Standing behind her, he unpinned her hair and swept it to one side, taking his time, kissing her shoulders while he fiddled with the clasp on her necklace. Just as she noted how unusually gentle he was being, his fingers found the roots of her hair and he slammed her up against the door. With her cheek on the wood and her hands behind her back she could only roll her eyes, feeling a strange combination of relief and disbelief that this was happening again.
He said, right into her ear, “You look nice this evening.” “You’re a terrible liar,” she replied, but she was secretly thrilled to have bumped into him while she was in a dress and lipstick. He’d only ever seen her dressed down in jeans and a shirt. Or wearing nothing but her socks.
She had always believed herself to be the queen of Holding It Together. She allowed herself pleasure but was under strict personal instruction not to open up to this man. It was too dangerous. She would not let him in. She was pretty on the outside and that was enough for him. He did not need to discover the ugliness inside her. But something felt very different this time: it was as if all of her vulnerabilities had dug their way out, had swum up to the surface, had manifested in her voice. He unzipped her dress and she fell apart.
Her organs simply fell out. With her blackened lungs by her feet she couldn’t breathe. He tore her open, frantically searching for something that she didn’t want him to find. She tried to scream but no sound came out. She just stood there, face against the door, ankle deep in her guts like a vile Billingsgate fish wife.
He clawed through layers of her skin, her filo-thin skin that he so loved to bruise. All he wanted was to know who she was inside, who, or what, he was dealing with. He planted Stella Artois kisses on her bones. Then, finally, he reached her core: but, to his surprise, there was no soul to be found anywhere. He ha wanted to free it, to let her soul escape, up through the skylight above them, but she didn’t have one. Stunned, he settled for her tarred heart instead.
Hungrily, he grabbed her heart from its cage with both hands and studied it while she stood silently weeping. It beat irregularly, as if it was resisting, and it was bigger than he had imagined. But her heart wasn’t made of gold like he had heard it was. It was covered in black, sticky tar and had 22 stitches down its centre, one suture for each year of her life. He wrapped it up in yesterday’s newspaper and put it on a high shelf, one that she wouldn’t be able to reach.
Then he hurriedly scooped her organs up off the floor and shoved them into her open back, trying to return them to the gaps in which they lived. He struggled with the silver zip but managed eventually. He made a clumsy effort to pin her hair back up while he kissed her neck. He was anxious to see her face.
She turned to him very slowly and said, pathetically, “I don’t want you to have my heart.” “Too late,” he replied. She watched the treacle of her heart slide down the bookshelf. She was tired. “Please don’t make me fall in love with you,” she said, reaching for her head as if the mere thought of the inconvenience of loving him had caused her a migraine. “I don’t want to.”
Neither said anything for a long time. She sat on the couch, reading the Big Book, swigging wine from the bottle while he mopped up the mess of tar and blood that had pooled on the floor. Afterwards they both smoked a cigarette in silence and then he abruptly said, “Right, go on then, you can fuck off now.” “What?” She didn’t understand. “You can’t stay here, alright? Now, do one.” She thought he was joking. He wasn’t. He threw her out. If she had a heart, that would’ve hurt her. But she didn’t have one anymore; it was still on his shelf so she could no longer feel very much at all.
She walked home in the pouring rain and searched for her soul in the gutters. She even called out a few times but her spirit was nowhere to be found. She’d lost her mind, too, some years earlier. And her umbrella. The latter was the most likely to turn up. With nothing left to lose, she danced along the train tracks and howled at the moon, knowing that love would be the death of her: not tonight, not tomorrow but soon.