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The cashier is wearing a necklace that is supporting his late girlfriend’s bleeding heart. He strangled her during his lunch break after she admitted she had been sleeping with the deli’s sandwich maker. After strangling her, he calmly used a butcher’s knife to slice open her chest and remove her heart. He attached the heart to a string of leather, bowed his head, and slipped the necklace on, delighting in the symbolic nature of the act. Then he tossed his girlfriend’s mangled corpse into a dumpster that was conveniently located fifty stories beneath her apartment window.

The sandwich maker is standing in a shadow behind the cashier, making sandwiches. He doesn’t know that his mistress has been murdered, but the fact that her bleeding heart is hanging from the cashier’s neck is making him a little suspicious. He’d know that bleeding heart anywhere. The way he is eyeing the back of the cashier’s head is the way Sean Penn eyes the paparazzi the moment before their flashbulbs pop.

The walls have been painted deep, deep red by a painter named Clyde Von Wippleby, who, coincidentally, happens to be sitting at a table in his dirty overalls eating a chicken salad sandwich. Bread crumbs are scattered like flakes of dandruff all over his burly Nietzschean mustache. He has no connection to the cashier or the sandwich maker other than the fact that the sandwich maker made his sandwich, the cashier charged him $6.95 for it, and he is the grandfather of the cashier’s late girlfriend. Unlike the sandwich maker, the painter’s attentiveness to the bleeding heart is ephemeral, confusing it as he does with a dirty, oversized amulet.

There is a picture on the wall. The picture depicts a murder. In one of the murderer’s hands is a bleeding heart, in the other is a vegetarian sandwich.

There is Muzak in the air. The Muzak is fast-paced, edgy and metallic; yet at the same time it possesses a certain soothing quality. It adequately reflects the current state of the mental universe of the murderer in the picture as well as the murderer behind the cash register.

There are giant plasma TVs hanging down from every ceiling corner. Each of the TVs is running different episodes of the same sitcom, and each episode sees the protagonist of the sitcom murdering his numerous girlfriends with numerous sharp objects. In between thrusts of the sharp objects, the protagonist often pauses, turns to the camera and says something funny. All of the TVs have been muted so as not to clash with the Muzak, but close-captioned lines of script materialize at the bottom of the screens whenever the protagonist speaks, and whenever his girlfriends scream and curse, and whenever the laugh track sounds off.

At one table, a heart surgeon is trying not to think about the operation he screwed up that morning as he eats a bowl of psychedelic mushroom soup. He is still wearing his sky blue OR uniform, which is splattered in places with blood and viscera. When he purchased the soup from the cashier and saw the heart hanging from his neck, he thought the young man was taunting and making fun of him, but then he realized there was no way the cashier could have known that the heart surgeon had, just an hour ago, accidentally performed heart surgery on an errant lung he mistook for an errant heart. So he simply gave the cashier a dirty look.

At another table, an undercover detective is calling attention to his undercoverness by showcasing his prototypical gumshoe attire, which includes a banana yellow fedora, giant sunglasses, and a banana yellow trenchcoat with pointy shoulders. He is not investigating the murder of the cashier’s late girlfriend, of course, since nobody officially knows it has occurred except for the cashier. Rather, he is investigating the murder in the painting on the wall. As he takes bites from his Italian submarine sandwich, he watches the painting out of the corner of his eyes, vigilantly, yet not so vigilantly that he is in danger of calling attention to himself with his eyes in addition to his attire. The moment he entered the deli he became so preoccupied with the painting that he failed to notice the bleeding heart hanging from the cashier’s neck.

Sitting two tables over from the undercover detective are a salesman and his secretary. The secretary is a voluptuous Latino with tremendous breasts and long flaxen hair who the Caucasoid salesman with big hands and a JFK hairdo is clearly screwing on a regular basis. As they eat their respective egg salad and turkey club sandwiches, they are talking under their breaths to one another about how conspicuous the undercover detective is being about being an undercover detective, both with his not-so-covert vigilance as well as his gaudy Dick Tracy outfit. In addition, they are speculating about the authenticity of the cashier’s peculiar necklace-neither of them believes it is real, but they’re always open to new and improved possibilities-and they are small talking about the hog wild sex they are going to have on the salesman’s desk when they return to the office. Little do they know that the salesman’s wife will catch them in the act, kill them both, cut out their hearts and calmly eat them up with a knife and fork while taking sips from a glass of expensive cabernet sauvignon, delighting in the symbolic nature of the act.

Nobody else is in the deli at this time except for a stranger in the restroom, who is sitting on a toilet reading a newspaper with great interest and nibbling on a giant dill pickle with a certain amount of relish, and a human-sized bleeding heart, who is sitting at a table in the middle of the deli reading a newspaper with lobster-like eyeballs and nibbling on a bleeding heart sandwich with an octopus-like beak.  Nobody notices these figures, however, disconnected as they are from the goings-on of the real world.

Originally posted 01/16/2004

D. Harlan Wilson

D. HARLAN WILSON is an American novelist, short-story writer, critic, screenwriter, playwright, editor, and university professor whose body of work bridges the aesthetics of literary theory with various genres of speculative fiction. Critically referred to as “a genre unto himself” with a “style that is completely without peer,” he is the author of over thirty book-length works of fiction and nonfiction, and hundreds of his stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies across the world in multiple languages. Wilson serves as reviews editor for "Extrapolation", managing editor for "Guide Dog Books", editor-in-chief of "Anti-Oedipus Press", and director of the Humanities department at WSU-Lake Campus. ********** Note from Editor ********** As a Sci-Fi fan, I was shocked to receive a submission from D. Harlan Wilson in 2004 because the 80s cult classic movie "They Live" is based on his book.

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