Heart on My Sleeve by Sara Puls

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Narrated by Bob Eccles

Heart on My Sleeve by Sara PulsI wear my heart on my sleeve, where everyone can see it. I’m cursed to fasten it there each morning as I dress. I’m compelled to present all my emotions and longings and fears to the world. I’m forced to display my blood and guts, my body and soul. I’m hexed to reckon with this thing before it shrivels and hardens and sends me to hell.

I blame it on the warlock.

I thought he was just a one-night-stand, just a body to lust over and toss out with the lot. I thought he wouldn’t care; I thought he was as easygoing as I; I thought all men were lecherous and vile. I definitely didn’t think he was a warlock.
Because I don’t mess with that shit.

Turns out I was wrong about him. I was wrong about absolutely everything.

I stripped off my clothes before he even set down his glass of cheap wine. I took his face in my hands and pulled his body to mine. He pushed me away and stepped back in horror. He said he could see my thoughts in my eyes; he said he could feel indifference on my skin; he said I disgusted him.

That’s when the handsome young warlock locked me in his quarters with a wave of his wand and a flick of his wrist. I called out for help but no one came. No one cared and no one heard my cries. Then he cut out my heart while spitting incantations into the night. It dripped angry red blood and writhed and writhed.

But he wasn’t deterred. He sewed my heart to my sleeve with fast tugs of the thread and sharp pokes with the needle.

He claimed he was just teaching me a lesson. He insisted it was for my own good. He declared that I would only change if I was forced to admit how shallow and bitter and cynical I’d been.

I spat in his face as my arms reached for his throat, but his wand and words put a halt to all that. So I called him a prick and a coward. I berated his narrow vision of morality and his outdated notions about women.

But my warlock friend insisted it wasn’t just about the sex. He said that was hardly the point. He said that, in fact, the sex was entirely beside the point. He forced me to look at my heart and ask myself who I was. Was I decent? Was I kind?

Without my permission, my eyes locked on that pulpy red lump of a thing. I saw selfishness and arrogance. I smelled hypocrisy and dishonesty. I tasted bitterness and cruelty.

Then, with another spell, another enchanted word, my one-night-stand gone bad forced me to touch it, to grip my own heart where it lay pinned to my sleeve. It was hard and cold; it was barely alive. The sensation shocked me, and then sent me into a fit of tears and slobber and snot. A moment before I’d been ready to kill that freak of a man. But after that, after holding that grisly, repellent, heinous thing in my hand, I realized he was right; I realized I had but a short time to get my heart—and life—under control.

After that, the warlock let me go.

Now onlookers stare at the red lump that adorns my sleeve, at the hunk of muscle and blood that I wear like a corsage. They point and laugh; they shriek and gasp; they sometimes cower and weep. With my heart displayed for all to see, I can’t lie or scheme or cheat.

Well, I can. But when I do, everyone sees. They immediately know all about me.

Yes, because of the warlock’s curse, I can no longer hide.

For more than a while, I thought my story would end there. I thought I’d grow old and die a miserable old bag, a worn out hag. But, at last, there may be hope for me. For even me. See, thanks to luck and magic and a bit of effort, I’ve been changing.

A few days ago, I called my mother.

“Mother, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry for all my harsh words and sarcastic critiques. I’m sorry I haven’t visited or responded to your calls. I’m sorry.” She told me she could find room in her heart to love me if I gave her space in mine. Then we both began to cry. The tears were sweet and cleansing. For the first time in a long time, I felt just a little bit free.

When we hung up, I took hold of my heart. Almost immediately, I noticed it felt merely cool, no longer cold. It even started to beat with a bit more regularity.

After that, I sent hand-written letters to all the friends I’d left behind.

Dear Friend: I’m sorry it’s been so long. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten your birthday, even when you’ve remembered mine. I’m sorry I haven’t responded to your texts or emails or tweets. I finally see that being busy is no excuse. Especially when you’ve made time for me. I’d love to see you sometime soon (I really mean it, I swear.) Perhaps for coffee? Or tea? Love, me.

I know it’s a rather small thing, given how badly I’ve treated everyone. Even so, it felt so good to write those words, to admit where I’d gone wrong.

And just this morning, I detected a new scent lingering around my heart. At first I thought it was the scent of blood mixing with my new shirt. But as the day went on and the blood dried, the smell remained. It was the smell of something vaguely familiar, something I’d known as a child. It was, I think, the smell of empathy. The aroma was a mix of the people I’d encountered over the past week: the flour-coated baker at the corner cafe; the rain-soaked mailman; the sweat-stained and dirt-caked homeless man who lives behind my building. The scent was sad, but real. And in that way, it smelled right.

And so, that new smell got me thinking. Maybe someday I will be nothing but thankful that I wear my heart on my sleeve. Maybe I will even thank the warlock, deeming his curse an incredible gift.

In fact, the way things are going, I’m almost certain I will.

 

AUTHOR BIO: Sara Puls is a migrant farmworker attorney for a non-profit law firm. She’s also the co-editor of a new online magazine, Scigentasy: Gender Stories in Science Fiction & Fantasy, which will have a website up and begin taking submissions in early June 2013. Sara’s fiction has appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Daily Science Fiction, Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi, Kazka Press, Plasma Frequency Magazine, Stupefying Stories, and elsewhere. This is her second story in Liquid Imagination.

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:  Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an internationally award winning artist. Her photography has  been published in the Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC News Website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. See more of her photography at www.eleanorleonnebennett.com