I didn’t mean to, but I found them.
I wasn’t looking for them, didn’t even know they were there. I was just putting some of your clothes away, piling socks on top of t-shirts on top of pants in the closet, and there it was, the box. Just there behind all your hanging button-ups, a cardboard edge peeking out from beneath the hem of a sleeve as if the shirt were pointing to it.
Normally I would never have looked inside, would never have thought to. It’s tucked away but not hidden, intended to be benign enough in appearance that the eye just passes right over it, never giving it a second thought. But I swear I can hear something coming from inside it, a faint noise like the quiet, rhythmic beating of a drum.
When I reach down to drag it from the shadows, I feel it. That boom of a bass, echoing against my palms, the kind that crawls across your skin, the kind you can feel shaking your ribs. I open it—I have to—and there they are. Every single one you’d ever been given, these hearts all side-by-side, all stored away like childhood photos or clothes that no longer fit.
Breathless, I stare into the box, wondering who each one belonged to. I picture the interlocked fingers and shaking knees of youth, the determination and vulnerability of the years after. Introductions and goodbyes. Arguments and apologies. Fingers in hair. Lips on skin. Hearts fitting perfectly in hands.
Despite a few scratches, some of them are still red, still full and healthy. Still beating strong to their own music. But others haven’t been handled with much care. Others struggle to contract, the muscle bruised and blotted. Some have been stitched back together, the thread barely holding. A small piece missing. Teeth marks circling an aorta. The raised scar of a cigarette burn.
And to the side lies the one I was most afraid of finding, the only one not fighting for attention. The one that’s lost all its color, stitches torn open. The one that doesn’t beat at all.
At the click of the door I slam the lid shut, sliding the box back into place in the corner, the bass louder and faster as each organ shifts. You find me as I stumble out of the closet, all shock and wide eyes and fistfuls of mismatched socks. You smile, kiss me like it’s any other day, like I hadn’t just looked right into your past, like I hadn’t just glimpsed the trail you walked on to get to me.
You with your golden smile, your comfort and your chaos.
And in that moment, with your hand on the small of my back and visions of other women’s hearts behind my eyes, I can feel my bones rattling, my own heart beating against its cage until it’s black and blue, begging to be let out.
Lynsey Morandin is a Toronto native who moved to Alabama for love and now co-runs a small press and literary magazine with her husband called Hypertrophic. She hates flying, can never get enough coffee, and is desperate to see the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup in her lifetime. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in places like The Southern Tablet, Crab Fat, and The Quotable. Find her on Twitter @LifeOfAnEditrix or learn more about her press at www.hypertrophicpress.com.