by Allie Marini
I see him on the subway every morning, head tucked down, reading. He’s as unremarkable as me. This morning in the commuter crush, we pressed up tight together, shoulder to elbow, before spilling into the station’s tiled echo. I’d felt a knot & a pinch as our sleeves brushed but didn’t think much of it until I felt a soft bounce on my toe. There it was on the dirt-speckled floor: safety pins pulled apart from the left & right atria.
I glanced around, making sure no one else saw it fall, that he hadn’t realized he dropped it & wasn’t tracking backwards to retrieve it. I pretended to tie my shoe, swiping it into my pocket. Relieved no one saw me pick it up. Satisfied by its warm rhythm, beating away in my pocket. When I got to work, I switched on my computer, hurrying to the sanctuary of the bathroom, where I could take it out & really have a good look.
It wasn’t even the size of my fist. Pinker than I’d thought it’d be. I removed the bent safety pins. There were tiny purple dimples where they’d secured it to his sleeve & a thin sheen of dirt on the side where it landed on the subway floor. Gently, I rinsed it in lukewarm water. It shivered into my fingers. I blotted it dry & held it a few inches under the automatic dryer. It vibrated softly, like a kitten purring, warming up to me. I stroked it lightly with the tip of my finger before returning it to my pocket back at my desk.
The day dragged on, measured in spreadsheets, coffee refills, reports, & a soggy tuna sandwich wrapped in wax paper. I felt it growing restless, wriggling in my lap. Easing my hand into my pocket, I gave it a quick squeeze to let it know I was still there & thinking of it. It cuddled into the bend of my knuckles & sighed softly, settling into my hip when I took my hand away. It seemed to sleep until it was finally time to switch off the monitor & head back toward the subway. When I got it back home, I dug an old Crown Royal pouch out of my sock drawer & snuggled the drawstring tight at the aorta. Its pulse on my pillow was like pressing a seashell against my ear.
The next morning on the subway, he was distracted, flipping through the pages of his novel before closing it & staring out the window. It could sense him nearby. It fluttered against my lap until I ran my fingertips against it, & it settled, lulled to sleep by the motion of the train. At our stop, he scanned the floors for the heart he’ll never find, because I’m caring for it now, the way he should have. Let that be a lesson.
I wrote the first draft of this to submit to the NPR series "Three Minute Fiction" Round 11: "Finders Keepers." That year, the judge was Karen Russell. (I'm a Florida author, so the dream was to have her see my writing.) The prompt for "Finders Keepers" was "Write a piece of original fiction in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning." I'm not a flash fiction writer, so to keep the word count at under 600 words & still tell the story I wanted to tell was tough. After I moved to the Bay Area from Florida, I revised this story to set it in a BART station, because to me, it seemed if you were going to carelessly lose something of value, that was probably the place it would happen. I still hope that one day, Karen Russell will read it.
Allie Marini is a cross-genre Southern writer. In addition to her work on the page, Allie was a 2017 Oakland Poetry Slam team member & writes poetry, fiction, essays, performing in the Bay Area, where as a native Floridian, she is always cold. Find her online: alliemarini.com or @kiddeternity.