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art by Tihomir Tikulin-Tico

The Mechanical Heart of Him

Cate Gardner lives in Liverpool where tiny pirate ships ferry rats to a surreal otherworld via the brook that runs beneath her street. Her stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, and Shock Totem. Her novellas, "Theatre of Curious Acts" (Hadley Rille Books) and "Barbed Wire Hearts" (Delirium Books) were published in late 2011, and her story collection, "Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits" (Strange Publications) in 2010. You can find her on the web at categardner.net.

Little Him scooted around Danni's heart, tying his strings so tight that she thought the organ would burst. Watching his dizzying journey made her thankful for the transparency of her skin. It didn't matter that she'd flirted with the waiter and allowed him to touch her knee. It was of no consequence that she'd kissed that guy in the bar when out with her girlfriends, that Holly had told Glenn. Glenn would see how much she loved him.
"I am so full of you, there is almost no room for anyone else," Danni said to Glenn at breakfast.
"Almost," Glenn said. As he raised an eyebrow, the cogs working his brain spun anti-clockwise.
The Little Him who lived in Danni's chest dropped to her stomach and tied it in knots. Danni ached to see what Little Her was doing in his chest, but he wore a Hawaiian shirt, which thus negated the transparency of his skin. She couldn't think where he'd found the shirt. At the neckline, within his throat, a tiny hand grabbed onto Glenn's Adam's apple. Glenn pressed his hand to said throat.
"I'll be back late tonight," Glenn said, standing.
When Danni leant in to kiss his cheek, Glenn pulled away. His sudden jerk allowed her to see the tiny figure hanging from his Adam's apple. Little Her. She looked frail and disheveled.
"I love you," Danni shouted.
The front door slammed. She looked at her belly. Little Him looked up at her before disappearing into the weave of her intestines.
Glenn was right. He did arrive home late.
"I already ate," he said, blowing out the candles she'd set on the kitchen table. "I'm full to the brim."
"Let me see," she said, grabbing the edge of his Hawaiian shirt, offering him a wink and a smile, wanting to see inside him.
Glenn slapped her hand away. "I'm sorry. I'm not in the mood."
"But Little You," she said, pressing her hand to her belly.
"You exhaust me."
Little Him had entered her intestinal tract hours ago, leaving her heart bound in string and her stomach in knots, and now she didn't know where he was. Glenn fussed with the scarf at his neck. A Hawaiian shirt and a plaid scarf. She ached to undress him, to follow the trail that Little Her made inside him. Instead, Danni took his bag and placed it on the table. Something fell from the side pocket. A scalpel. She put it back into the bag and hoped he hadn't noticed the scalpel's faux pas.
The telephone rang. Before she could pick up the kitchen extension, Glenn answered the phone in the hall. Holly's number slid across the LCD display. What could she want? More tales to tell. Having finished the call, Glenn headed upstairs. By the time, Danni realized that he wasn't coming back down and had followed him upstairs, he'd fallen asleep. She straddled him, opening the buttons of his shirt. Little Her clung to his Adam's apple, fingers turning blue with the effort.
"Are you trying to crawl out?" Danni whispered. "Please don't crawl out. I love him. He loves me."
A flash of copper hair and vicious green eyes peered from behind Glenn's heart. No. Danni shook her head. No. No. No. Danni banged her fists against Glenn's chest, waking him. He threw her off.
"What are you doing?"
"Why is there a Little Holly inside you? Why is she in your heart?"
Glenn refastened his shirt. He never used to hide himself from her. He said, "She's not in my heart. For god's sake, Danni, she's a friend, of course a tiny part of her is inside me."
True. Most people had a congregation of family and friends living around their hearts, but they were normally so small that you didn't notice them. She'd once carried a speck of Holly inside her, but she'd vomited her up. Glenn rubbed his throat.
"I wish," he said.
Even though he didn't finish, she knew he thought, "I wish you'd just let me go."
A flash of copper, a painted smirk, and Little Holly grabbed Little Hers legs, pulling her away from Glenn's Adam's apple. Little Her dropped into Glenn's intestinal tract and slid along the loop to his bowels. Little Holly now stood on Glenn's heart, as if she'd scaled it.
"Don't you dare let me go," Danni said. "Please, Glenn."
He stormed from the bedroom and down the stairs. In her hurry to catch him, Danni tripped over herself. Literally. Glenn had passed Little Her, leaving her gasping on the landing. Danni scooped herself up. Little Her's breaths came in short, painful gasps. Danni's heart ached, some of its strings snapping. Little Him climbed up Danni's throat and into her head, peering out through her eyes for a more detailed look. He climbed higher, into her head where he shuffled amongst the cogs attempting to make sense of it all.
Don't leave me.
She wanted to keep him within her forever. In her hands, Little Her died. Blinded by tears, Danni chased after Glenn. He surprised her and not in the way he used to. Flowers and chocolates replaced by a sly foot. He tripped her. Danni landed nose first, causing Little Him to slide back into her chest. In Glenn's hand, something glinted. Something sharp.
"I'm doing this for you," Glenn said, as the scalpel sliced into her chest.
He lied. Glenn didn't want her lingering at the edges of his life. He wanted to be free of her forever. Little Holly grew large in his chest, wrapping her gargantuan arms around his heart, squeezing tight. As Glenn removed Little Him from Danni's chest, Little Holly winked.
The phone rang. Glenn stood, leaving Little Him to gasp his last on the linoleum. The cut in her chest began to close.
Glenn answered the phone. "You can come over, it's done. I love you too."
In the blur of tears, Danni stole several hairs from Little Him's head and placed them in her almost healed chest. Glenn finished the call and stood over her. He reached down to help her up.
"We were good for a while," he said.
Feeling Little Him's hairs attach to her heart, Danni nodded.
"We could still be friends," she said, hoping he would allow a speck of Her into his heart and from there she would grow.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
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