A boy loved a girl, and when he could no longer live with his secret, he reached into his chest and pulled out his heart. The task wasn’t easy, the crack of bone, the cleaving of meat and tendons. The heart lay in his hands, still beating, and the girl stared at the heart, and the boy stared at the girl, and the steam that rose from the heart joined their breath, and the mist they created climbed toward the winter moon.
Imagine time as a pair of funnels joined spout-to-spout. The narrowest passage belongs to the living now, and above and below, an expansion that aches toward infinity, and the boy’s head swirled with all that had come before. The stained-glass light upon the girl’s choir robe. The sway of her hair upon her sweatered shoulder, her schoolbooks clasped to her chest, her stillness amid the hallway’s din. The boredom of English class, her foot slid from her shoe, her stockinged toe rubbing her calf. Each of these moments made the boy love her more, and with his confession, he and the girl emerged from the funnel’s other side, a freefall into a hundred million futures, each as possible as the next.
In one story, the girl screams and runs across the snowy field. The boy’s heart beats its Morse code. I told you so.
In one story, a finch, as small as his fist, flies into his open wound. The bird picks and preens, the tickle of its fluttering wings, and when the boy opens his mouth, the finch’s cheep cheep rises onto his tongue.
In one story, the boy, clumsy with nerves, drops the heart. The boy and girl stare, the heart in the snow between their feet, and in the boy, a cold deeper than any he’d ever known.
In one story, the girl’s mother appears, grips her daughter’s arm, and marches her away. Both mother and daughter glance back, each frightened, but in different ways.
And in one story, the girl unzips her jacket and digs her fingers into her chest. Her lip bit, then a gasp as she pulls the heart free. Blood drips from her fingers, the snow spotted red. She holds out her heart, and he does the same, an invitation, an asking of permission, and tenderly, the way one picks up broken glass or unbuttons a sleeping baby’s shirt, each places their heart in the other’s chest. The pumps wheeze, this imperfect alignment, and the boy grows dizzy with wonder and confusion and the hope of what might be. They will trade back soon, as it must be, but for now, they linger. Staring into each other’s eyes. Losing and finding themselves through a veil of exhaled breath.
Curtis Smith has published over 125 stories and essays and over 100 author interviews. He has worked with independent presses to publish five novels, five story collections, two essay collections, and one book of creative nonfiction. His last novel, The Magpie’s Return, was named a 2020 indie book of the year by Kirkus. His next novel will be released in September 2023.