The tales, the paintings, the bullshit Valentine’s Day cards we got in grade school - they were wrong, so they told me.
My hands trembled with the box, its contents heavy and unsteady. The voice inside of it haunted me and would continue to do so. I walked into the dock house, the sunlight streaming in through the dilapidated roof. Cobwebs and old bird nests decorated the rafters, the smell of seawater and old oil permeated through the space. Boxes and furniture tarps protected whatever contents remained hidden away, the curse of being unwanted.
Certainly no place for someone of her stature.
“Hello?” I managed to ask, the timbre sounding shakier than I had meant it to. Confusion and shame started settling in. I looked down as I walked my way across the creaky floorboards. Feathers littered the floor, the familiar tufts of gulls and pigeons. In the space between boxes, a large feather lingered. I paused in my trek, bending down to inspect. It was larger than any eagle’s I had seen, thicker and whiter than any vulture’s.
A loud creaking from across the room caused my hand to retract. I clutched the box to my chest, a thrumming heartbeat accompanying it.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had visitors,” her voice loose and curious in the strangled space.
I looked up to find another place entirely. Where boxes had been were now pillars of marble and quartz. Where the sun had trickled in now streamed ribbons of dusk light. And in the place of the back of the dock house stood a throne of cushions - square, round, and oval-shaped - made of silk in different shades of red, rose, and gold.
She sat on a large white cushion wearing a floor-length gossamer gown to match, strings of pearls adorning her shoulders as cap sleeves. Her hair was pulled back, two curled strands framing her face. Her eyes were honey, welcoming, but in the way that predators fool their prey in making them comfortable before eating them whole.
“What gave it away, darling?”She gave me a pitying look. The box continued to beat against my chest - a constant reminder. “What? Were you expecting a little, fat cherub?”
“Maybe,” was all I could reply with. She stood up and walked towards me, her bare feet silent on the marble floor.
“All children grow up. Have a little imagination,” she cooed. Her eyes searched mine, her head angled to the side inspecting all of my insecurities. “It’s annoying, isn’t it?”
“The constant aching of love.” She smiled, snatching the box out of my hands. She turned around to walk back to her throne. “My payment, I’m assuming?” I heard her open the box, the squeaks of the hinges yelling loudly in the open room. She paused and looked over her shoulder. “Quite impressive.”
I nodded to her, unsure of where to go, what to do. “His name is Patrick.”
“Of course it is,” she stated matter-of-factly, slamming the box shut. She set it down on a cushion, a blend of smoke and light now emanating from her hands. The wisps of cloud condensed and thickened, materializing into a long shape. When it settled, the smoke revealed a small arrow, the size of a bowie knife, covered in a layer of gold. She gripped it in her hand, light peeking through the spaces in between her fingers. She walked toward me, motioning for me to take it.
It was still warm, and even more surprising, contained my name engraved along its shaft. “I thought this part was your job.”
She laughed, a tone of wickedness coming up from her throat. “Your desires, your actions, your consequences, love. I merely provide the tools.”
“What do I do?”
Her eyes flickered over to the box, licking her lips impatiently. She dusted off imaginary dirt from her dress. “How do you think it works?” When I didn’t answer, she rolled her eyes and gripped my hand in hers, the arrow now singing in the center of it all. “You find him, you look him in the eyes and you put it through his heart.”
A small gasp left my lips. I stumbled over my words.
“Love is nothing to be trifled with, darling. If his heart is open to your love, it will absorb the arrow. If not, well, I just recommend doing this in a private place.” She winked.
My body sagged. Tears rimmed my eyes at the prospect of Patrick on the ground, his heart lost to me in the way I didn’t want. “But what I’ve done already...I don’t think I can do this.”
She tsked me. “You knew the price when you decided you were desperate enough to seek me out. What’s done is done. Now, finish it.” She pushed my hands close to my chest, her own letting go. “You have 72 hours. If you don’t use it, it will disappear, along with your own heart." I swallowed, the guilt settling into every muscle. "I suggest you use the time wisely.”
I clutched the arrow tightly, my name cutting into my palm. I looked up to find her sitting on the cushion again, the box given in her lap. She opened it, grasping the contents with one hand. Blood began seeping down her arm in dancing rivulets as her fingers clutched the dead heart, the tissue already tinged with gray. She smiled down at it, reveling in the scent and aura. My own ached in my chest. With every beat now, the room began disappearing, the mask of the dock house returning like water washing away paint. It crept closer to her throne, framing her in a halo of the ordinary. “72 hours, dear. Good luck.” She winked as the mask closed in, then took a deep bite into the heart, blood seeping into the fabric of her gown. For a moment, I could see her veins glow with a pulsing joy before disappearing in a swirl of marble and wood.
I looked over at Patrick as we walked down the street, the glow of the lampposts illuminating his smile. The arrow was a weight in my coat pocket, the gold burning a hole in the wool. The night was almost over, the end of the third day almost done. The rest of the evening was revolving around small talk and potential plans. We stopped in front of my brownstone, his fingertips lingering on mine. The minutes began to wind down, the voice of the rules, now a lament, still playing in my ears:
An eye for an eye,
A heart for a heart
For an arrow of love
For death ‘til you part.
I blinked away the memory of the heart I cut and gave away, fear and self-loathing making room for hope. "Hey, would you like to come up?"