Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

S H O R T   S T O R Y
WAY TO A MAN'S HEART
b y   b a r b a r a   j a c k s h a   ~   s a n t a   f e,   n e w   m e x i c o

SHE HELPS you lay back on the restaurant table. She says it's no big deal—this is your third date, after all. You look around and think she must be right; the other diners don't seem alarmed. Before you can change your mind, she climbs up and straddles your waist. She unbuttons your shirt. You take comfort in her apparent expertise. Then she positions the scalpel over your chest.

She says it's like getting grazed by a shark; the teeth are so sharp that victims rarely feel any pain. She slices a thin, straight line that feels more like a paper cut cauterized by a butylene torch.

She opens you from collarbone to belly. Birds fly out, pigeons freed from their nest.

That's a good sign, she says. Proof of life.

Without meaning to, you say, Proof I'm full of crap.

She frowns. She doesn't get the joke. She's too busy slipping a cold metal device into your chest. Your ribs spread, arch like wings. And there it is, your pumping heart. The perfect tick-tocker. You feel rather proud until she leans in close and you feel the worst kind of naked. You have no control. The heart beats faster, louder, and when she gives it a poke, the poke is a whip that sends the heart racing like a thoroughbred toward the finish.

You try to read the furrow between her brows. Does she like the heart's shape, the pumped-up arteries and veins, the snappy rhythm kicked out by the valves? Or is the outer husk too puckered, too coated with fat, the blood running too fast or too slow?

When she slips her hands inside, you panic. Then you realize her hands fit perfectly, like water filling empty caverns. Her pulse causes ripples. Her fingers are liquid hot, cupping your heart, which suddenly feels like a chunk of ice. You think you would have noticed that before, but it doesn't matter because your heart is melting in her palms. You lick your lips knowing that hers will taste like strawberry no matter what she has to eat or drink; you know you've never tasted strawberry like hers; you know that even after a lifetime, the sweetness would still linger on your tongue.

Then she pulls back, leaving a gaping hole for wind to wheeze through. Her blood-covered hands look like twin strawberries, twin hearts. She wipes them on a napkin.

She shakes her head and sighs.

I'd hoped it was bigger, she says.

She pulls the metal from your chest, snaps your ribs shut, and stitches you up with all the things she's looking for in a man. The words sting and pull tight. You ask if they'll leave marks.

She says, Baby, there's always a scar.

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