By Dan McClenaghan
I bought a baboon’s heart from a lab in Amsterdam, on Amazon. Two days later a guy pulled a white van to the curb and ran my purchase up to our front door. I gave him the cashier’s check, the second half of the payment. He gave me the heart, bubbled-wrapped and surrounded by shards of dry ice in a cube of cardboard. Then off he went, to make the rest of the day’s deliveries. And all of my Medicare voucher and half my retirement nest egg were gone.
Jolene—God bless her—went online and found a doctor in Mexico to do the operation. It’s not legal yet in the States. It’s all pig’s hearts here now, cloned sows with the rejection factor engineered out of them. But who can afford legal? We took a second mortgage on our house to pay for the baboon heart and the Mexican doctor. I’ll live if the operation goes well—live poor, maybe, but it’s better than dead.
We rolled down from Tijuana, the simian heart in its box sitting on the back seat. Traffic slowed twenty miles per hour on the toll road north of Rosarito, behind two side-by-side pickup trucks, one carrying a precarious stack of poorly-tied down used furniture, the other riding low with the weight of a live donkey. I remarked to Jolene that having to look at a donkey’s ass for half our trip down the peninsula might be considered a bad omen. She shushed me, and at the first opportunity—when the furniture truck pulled ahead—she stomped the gas and sped by the donkey. It gave us a doleful look as we passed.
Five miles south of Ensenada, a mile from the sea, the clinic, a converted ranch house, jutted up from the hills that glowed green with winter rains. Jolene parked on a packed dirt parking area and we went inside. She slid a stack of cash across the reception desk, received a small receipt from one of those pads you can buy at Staples, and the next thing I knew I was naked on a cold table, my chest shaved, an IV in my arm, and a small, dark-eyed Mexican woman was telling me I would soon be sleepy. But that never happened. My lights just went out, and I awoke God knows how many hours later with a parched throat and a deep ache under my rib cage.
They released me in less than two hours, an old man loopy with residual anesthesia and a healthy dose of generic Oxycodone.
An hour after sunset, a half hour from the border, I noticed something stuck to my chest. I fingered it, pulled the neck of my t-shirt down, and found a nine volt battery taped to my left pectoral, beside the line of stitches that ran like a maroon centipede up the center of my sternum. Wires ran from the battery posts into two small holes in my flesh.
“What?” I croaked to Jolene.
She shot me a look as we approached a toll booth, but I couldn’t read her expression in the dark. She braked to a stop under the booth’s flood light and paid the man in American money, and I could see she’d been crying.
“A battery?” I said.
“There was something wrong with the heart,” Jolene said, pressing the gas pedal down gently, easing us into the inky dark, where I wouldn’t see her tears. I looked out my side window. A million stars shone beyond the black hills. “They had to put in a pacemaker, to get it to beat right.”
“But … a nine volt battery?”
“It’s temporary,” she said, her voice cracking. “They weren’t prepared for a damaged organ. They had me order the right pacemaker battery on Amazon.”
“Amazon,” I said.
“It’ll be here in two days. We have Prime”
I closed my eyes, slipping into the Oxycodone’s euphoric embrace. I dreamed that we came up behind the donkey again, and that Jolene pulled around to pass him, but when she did the truck sped up to ride beside us. As we barreled along side-by-side, the donkey turned to me, with an expression that told me he had something to say. I rolled down my window. His rubbery lips writhed as he said, “I tried to stop you on the way down, tried to tell you this baboon thing was a mistake.” Then the dream shifted to an African savanna, and I was running with my cohorts, stout-hearted fellows all. With our lips pulled back from our enormous canines, we took down a small antelope, and I tore out its throat.
I woke up at the border, and they had the drug dogs out. Two of them. They sniffed under the car on Jolene’s side. When they came around to my side, the dogs pulled away from their handlers, tugging their leashes tight, teeth bared, ears flattened back, low growls rumbling from their throats. I whooped at them through my open window. They went batshit crazy, pulling hard on their leashes, snapping at me, frothing at their mouths. A dogless agent approached my side of the car and asked me where I was from, and what was I bringing back from Mexico.
I pulled down my t-shirt and showed him my scar and my battery.
Jolene said, “Frank, don’t!”
The man’s mouth dropped open, and he waved us through.
And Jolene and I—and my new heart and my battery—headed home.
To be continued.
About Dan McClenaghan
I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.
I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.
Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!
Photo credit: Frank Jacobi via a Creative Commons license.