Even Better Than the Real Thing
“What about this one?” Joan asks Jean, and holds up a box labeled Even Better Than the Real Thing.
“No, not that one,” whines Jean as she presses a fist over the small gaping hole in the left side of her chest.
Joan squints at the package.
“Hmm . . . guaranteed microwave/dishwasher safe . . . can repel the slings and arrows of Love’s misfortune . . . and it comes with a $20 dollar rebate.”
“No,” repeats Jean. “I can’t use it. It has to be the real thing, or it’s not love.”
Joan’s shoulders slouch, defeated.
Joan is tired. Her feet ache from roaming the ventricles of The Chambered Heart where she and Jean have come - again - to find Jean a replacement organ.
Three days ago, Jean’s girlfriend Susie came home and announced she was leaving.
Susie packed her things and left. Jean ripped open the sutures in her chest and threw her heart against the wall.
Jean, who lay sobbing on her dilapidated love seat, offered no help. With the aid of a magnifying glass, Joan was able to retrieve all the pieces of Jean’s heart from the cracks in the hardwood floor.
“How about this one?” Joan asks Jean a few moments later. They are now in the jewelry section. Joan holds a gold heart with delicate arterial filigree in her hands.
“That’s not really gold,” says Jean. “It’s gold-tone.”
“No, it’s not,” replies Joan. “It says 14K on the tag.”
“Well, 24k might be acceptable. Do they have any like that in 24K?”
Only Jean’s debilitated state keeps Joan from striking her. They have searched for almost two hours, and The Chambered Heart is getting ready to close. Joan has shown nothing to Jean that meets her expectations. She’s sick of Jean’s litany of excuses.
“Only trailer trash use plastic hearts.”
“That heart is too big.”
“A digital heart? No, everyone has one just like it, and it’s SO five minutes ago.”
“This heart is too small. It will never hold all the love I can give.”
“Can we get this one in a different color?”
. ...and so forth, echoes Joan. Right now, she could be at home watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent, sipping her way through a nice bottle of shiraz, entertaining lewd thoughts about Vincent D’nofrio. But instead, she is here with Jean, and rapidly losing patience.
“Look Jean, be practical already. You can’t keep doing this. You have no heart left to give. Either get another heart, or live without one. Lots of people do.”
“Can’t . . . we fix mine?” inquires Jean.
“Are you nuts? It’s been mended three times! It can’t stand another break.”
“I want you to try and fix it. It’s my heart. You don’t understand.”
Joan is silent.
Jean is right. Joan doesn’t understand, but she wants to.
“All right,” she concedes. “Let’s get out of here. I want to check out one thing, so go ahead and wait for me in the car.” As Joan hands her the keys, Jean smiles.
An hour later, Joan is seated in a chair, hunched over Jean’s kitchen table with the pink and blue shards of Jean’s porcelain heart spread out in front of her. Next to her is a pot of translucent glue, and a small brush. She picks up each piece, dips the brush into the pot, and then carefully daubs a bit of glue over the jagged edges.
It’s slow work, but Joan has done this before. She marvels at how the pieces of Jean’s heart can be re-broken and re-assembled.
While she waits for each piece to dry, she checks on the old breaks she mended from the previous times to make sure they are still intact. Interestingly, most of the cracks have faded into old scars. Joan is not surprised. Jean is strong, despite her chronic condition of hopeless romanticism.
When Joan is through, she places the heart back into Jean’s chest and stitches the wound.
“Go easy on the heart for a few days. The glue needs to set,” admonishes Joan.
Jean hugs Joan.
“Thanks. You always come through for me.”
“That’s what big sisters are for. Why don’t you go to bed and get some rest? Call me tomorrow and let me know how you’re feeling.”
“Okay.” Jean kisses Joan on the cheek. Joan lets herself out.
Inside the car, Joan reaches behind the seat, and pulls out the bag that contains her purchase from The Chambered Heart. She removes the box from the bag and the words Even Better Than the Real Thing, glow under the street lamp.
Joan hopes it will be better than the real thing. She gave her heart away once. The man who walked away with it sends her the occasional postcard from Tonga. His deep sea fishing charter boats are doing well, she recalls.
Her chest throbs and aches. Phantom pains, she reminds herself. I’ve got to get rid of these phantom pains.