While Roberto was in Afghanistan, he had grown another heart. Not on purpose. The conditions, he figures, were just, unexpectedly, right. Dry. Lonely. Cansado. When he was there, it was summer. Thick dust swirling in hot, combustible whirlwinds. A cloudless, corrosive sky.
But something in him had changed, had sprouted. Some cold, vestigial vein had wedged itself under his lungs, and crept through his torso, gathering ventricle mass and leeching blood from his other organs to feed its own, intractable growth.
One of the last things Amanda had said to him, before he deployed, was “Just make sure you come back intact.” She had flicked three sausages from out of the frying pan onto his plate. Hot oil splattered his forehead. “It’s not like the Boy Scouts, you know. Katrina was one thing, but you’re not some Rambo Private Ryan. Christ, you’re a junior high science teacher.”
“I’ve been trained.”
“They can’t train you to come back intact.”
He hadn’t yet found the words to ask her. Would his current condition, to her, ever count as intact? He thought it should. After all, his first heart—the tidy, reliable one—was still inside. Hadn’t he actually gained something, rather than lost it?
But so far the signs suggest that she finds his new heart repulsive. In the rare moments that they make love, she demands that he remove it, and store it away in a drawer, where she can’t hear its aberrant pulsing.