Heart: A Short Story

30 Aug

She’s standing on my doorstep in a grey pencil skirt and blazer. There’s colour in her cheeks but I think she’s a ghost. She knocks, breathes out a jittery sigh and I open the door. Not a ghost. The vein on her neck pounds fast and hard. She’s definitely alive. Familiar.

She has a photograph in her hand. She presses it into mine, curls a blonde strand around one finger and waits. I shake my head.

Are you sure? Look again.

She looks like you, I say.

Yes. She’s my sister.

I hand the photo back. I’m sorry.

You’d remember her. If you saw her, she says.

Yes.

Are you absolutely sure you didn’t see her? She wasn’t ever here?

I’m on the defensive. I try to close the door but she holds it open with her shoe. A ballerina flat; Dorothy red, the same as the girl in the Polaroid is wearing.

Please, she says. This is important.

I look at the picture again. I’m only half seeing.

There was a party a few weeks ago, I say.

Was she here?

I can’t be sure. She might have been. I’m not sure.

Can I come in?

She’s standing on the threshold. She’s biting her lip, worrying it between her teeth. She looks so much like her in that instant that I cave.

Yes, I say. Okay.

*****

I’m lying to her: this girl who is achingly familiar, right down to the scent of her skin. I know who she’s looking for. I saw her, the night of the party. She was here.

Sorry I couldn’t be more help, I say.

A lie.

She gives a delicate shake of her head, fair mane flicking in a halo that tells me I shouldn’t be sorry, not at all. She puts her empty mug on the counter. Her breath smells like coffee beans, over-roasted.

I really appreciate it, she says. Thank you for the coffee.

My hands are trembling. I stuff them in my trouser pockets. She’s stalling. She hovers near the door, and I already know what she’s going to ask before her lips move. Petal pink, arced like a cherub’s kiss. Just like her sister’s.

Yes, I say – and I can’t help but say it. I’ll help you. I’ll help you look for her.

*****

The first time we have sex she cries. She rolls over, thinks I can’t hear her as she sobs quietly into her hands but I can. Normally it wouldn’t bother me. I am not this person. I am not the one who comforts, who cares, who loves. I put a hand on her naked shoulder and squeeze.

It’s just, my sister’s missing out on all this, she says.

All this?

Life. Love.

I don’t say anything. It’s been weeks since she turned up on my doorstep and thrust the photograph in my hands, looking for her sister. We’ve found nothing so far – not a trace. She knows, just as I do, that it isn’t good news we’ll find at the end of it.

She clutches at my throat. Her eyes are wild, and for a moment I see something in them, something sinister and unsettling. She blinks it away and only blind desperation remains, welling behind heavy lids.

You love me, don’t you? You love me.

She begs it, like a dog.

Of course I do, I say. I love you.

More lies. There’s an endless stream of them now.

*****

Enter Sandman hammers in my skull. It is mood music for the soul. It feeds the monster in me. I lift the Corona to my lips. The glass is already perspiring against my palm under the heat of the low lighting. My eyes, meanwhile, scan the mass of bodies gyrating around me.

I spy her across the room. She’s got her back to me. She doesn’t see me to begin with but then she turns ever so slowly, long cascade of blonde floating effortlessly across the arch of her back.

I register the moment her eye catches mine. The light reflects the subtle sparkle in her gaze. Someone reaches out from behind her, rubs a hand down her forearm. She laughs over her shoulder, reminiscent of a church bell pealing, all sweetness and candor.

My blood hardens were it rests in my veins, a lead weight forcing me down. She is anything but sweet. She’s watching me, half her attention tuned to the body hiding in her shadow, but I know she’s focused on me, waiting, gauging my reaction to her little performance. She has always been one hell of a tease.

She leans towards the stranger now – I’m yet to see his face – presses a hand to the heart hanging on a chain around her sinewy neck and curls her lips to form a neat oval. Her tiny bell laugh tolls again and I snarl. My fists clench.

I’m through with it: through with her and her childish games. Our gazes lock for just a moment and I know that she knows.

The game’s up. She’s done.

*****

I take the charm out whenever I’m alone. When she leaves I don’t know where she goes and I don’t care. I head straight to the top drawer of my bureau, reach into its depths and pull out the old maroon football sock twisted into a messy ball.

I lift it to my nose, sniff. I can smell it through the cloth, metallic like the blade of the knife that now lies at the bottom of the river; bitter, pungent, death. I unravel the sock, take the little heart between my fingers and touch it to the tip of my tongue.

If I close my eyes I can almost taste her on its golden surface. I can smell her perfume, cheap whore with undertones of musk. I can hear the chime of her bell laugh, the grating sound of her whispered voice in my ear. I can see her lying there, wanton and open, totally unaware.

I press the golden heart to my lips and breathe it all in, the memory of her. It all reeks.

*****

It’s the police who find her in the end.

She gets the call early one morning and comes to me with bed hair and a trench coat. Her face is blotchy, her eyes red raw. My sister, is all she says, and I know they’ve found her. I know they’ve found the body.

She wants me to go with her to make the identification. She says she needs me, says she can’t do it without me. I protest, make it seem like I want her to do this on her own, but I was always going to go with her. I need to do this. I need to see the body as much as she does, to make sure.

We’re lead into a sterile room by the detective, a box with white walls and a chill that penetrates my bones. There’s a gurney in the centre covered by a white sheet. Standing next to it is a severe-looking gentleman, his hands clasped behind his back.

He beckons us forward and when we’re close he lifts the sheet, revealing a head that is swollen and blue and not at all familiar; a shock of blonde hair limp and filthy with mud. She gasps beside me, grips my hand until it hurts.

My baby, she says, my sister.

I’m sorry.

Her eyes flash with that same steel I saw once. Cold. Unnatural. Inhuman.

Don’t say that, she says. You’re not sorry.

I am, I say, and I think I’m telling the truth. I really am sorry.

You never knew her. You can’t be sorry if you never knew her.

The sheet falls over the body of her sister. No longer an angelic face. The water has made her bulbous, grotesque. She’s nothing like the girl I used to know. And I did know her. I knew her very well.

I loved her.

*****

The argument stems from nothing and everything. The party is in full swing but we’re outside, hidden if not for the pale shine of the midnight moon, pressed up against the rear fence. She’s in hysterics and I’m clutching her shoulders and shaking her for all she’s worth. Her head snaps forward and back like one of those bobble-head animals on a car’s dash.

The grating of her bones is piercing but I don’t care and neither does she. This is what she’s been wanting all evening. She’s been asking for it – practically begging, tormenting me into action with her hair flicks and her incessant laughter.

I stop the ragdoll act but my grip doesn’t let up. She collects herself, claws at her skull where it throbs like a club speaker. We’re both breathing shallow, both over-exerted and gagging for it. When her dizziness subsides and the echo of my heartbeat dies in my ears she mashes her lips into mine, crashes her breasts into my ribcage and rubs up against me like a cat on heat.

I tear the spaghetti strap on her leopard print mini in my race to get at her flesh. She laughs at the damage, barks like a bitch and then takes my nipple between her teeth and bites down. I roar and shove her back. It isn’t the first time she’s drawn blood. She scratches at the wound with a set of manicured nails. I wince and groan like she’s expecting but the truth is I tired of this sport long ago. She is cowardice personified. She doesn’t have the guts to take this further, to turn this into the kind of game I crave and I know it. And she knows it, too.

I watch as the light dies in her eyes when she realizes I’ve grown bored of our tryst. She mouths at the mark she’s made. I don’t even flinch, I just watch her from above, eyes lidded with the monotony of the moment.

So that’s how it’s gonna be, she says – snarls it. I shrug my shoulders and she spits at my feet. You’re disgusting, she says, and the pedestal I had erected crumples beneath her. The tiny heart on a chain glints in the hollow of her throat as she swallows.

I loved you, I tell her.

It’s only when she scoffs at this I strike.

*****

No evidence. It’s the only words that register in my mind. She’s still speaking but I hear none of it. Her sister didn’t kill herself, I imagine she’s telling me. The hole in her fragile chest where the knife has been proves that her death wasn’t an accident, she says, but I’m not listening.

No evidence. The words are exactly what I wanted to hear – the only thing I wanted her to say. No evidence means no conviction. No evidence means the killer goes free.

It’s nothing more than the bitch deserves.

She’s crying again. Ever since they found her sister’s body it’s like the faucet has been turned on full and there’s no turning it off. When I try to touch her she flinches away as if one touch from me will knock her stone dead. She snarls, backs herself into a corner with her claws unsheathed, spine arched like an angry feline.

She’s becoming more and more like her sister with every day that passes.

*****

I don’t go to the funeral. She doesn’t ask and I don’t insist upon it. I stay home with the golden heart and hold it to my chest, press it into the hollow of my throat and swallow just as her sister did the night she broke me.

She’s grown distant these last weeks. She’s slowly slipping away and I don’t know how to hold on tighter. I should be through with her by now – I don’t love her – but I can’t bring myself to let those final pieces of her go.

She’s all that’s left of my Tania and I need her to stay.

I need her to stay.

*****

When the police give up the manhunt I’m relieved, and so is she. I ask her why. She’s got that steel glint in her eyes again. All she says is that it’s over.

What’s over?

The nightmare, she says. Now I can wake up.

*****

The river stretches before me to the horizon, the moon turning its surface into a body of molten silver, and all I can think as I’m waste deep amongst it is that I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t.

She’s standing on the bank, arms held taut towards me, shivering even though it’s hardly cold. The whites of her eyes are shining eerily bright. She’s got a grimace on her pretty face that is more animal than human, and when she speaks to me her voice is as frozen as the Antarctic.

You’re disgusting, she says, and she sounds just like her sister.

I should have known the day I found her on my doorstep. I should have known when she didn’t ask me to the funeral, when she shied away from me, when the manhunt was called off and she was relieved, but I didn’t. I didn’t have a fucking clue.

More fool me.

She doesn’t ask me if I have any last words, she just takes a purposeful step forward into the wet and pulls back on the trigger in her grasp, and the look in her eyes, all ice and nothing more, tells me exactly what I need to know. She knew all along what had become of her sister. She knew it all, right from the beginning – what I’d done, everything.

She knew.

I don’t even hear the bang.

*****

NB: I entered this in a competition recently and unfortunately it didn’t get a short-listing. Oh well. You live and learn. I still love “Heart” just as much as I did when I first wrote it, so I thought instead of getting myself down over the rejection, I’d do something positive and post it here for all my wonderful readers to read and enjoy. And I do hope you enjoy it.  xx a

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4 Responses to “Heart: A Short Story”

  1. Rebecca James 31/08/2010 at 8:01 am #

    wow – very powerful, Amber! I really enjoyed reading it!

    • thewritingant 31/08/2010 at 8:43 am #

      Thanks so much, Rebecca! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  2. ask 11/09/2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Well written. Interesting as always.

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