Step 5:Chop scallions, ginger, and garlic into half-moons, crescents, slivers. Allow any stray pieces to fall from your cutting board and onto the floor. Lick the sticky acidity of the garlic off the blade of your knife, and let it bloom in your mouth like an earthy flower, until the metallic taste of your own fear is gone.
Step 6:Cut an onion in half. Removethe root and its papery jacket and the translucent layer inside. Bury the root in a plot of earth or keep it in the back of your freezer for stock, because what can be used again should be saved, as your grandmother once told you. Cut each hemisphere of the onion into three parts, using one hand to steady it and the other to slice. If your eyes smart, angle your tears into the pot, making the brine of your body useful for once.
Step 7: Aim the knife at yourself, your breastbone. Slowly, carefully, use the tip of the blade to trace a large circle around your nipple, cutting through the fat and tissue until your flesh opens like a door. From there, it will be easy to pull your heart out of its socket. Remember all the times you would have eagerly traded away this small, aching bundle of valves and ventricles for nothing more than a look, a promise, the touch of a hand. Be glad that no one ever took you up on your offer. Hinge your chest closed again. Sew up the wound with kitchen twine, or one of your own hairs. A safety pin, held in place and attached to the fabric of your shirt or apron, will do in a pinch.
Note: You may feel a small jolt once your heart has exited your body, but pay it no mind. Remind it that you’ve been through worse, like the time a boyfriend left you on a crowded train in another country during an argument, or the time a dining chair in your childhood home sailed across the room to strike the wall behind your mother, propelled by your father in one of his rages. A blade parting the surface of your skin is nothing, nothing.
Step 8:Plunge your heart into the boiling water. Another method is to start the pot with your heart in cold water and gradually increase the temperature, the way you would for lobster, but this is unnecessary—your heart is no crustacean, no hardy beast reared and shaped on the ocean floors over years of evolution. It is tender, foolish, easily shocked into submission. After five minutes, remove it from the water and plunge it into an ice bath. Stroke its rounded shape with one finger, like it is a spooked fish, or a bird that refuses to fly, until its wild beating stills.
Step 9:Heat a pan with a thin, neutral oil such as canola, sunflower, grapeseed (but if you only have year-old olive oil from the back of the grocery store, that will do). Throw in the scallion, garlic, and ginger slivers and watch as they meet, negotiate with one another, alchemize. When the garlic begins to brown, add your heart to the mixture. Toss in your onion slices and allow them to caramelize, the salt and water of their membranes turning into something sweet. Set a lid on top and wait.
Remember that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one.
Step 10:Pour yourself a glass of whiskey. Pour yourself another glass of whiskey. Dip a cloth into the dregs of your glass and use it to clean your hasty sutures. Tell yourself you’ll redo them tomorrow, restitch the wound in tinier, neater lines. Place your hand over the new hollow of your chest and try to guess how much your heart will shrink with the heat, how its seams and joins will sink into one another.
Step 11:Once your heart is fork-tender, serve it over a bed of sticky rice on your mother’s best plate, the one with the hand-painted border of blue flowers and vines. Slice your heart into careful strips, long lines of red and purple. Douse them in soy sauce and vinegar. Chew every part at least ten times before swallowing. Your mother always told you to eat slowly, said it was good for digestion, for regulating the clockwork of the body. Feel each piece, each tendon, each vein slide down your gullet like silk, like a magic trick. Afterward, leave the dishes in the sink, the leftover blood marbling the stainless steel.
Step 12:Over the next few months, the remnants of your heart will grow inside your stomach, gestating like a child or a secret. Feel it remake itself, becoming once more a four-chambered, fist-sized, plump-veined creature of sound and motion. In the meantime, avoid alcohol, loud parties, flashing lights, shoes that constrain, mirrors that mock. Buy a dress for an occasion you don’t have yet. Buy an expensive scented candle for no reason. Buy ten candles, ignoring your mother’s voice in your head saying that you are literally burning money, and light them all at the same time, simultaneous bursts of frangipani and cinnamon and orange and gardenia and tobacco filling your room like a confusing hothouse. Set a five-dollar bill on fire, just to see what it feels like. Instantly regret it and skip dinner. Paint your room, paint your hair, paint your face, until you no longer recognize anything in the mirror.
Step 13:When your new heart is ready, it will kick, rudely, against the walls of your stomach. Brace yourself, squatting in the bathtub, and pull it out from between your legs, slick with movement and heat and blood. It is so alive. Finally cry while you unsuture the circle of skin around your breast and slip it back inside the house of your body. Listen as it stutters and starts, like an orchestra tuning up. Lie down in the tub, the back of your neck sweaty against the cool of the porcelain, as it fibrillates, thumps, begins again.
Gina Chung is a Korean American writer from New Jersey based in Brooklyn, New York. She is the communications manager at PEN America and an MFA candidate in fiction at The New School. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, F(r)iction, Fugue, Wigleaf, Waxwing, Split Lip Magazine, Jellyfish Review, the VIDA Review, and LIT Magazine. Find her at gina-chung.com.