You find it while walking the dog with Warren, watching evening shadows on asphalt lengthen between you, waiting for the dog to shit; waiting for him to circle round, nose to the ground. The dog knows the right place by sniff, the way you thought you’d know by pheromones, that the right man would just smell right, and yet—that’s when you happen upon the sheep, ripped wide open, blood-soaked wool with entrails trailing.
Before you, a small mass in the center of the path—Is that a…?
Yes, a heart, Warren says, as if he finds one every day.
You think of your mother, how apropos she would have said, chuckling over brunch with her friends, as if your failing love life was a punchline, as if you hadn’t grown up knowing acutely the sensation of your heart laid bare, cut out, until you met Warren.
This time was supposed to be different. This time, you thought you knew by taste, by texture, by the vibration in the air that swept under your skin and surrounded you both in an aura of pink light. You swear you believe in science, but the air used to vibrate pink, that is, smell like a new home before the dog, before the long hours at work, before the sip of time folding in on itself.
Maybe it’s thieves, Warren says, gutting sheep for the fun of it, and you think of your mother again, ex-boyfriends one through seven, though three was the worst and left visible wounds; it’s then that the heart lifts a little, moves, you swear. You pull the dog’s collar, tell him to leave it, but Warren pokes it with a stick.
Don’t, you say, remembering you heard once that the human heart is the size of a fist, and if so, this sheep’s heart could be your heart, the same, red-smooth and weeping, the aorta still attached, and you want to break the stick and ask him, Do you still love me?
But you don’t want to be that kind of woman—desperate, uncertain, nagging—the kind who plans it out like a blueprint: years of dating, months of engagement, wedding favors embroidered with a spray of flowers and invitations embossed in gold, fractions of children, checkboxes and scoreboards and honey-do lists—everything perfectly chambered, each task a synchronous valve that opens and lets in a little more air, a little more life, a steady rhythm.
It’s still moving, Warren says, and opens his pocketknife. He makes a clean incision and pries cardiac muscle, atria, ventricles, Valentines, true love, until the vibrating bloody chamber opens, and whatever was inside slips free.
Sara Hills has words at SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, New Flash Fiction Review, and others. Her work has been included in the BIFFY50, nominated for various awards, and twice shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the Bridport Prize. Originally from America’s Desert Southwest, she lives in Warwickshire, England and tweets from @sarahillswrites.
Lead image: “Sheep” (via Flickr user Erika Thorsen)