After the ceremony, as is traditional, the bride and groom are seated together at the banquet table at the head of the hall. As their friends and family watch on, the couple each take a knife from the table, and still smiling their newly-wed smiles, cut out their own hearts and let them drop onto the silver plates on the tabletop before them.
While they wipe the blood from their hands on silk napkins, the plates are passed around the gathered families, who inspect each one for signs of defects, anomalies, lies, deceptions.
At today’s event, the groom’s heart is a slender thing, stunted and withered through years of both neglect and cossetting. Never had it needed to fight or fend for itself, never had it needed to buttress itself against failure or calamity.
The bride’s family nod their heads in acceptance, the groom’s smile thinly with imperceptible pride.
When it is passed back to the bride, she slices it into two and pops each morsel into her mouth whole and swallows them without chewing.
The bride’s heart, however, sits heavily on its plate, like a beached and blood-red whale. As the plate is passed around the room, the groom’s family make numerous comments admiring the heft of the heart, the density of the muscle, the brightness of the blood, the volume of its chambers, and the depths they conceal.
Eventually the groom receives the heart, impatient and eager, taking the plate with both hands and placing it down reverently before hime. He slices a sliver away and takes a delicate bite so as to savour the taste.
The heart on the plate looks unchanged.
The groom finishes the first morsel of his bride’s heart, takes another slice, and chews this one as deliberately as the first. The next cut is bigger, and eaten more quickly. And the next, and the next.
Still the heart looks unchanged.
Or perhaps it looks bigger now, made somehow stronger and more defiant with every cut and laceration and frenzied stab. A huge solid lump of flesh that could sustain a man for the rest of his life.
Once the guests have gone, the groom’s decorum slips away entirely. He grasps his wife’s heart in his hands and tears great chunks of flesh from it with his teeth. Blood up to his elbows, his shirt as stained as a butcher’s coat.
He keeps on eating, his face as red as fury, his teeth as black as death.
The bride picks up a napkin from the table and carefully, caringly, wipes droplets of herself from his chin. She wonders when he will stop, when he’ll finally have had his fill.
She wonders, too, whether to take her heart out of his hands. Take it back and put it back and keep it for herself.
1. Written between August and November 2016
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