Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Heart-Shaped Box"

There was a heart-shaped box on her desk that morning. Opening it, she found that it was filled with chocolates delicately wrapped in thin pieces of tissue paper, each piece of tissue paper a different color for a different type of chocolate. Some had a coconut, some had nougat, there was even that one in the center that had an oozy strawberry filling that most people would never eat and threw away with the wrapping, but she ate it. She loved it.

"What's the occasion, Marti?" one of the other nurses asked.

"Anniversary," Marti said, delicately placing the cover back on the box. "Bob always remembers and this one is special: forty years."

"No shit?" The other nurse glanced at the heart-shaped box with a twinge of jealousy. "Well, you're a lucky girl."

"I'm no girl," Marti said. "No spring chicken here. I'm nearly sixty-seven. And while it was a very nice gesture from Bob, I'm slightly worried about when I get home."

"Why? He want something kinky in bed?" The other nurse, whose name was Betancourt, was a notorious gossip.

"No, it's not that," Marti said in a whisper. Sex was still a somewhat taboo subject for her, though she knew Betancourt loved to talk about it. Nurse Betancourt had emigrated from Trinidad and still had her thick accent, which somewhat eased Marti when she talked about such a frank subject with her. "It's just hasn't been there lately."

"Ah," Nurse Betancourt said. "I understand. And Bob? What about him?"

"Oh, is fine," Marti said. "Anyway, I shouldn't be talking about this. We have work to do." She picked up a stack of paperwork and started filling it out. Betancourt sighed - her source of gossip having been cut off, she went back to checking on the various patients in their ward.

Two hours later, police admitted an unconscious woman to the hospital. An officer explained that she had been knocked unconscious during a rave and might possibly be on drugs. Marti scheduled her for a CT scan to see if there might be a concussion, then starting drawing blood in order to do a drug test. As Marti drew the blood, she noticed how the woman's hair was a vivid shade of red.

At that moment, the woman's eyes snapped opened. Marti pulled back, but she wasn't quick enough - the red-haired woman sat up with startling speed and jumped off the table. The suddenness of the movement made Marti jump herself and then trip, falling on the floor. She felt a sharp pain in her thigh and closed her eyes. When she opened then, the red-haired woman was gone and the officer was calling for backup.

When Marti finally got up and brushed herself off, she noticed with alarm that the needle she had using to draw blood from the woman was now embedded in her thigh, with the plunger all the way down.

The officer helped her sit down and she delicately pulled the needle out of her thigh. The officer appeared to be panicking more than she was - she was in a strange state of calm. She knew she should be worried about the red-haired woman's blood - there might be drugs in it or HIV or any number of other viruses, but she knew there was nothing she could do about it now except take antivirals and wait.

So she did. In fact, she went back to work, since she was still on the clock. She wondered how she would relate the news to Bob - this was their anniversary and it was not going well. Her daydream about breaking the news to Bob was interrupted by Bob's voice: "Marti, what are you doing?"

"Bob?" she looked up and saw his kind, wrinkled face. "Why are you here?"

"The hospital called me," he said. "They said there was some sort of accident? I came here as soon as I could."

"Oh, you shouldn't have," Marti said. "I'm fine. I've taken a load of antivirals and-"

"Marti," Bob said, "come on, this is me."

"I'm fine," she said. "Truly."

He was quiet for a while and then said, "Okay." Then he pulled her into a big bearhug and she breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was going to be fine. There anniversary wasn't going to be ruined by one little needle.

That evening, Bob took Marti to a fancy restaurant and they sipped red wine and laughed at old stories. Marti thought she would be tired after working eight hours at the hospital, but she felt better than before. There was an energy inside of her that she wanted to release.

In fact, the drive she had been talking about earlier with Nurse Betancourt seemed to have returned. After diner, Bob and Marti went back to their brownstone and made love.

The next day, Marti felt even better. At the nursing station, she couldn't stay still, moving her hips as she filled out the paperwork, never sitting down for more than a minute. "What's up with you, girl?" Nurse Betancourt asked.

"Oh, nothing," Marti said. "I just feel...good."

"Someone got lucky last night I bet," Nurse Betancourt said.

"Oh yes," Marti said. "And I aim to get lucky again tonight."

And she did. Night after night, she and Bob made love. When she had the night shift and went home at five a.m., she would even gently wake Bob from sleep and they would have soft, sleep-deprived lovemaking.

By the end of the week, however, Bob was worn out. Marti seemed to have limitless energy, especially in the sack, and after they would make love, she would sometimes request to go again. Bob would bemoan and say, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!" Or sometimes, if he was feeling silly, he would affect a Russian accent and say, "The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten!"

Marti was getting more looks at the hospital, too. She had been nice looking when she was younger, but at sixty-six, she had too many wrinkles and not enough exercise to get rid of excess fat. But now she could see some doctors look at her with roaming eyes.

"Are you taking some sort of treatment?" Nurse Betancourt asked.

"No," Marti said, "why?"

"Because you're wrinkles are fadin' away," Betancourt said. "Whatever moisturizer you are on, I want some."

Marti checked the mirror in the bathroom and realized it was true. Her wrinkles were slowly vanishing, one by one. She no longer looked sixty-six. In fact, she looked like she was back in her forties. She thought this was strange, but decided not to question it. "You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," her mother had always told her.

By the next week, Marti looked almost thirty. Every morning she woke up more excited and energetic than the last morning. She was applying makeup now, just some rouge and a little lipstick, but it was more than she had done before.

Bob, however, was getting more and more tired. Sometimes, he didn't even have the energy for their daily lovemaking. One morning, when she returned from the night shift, she tried to wake him up, but he was sleeping too soundly. She shook him more and he mumbled out about how he was sorry, but that it "won't come up anymore."

She knew this was a problem many older couples faced, but she didn't feel old. She felt young again. She felt new!

She ended up talking with Bob's physician and seeing if she could get a PDE5 inhibitor, which would help with any...disfunction that Bob had. She managed to get some and as soon as she convinced Bob to take one a day, they went right back on their schedule.

One morning, as she was cutting vegetables for soup, the knife slipped and she cut her finger. It stung and she instinctively placed her finger in her mouth. This simple act changed everything for Marti. The taste of her own blood was almost orgasmic. She ended up sucking a bit too much on the finger, but when she finally pulled it out of her mouth, the cut was gone. It had healed in less than a minute.

At work, she was getting more and more looks. "Tell me your surgeon," Nurse Betancourt would say. "He does great work."

Marti would just smile mysteriously (and a little seductively) and say nothing. Her home life was going a little better. They were back on their daily lovemaking sessions, but now Marti had a taste of her own blood, she wanted more.

She started giving Bob small cuts on his arms and licked them up. Then more and more, until finally it was equal parts lovemaking and bloodplay.

Finally, one evening, Bob said to her, "My only wish, Marti, is to make you happy. That's all I wanted. That's why I've gone along with all of this. But I only have so much stamina and so much blood in me. I can't keep going like this."

"But I want more," Marti said. "I have this...need. This thirst."

"Then take what you want," Bob said. "Please. I hope it will be enough."

She cut him on his arm and licked the blood and then made another cut and another. Soon, she was lost in her own blood-filled world and when she finally looked down, Bob was still. She hadn't noticed as his heart stopped. Her mind was clouded with sex and blood and she took the knife and cut deep into his chest, cut further than she should have with an inhuman strength. She cut and pried open his ribcage and took out his heart.

She tried to make it beat again, but it wouldn't. So she licked the blood and then put the heart in a plastic ziplock bag and placed it in her purse. She would bring it to a doctor, that's all Bob needed, Marti thought as she cleaned up. A heart doctor.

As she walked down the street, she could feel others staring at her and she reveled in it. She walked into the hospital and up to her nursing station, where Nurse Betancourt was. "Can I help you?" Nurse Betancourt asked. "Admissions are over there."

Marti was confused until she saw a mirror. She no longer looked almost thirty. She looked younger, younger than thirty, younger than twenty. She was eighteen, if she was a day. And she wasn't Marti at eighteen, no, no mousy brown hair. Now, she had bright, vividly red hair and a gorgeously curvy body. No wonder Nurse Betancourt no longer recognized her.

Marti looked at her hair. When had it turned red? And why?

And then she finally remembered the red-haired woman and the blood. Marti licked her lips. It all came down to blood.

"Ma'am?" Nurse Betancourt said. "Admissions are down there."

Marti turned around and walked away, leaving her purse there. Nurse Betancourt would later find it, recognize it as Marti's, and look inside to see if there was any of that chocolate left from that heart-shaped box. When she found what was inside, however, she would let out a blood-curdling scream.

Marti walked out of the hospital, blood still on her mind, blood the only thing on her mind. She had to find more of it. As she walked down the street, the blood took control and threw away all of her old memories, all of her old life.

As she walked, a car pulled up and the man inside the car propositioned her. She smiled and got into the car. "What's your name, honey?" the man asked.

A song came on the radio and triggered one memory that the blood hadn't gotten rid of. It was their song. Always their song.

"Ruby," she said licking her lips. "My name is Ruby."

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