Other Human Hearts
BY MICHAEL FISCHER
I’m at a stop sign, taking it way too literally so Heath can open the passenger door and vomit onto the street. He has his back to me and his feet flat against the side of the seat, perched like a gargoyle as electric blue liquid cascades down between his knees. I turn away and stare out the window, trying to keep my own stomach steady. There’s a dry riverbed just yards from where we’re sitting. He should throw up down there; it would be the first drop of liquid the thing has seen in years. Fucking drought.
Heath’s cheating started on his first trip up here to visit me, when I dragged him into a secondhand clothing store to charm the salesgirl into buying my stuff. I had tried once before, by myself — carted in a pile of clothes and stood there as it was turned down, piece by piece. But I had a hunch those places aren’t really about your clothes. The college girls who work at them are experts at screening for single losers and rejecting anything they bring in.
With Heath leading the way, my same batch of clothes was immediately snapped up; my theory was correct. Heath consummated the transaction later that evening by having acrobatic sex with the salesgirl. He even managed to shatter a full-length mirror in the guest bedroom before stumbling through the broken glass on his way to throw up. In the morning, the floor was covered with bloody, drunken footprints. I used the money from the clothes we’d sold to buy another mirror.
Next was the Guatemalan woman, a good dancer who made a game out of pantomiming words she didn’t know in English. She left her necklace behind. Heath was nice enough to give her my number, to stem the flow of pleading texts popping up on his phone. Too dangerous, he said, since he lived with Christine and had a habit of leaving his phone around. He insisted I use a code word in my texts as a safeguard. We settled on “Sacramento,” as in, “Hey man, getting a lot of heat up here in Sacramento re: recovering this pendant or whatever the fuck it is.” (Response: “Sorry man, tell anyone concerned I’m not gonna be able to make it to Sacramento any time soon. I’d suggest getting over it.”)
There were other instances, other girls. Last night we drank something the trashy Mexican restaurant where we found ourselves for dinner had christened “the Blackout Beach.” Things followed logically from there. I ended up sleeping on my living room floor while Heath got choked out in my bedroom by a shy — or at least she seemed shy to me, pre-coitus — college senior with braces. I found out this morning that he used (and ruined) four of my better neckties to playfully restrain her, tying her to the bedposts so he could breathe long enough to finish what they’d started.
I willingly put up with all of this — shattered glass, tedious wing-manning, towels sopped in vomit — for the deeply sick reason that I enjoy seeing people cheat. Heath claims (more to assuage his own guilt than through any remote relation to reality) that he only cheats on Christine when he’s around me. He says it’s really my fault, come to think of it. I hope that’s true.
She’s a wonderful girl, Christine — seriously. She loves Heath. They’ve been together since college and have lived together for years. She’s so happy to be with him, so proud. After all, he’s handsome, funny, off to an Ivy League law school in the fall. Christine deserves absolutely none of this. And yet I just keep facilitating: sitting there sipping my drinks, watching Heath betray her trust, their relationship, himself.
I’m a sore loser, is what it comes down to. Bitter, broken. I like knowing I’m not the only one to put my faith in the wrong people, not the only one to be made a fool of. I enjoy seeing them together, looking at Christine, and realizing she knows absolutely nothing about the person she’s dating — who he really is, the things he has done. Just like I didn’t know, any of the times this shit happened to me. It’s evil, frankly, to be inflicting this on someone when I know firsthand how much it will hurt. What if she tries to kill herself, like I did when I learned? What if she never finds out? Which is worse?
But I’m too cowardly to exorcise my demons like an adult. Instead, I set the table and let Heath do it for me. In this respect, I’m even more pathetic than he is. As I sit behind the wheel, staring at the stop sign while Heath spits dribbles of Blackout Beach onto the asphalt (gotta get back on the road — Christine is waiting, it’s date night), a moment from last night comes back to me.
I woke to the sound of Heath barreling out of the bedroom: naked, saucer-eyed, so drunk he was bordering on psychosis. He stared down at me — doing his best to cover dick and balls with his left hand — and whimpered in a fearful, urgent voice, “Help me.” He was asking for the bathroom. He was so drunk he had forgotten where it was and needed, shockingly, to throw up. I just lay there on the floor, barely awake, looking up at him. My friend Heath, shaking and alone, in the dark.
“Help me,” he said again.