“Loving Armageddon” by Amanda C. Davis
She presses her cheek to the center of his chest, listening to the beat of his hand-grenade heart.
It ticks like a time bomb, but no, he insists it’s a grenade, pin forever almost-pulled, and through the skin at his sternum she can feel the telltale ridges, precise metal squares, sharper than bone. She strokes the shallow indents. He shudders.
“It might go off at any time,” he says. A bit warning. A bit bragging.
She raises her head, and he shrugs so that his shirt falls closed again–most of the way, anyway.
She says, “Do you want to go out again tomorrow?”
His core may be metal, but the flesh around it flushes delightfully warm.
Every time he tells her how it happened, he has a different story.
He was born with no heart and the obstetrician grabbed the nearest replacement. He was in a car crash and died when he was young; the mortician filled his empty chest with something of the same size and heft but it quickened and beat, and he was returned to his puzzled parents alive, almost whole. He went to war and the grenade lodged there in a desert firefight. (Isn’t it the same type his unit carries? He won’t speculate.) He never dared remove it.
(The war story can’t be true, can it? He’s so young. Too young to both go to war and return from it.)
She accepts any story he tells. Then she files the stories in her mind so she can call on any of them when she needs them. He’s a lucky accident, a medical miracle, a war hero. Whichever story she needs right then, so she can love him.
Some days–most days–she doesn’t think of it at all. There’s so much more to think about. Meals, chores, television. Jokes and laundry. Bedroom, bathroom, smiling, sharing the car, sharing the bed.
But when they make love, his heart pounds like cannonfire, and she draws him as close as she can, so the metal throbs against her own chest, urging its rhythm into her own heart. The threat of explosion excites her.
She can’t ask how it’s doing. She can’t ask how it feels. That invited uncomfortable evasion first, then snappishness. It’s a ticklish thing. She doesn’t always enjoy the threat.
The week before Valentine’s Day they have a volcanic fight. It’s the kind that sparks from nothing and ranges around the world, the kind of fight that grows so ferocious that it becomes masochistically fun, like poking bruises or picking scabs. There’s vile satisfaction in making an Ouroboros out of a fight: jamming a snake’s tail down its throat.
They are on the cusp of wringing out their past gripes, ready to shatter their future, when without warning he takes her by both arms and shoves her away from him, into the hallway.
“Run,” he says. “It’s happening.”
They only need lock eyes for her to understand. She flees to the bedroom, the farthest room from the front door, and she hears both doors, hers and his, slam at once. She crouches on the far side of the room (his side) with her back against the bedside table. She clutches her knees, first shuddering, then shivering, and all of her past and future with him scream through her head like bullets.
She waits minutes. More minutes.
She hears no explosion.
He’s leaning against the brick wall by the front door with a lit cigarette between his fingers. He’s paying it no attention. She’s not sure where he got it. He never smokes.
He says, “It’s really going to happen someday.” He throws the cigarette into a snowbank and it dies with an angry, impotent hiss.
She knows this is true. She’s imagined it a hundred times. In her fantasy, she recognizes it’s happening, and she has enough time to clutch him as tight as she can, so they’re almost one–jumping on the grenade–and she imagines the burst of metal racking their bodies, the shrapnel cutting escape paths through their muscles and minds, their flesh singed, their blood mingling.
But she has just spent minutes crouching behind the bed.
He says, “I put it in myself, you know. Replaced my heart. So I wouldn’t have to use it.”
She files away his story. Whatever it takes to love him. She slides her hand into his. His fingers smell like smoke, and in the February breeze, they are as cold as metal, every one.
About the Author
Amanda C. Davis is a combustion engineer who loves baking, gardening, and low-budget horror films. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in Goblin Fruit, Shock Totem, and Cemetery Dance, among others. She tweets enthusiastically as @davisac1. You can find out more about her and read more of her work at http://www.amandacdavis.com.