A Change of Heart by Hannah Tougher

(published 22nd October 2018)

‘You take all the time you like,’ he says. ‘Have a browse. Guaranteed we’ve got exactly what you’re looking for.’

His name is Ted. It’s displayed in large letters on the badge pinned to the left side of his blue polo shirt. Over his heart. Underneath, he’s stuck tiny smiley stickers. Three in a row. I try to smile back at his wide face with its blue eyes, big teeth, all bright and shiny.

‘Thanks,’ I say, and shuffle down the aisle. I thought I knew what I was looking for but now I’m not so sure. 

There’s a long row of hearts in glass jars laid out on pristine white tables. I’m the only one browsing. The first one seems alright: a nice size, the colour good. The details are printed at its base.

– Processes at 72 beats per minute
– Lightweight, 0.25kg
– Strong under stress, exercise, heartbreak.

‘This is an excellent model.’ I hadn’t heard Ted approach but now he’s right at my elbow. I was too engrossed trying to imagine it. This heart. In me.

My own thuds dully in my chest. I avoid Ted’s gaze.

‘What is it you’re looking for exactly?’ he says. ‘Any specific requirements?’

‘Oh the usual,’ I say. ‘Nothing too fancy. Just for basic stuff.’

He offers a knowing smile that I instantly dislike. I look at the stickers on his badge instead.

‘You’ll be after something like this.’ He directs me to the tables opposite, points to a veiny heart, brown-red, gleaming.

‘New in,’ he adds. ‘All the rage. Durable.’ He eyes me again. ‘Built for that fierce rush of excitement. And the pain.’

‘I don’t know,’ I say, although I’m drawn to it. I’ve lost all awareness of the weak patter of my own, and my hands, before I even think about it, stretch out to the glass.

He reaches in and passes it to me. It has a comfortable weight. Now I can see the shape of veins and chambers within.

‘Comes highly recommended,’ he says. ‘Great reviews. Expertly tested. Mass produced. You’ll always find the parts in case of damage.’

‘Ok,’ I say, since it’s in my hands anyway. I cast my eyes around for a price.

He’s off to the checkout before I can ask. I follow, past a table of hearts marked Second Hand.

‘You’ll get a discount if you trade your old one in.’ The new heart has grown cold against my skin. ‘And we can install it for you now?’

The process is quick and painless. The new heart thumps in my chest, well balanced, regular.

When it comes to it, I can’t quite hand over my old one to be piled with the second hands. I pay the full price and Ted lets me take the messy red sludge of it home in a jar. He charges me five pence extra and wraps it in a paper bag.

‘Have a nice day.’

He hands it over along with my change.

I take the jar from the bag and feel the weight of it. A small warmth seeps through onto my skin. I tilt the glass and the lump of heart slides back and forth.

Ted coughs. I look up, expecting to see his him watching, questioning. But he’s looking over my shoulder, where another customer stands, new heart in hand.

‘Sorry,’ I say, and shift out the way. I don’t think he listens. My place is already taken up by someone new, and Ted flashes his teeth in a too-bright smile.

My shoes squeak on the clean white floor when I head back through the glinting aisles of jars, adjusting in my arms, the lukewarm weight of heart.

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Hannah Tougher is a graduate of the Creative Writing MLitt at the University of Stirling and currently lives in Glasgow. She has previously had work published in The Ogilvie. She writes short stories but has recently developed a love for reading and writing flash fiction. She can be found on twitter @hmtougher.