May 09 ● BY Valentine Sargent
My heart prefers to go on walks without me. Too many times someone has brought her back in their arms, saying “I think this belongs to you?” shame outlining their words as they hold her out with the gentleness one would give to a newborn puppy. I always take back the pomegranate-sized organ. I always murmur thank you.
This time, I ask if this man, this returner covered in crimson and city dirt, would like to come in. He has a nice face, and my heart is settled in his arms differently than with the others. I make him wait while I cleanse my heart of the world outside.
“Where did you find her?” I ask.
Cigarette butts, wilted leaves, and little gray feathers fall into the sink as water runs through her arteries.
“Leaking by the Bethesda Terrace,” he responds. He takes a seat at my two-person kitchen table. He keeps his arms and legs close to his body. His hands rub at the red stain on his sweatshirt.
I nod, that’s where she always goes. I felt her beat wildly when I first took in the mosaic reflecting warm light as my then-lover proposed. The dark, sandstone fountain rose into the sky, a background of green bursting around the edges of a lake. After he left, my heart would lead me there to watch the many couples joining limbs and lips for the camera or for each other. Eventually, I grew tired of seeing what my life could have been.
Inside the fridge is a blood bag I bathe her in next.
“How long was she there?” I ask. My fingers rub red into her until she no longer looks dull and deflated. I know she hates to be returned. Secretly, I’m glad. She belongs to me. She cannot be too far away. Because without me, who will take care of her?
“I watched her topple down the stairs. She settled by the fountain.” He pauses. “Maybe for twenty minutes.” His voice is soft and fills the room.
I take my shirt off like he doesn’t exist and consider the gaping hole waiting to be filled. I sense him staring, too. I grab my now pumping heart and place her back where she belongs, watch the arteries reattach, watch the skin grow over. I slip on my shirt.
“Here, let’s get you cleaned up,” I say.
My hands reach for him.
He leans in.
My heart beats fast.