When she was fifteen, Joy cut out her heart so no one could find it. She thought it would hurt more. But once she pried her heart from the wet purse of her ribcage, she couldn’t feel anything. Not the blood dripping down her belly. Not her mother’s knifing words when she discovered the stains on her good towels.
Joy’s heart was still beating as she buried it in the garden, beneath the roses.
“I’ll come back for you,” she whispered.
Her heart drummed back like a fist on a grave: no no no.
But Joy left it there. Every year, the roses brambled thicker than the last; every year, her heartbeat went duller and duller.
Joy grew brambled too. Thorns bristled in her chest like secrets. No one, not even her mother, dared attack her now.
When Joy returned for her heart, she was no child anymore, nor was she alone. The man with her had no scar where his heart should have been.
The roses were bloodred and smelled of copper. Joy lifted the toothy vines. The ground was quiet and dead. Her heart unbeating. Joy clawed at the soil, rocks gouging under her fingernails.
“It has to be here,” she insisted.
The man reached out and squeezed her hand. He looked at her the way he had when he offered his own heart and she had nothing but thorns to give.
“We’ll find it,” he said. “If you let me help.”
Together, they started to dig.
Taylor Rae is a professional cave troll, hidden away in the mountains of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She likes avoiding her neighbors, playing ukulele, and longboarding. Most of her stories involve spaceships and/or magic. She is the winner of the 2021 NYC Midnight Short Story Contest, and her work appears with Flash Fiction Online, PsuedoPod, and Fit for the Gods from Vintage Books. More at www.mostlytaylor.com.
photo by Kristina Paukshtite (via pexels)