(originally posted to my tumblr.)
She smiles a sideways smile, looking him in the eye without moving her head in his direction. The light from the street lamps plays in her eyes like a thousand thousand stars reflected in a midnight lake. His heart skips a beat, then jumps in his chest. His heart opens a secret door built into his rib cage, and falls out onto the ground at her feet. He closes the secret door in his ribs, picks it up, brushes off the dirt and cigarette butts it picked up from the ground, and wraps it in a sheet of old newspaper. Holding his heart in one hand, he takes one of her perfect, small hands in his free hand, and places his heart in her hand.
"I’ve been growing this for you since the day I was born. I may not have always taken enough good care of it for you, and for that, I apologize," he said. “I understand if you don’t want it, but you can’t give it back to me."
"I know," she said, “how the rules work." And then she opens her own secret rib door, which opens to show an empty room, a room long unoccupied, and taking his heart out of the paper wrapping, tips it into her chest. She closes the door.
She leans her head back against the brick building she’s resting against, eyes closed, and sighs.
"So, I should get going," she said. “I have a paper to write. I’ll call you sometime next week. I promise." Then she walks down the sidewalk, in a direction that would not take her anywhere near to a place she could write a paper. He’d never seen her walk with such light, carefree steps before.
That night, he tries placing all manner of things in his own empty room, now that he knows the trick of it. Beer cans weren’t right. The cold ones were too cold, and the empties rattled around too much. He places a very small yellow potted flower in the room, but that just made him feel bad for the flower, so he takes it back out. The cockroach he finds in a dumpster behind her apartment is the closest thing to right he can find, but it was still light years away from what he needs. Plus, the cockroach probably had a family who loved it, so he let it go, and finally just settles on keeping his pack of smokes, lighter, and cellphone in his empty room.
"Maybe," he thinks, “when she calls me next week, she’ll let me come over and let me have a little bit of time with my heart. It’d be nice just to know the old boy’s still beating, to know if he’s happy in his new home."
She never called.