7.03 / March 2012

In the Heart Library

listen to this story

It turns out there is such a thing as a heart library. It is housed in the basement of a medical building behind a dining hall on the campus of a large public university. It is maybe a secret. There are no signs that read Heart Libraryannouncing its location. It can be found after walking down several flights of stairs, after turning corner after corner, after wandering through the ventricles and venae cavae of the building itself.

The library is a room, just one room, with linoleum floors and fluorescent lights and an acoustic tile ceiling. Inside, the hearts sit in neat little rows on wire shelves like office supplies. They are not red, the hearts. They do not look like an organ of passion, they do not look like the sort of thing that is capable of desire. The hearts are gray and fibrous and are shaped like a pigeon hiding its head in shame beneath its wings.

The hearts are human or the hearts are pig. They slumber in tupperware, suspended in a clear viscous liquid, forever newly dead. Each heart is labeled. You can come into the heart library, flash your student ID and check them out.  You can take them to a table and study them. You can poke them, pry them open. You can seek out the story of how they went so wrong.

In the next room over you can tour the Living Heart Laboratory. Here, medical students and researchers put pacemakers into pigs. A few weeks or months later, they open the pigs up and take the machinery out again.  They also conduct experiments on living human hearts. Given the right circumstances, your heart can outlive you. They have staff members on call for when this happens; for the Living Heart Laboratory, it’s a good kind of emergency to have. If they get your heart, they will keep it alive for as long as possible, practicing on it, trying to learn how to fix it before it is too late for someone else.

When they are done with your heart, when it is no longer living, they will place it into its own tupperware. Your heart will move from the laboratory of the living into the library of the dead, suspended in fluid, waiting to be seen, waiting to be wanted, waiting to reveal its hidden, fatal secrets.

Isaac Butler's essays have appeared most recently in Thought Catalog, The Fiddleback, Howlround and American Theater. He currently studies Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota and works as a thetater director, writer and teacher.
7.03 / March 2012