts have stopped.
There are only fourteen so far, but Mom says we need to come up with a plan. If we don’t do something soon, the house will fill up and there won’t be room for us.
I agree to try the flea market. It’s not regulated and we can set our own terms. Our spot is between a couple of kids selling baseball cards and a pear-shaped man in overalls selling VHS tapes of movies he recorded from basic cable.
Mom says I shouldn’t feel bad. This was going to happen no matter what. It doesn’t change anything. What I do is still special.
We put the jars out on the table and hang our sign. It reads Wholesale Ghost Hearts.
No one asks about the price. They want to know how many are in each jar. Are they fresh? Were the ghosts good ghosts or bad ghosts? They look me in the eye and want to know if a ghost can live without its heart. I tell them I’m honestly not sure.
The market begins to wind down. I haven’t made a single sale but this isn’t about money. It’s about moving stock. It’s about making room for more. I pick someone out of the crowd who looks like me and call him over. He’s reluctant to take a heart until I tell him he’ll be able to see it once he’s felt as much as the ghost did. I have no idea if this is true but saying it, I felt like I was finally doing something right. After that, I gave the hearts away one right after another until they were gone.
We packed up to leave and when we got to the parking lot we saw broken glass all over the asphalt. The lids were there, too. There were fourteen and they were all mine.
Mom tried to come up with an explanation on the spot about why people are hurtful and thoughtless. She’s still working on it, making revisions and updating me whenever she finds better words. She thinks that if she can explain human tragedy, it will protect me forever. Or at least from now on.
Dad’s headstone is all the way in the back corner of the cemetery. Mom never told me it had our names on it. I lay on the ground and close my eyes. Everything is quiet. My hands do the slow joyless dance over my chest. I’m patient. I make adjustments. I go fast, then slow. I take a break after an hour and try again. I try all night long.
The next weekend, I go to the flea market by myself. I am between a shirtless man with a cage of newborn puppies and a woman selling three pieces of matching jewelry. She’ll sell them separately or as a set at a discount.
A woman with two kids walks by. She doesn’t look like she’s taking good care of them or herself. She looks like my mom if things had gone differently.
I point at my chest and tell her I pull hearts out of here all the time. Does she want to see if she can get one?
She tells the kids to play with the dogs.
I show her how to move her hands. She doesn’t listen. She flails her fingers like she’s playing a stone piano. She is having fun. I want to give up but she keeps going. I pretend to feel something and then she pretends to pull something out.
She holds it in her hands and acts like it is pumping so hard she has to juggle to keep from dropping it. She says she’s going to treasure it forever and she means it.
Someone else comes up and asks if they can try.
Behind them, a line begins to form.
Nathan Willis is a writer from Ohio. His stories have appeared in various literary outlets including Booth, Hobart, Outlook Springs, Little Fiction, and Jellyfish Review. He can be found online at nathan-willis.com and on Twitter at @Nathan1280.