Curtis Smith ~ This Heart

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.