by Anne Bean
There once was a woman who lived in an apartment with her husband. He went to work; she went to work. She came home and cooked; he came home and ate. Neither of them could pinpoint when things started going missing, getting replaced with other things. It was inconsequential at first, and only she noticed. Seven forks in the drawer instead of eight, and nine spoons. The cover to the toilet seat a dusky orange instead of the dusky pink she remembered. She didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to fight about the color of the toilet seat cover, for crying out loud.
But the changes got bigger. The houseplants were replaced by different, dead ones. The light switches were all reversed, ON now turning the light OFF. The doorknobs turned the opposite way. The TV remote disappeared, although she was not sure if that just happened ordinarily. The cat, usually affectionate, got nervous and rangy, often meowing persistently at nothing. The woman began shouting at her husband for no particular reason, and he would shout back and then curse when trying to open the bedroom door. Soon she stopped being able to hear her husband unless he was shouting, so shouting was the only way they communicated.
Maybe it’s elves, or mice, or a poltergeist. She considered exorcism, but figured it probably wouldn’t work because she hadn’t been to Mass in years. She wished on the North Star, but it remained static and cold. Finally, she decided to look inside herself, since that’s what the television psychologists always said to do. So she went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and opened up her chest. She unzipped along the sternum and peeled back the skin, the muscle, the ribs. And then she could see it clearly, wiggle-thumping deep in her chest—her heart was missing. It had been replaced by a large black rabbit. The rabbit looked uncomfortable in her chest cavity, curled up at an awkward angle and squished between her other organs. It would occasionally kick its hind legs rapidly against her liver.
“Oh,” she said. “That explains it.”
She closed her chest and zipped herself back up, and went to tell her husband, who was in the living room, sitting on the footstool (since the springs in armchair had gone missing) and watching TV.
“MY HEART IS A BLACK RABBIT!” she shouted.
“I NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU WANT ANY MORE!” her husband shouted back.
“THAT’S JUST WHAT I’M SAYING! NEITHER DO I!”
Because how can you know what you want when your heart is a large, black rabbit? The next morning, after she slept alone in the bed, she tiptoed past her husband, asleep on the couch. She went into the bathroom and coughed up a large wad of black, wet fur into the sink. She frowned. At some point, people would notice. Something had to be done.
She resolved to catch whatever was replacing everything, whether it was elves or mice or ghosts. She waited until her husband left for work. She lay mousetraps all over the house. Some were baited with cheese, and some were baited with ivy and some were baited with bits of the black rabbit’s fur that she’d coughed up. She waited, sitting on the carpet by the couch, watching the traps by the walls.
Where was her own heart now? she wondered. Was it whole in the chest of some impostor? Was it in pieces, squirreled away into the cracks of a thousand buildings? Had it been burned to ash, eaten all up, traded for trinkets at the flea market?
While she was waiting, her husband came home. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“HUSH, YOU’LL SCARE AWAY THE ELVES,” she shouted back.
“I JUST WANT YOU TO COME BACK TO ME.”
He slumped down next to her.
“I’m trying,” she said again, and he nodded like he’d heard her, even though she wasn’t shouting. “I really need my heart back,” she said.
“Well, I certainly don’t have it any more,” he said, his voice barely audible.
“I don’t need you to have it,” she whispered. “I need it back in my chest where it belongs.”
She could feel the black rabbit flutter-kicking its hind legs—kick kick kick—inside her chest cavity. What if the elves or mice or ghosts never came? What if she had to get used to this black rabbit, this changeling heart, forever?
She turned to her husband and opened up her chest so that he could see: Skin, flesh, rib, rabbit. He looked for a while, and then she closed her chest. “I don’t know when that happened,” she said.
“I want to fix it,” he said.
She shook her head. “You can’t.”
They sat on the carpet by the couch and watched the mousetraps. Outside, the sun was setting.
“Maybe the ghosts will bring my heart back,” she said. “Or the elves. Or the mice.”
“You never know,” he said.
They sat there in the darkness, waiting for the pieces of her missing heart, for a long, long time.
About Anne Bean
Anne Bean‘s fiction has appeared in Urban Fantasy Magazine, The Pitkin Review, and the anthology Tell Me A Fablefrom Dark Opus Press. She produced her first comic,”The Bird & The Sausage,” with aritst Ben Horak. She lives in Seattle, where she is the Associate Editor for Minor Arcana Press. She blogs about Dante, stock photography, and writing craft at annebean.com.