by Emma J Lannie
We sit under the window, our backs to the wall. Outside, the sky is lit up with gunpowder. In here, we have only the light from the television. With the sound turned down, it throws out its blue rays like a dying sun. John’s hand is in mine. His head hangs low. I tell him the news isn’t good, and he closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly. When he looks up, his eyes are wet. I press my forehead to his and wonder how long it will be before I no longer care.
John slides his fingers to the back of my neck, combing through my hair, leaving fingerprints just underneath my skin. I would be a mass of goosebumps. But I feel nothing. Just the gentle pressure of his thumbs on my skull, and the cool where he’s lifted the hair from my neck. I try to imbue it with more, try to remember how his hands made me feel, but I can’t. His eyes search mine for some kind of signal, and so I close them until he looks away. On the television screen, a story is being played out without words. They move their arms in a strange semaphore, and I try to piece together what’s going on from the angles of their limbs and the shapes they make. I think about what our bodies are saying right now, secretly. John’s hands are still on my neck, his elbows bent loosely. I want to reply. I want to spell out my love for him with outstretched arms, now, before I forget everything.
My heart is disappearing. Almost a third of it is already gone. On the X-rays, there is a space where the left ventricle should be. It wasn’t always this way.
It was slow at first. I didn’t think anything of it. It registered itself as a slight indifference to John, but I put it down to my day at work, and thought an early night would take care of it. The next day, things were better, so I forgot all about it. But it happened again, a few days later. We were in the kitchen, and I’d just flung a piece of spaghetti at the wall to test it. John had pulled me into him and nuzzled my neck, and instead of the usual butterflies, I felt nothing. I didn’t tell John this, I didn’t want to upset him, so I just carried on as normal and we ate gazing into each other’s eyes, but something in me was all wrong, and that night, when I was sure he was asleep, I cried into my pillow, aware that that, too, would soon be something forgotten.
Outside, there is a crash, and we both look to the window. We witness a hundred new stars smattering the night sky. John gets to his feet and holds his arms out to help me up. We stand face to face for a moment, waiting for the stars to die, but they don’t, and so we step out onto the porch. As these stars fade, others are flung up in their place. They crackle and squeal as they’re exploding. John plants a kiss at my temple and I fix my smile, ready myself to feel nothing. But there is a tiny jolt in my abdomen, no bigger than a blink. It fades and I dismiss it, training my eyes on the light show above. John’s arms are in the air, pointing at new constellations, spelling out words for my body to decode.
I slip my hands inside his jumper. He steps in closer, folds his arms around me, and under the snap and fizz of fireworks, something lost is remembered. What was once held in my heart is somehow in other parts of me instead. Skin, my largest organ, shivers, pricks with goosebumps. The proximity of John makes my bones light. And as he leans in to kiss me, I feel another jolt in my abdomen, on the right hand side. It pulses stronger as the kiss grows deeper. It takes me a while to realise that while my heart is disappearing, my appendix is coming into its own and picking up the slack.
Emma J. Lannie loves hassleback potatoes and does other writing here.