“Heavy Bucket Heart”

His presence was like an oar displacing water: never quite coming back the same way when he did come back, finally, at three of the clock, stinking of gin and better days that were far behind him.

He’d mouth his apologies when she would bunch up the blanket to her nose and refuse entry. The couch tonight, as it was the couch so many other nights before. Pleading at the door, but she’s locked it, it’s the same routine repeated ad nauseam. So masturbating on the couch, forgetting the blinds are open, getting up exposed to close them, cursing, losing the erection, and so turning on a video game. Dying over, and over, and over again. All manner of deaths: quiet, bloody, loud. There was always a chance to reload your save. A chance to start again.

He’d go into the cellar and read while the furnace pulsed angrily and the house’s guttyworks churned in the quiet of the night. He’d write a little by the light of the furnace, pausing to rub away the stink on him. He’d write little songs, halfway making sense, and the ones that didn’t work went into the furnace fire.

In the morning he’d cook a feast and she’d toss her plate in the trash. He found a way to float, just a little bit, above the surface of the ground. When he showed her, she looked for wires, magnets, something. There was nothing. He could make himself disappear.

The storm inside came the third day after she shut him out. Mostly cloudy at first, but raining a little after 12, letting up right around when she got home. The clouds were the only remnant of the storm, the wetness on the tiles and carpet. She walked on soggy floor, took her socks off, and went down and into it. The carpet swallowed her up and took her into the cellar, by the furnace, where she could crochet in peace, the needles not moving as nimbly in her hands, it’s useless, and so her going back upstairs, undressing with the windows open, throwing open the blinds and baring herself to the world.

It’s them on a day where she’ll turn a hug into dead weight, he has to hold her up, to carry her, because she can’t do it on her own. And how all hurting people are just falling in place, perpetually.

It’s in her bunching his pants up into a ball and smelling them, scanning his shirts for something out of the ordinary. It’s when she flies with him upstairs but he turns and flies the other way, through space and into her arms three years ago, unboxing and stacking things where they needed to go.

It’s the difference in the fuck now, like it’s lost some integral thing, and until it’s put back again it’ll never be the same. But where they are right now, her heart is a heavy bucket of water pulled up from a well, but the rope breaks and sends it all crashing back down. That’s her heart.

They construct a new dwelling from papier-mâché and sticks and leaves. It works for a time, until holes begin to form, little ones at first, pluggable, but soon they’re plugging every corner of the house, daily, until the house becomes nothing but plugs, nothing but putty. They stick newspapers to the putty and remove them so they can see the comics’ inverted impressions and they tell themselves they’ve done a good and thorough job.

He still comes in at three of the clock, with the stink on him, and he has to sleep outside the putty house now, no masturbation to help him sleep outside and so staying up all night, listening for bears in the city. The citybears have retired for the night, though, so there is no cause for concern.

She collapses sporadically.

Onto the couch, the bed, then the floor, then falling on the sidewalk as others pass her by, and she tries to separate insecurity from reality. And how we’re all made up of isotopes and sciencey things that go about their business on their own, dealing with none of these problems.

She watches for signs that her heart is growing, sloshing, this heavy bucket heart, and she loses herself in the way the night sky flickers in and out of view behind the boughs of the trees.

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About Nicholas Olson

Nicholas Olson is a freelance writer from Chicago now living in North Carolina. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s 2016 Very Short Fiction Award and has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Literary Orphans, decomP, and other fine places. Read more at nicksfics.com.