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Copyright © 2017 Lynette Aspey
This story remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Dark Heart

I went to sleep with a broken heart

And woke up with another’s

Hopes and dreams.

*

I am tranquil.

We are lying side-by-side on cool, springy grass. I think we are behind the hospital, high on medical marijuana. We had met and fallen in love, and now we were cloud busting, holding hands while we demolished sky castles.

“Rain soon,” I mumbled, struggling to shape thoughts into words.

“Hmmm, mmm,” she agreed … Leah, yes, that was her name. I thought it sounded like ‘love’. “Do you see the dragon?” Her voice was hoarse, injured.

“No …”

She pointed a languid finger. “There.”

I saw it then. The dragon’s jaws were open, his head thrown back and forelegs flung wide as an arrow pierced his chest in that one, soft spot. I shared that in common with the mighty dragon; nature had left us both vulnerable in the same place.

Leah’s voice hardened. “I’m gonna bust him.”

I glanced at her. She had been so beautiful — I could tell by her exquisite bone-structure. Now, she looked deadly.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her, feeling a rush of empathy for that damn cloud, for a beast that never existed, for the woman of my dreams.

Leah laughed, triumphant, as the dragon dispersed, its head spreading out like an anvil. The upper edges of the cumuli continued to fray, blurring. The clouds moved ponderously into another formation.

“Look,” I said, as a dark heart limned in sunlight emerged from the vanquished dragon.

An invisible shaft shot through the cloud, leaving jagged edges of trailing vapor. I felt that blow, sensed the hole it left behind, where once there had been a trembling and frightened thing.

I was afraid, and sad, and so … guilty.

“Don’t,” whispered Leah.

But that broken cloud was my confession, proof that I had wished, with all my heart, that someone, somewhere would die, so that I could have theirs.

Leah leaned over me. I felt her tongue on my cheek where tears had left their trail. She put her damaged head next to mind and nestled there. Her hand slipped under my shift where it rested, lightly, on my breast, over the emptiness. Her breath was warm, languorous and tangy with dope.

“Live,” she whispered.

Above us, the clouds joined to dim the sunlight, their edges tinged in a sulfurous glow. Something ephemeral stirred and the air swiftly chilled but Leah’s hand burned. Her fingers teased.

I flushed, felt the hairs on my arms rise like little flowers seeking the sun. My pulse shivered and by long habit, I stilled myself — a practiced tightrope walker balancing over a precipice — and then I sighed, the mood and moment broken.

Leah pulled away and rolled onto her back. “Fuck,” she said softly, expressing any number of frustrations.

The wind picked up. I could hear it stirring the trees at the bottom of the hill. They whispered and hissed of things passing. The clouds turned thunderous, coalescing above us. Darkness hemmed the stormy sky like dervish skirts. My holed and broken heart cloud had long since disappeared into the maelstrom.

“We have to go,” I said.

Leah gripped my hand. “It’s time to finish this.” Her voice dropped, low and insistent.

I turned my head to look at her again and this time I saw that her undamaged eye was no longer blue, but deep crimson, the color of old blood. She suddenly smelled of musk, alcohol and decay.

“Concentrate,” Leah commanded.

And I did. With every ounce of my being, I focused on that dark cloud and strove to shred it into oblivion, to break its hold on my sky. The effort was exquisitely painful and it went on until I felt life, like a drum beat, pulse through me.

Beside me Leah was crying out, “Yes!” and then again, “Yes!”

We fell into each other and I was filled with her heat, her passion and desire. Her life was a stream of light that surged outwards from my fingers, my mouth, my eyes, my belly; up, up into the heart of the storm. Above me, the clouds were shot through, torn apart, and behind them was the light–

–a light that narrowed, became a penetrating beam piercing first my left eye, then the right. I heard Leah’s voice call me, “Jo? Jo?” Still caught in the coils of anesthetic dreams, I reached for her, forgetting — for that moment — that all her heart’s desires now belonged to me.

“Dark Heart” has a rather convoluted history. First drafted in the late ’90s, it was inspired by the story of the first human heart transplant.

When I rediscovered the stained and tattered printout in a filthy, long forgotten folder this year — 2013 — I realized that it had a place in my own history; when I first imagined the story of Jo and Leah, my marriage was young, our travels ahead of us, as was parenthood and that whole slippery slope of experience. I held that draft in my hand … and sneezed; the paper smelled of time, old ink, diesel, dust and forgotten dreams.

The image of the dragon cloud was inspired by the cover on “The Hobbit”, picturing Smaug’s death. This image has been with me since I was nine years old — which was when I filched my sister’s book, and never returned it. (Sorry, Lesley. 🙂 ) That this mighty creature would have a soft spot over his heart (presumably) always struck me as strange, somewhat absurd, but also tragic.

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