It was cold that night, in a numb sort of way. The severed heart went bloody, beating, a little painfully into the river. The feeling was sharp in his chest, and stung as much as shrapnel, but at least it was gone. For good.
When he dropped the box in the water the pain started to recede. When the current carried it downstream, oceanward, it ceased to be much more than a dull ache. Less acute, more obtuse pain, wracking his body a little at a time. Every so often. Forever.
He went home that day and his life went on.
In the summer he met a girl. Her name was Sandy, and she had bleached hair and lips that smelled like chemicals. She was sweet, and in the upstairs of the university parties she would kiss him and on chilly nights on the beach when they werent flushed with liquor her tiny body would shiver against his warmly. He took her to the beach because somewhere, in a secret part of his mind, he knew she deserved to be as close to his heart as she could. In a secret part of her mind that Sandy did her best to ignore his unfeeling, unflinching reserve. A wall that all the warmth of her body could not overcome. She was a faithful paramour, and he for the most part was the same. He had indiscretions of course, as young men are oft to have, but Sandy forgave him these infidelities out of hand. In that same secret place inside her Sandy knew that she loved him.
But sad as it was to say, her love went on forever unrequited. No man without a heart can love. It was unfair to poor Sandy but it was true. Yet he knew, that if he still had his heart, he might have loved her.
It would have made him glad he had weighed it down in the water with stones if he could still feel glad.
Sometimes on the beach he could almost feel it beat with the crash of the waves. Sometimes when Sandy kissed him on the mouth with her eyes closed and his arms wrapped around her he could feel it pumping. Saltwater rushing through his veins somewhere far away. Sometimes he felt an excruciating sting in his chest, and he knew it to be the inquisitive bite of a silver fish.
I love you Michael. Sandy told him once. It had taken her a lot of mental preparation to say. She said it gently, soothingly, like you might speak to an animal hiding in the brush.
They were sitting on the beach, Sandy had already tried to grab his hand but his fingers were elusive and avoided hers. She was smoking a cigarette with one hand and had buried her other in the sand. Michael wasnt smoking. He just sat with his arms folded on his knees and he watched the ocean. He had a very distant look in his eyes, faraway. It reminded Sandy of the time she had tried LSD on this beach.
I know. Was all he said.
Sandy shuffled her butt a little in the sand and rested her head in the crook of his shoulder. He didnt fuss, and it was enough for her.
Why do you always take me to the beach? Sandy asked after a while of this. Her cigarette reduced to ashes in the wind, and spent filter.
Its a good place to think for me, thats all. He said.
You arent supposed to think in a relationship Mike, your just supposed to do.
Were hardly in a relationship are we Sandy?
I like to think so, sometimes.
Sandy couldnt tell you why she was with him. Not for the life of her. She wasnt attracted to his aloofness. Or what her friends referred to as his Free Spirit. There was a funk about him that was indescribable. A terrible melancholy that only those closest to him ever really noticed. He smiled sometimes, but it was forced. Maybe it was his mystery, or the almost pleading look he got sometimes when he kissed her, the ghost of relish that should have been present. Maybe it was because he took her to the beach, and she liked the silence and the numbness of that place. Silent and numb, just like his heart.
Maybe it was due to the fact she loved him and couldnt help it. Sometimes love is like that and its really just tragic.
When the sun had burned itself low and dark he kissed her wordlessly and drove her back to the dorms.
Sandy cried that night, just a little bit. While he instead, dreamed of the sea.
He was in the ocean, and it was late, and dark, and the water was icy to the touch as he swam through it. He dove down beneath the wild, black waves and saw that the underwater was bright and clear, and illuminated with light. Like the sea had swallowed the moon. He saw his heart, buried lightly in the muddy bottom, and watched the fish swim by it with interest. They hurriedly darted away, as if fleeing some undersea predator that only they could see.
Weightlessly, he pushed through the sea till his feet touched the sand and he stood over his heart, watching it pulsate with curious fascination. It beat slowly, but desperately. Shrugging off the layers of heavy sand over, and over again as it struggled not to be swallowed up in the clay. He observed it dispassionately. Like a lame horse, or a caged beast.
Do you want it? Asked a dead, watery voice.
He looked up, but slowly.
A girl was watching him. She wore nothing and had lots of ghostly white hair, which drifted lazily in the water, and deep dark eyes like the bottom of the sea, and a wide mouth full of long sharp teeth. She swished her tail and left tracks in the sand and shook her fins a little. In her hand she clutched a broken and limp fish that left no illusion to what her teeth were for.
No. He answered tersely. But with the budding of fear.
Not even for her? The girl at the bottom of the sea asked, and in his dream, he thought of Sandy. He felt empty.
Not for all the people in all the world, who ill never get to know or open up to without it. Its simply not worth all the pain it brings.
The girl looked at him gravely.
Well if you dont want it, could I have it? I could really use it. She asked.
I dont care, sure.
She smiled with her teeth and plucked the heart from the mud with a sweep of her fan-like tail. She held it to her ear in her clawed hands and listened to it beat through the water, like a drum under layers of earth. The water seemed to shimmer around her as he watched. Her scaly grey skin was smoothing into soft pink flesh, her eyes were blooming golden green, her teeth seemed perfect and pearly white, her hair, almost brilliant, and blonde.
Can I go now? He asked, despite being at the bottom of the sea, his throat felt dry and parched. He felt nervous watching her, she looked lovelier and lovelier by the second.
Of course. She said brightly, without a hint of her former voice.
She watched her hand, watched the transmutation from thick claw to dainty little fingers. His heart beat quickly against those drumming fingertips.
He turned to go, but looked back, watched her admiring her new, beautiful form. Even her gray scales bore a new burnished gloss so that they seemed silver. He couldnt help himself.
Whats your name? He asked her.
She didnt speak. Just watched him, and smiled cutely with her sweet pink lips. Like they were phrasing the word, but held it in, positioned in her smooth cheek.
He woke up.
There was a peculiar tightness in his chest, like something was tentatively gripping the gap inside him. Everything in his head hurt and the place where his heart wasn't seemed to flutter on and off like a badly behaved fluorescent light. He got out of bed and went to class and tried to avoid thinking about the girl at the bottom of the sea in his dreams, or the silken tenterhooks he knew to be the clutch of her soft pink hands.
Sandy found him sitting on a campus bench palms turned upward holding his face, he didn't look up when she sat down quietly beside him. She put her arms around him without words and taped a light kiss to the back of his neck and just held him like that. She felt him shudder a little at her touch. Then she heard something in his voice she had never heard before.
"Go away Sandy." He choked. He sniffled and shivered again. It took Sandy a long minute to comprehend that he was crying.
"What's wrong?" She asked earnestly. In response he tried to push her off of him, but she resisted.
"Michael what's going on? I've never seen you like this babe."
"Sandy, I can't see you anymore. I just don't have the... don't have the... I just can't do this to you another moment longer. I feel so sick of this." He stopped crying and looked at her with haggard lamplit eyes, bright and clouded like moonbeams.
Sandy felt her heart chilling from where it had leaped into her throat. Her breath came out cold. She had foreseen this coming. It still hurt her to hear it said, but she was ready for it.
"Is there any saving this?" She whispered. Her voice sounded brittle to her.
"There is nothing to save. I don't love you Sandy, you know I never have." He was no longer weepy. He said it very matter of fact. Like he had run out of whatever emotions he had suddenly been allowed and returned to his traditional spartan humors.
He felt a wave churning, felt a wave rising out to sea and his heart eddy in the current a little. He knew the tears were coming before they arrived and he set out a finger to brush the saltwater from Sandy's cheek. He appraised her with pity. And waited for her to speak her mind.
"Fuck you." She muttered when she had choked back enough of her sadness to speak and breathe if not quite regularly then passably. It had hit her harder then she had foreseen. It was a tsunami, and she fought not to be dragged out.
"Fuck me." He agreed nodding.
He waited awhile. And he let her alternatively rail at him, and then tenderly with infinite love squeeze his fingers. Then he told her it would be all be alright. For her, he knew it would be. For himself he could not be so certain. Even as he walked away he felt his heart being wrenched around, savaged, kissed, caressed. It didn't feel at all like butterflies in his stomach. It felt like horny hornets. Raping him. Eating him.
Some were not built for love.
Every now and again he thumped his chest angrily.
"This is all your fault. " He hissed at his heart, but he knew it was not there to listen. It was just an empty place. But it was a place, and all places have power. Especially potent are the resting places of romance, as any lonely lover will be sure to tell you.
Perhaps that power is what drove him to the bridge overlooking the estuary where the salty water and white churning foam of the aqueducts mingled. The bridge where his misguided affections and impressions had all ended. Where many months of sleepless, sticky, dream tangled nights later had led him to return and fling his heart into the water to be suckled on by toothless rays instead of lovers.
"Why am I back here?" He asked himself aloud, almost breathless, but he knew. He took off his shoes and laid them neatly on the bridge with his socks tucked inside then he hopped the railing and fell down to the cold mud shore about ten feet down. Felt it squish under his toes. He started to trudge then, seawards, tasting the salty air and finding it all the sweeter for every step he took nearer to his love.
When he reached the sea he was cold and his feet stung from sharp stones hidden in the mud but he was practically giddy, he couldn't help himself. He could almost smell her here. Her perfume of salt, and lichen was rank in his nostrils. He sat on the beach and he waited, she was coming. He knew even now she was racing to meet him.
He waited until it was dark and the sun was settled down and he was shivering and his nose began to run but he never worried she wouldn't come. Every churn of black on black water was her. Every small splash. Every place a gull startled. He did not doubt she would come, and he strained his wind spattered eyes into the brine to see her arrival.
He sensed her before he saw her. Felt his heart beating somewhere nearby, pressed against her breast while she swam, he shuddered, reveling in the closeness. The drawing near of their individual persons excited him as surely as the proximity of his heart to her own.
He stood up and walked out ankle deep into the freezing water, feeling it tickle his toes as the tide rushed out from beneath him. As his last solid ground fell away, she appeared. Just a face, peering at him from the dark and the water. a strange expressive human face, watching him, waiting for him to speak it seemed. Daring him deeper with her eyes.
"Are you a shark?" He asked. Her answer wouldn't affect his love for her but even the lovesick puppy that he was he thought it prudent to ask. He'd had a cousin dragged off by a shark on a night like this years ago and for some reason the whole situation seemed so eerily similar it was laughable.
She laughed too. Her voice was hard to discern above the waves, but it was beautiful. Summery and free and everything that he wasn't.
"I'm definitely not a shark love." Her tail fin appeared above the waves, coated in silver scales and gleaming in moonlight. It looked more sea salmon then shark. "And how can I be a shark with no sharp teeth? True sharks have rows and rows and rows of them, endless as the ocean." She opened her mouth to show her flat human teeth and giggled. "Will you come join me?"
I love you. He thought bravely, and trudged into the icy cold Pacific until, waist deep in the water, he stood mere feet from where she peered out of the sea. He whispered something under his breath. A stale phrase bitten in frost.
She held out his heart, a drowned piece of pale meat.
"May I have my heart back please?" He repeated slightly louder.
She pouted. "You gave this to me. You said you didn't want it. You wouldn't go back on your word like that would you? I've grown ever so attached to it." She pet it daintily with one perfect finger.
He couldn't help but listen to all the lilting beauty of her voice, and fall deeper and deeper in love. His head felt dizzy, sore. It was nothing at all like the dizziness of his heart.
"What is your name? Please tell me,"
She giggled sweetly. "Why that's not important for lovers such as we? You may call me Alcyone."
"Alcyone." He whispered. A great weariness had overcome him as this last bit of information registered. His brain felt hot despite the chill he felt down in his toes. "I love you Alcyone, but I'm just so tired." He kicked off the sand and wrapped himself in her embrace.
"I will love you as long as you live. Dream sweetly my dear, and rest." She crooned, and gently as the tide, soft as the surf, she rocked him out to sleep and the sea to the lullaby of his heart.