How to Cook a Heart
by Jason Albert
Turtle-necked and drunk, the priest tells homonym riddles and the brown mosaic tile walls of the church basement amplify and bounce the drone of his words like a locker room speech. A swallow of red wine from the glass at his side hits the scuffed linoleum floor as you close your eyes when he asks what a sick chicken is called and you try to make it look like you're just closing your eyes and not wincing. And even before someone at a table near the back of the room yells out the answer you open your eyes and look at what's in front of your grandma. The fluorescent glow of the room lights the free thanksgiving meal that's mounded on the cardboard plate and the meat and the juices and the grease are mixing and running all the same color of brown mushroom gravy. On top of the pile there's a turkey neck, brown too and withered down looking like dried out muscle. She picks up the neck and takes one bite and sets it down and says oh I forgot to get hearts and gizzards. Can you get me some hearts and gizzards? So you get back in line, scoop two of them each on your naked plate. You sit down next to her and fork them carefully from your plate onto hers. She immediately bites into a heart and chews it in the back of her mouth the way people with dentures do. You ask her how it is, the heart, and she says, It's too tough, it's too hard. I would have cooked it longer to soften it up, she says. Then you think of her oldest daughter dead as a teenager from liver disease and her first alcoholic husband following two years later of a heart attack and her bi-polar daughter who filled the time in-between until her second alcoholic husband died 35 years later when he fell down the steps in the house she still lives in now. So you tell her that sometimes when you don't make a meal yourself you just get what you get. She can't hear you but she looks at you and nods anyway and then spears a gizzard as the priest says something you only catch in passing about what the eight ate for supper last night.
About the author:
Jason Albert lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He doesn't eat hearts or gizzards.