the man with the massive heart by patrick lenton
I never knew why the potion we invented as kids only worked on my friend Maher, turning him into a muscled god-man and leaving me a scrawny twelve year old. By the time he was fifteen, he was putting his amazingly sculpted pectorals to good use and modelling for teen magazines.
I was striding through high school at that point, like someone wading through a viscous swamp. People were cruel, even violent, but somehow it didn’t matter. I just focused on doing well enough to get out of there.
By the time we were in our twenties, Maher was super rich and living in Paris. Like most childhood friendships, ours dissolved as soon as the first hint of strain was put upon it. We had no reason to remain friends except a brief shared portion of time, and the knowledge that we’d both drunk from a glowing green bucket in his mum’s backyard. But even though we weren’t friends, I saw him get roles in action films and endorse energy drinks in television ads. He couldn’t act, but his body was ripped. I saw him on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine and could only laugh, knowing he had no need to ever lift weights.
Meanwhile, both my parents had died in a plane crash, and my boyfriend had left me after a string of affairs. It was sad, and I missed them all but I was convinced I would be fine. I focused on my career instead and became a surprisingly talented glassblower in my spare time.
In our thirties, I saw Maher one last time. We ran into each other on a street in New York. I recognised him of course, but was simply going to walk past.
Up close, he was massive and slightly hunched over as if the sheer amount of back and neck muscles he possessed were weighing him down. He saw me, paused, and then approached, smiling shyly and shaking my hand in his huge muscle gloves. While we exchanged awkward pleasantries, him inquiring after the last twenty three years of my life, me pretending I didn’t already know everything about his, a carload full of thugs slowed down and threw a bottle at him. With startling speed, he bounded onto the road; blocked two more thrown bottles with his meaty forearms, and then lifted the car above his head and threw it into the Hudson River.
We got drunk that night and he told me about all the disappointments he’d endured, the break-up of his marriage, the loss of his kids in a drawn-out custody battle. Behind the muscles, his eyes looked sad and defeated, and his laughter was all hollowness and whiskey.
The next morning, hung-over and bemused by my strange night, I looked in the morning paper only to discover that some time after I had left him, Maher had thrown himself off a building. I was sad, but then I was fine and so I did a few chores and made a healthy frittata.
It was only later in life, after some routine X-rays, that doctors discovered my heart was a massive hunk of muscle, five times the size of a regular persons. It was then that I realised the potion we’d drunk as kids had affected me. My massive heart was the reason I’d managed to get through life with such comparative ease. I was able to process heartache and sorrow at roughly five times the speed of regular people.
The doctors told me that my massive heart was causing organ failure in the rest of my body and that I only had a year to live. I was bummed out, but then I did all my Christmas shopping and it was only October.
Patrick Lenton is the author of the short story collection A Man Made Entirely of Bats. He is a playwright, fiction writer and blogger at The Spontaneity Review. He was a finalist in the 2013 SOYA Awards and shortlisted for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize 2015. He writes The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge for Going Down Swinging. He edited The Sturgeon General. He works as a Digital Marketer for Momentum Books. He tweets @patricklenton