So the infatuation with Metal began when everything with everyone else ended. It continued when she winked at me after beating a Brain at arm wrestling. Everyone at the bar thought that because he was a One Seventy-Four, he surely knew how he was going to beat her. But Metal had had three glasses of absinthe which made her armor shine with invincibility. I watched her eyes crinkle shut with effort and then pop open just before One Seventy-Four’s soft, refined hand hit the table. She slapped him on the arm and bared her healthy teeth saying, “Nice try One Seventy-Four, but you’re no match for the Mistress of Metal.” The Brains guffawed, their big, egg shaped heads bobbing up and down. That’s when she winked. The wink endeared her to me, but her arm wrestling had made me sad. I felt sorry for her needing to show off and wondered what her armor was hiding. Later that night during my shift, I thought about that while I cried for someone else.
Because she was smart and because she was an aggressor, not known to nurture a soul, people assumed she was a Brain. At the bar, Metal would always come and order her drink next to my stool, scratching me as she squeezed in between me and another. It made her laugh as she glanced down at my thigh, fresh with her thin red gashes like the tattooed name of a lover. It was like a Brain to laugh at a thing like that, but then she would nervously drop her eyes behind the metal mask and whisper, “Sorry again.” At night, I counted the cuts and dreamed she was a Heart.
The bartender who worked the weekends told me that Metal had humiliated herself for a Brain she loved. Years of drinking have stained the bartender’s heart the intense purple black of a moonless night. I call her Purple Moon. The bartender liked this name because it is more poetic than being called a drunk or a lost soul.
Purple Moon had seen Metal come in with big dents on her armor. A Brain Metal dated, named One Sixty-Six, bragged to Purple Moon that Metal asked to be hit with a bat. “She enjoys it. ‘Cause, you know, she feels it,” she said. One time, One Sixty-Six had a Heart beat her while One Sixty-Six watched. Metal really liked the bat because she faintly felt the sting of it, but she also saw that the crying Heart felt the very same sting.
Once, I went to see Metal’s artwork. I went to see her sculptures formed out of mottled pieces of scrap metal-brass, silver and tin. She soldered them together to form the skeletons of animals and human beings. There was a human skeleton walking a dog skeleton, a human skeleton holding its head in its hands, and a skeletal frame of a tiger stretched as if running in mid-flight. I felt nothing when I saw them, but sadness overcame me when I envisioned Metal’s hands molding the burning scraps into whatever she was hoping to express, her fingers bending with the heat. There were many Brains at her exhibit, touching the sharp pointy joints and fingering the rib cages, reveling at all the possible interpretations of the minimal framework. I spied Metal loping around, particularly interested in the reactions of One Seventy-Four. She followed her and showed her teeth when the Brain bought two of her sculptures — the human with the head in her hands and a large metal brain with three question marks instead of numbers.
The sculpture of a heart with a brain in the middle drew me to it because it had no sharp edges, only rounded bends that folded into each other. I looked for Metal so I could compliment her on her idea, but the Brains surrounded her. After all, they had the money. She led a few Brains over to where I stood and as she walked behind me, she placed her hands on my upper arms and whispered, “Excuse me,” as she guided me to step to aside. I felt the metal cut into my skin and she smiled at me as I moved out of her way. She looked at my heart turn that cerulean blue. Wearing no coat, I left quickly, embarrassed that she saw my naked truth. My heart was hung-over for four days after that.
The next time I saw her was at the bar, two weekends later. She lingered next to me and ordered an absinthe.
“Hey you, looking forward to watching you work,” she said, grinning. She was always friendlier to me when she was drunk.
“I liked your exhibit. My favorite piece was the heart with the brain in the middle.” I felt my heart heating up and changing. “I found it insightful.”
“Thanks, Pretty. I’ll put it aside for you until you have enough money to buy it.” Through the opening in her mask she smiled at me, baring those straight antique white teeth that reminded me of perfectly laid tiles. “If I knew you a little better, I’d let you have it. You are my favorite crier, you know.” She glanced at my bare thigh, and then she scratched me. She stared into my eyes while she did this and then she laughed. I winced. This cut ran deeper than any of the others. My blood dotted her metal finger. She spilled her drink as she tried to pick it up and said, “So long, Pretty Heart.” I was glad she was drunk and didn’t see the tears in my eyes. I didn’t want her to think that she’d hurt me.
Later that night, Purple Moon and I were talking when the rising cheers of “Metal! Metal!” became too loud for us to hear each other. One Seventy-Four slouched with her arm around her angular shoulders, pulling Metal to her as Metal’s polished head fell on One Seventy-Four’s shoulder. Metal laughed and pushed herself up and all the Brains started to clap and yell. She creaked and wobbled as she headed towards the bar. She slammed her metal hand on my back and said, “Listen Pretty, a couple of the Brains have dared me to take my clothes off, so to speak, but I need someone to help me and I choose you.” She swayed and blinked her eyes and continued, “And I’ll give you that sculpture of mine if you help me out. We gotta deal?” I didn’t say no to her although I felt a small no rumble in my stomach.
“Come on, come with me,” she said. As we walked over to the Brains, I buttoned my coat and the lining felt cool against my feverish Chinese red heart. She held my hand on the way over which I barely noticed because all the Brains moved their chairs and shouted “Make way for Metal!” When I was close to her, I smelled the absinthe mixed with the metal oil. The Brains circled around us. “Okay. I’m gonna take it all off and my friend here is gonna help me,” Metal explained. The Brains hollered, “Let’s go, Metal.” The Brains didn’t say anything to me, just stared at me and smirked. I heard one Brain behind me whisper, “Look! The Heart is trembling. She’s actually scared of hurting Metal.” “As if anyone could,” another replied.
Metal, stifling her laughter, stood in front of me and said, “Okay, Friend, start with the head first and pull from the top. The top downward, okay?” I nodded and grabbed the piece that began just above the forehead. I pulled but couldn’t get it to come off. “Friend, you’re going to have to pull harder than that,” she laughed. “It won’t hurt, trust me.” More laughter. This time I yanked and felt the metal pare away from her skull. I stripped downward and saw that her skin had peeled off with the metal.
Metal stopped laughing. Her mouth closed, muffling a high-pitched squeal. The Brains yelled at me to continue as a slat of metal came off to reveal, as expected, an exposed brain. I was angry that I’d fooled myself into believing that she was a Heart and I pulled her metal off faster and faster, ripping off the tiny pieces around her neck and the slats on the sides of her head. The Brains moved in closer to see her numbers, but they had come off with the metal. I tore off the sections of her legs, feet and arms, exposing her grapefruit colored rawness as she screamed out of her open mouth. She wailed like a small dog being attacked by a pack of coyotes, which would leave nothing behind but the carcass, a model for one of her metal skeletons. I dropped my head, looked into a piece of her armor, and saw my tears fall onto it like spilled absinthe. The Brains cheered because she was a Brain, and chanted, “Metal! Metal is a Brain!”
I stopped when I saw her raw pinkness without skin, without metal. She cried and shouted, “Continue!” I said that I couldn’t. The Brains booed and the one Brain, the one who said I was trembling, yelled, “What would you expect from a Heart?” A sudden crash on the ground silenced everyone as we all stared at Metal’s facemask on the floor. There were gasps at the sight of her skinless face contrasted with her light turquoise eyes and bright teeth. She smiled and cried.
“It hurts,” she gushed, “Keep going. I can feel it! Take off my front panel, please,” she begged. I took both hands and secured them onto the top of her breastplate. She grimaced and laughed towards the ceiling, “Please do it.”
My coat was unbuttoned and my heart was black. I pulled with as much power as I could, stunned by the brutal look I saw on my face in the breastplate as I took it off. Then, it was quiet as we all noticed a heart in the middle of her sternum. It was the same color as her tender fleshiness. I was smiling and crying, and then Metal collapsed, throwing her fresh exposed arms around my shoulders. I dragged her to a chair, passing the jumble of broken armor, and placed her gently in it. The Brains watched in astonished silence. I put my hand on Metal’s brain and pulled her to me as my heart made contact with her stripped, barely beating heart.
M.E. Carter has two selves—a former and a current. The former self was a stand-up comedienne for ten years, an actress and a morning show host for an alternative radio station. The current self chooses to express herself solely through her pen and pad. Her body resides in Los Angeles, but her mind lives anywhere it desires. She works at Skylight Books as a humble, yet noble, bookseller.
Featured image via Pixabay