I bought a heart. It was a sheep’s heart. I intended to stuff it with bread, onion and thyme. It was raining outside but the market was covered. My jaw hurts more on wet days. It was killing me now. The butcher was watching television. It was a small screen set on the wall to the left of the counter. Look at the fuckers, he said. Jimmy, I said, you shouldn’t say fuckers to customers. Sure you’re hardly a customer at all, he said, all you buy is fucking hearts, Jesus if I was depending on you for a living. He pointed at the television. Look at the bastards, after screwing us for ten years and now we’re supposed to feel sorry for them. The sound was turned down. Do you know what I heard this morning, he said. Did you ever hear the expression stockbroker sentiment? Sentiment my arse. Put me down for two hearts next Thursday, I said, I’m expecting company. He wrote it in his book. Then I went away. I did not have an umbrella. I walked as near to the wall as I could because it’s drier there. There are awnings overhead from time to time. I thought about a quick pint but realised I didn’t have the money. The heart broke me. My mother is coming out for the day on Thursday and she still likes hearts. This is something I don’t understand. She doesn’t know my name. She doesn’t recognise me. She doesn’t remember that she has a child. But she still likes the taste of meat. She even remembers that she likes the taste. I sometimes think that the stomach has its own brain. When the rain got lighter I made a run for it. The pain in my jaw stopped when I ran. That’s a good one, I thought, if I could keep running I’d never get pain any more. But you can’t. Running would kill you quick enough.
Crossing the bridge the heavens opened. It was that straight down rain. It came down under my collar and through my clothes. I stood into the doorway of the funeral home. The rain made the river smooth. Then it stopped and in a minute the sun came out. That was when I noticed that she was behind me. She was crying. Are you all right, I said. Look, I said, I have a heart. She just looked at me. I’m going to stuff the fucker, I said. I don’t know why I said fucker. I suppose that was Jimmy coming out in me. Jimmy is a big influence. Even when we were kids my mother used to say you were out with that Jimmy Canty again, the tongue he has, I can hear him in you. The woman came forward. What kind of a heart, she said. Sheep, I said. I’m going to stuff it. Lovely, she said, do you cook yourself? I do. Good man, she said, I’m all for that. I said, Did someone die on you? My husband, she said. I’m sorry. No, we were estranged, I haven’t seen him in a while, he’s in there now, I just thought I’d nip in before the new family arrives and say goodbye, funny thing is I never cried when I said goodbye before, I suppose I’m sentimental. Is he open for viewing, I said. I don’t know, she said, I didn’t go in yet. I’m just sheltering from the rain. So I see, she said. What did he die of? A stroke, at his age, you wouldn’t expect that, would you, except he was a workaholic of course, that can’t be good for you, he had no life. I said I could go in and have a look at the corpse with her. She looked at me without saying anything for a bit during which time it started to rain again. Then she said would I? I said I would. We went in and had a look. We had to ask someone in the office because there were three corpses in three different rooms. He was lying in a nice-looking coffin with silk lining and what I thought were probably gold-plated handles. He was stone dead and he looked it. I saw the way my father looked. People said he looked beautiful because all the lines in his face were gone but I preferred him with the lines. They said death took forty years off him. That was no good to me because death took everything from me. We ticked gold-plated handles on the menu the undertaker gave us. We ticked hardwood. We ticked marble headstone. We gave him everything but when he was in a hole in the ground nothing made any difference. He was just gone. Everybody said it was a great sendoff. That didn’t make any difference either. I said that to the woman and she said it didn’t matter to her because the new family were paying for it, she wasn’t even notified except a friend saw it in the deaths. She started crying again. That was the way he looked, she said, he was a handsome chap, he was gorgeous really. Then she spat in his face. She did it twice. Missus, I said, what are you doing, you can’t do that. That’s for everything he did to me, she said. Then she said to the corpse, How do you like it now you fucking dead bastard, much good your fucking fancy woman did you. Come on, she said, I need a drink.
She bought the drink. I told her how the heart took my last euro. I’m totally stony, I said. God help you, she said, so am I but at least I have the price of a drink. Where there’s an undertaker there’s a pub. I asked for a pint of Guinness and she bought it for me. I don’t know what she was having herself because she mixed it at the counter. It looked like a glass of water with ice in it but it wasn’t. In my experience women like vodka and gin and you can’t see either of them. She told me the story of her life. It was quite interesting. The relevant part was where her husband came home one night and she could smell the other woman on him. She went ballistic. Totally ballistic. Up until that minute they had never had a serious row and since then she often thought that it was a bad sign. If they had rows it meant they would have something to fight about. Did he admit it? He did eventually. What did he say? I can’t remember, that’s the kind of thing you want to forget, it wasn’t nice, what did I ever do to him, I ask you. She went up and ordered another Guinness and another glass of invisible alcohol. I saw my orthodontist come in. As soon as I saw him the pain in my jaw started all over again. The glass of water had a little Chinese umbrella in it. So, I said, what are you going to do? She drank half of her glass. When she held the glass up the Chinese umbrella slid against her mouth. The removal is in ten minutes, she said, so we have to get ready. Then she finished the rest of the glass and went for another one. She came back with a whiskey for me and another umbrella glass. Down the hatch, she said. There was something like a dead smile on her face. I said, That man is my orthodontist. What do you want an orthodontist for, I thought you were broke? I had major reconstructive surgery, I said, after an accident. Down the hatch, she said. We drank our shorts together. I cycled into an articulated lorry, I said, I was coming down the hill, he backed out, to tell you the truth I wasn’t looking. Jesus. They fixed me up in the hospital and then they sent me to him. He identified an overcrowding problem. He screwed up. He’s a crap orthodontist.
I said, I’m going to tell him he ruined my life. When I stood up I was a bit shook. I’m not used to drinking so fast. I sat down again and finished the whiskey. Come on, the woman said, I’ll go with you. We went up to the orthodontist. Excuse me, she said, this gentleman has something to say to you. But I couldn’t say it. I just stood there. I wanted to say, After what you did to me I can’t hold down a job. I got fired because I was sick and now the company is gone too. He didn’t recognise me. Orthodontists probably only recognise teeth. I opened my mouth. I tried to open wide but the joint doesn’t work a hundred per cent anymore. He looked away. I could see he was embarrassed. I can’t say I blame him, this fucker with a wired up jaw opening and closing it in your face without saying a word. He probably thought I was a maniac. He may or may not have remembered something. He pretended to be looking at the news. It was Sky. A line along the bottom said, Fed buys AIG. Jesus, he said, this is big.
Come on, the woman said, it’s time for the removal. She pushed the orthodontist’s arm which spilled his drink onto the counter, You ruined his life, she said. Then we went out and saw that there was a respectful crowd at the door of the funeral home. Right, she said, don’t let me down now.
I said, I left my heart in the pub.
Fuck your heart, she said, come on. She pushed through the crowd and I followed. It started to rain again. We turned in the door and I saw the coffin ahead. I could see that her shoulders were shaking. I thought she was probably crying or getting very mad. There was a priest and a young family. I could see the new wife. She looked beautiful the way sorrowful people do. There were people in suits. There was an old woman who looked like my mother. She was looking at us. I could see she didn’t know what was going on and she wasn’t happy about it. I tried not to look at her. In my mother’s world now something terrible was always going to happen. Even in her bed in the Home she was fretting. There wasn’t enough of her left to be happy and happiness is the only defence against fear, I know that. I saw the same thing in that old woman. I couldn’t do it then, whatever we were going to do. I turned around and went out.
My heart was still where I left it but the orthodontist was gone. I went home. There was bread there, and onion and thyme. When it was cooked it was delicious. I watched television all evening. I remember exactly what was on.