By M.E. Carter


I am a voyeur. I observe the sordid for my own selfish means. I see the pain in others pulsing beneath their everyday movements. I see it when they tip their glasses back, full of liquor, and let it course down their throats. I see it in their raucous, hollow laughter. I see it when they walk down the street and catch their own reflections in a store window. I steal their pain to create a story and then I use it to make myself cry for money. Truth is, all the stories are real, even if I make them up. And the truth is, nobody wants to feel pain but nobody will let go of it. So I feel it for them.

But that is what I am, a Heart.

I started to cry at an early age for money because my parents said I had a talent for it. From ten at night until two in the morning, I sat on a glossy, white, cylindrical, Formica platform stationed at the end of the bar and I cried the gamut of sadness from misty simpering to full throttle sobbing. Seated on my stool, I was visible to everyone. The Brains lined up below me and asked me to cry about hurtful things that happened to them. They paid me to cry for them because they could not and did not want to cry. Not only did it embarrass them because they weren’t able to, theirs was the unbearable pain that began with hand tremors and ended with blinding migraines.

I leaned down and felt their warm, moist whispers pulsing in my ears, hushed reasons for sorrow — the loss of a job, a lover or a parent — streamed into my ears and out my eyes for four straight hours. During that time, the Brains stared at me as I wailed and groaned away their sadness. Their faces expressionless while they watched me, and afterward they thanked me with a generous tip and told me how good I made them feel.

The first night Metal came into the bar, I cried the best that I could. Metals are rare and I was somewhat star struck. Through my tear-clouded eyes, I searched for silvery glint of her mask that bared her toothy grin and I listened for the faint scraping of her armor as she shifted in her chair.

She sat in the corner with a particular group of eight to ten Brains. They chattered and laughed; rarely were they silent. Their conversational cadence soothed me — sentences that rose up followed by rounds of bassoon-like laughter. There was a certain stool at the bar that they gave me which was a perfect lookout as I stared unobtrusively at the Brains, ogled at their exposed brains resembling shiny, bulbous mounds of soft caramels pressed together. On weekends, I attempted to glimpse the red numbers on the upper back quadrants of their large heads. I obsessed over spotting them, as difficult as it was. Their IQ’s were always 140 or above. I liked to see if their behavior seemed above or below their IQ. I added up the group’s IQ and found the median and then I’d figure out who was the leader, who was the runt of the litter.

But like I said, I am a voyeur.

Metal never denied that she was a Brain, but this was not why I loved her. Through the slits in her mask, I saw Metal react with her eyes, and I believed she was a Heart.

Hearts were not stupid, but we were considered too emotional to use our intelligence to the best of our abilities. But just like the Brains, our hearts were on display. In the middle of our sternums and on the outside, the color of our emotions throbbed for all to see. When I was embarrassed, like when a group of Brains caught me staring at them, my heart turned orange-red and beat rapidly, galloping away from the Brains who laughed at me. It beat so fast, it ached for two days straight. Most often I kept my coat on so they wouldn’t see how I felt, but Brains knew why Hearts did this. And if they were drunk enough, they humiliated you for it.

As they did me. I sat on that very same stool and my heart’s embarrassment poked out between the top two buttons of my coat like a piece of burning ember. They, the smoky drunk Brains, pointed at me and giggled as the covered their heads with their hands or placed their cocktail napkins over their numbers.

Therefore, I mastered the art of the body angle. I took yoga so I could swivel and watch the Brains while my heart nestled comfortably on my chest, its deep cherry red shadowed by my upper arm. I scrutinized One Forty-Three in the group. I eyed my heart in the brass bar railing I leaned against. I watched it turn mustard yellow and beat stronger. This told me I was jealous. I knew I was as smart as One Forty-Three, but One Forty-Three’s confidence made me covet her tawny ovoid head. She acted like a One Sixty-Three — the way she insolently tapped the ash off her cigarette and laughed at something amusing that One Fifty-Seven had just said. I wondered if I had ever known a confident Heart, and I realized I had not as I peeked at my yellowness glowing down below.

The Brains that Metal sat with were my regulars. They liked my work and I knew they made up sad events so I would cry for them. When I worked my crying shift, my heart idled in a coal black that excited them. I knew they were turned on because they were quiet. I couldn’t see them sitting at their table when I cried, but I heard their clapping when I finished. If Metal was there, I smiled at the sound of her tinny hands crashing together.

I remember when Metal first spoke to me. I stood at the bar and I felt something cold and rough scrape my thigh. I jumped and turned around. She said, “Oh, sorry. Didn’t realize I was so close.” Her eyes, shining expressively like smooth beads of aquamarine, answered with a me to my who. Next she uttered the words I still hear before I go to sleep, “Your heart… that’s passion, right? How beautiful. That’s why you’re such a good crier.” Then I saw those teeth and looked at the steel that covered her from head to toe and I wanted to pour myself inside her metal clothes. I said that it was just a scratch and she replied, “Something to remember me by.” As she banged off, I wondered if I could ever forget the metal-clad answer that I had finally found.

Brains were supposed to go out with Hearts even though Hearts were regarded as inferior. For instance, we Hearts had only been allowed to vote for thirty-three years. And I have heard some horrifying stories about Hearts getting turned away from the voting panel because the color of their hearts didn’t fall between that of a ripe navel orange and a deep brick red (only a hint darker than my own red). Lighter or darker, and you were considered too emotional to make a sound political decision. The two times that I voted, I drank a glass of absinthe an hour before to calm myself. The absinthe coated my anxiety in a peaceful haze while my heart remained its natural color and a shade away from rejection.

I had dated a couple of Brains, but I switched to Hearts, which pushed me further away from the Brains, and I think, from Metal. The first Brain I dated made me laugh, which Brains were very good at, and she liked talking about art. Her hands were smooth as if her fingerprints had been sanded away and she liked to touch my heart and watch it change colors. Her brain had a sweaty sheen and when I hugged her, I felt a circle of my hair dampen where her head rested on mine. Her IQ was One Sixty-One and I would run my finger over it when she slept, leaving a trail just like the ones I made as a kid on my Dad’s rainy car window. She smelled like Ceylon tea. Then, she started to pinch my heart to see if it would turn black for a couple of seconds and I told her it hurt. She laughed, called me a silly heart and I cried. I didn’t cry because it hurt; I cried because I knew she would never understand me.

The second Brain I dated was not as smart as One Sixty-One, only a One Fifty-Nine, but she treated my heart like a newborn. She would come in on Friday nights to watch my set and whisper the same cry request every week — to cry for her because she was a an intellectual failure. When she touched me, her hands were calloused and dry because she was a painter. One Fifty-Nine did not drink water so her brain looked matte, dusty on the outside. She held her finger over my heart and lowered it, skimming my heart. She looked at my heart and I looked at her. She was too gentle with me. She had no intensity, no spontaneity — just the smell of her paints reaching me before she ever entered the room. I saw her movements and reactions simmer in her brain. I knew she was going to kiss me before she swept her lips against mine. I knew how she would kiss me twenty years from now, like a glass-figurine angel — treasured, but never desired. My heart never had reason to turn the cerulean blue of love or the eggplant color of lust. It held fast at your basic rainbow red and this, too, made me cry.

Since then, I have dated only Hearts. I made them laugh, made them dole out their sensuality, card by card, each one trumping the one before it. My relationships with Hearts have hit like spinning gusts of emotions, floating and intense. It is a dangerous combination — two Hearts, changing colors so quickly, both so vulnerable. When we are attracted to one another, we clasp hands as we jump off the cliff of Eros, drift through infatuation and land in a field of dissonance filled with jealousies, grievances and differences. We look up, blanketed and trapped by what we thought was love.

Take Lavender, for example. She called me Passion Fruit because my heart color reminded her of the cherry preserves her grandmother made and because it is the closest to the color of passion. I could not keep my hands from touching her; I could not keep my heart from turning the sensual blackish purple when I desired her. Then I saw her kiss a fuchsia colored heart when we were at the bar together. When I asked her why, she said that she didn’t know whether we loved each other or were just lovers. They thrive on reactions. Lavender did not want to fill everyday with me, the same color of passion. She wanted to control the colors of my heart. Once I realized this, my heart spiraled through the hues of submission and settled on the nicotine brown of anger. When Lavender couldn’t make that change, she left.

Sapphire was the last Heart I dated. She was a composer and a moonstone blue. Hearts that are this color are sad, philosophical and damaged. They hate to brood alone. She was best when the moon hung in the sky like a tiny jagged sliver torn from a piece of yellow construction paper. When this kind of moon hid in the corner of the night, she was the least sullen. She tickled me with her corded, short fingers playing musical trills on my neck. When she played the piano, all kinds of moons came out. She pounded on the keys as if she were angry with them, as if they were not sounding like themselves. And I fell in love with the fact that she played all the shades of every Heart. Once, when we were at the bar together, she got jealous when I stared at the Brains. She left. When she decided to come back, I sensed her self-hatred as we lay on the bed and I watched her heart sink into that deep jade — a faraway color that stained whatever came near it. I escaped to the bathroom to figure out how to help her heart feel another color and then I noticed in the mirror the ominous jade of my own heart. I said goodbye to Sapphire and to the feeling that the moon held that much power.


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