Clockwork Heart

My lover has a clockwork heart. When we sit together at dinner, I can hear the grinding of gears.

I don’t hear anything, she says, twirling spaghetti on her fork.

She thinks my heart is the noisy one — all that pounding, she says.

She’s had her clockwork heart ever since she was a girl. There’s a scar on her chest where the old one was removed. She doesn’t know what happened to it. Maybe, she thinks, the doctor who performed the procedure kept it in a jar in his office. She remembers going to the office with her parents, sitting in a chair with her legs dangling, the doctor pressing a stethoscope against her chest.

I see, he said. I see.

There were jars in his office then, but her parents didn’t like for her to look at them, so she had to be satisfied sneaking glances when they weren’t paying attention. She remembers a pair of eyes floating in one, and a fist-sized organ in another.

The actual procedure took place in a hospital, the anesthesiologist holding a mask over her face and telling her to count backward from ten. When she woke, her old heart was gone and the new one was already inside of her.

How do you feel? said the doctor, peering down at her.

Very well, she said.

She never went back to the doctor’s office after that. She thinks even if she could have, her parents would never have let her look among the jars to find the one containing her old heart.

I don’t even miss it anymore.

She lets me, once we’ve undressed for bed, gently run my lips over her scar. She pulls me to her chest and holds me there, and I listen to the sound of clockwork within, and dream of her old heart in a jar, child-sized, still.

Cathy S. Ulrich

Image: NVinacco