Candy's Heart

By Karen Foster

Dr. Samuel Wisenheimer scraped his scalpel across the edge of the steel desk. It sounded like a monstrous crack breaching the hull of a ship, but there on the desk in a bright aqua plastic container laid a heart. Its gray moss, inert like a sponge. Candy rubbed the side of her freckled nose.

Candy was surprised that even from a distance it looked flaccid like persimmon jello. She feared that it might beat at any time, yet in her imagination she placed it back into Wisenheimer's chest. It was dead, dead, dead. For a moment she was confused. The heart was dead, but not out of place. The auditorium reeked of violence, but the silence was overwhelming.

He had announced this cutting on the first day of Biology 101. "I will dissect my own heart on the last day of class," he said before he looked directly into Candy's eyes. "If you make it through, you will be witnesses to this occasion." On that first day of the fall semester Candy sat in the front row. She watched his gaze travel down the V of her blouse and found her own eyes coming to rest on her cleavage as did his. "Hypnotic, totally," she thought as she arched her back and slid deeper into the auditorium seat.

Wisenheimer unbuttoned his shirt methodically, one eye at a time, and bared the scar that ran the length of his chest. A robin perched on the brick ledge, warbled. Candy felt the spring breeze from the open window drift its fingers along her neck. On this last day of class after the final, she was in the balcony and only saw his black hair parted in the middle like a skunk's stripe. He pushed his gabardines past his waist, and flesh plopped out. Candy watched his belly button move like a mouth. She knew the scar stopped right there where nourishment once entered. She remembered whispering into it and tonguing its candied taste, but now he seemed too far away to even exist in a daydream.

The first time she slid along the scar's nubby length, her legs barely straddling his hips, her pink tongue paused to trace the tiny crevices that inched away from the center into his flabby chest, but he was so good, so good, and it felt luscious to be on top of a man who was to grade her, for good or for evil, truly a monumental moment, truly. At the end of every session, she knew she had learned more about biology than she ever thought imaginable, how a body breathes, how the chest rises and falls, how the flab around his neck choked off his airway and increased his pleasure. She learned about nerve endings and referral points. She adored being above him or parted from behind over his sweet wooden desk, while white sheets of papers prickled her breasts or floated deliciously to the floor, in the office, late in the night when only the janitor sweeping the floors would lift the edge of his headphones to check for a noise that he thought he heard. The moonlight that shadowed Hancock 321 diffused most sounds except the occasionally screech of an owl.

"I have found that the heart is an organ beyond all comprehen­sion." Wisenheimer held his heart above the container in both his hands as if he were offering the host. "Without the life force, the pulses of electricity, it is nothing but a mere mass of holes." He put his fingers into them and the mass moved in rhythm; the aorta flopped back and forth.

He named all the parts, pointing them out with a hairy finger, spreading the ventricles apart while turning the myocardium towards the class to indicate the black spots of deadness. "Obscene," Candy mused and grinned over the memory of his fingers probing a cavity while his thumb remained rigid in another.

One dark eerie night, while she waited for him in his office, she leaned back in his creaking leather chair behind the oak desk and interlaced her fingers behind her neck. She spread her legs wide, in imitation of Samuel, and noticed a slip of paper peaking out through the middle drawer like a pennant. She pulled, but it was just a blank piece of scratch paper. She opened the drawer and rummaged through. She knew that if she were to be caught he would only smirk at her. A magnificent red A glared at her from the drawer's center, like those primping her exams. It was on the front page of a test that he had inserted between a plastic viewer and taped to the center of the drawer. Candy pulled the test out of the plastic. Misty was the girl's name, Misty McCracken. An A with an humongous check mark beside it torn into the paper. Candy had never witnessed Samuel scoring a paper like that. The check mark seemed to bleed.

Candy crossed her feet on the desk and retook Misty's test. She shook her head over the sloppy grading. "Obvious­ly, wrong," thought Candy about one after another question Misty answered in short essay about the function of the liver. "Does it filter, yes," thought Candy, "but not through the large intestine. Does it fail, yes, but not the result of inactivity." Candy felt her heart beat in her throat, clunk, clunk, and her stomach growl. She scratched the arch of her bare foot and squirmed inside her denim cutoffs. "Perhaps Harry graded these," she thought. She had met Harry Horner, Wisenheimer's cross-eyed assistant, when she entered the lab for the first time. Wisenheimer's office hours were late in the afternoon. Harry was standing behind one of the slate tables, staring at a glass beaker heated low over a flame as if mesmerized. When she shut the door, Harry kept his eyes on the fire, nodded his head towards the office and said, "Right ahead, in there." She spoke not a word.

Harry wore his lab coat tied around his waist like an apron. He slaughtered frogs and washed beakers and Candy knew he eyed her pretty round behind whenever she followed Wisenheimer's bouncing behind into his office. She would wiggle hers so slightly and tighten the muscles of her calves to taunt him while she thought of intersecting lines and random functions. Geometry was her next class.

"Good afternoon, young lady. How can I help you?" Wisenheimer leaned back in his swivel chair. He wore a white shirt with faded black flowers splotched over it, as if to match his salt and pepper hair -- extremely messy, thought Candy.

Candy stood erect. She hadn't eaten since last night. She planned it that way so that when she slid into her jeans, she felt lean and vulnerable.

"I want to know about the quizzes."


"When are they?"



"I find it more interesting that way, don't you?"

Wisenheimer stood and moved to the side of the desk. Candy remained where she was.

"Is that all?" he asked.

She tuned to face him. "Sort of."

"Are you afraid of these little tests?"

"I need warning."

"We all do."

The next time she slid into his office was after the first quiz. He had winked at her the day before, and she studied hard that night. She drew pictures of beetles, spent hours with flash cards, outlined a chapter she failed to study.

"I want to know what I got."

"You are impatient."

"That's what I've been told." Candy often pushed herself to the limit.

He reached for the stack of quizzes that lay on the side of the desk and pulled out hers. His eyes sped over the answers and he reached for a red pen. "An A. Impressive."

Wisenheimer called her that night. When she opened her apartment door to let him in, he handed her champagne.

One night Samuel lay with his ear to her chest to listen to her heart. When she wriggled in expectation, he put a hand on her abdomen, "Lay still, let me hear." Candy counted tiles in the ceiling and stretched her legs. Samuel breathed deeply then held his breath. She reached down and put a finger in his mouth and noticed how wet it was. "He's positively drooling," she thought. She felt so much power and willed her heart to beat faster and stronger. Her fingertips pulsated and her toes curled towards the florescent light. He massaged a breast and bit a nipple. She came again soon after with his ear to her chest and his fingers circling her clitoris. That night she slept soundly for the first time. With lovers she would lie half awake, fearful that if she would move too much or talk in her sleep, they would never return. Samuel remained on his side of the bed after sex, his hand never once venturing over to caress her thighs.

In the library she searched through the University newspapers for some mention of Misty McCracken. Candy had not found her name in this year's directory nor in last year's that she pilfered from Samuel's office. She found Misty on the front page of February 17, two years ago, the day of Samuel's transplant. "The day of infamy," he declared. Misty McCracken rushed to Methodist Hospital where she died from a blunt force trauma to the head. Officials could not verify the time of the attack, only noted that it occurred some time Friday evening. It read that Misty was a second-year physical therapist student from a small Iowa town. She was pretty, thought Candy. Light curls framed her face and a necklace with a rose pendant graced her neck.

Dr. Wisenheimer reached into a drawer and withdrew a scalpel. "Rage, rage against the dying of the light," his voice echoed throughout the auditorium. The scalpel circled the air. "Thomas had it right, he did. The moment disappears when the light fails. So does the heart." He pressed the heart flat against the slate and positioned the instrument like a stylus on it, and cut the heart in two. The heart opened like butterfly wings. "So simple," he murmured. "There it is, nothing more than fatal flesh. We toy with it, play with it as if it were a fleeting diversion." The class sat in awe. Candy noticed that a young woman in the third row was sobbing. Samuel was grinning.

The two young men on either side of the sobbing woman leaned away from her as if she were an albatross. Another woman in the front row, Candy had met her in lab, tapped her fingers on the wooden arm rest. Yvonne Moore stood.

Yvonne cleared her throat, "Dr. Wisenheimer, how do we know that this heart is yours?" Candy held her hand to her mouth and saw Wisenheimer's body stiffen.

Wisenheimer tugged on his beard, isolated a gray hair and pulled it out. He laughed. "If it is not mine, then it is some poor soul's, perhaps a relative of yours."

Candy saw Yvonne's body shift and knew the signs of submission, but she would not last. Yvonne would slice her frog into minuscule parts until the legs stopped twitching.

In early April, Candy walked in her father's hospital room. She felt the blueness of the room, thick like fog. The constant ticking of the IV monitor and the bubbling of the oxygen mesmerized her, yet she could hear the beating of her heart in her ears. Her mother had laid her head on the bed. Her gray hair, slightly darker than her father's complexion, was spread like a mop over her father's chest.

Candy moved to the other side of the bed. She picked up her father's hand and held it in hers. His fingers were like reeds of parchment. His ebony mustache was coated with spittle; his lips were purple.

As a child, with her blond hair floating around her face like a siren, Candy would run through the living room. Her father in an overstuffed chair would reach for her with his long arms and drag her screaming to him. He would pinion her between his legs, squeezing the air out of her. The buttons of his Levi's dug into her stomach. She would squirm relentlessly against his thick thighs, pushing against them, begging to be released. But not until tears streamed down her face and her wails became whimpers would he guffaw with laughter and elbow her out of the way, only to trip her as she tore to the kitchen to hide in her mother's skirts.

"Hush, hush, it's not that bad. Quit your crying," her mother whispered to the sink and she would. Her mother's hands never left the soapy water.

But her father's heart deceived him. He felt himself invincible. To pressure a point to her or her sister, he would pound his chest with one hand while his other twisted a handful of her hair. During the second attack late that night, it exploded into shrapnel. His chest heaved, then collapsed. Her mother swayed back and forth, her arms flaying like flags. When Candy placed her hand in the indentation as if to stave it off, she felt air rush out of the cavity. He opened his eyes and looked at her as if he had never seen her before, then at the ceiling.

During the funeral, she sat next to her mother and held her hand. She was the oldest after all. Candy's sister tapped her heels in a haphazard rhythm. Candy viewed in front of her what looked a hollow log of wood. She stared at the ornamental brass handles that seem to glow. The priest swung incense and mumbled prayers for the dead. She heard the clattering of rosaries, and remembered being mentioned as the little girl who sat on her father's lap.

Candy had little to do with her mother the rest of the month. She found the glass-eyed old lady meaningless. Fragments of scenes, of prior conversations, slid through her memory like water. When she returned to class a week later, she noticed that Samuel's voice sounded like her mother's, weird and plaintive.

Candy took her second semester biology final in Hancock auditorium. She sat in the second row. No one else was in the room, except Dr. Samuel Wisenheimer, whose legs oscillated back and forth like a pendulum over the edge of the stage. She felt dizzy most of the time during that hour, but responded to the questions well, for she had studied hard before and after the funeral, stuffing details about the nervous system in her memory deep into the night in her mother's stark and silent house.

Later Candy discovered the eye within her, the part that descends deep in a being and spits out everything extraneous. She bit into Samuel's neck while he groaned and when she pressed her head into the pillow, she noticed that she had drawn blood but there was no remnant of pleasure. She had gone dead from the middle of her back, nothing but blood and its taste. He had come, she knew, for she felt a trace of it on her thigh. After she went into the bathroom to clean herself. She sat on the toilet and stared at the tile.

Wisenheimer proclaimed to her from the other side of the door, "Ms Travis, this afternoon finds you pensive." She did not answer. She imagined his knees rattling together, where his argyles rubbed his legs, the hair missing, his toes pale pink to match his lips. She knew his penis had crunched to the size of a battery. She still felt it within her hands and in her mouth as she urged it along to explode within her. She knew his heart was dying too, for she had felt the crack in it.

After the dissection, Wisenheimer dismissed the class. A stocky young man in a purple and white athletic shirt with a 3 stamped on its back vaulted onto the stage. Candy leaned forward and laid her arms across the railing. She rested her head upon them to observe how the two of them would position. Wisenheimer shook the young man's hand and listened attentively to him while resealing in plastic the refuse of his heart, all the while his mouth open. Wisenheimer tucked the plastic that held his heart under his arm, then took his briefcase in his hand. With the other hand resting comfortably on the young man's shoulder, Wisenheimer nudged him towards the exit. Candy watched them go. By her feet Candy retrieved her final exam with the semester's grade of B circled in red in the upper right-hand corner and left the balcony.