My heart was in a jar on the shelf above the bed. I could no longer remember when he took it but it still rattled its glass pericardium with slow thump-thumps. When we fucked the heart beat so hard it almost fell off the shelf. I didn’t like to think of what might happen if the glass broke.
On lonely Sundays, I pressed my palm against the Mason jar and searched my chest for a scar that wasn't there. I expected it to be three inches long, diagonal, and somewhere around the center of my chest. I couldn’t remember whether the heart belonged on the left or right side. I remembered hearing once that it should be the size of my fist, but the curved glass of the jar magnified it – it looked too big and I wondered how it ever fit beneath my ribcage to begin with.
I called my mother to ask about the scar. The lack of a scar. I remembered her body from when I was young and how many scars cut across it. Her body parts lived in the wine cellar, behind bottles of Pinot Noir and Merlot and Chardonnay, and as a child I believed that accounted for her hands being always cold. When my father died, she brought all the jars to a surgeon and had her body reassembled. She confessed to me later how strange it felt when her lungs expanded in her chest after twenty years of not doing so. She felt surprised to see her chest come up at her when she inhaled. It sort of hurt, she told me.
“Scars don't form until you put your pieces back in for the first time. Sometimes not even then,” my mother told me. She taught ninth grade biology and wished I understood science. I stood topless in the bathroom and touched the skin above my breasts. A case of childhood chickenpox left scars. “This is how men know we've been loved before,” she added, though she didn't need to.
I met him on a Friday. By Wednesday, he had one of my ribs. I asked him to even me out and take one from the other side. They half-floated, half-sunk in a jar on the bookshelf. Beside them on the shelf was a heart that I pretended not to notice. The following Friday an outgoing package addressed to an Ann Harrison waited by the door. I held it to my ear; the muffled beat gave the contents away.
On Saturdays, I stayed in the bathtub for hours, until the thin, rectangular window near the ceiling showed only black. My skin pruned and I had constant swimmers ear, though I hadn't seen the inside of a YMCA since I was a kid.
“You should take my ear canals next,” I teased when he came in to bring me a towel, or call me to dinner. “Five more minutes, okay?”
In the tub I appreciated the lightness the Mason jars offered me. Most places, I didn't. In the city, the skyscrapers trapped wind between them and I worried I would blow away, heartless, and land in some strange new place. I read a news story once about a man who hid his lover's parts. Their private game – she would listen for her own heartbeat, try to follow it. When he died, she searched and searched, but the beat always sounded as far away as it did near. The doctors offered her a transplant, but she refused. It wasn't the same.
I asked him once if he ever took other parts from me while I slept. He kissed me on the mouth and the rice began to boil over and the question was forgotten.
We fought about things like finances and whose parents to visit on Thanksgiving and why I should keep my sternum. Once I threw a teacup at his head and he put three vertebrae back in. I could cartwheel again, but it wasn't worth it. The scar ran crooked down my spine and I had to twist funny to see it in the mirror. I kissed his shoulder and he took the vertebrae back out, showed me how they fit together.
“I expected vertebrae to be round and thin,” I told him. “Like half dollars.” He looked at me and laughed and I looked away. Of course they weren't.
When he decided that I smoked too many cigarettes, he took my lungs. He did so while I slept; I woke up feeling tired and thin. I put a hand against my ribcage to comfort it; I imagined that it felt alone under my skin, missing it's pulmonary friend. I still smoked, but my lungs swayed like twin fish in the jar and faded in color from coal to fleshy pink.
Sometimes, after a minor surgery, he apologized. “Take something of mine,” he said. “A bone or a tear duct. We can put it in the jar with your heart.” And though we both knew I couldn't accept, I liked that he offered. But when I was sad because of the weather or the news, I blamed my emptiness on his voracity. I wondered if when we had sex, he was thinking about what was left of me. What was still left to take. “I just love you so, so much,” he said.
He promised me marriage and took my collective parts with him on business and counted my ribs, whispering “nine ten eleven” against my shoulder blade so soft he thought I wouldn't notice. He was making sure mine were all accounted for; that no other man had one in their own firefly jar.
He strung a necklace with a tooth where a pendant or locket belonged. Thinking it was a poor substitute for a diamond, I tongued the gap in my gums. It tasted the way a soda can did, when first opened.
“Why do you miss the parts of you that you ignored while you had? When was the last time you even thought about your bicuspids?” My mother asked. I told her I needed to go home to see her for a couple of days.
All but one of the bulbs in the upstairs bathroom were burnt out and in the dim light, I examined my body. My skin looked thin, blue. There were never scabs, just another Mason jar and my lightened body. I wondered if he had taken anything from me that he kept in secret, a kidney or a small, almost useless bone.
Before leaving, I had searched the apartment for parts of me. I got sick too often, so I looked for stolen lymph nodes. They were not hidden in any of the desk drawers or trapped in vials taped behind picture frames or tucked in tea boxes. My maybe-boneless hands stayed empty. On the way out the door, I remembered to check behind the winter coats and in the mailbox.
I wanted to know what might be missing from me. My mother graded lab reports downstairs; I recounted my ribs and touched my abdomen, searching for gaps.
Place the frog in the dissection pan on his back. With a scalpel cut down the middle from the pelvis to the pectoral girdle. Make horizontal cuts near the arms and legs and, using the scalpel, separate the skin from the muscle. Lift the flaps of skin and pin them down.
I put towels down on the bathroom tile. I picked up the knife again. I realized I was missing a fingernail. My pinkie looked naked with out it, the way I imagined the rest of me looked: soft and raw like the skin of an apricot.
I guessed what would be missing – pancreas, gallbladder, uterus? I tried to figure out where he might of hid them. I reminded myself that he cut me open all the time. I wondered if I could do it as well as he did. I imagined him waiting for me at home, watching my parts in their separate jars. My lungs contracting and expanding, my heart pumping, and then stopping.