The New Heart

Edited by Julia Rios

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

November 2018

The new heart has no frills. It needs none. It is made of limestone, hard and white. The heart maker allows herself just one decorative element, to remind herself of the sedimentary nature of love: a single skeletal fragment of a coral lodged in its middle.

She walked into my shop with sure, defiant steps. Most people walk in with some hesitation, as if doing something frowned upon — although artificial hearts have been a mainstream choice for over a decade now.

Not her. She knew what she wanted. She’d always known.

Yele uses a tooth chisel to erase the grooves and ridges her tools have left on the surface of the heart. She makes sure to hold the chisel at a 45-degree angle; otherwise, the stone will bruise—and who wants a bruised heart?

I recognized her immediately. Sereena. Her name was on my lips the moment she walked in, although it had been fifteen years since I last saw her. I’d been in my final semester when she was a Junior. She studied calligraphy. I was a sculptor, of course — one of the few girls in my class. I had always been nothing but a sculptor.

I could hardly believe she was there. I had fantasized about this moment for years. How I would sweep her off her feet, how she would finally see me, little me in love, how we would go away together and muse about all the time lost.

I straightened up, made my neck look longer, wore my best smile. Sereena. Would she even recognize me? Would she cup my face again and say “Yele, Yele, I remember you”?

Then, with a flat chisel, she removes the texture left behind by her tooth chisel. When she’s done, she finishes up the smoothing of the stone with a rasp. People always think artificial hearts are delicate things, but some materials are incredibly hard. Difficult to work with. They ought to be, no? Otherwise, what would be the point? The trick is to make the hard surface look soft, its smoothness effortless and inevitable.

Yes, I had fantasized about this day a lot, but fantasy is one thing, and this was reality; and, in this reality, I was locked in place, stiff and unsure. I resorted to my usual introduction to customers who find their way into my shop for the first time.

“Did you know the first person who came up with the idea of artificial hearts was a ventriloquist?” I recited.

Her eyes brightened, and she laughed. “Is that so?”

“Yes! Something to do with the etymology of ventricle, perhaps.” Or some other kind of madness, I almost added. Like speaking from the heart.

“Right,” she said. “I see.” Her attention had already drifted to my shelves, lined with dozens of hearts, shiny ones and wooden ones and ones layered with lace.

There was no sign of recognition. And why would there be? She’d always had dozens of suitors; why would she remember the shy, older girl who asked her out once, way back?

“So,” I said, walking around my bench to give her the grand tour, my own heart jumping in my chest. This was the closest I’d been to her since that time when she cupped my face with her hand and said I was cute, but she wasn’t into women. “Do you know what you’re looking for?”

The heart feels cold and heavy in her palms. She polishes the surface of the stone by smoothing down the last rough edges with her finest sandpaper. Almost there now.

She didn’t answer right away, so I motioned towards the various selections on the shelves, the chrome hearts, the glass hearts, the hearts made of hundreds of tiny blades. She studied the little tags attached to them. Hearts need labels, of course. Otherwise, it would be very hard to know what they do. Only fools presume to know a person’s heart by their actions or their words.

“Interesting handwriting,” she said, and I blushed.

“We carry almost every model imaginable,” I said, trying to mould my voice as smooth as the surface of handcrafted stone. “Hearts that will beat forever—this is our best seller—hearts that resist stress, hearts that never falter, that detect lies, even ones that can be deactivated at the push of a button.” I raised my hand to a shelf of hearts encased in soundproof Plexiglas. “And these over there—hearts that speak, hearts that sing.” I turned and looked her straight in the eyes. “Anything you want.”

She tilted back her head and rubbed her throat. “I want a heart that doesn’t love the man I love anymore,” she said. Her face hardened, something dark passing over her.

Sereena, Sereena, I wanted to say, what bruised your heart? And, Won’t you let me make it all better? “Would you like it to love someone else?” I asked instead, foolishly, because I knew that’s not how it works. You cannot tell a heart whom to love. It either does, or it doesn’t.

“No,” she said. She turned to face me, her eyes all red. “I never want to love again.”

The new heart is nearly ready. Just one thing left to do.

Yele’s chest is open, her previous heart already removed. She takes one last look at it, the battered old thing, and dumps it in the trash without ceremony.

Before she clips the new heart in place, she attaches the handwritten label to the left ventricle. The final touch.

She takes a moment to run her finger over the small, tidy letters.

”One that regrets,” the label reads. “One that forgets, one that moves on.”

© 2018 Natalia Theodoridou

About the author

Natalia Theodoridou

Natalia Theodoridou is a media and cultural studies scholar, the dramaturge of Adrift Performance Makers (@adriftPM), and a writer of strange stories. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. Originally from Greece, she lives in Devon, UK, until she’s asked to leave. Occasionally, she tweets as @natalia_theodor.