The Retriever by Caroljean Gavin
Each girl who left Simone took a piece of her heart in her teeth. It had become
ragged. Strips dangled off like string.
One day Simone discovered a hole in her heart big enough to stick her thumb in.
She took out a needle and some purple thread and stitched her heart back together. When
she was done she went to the Coffee Couch for a cappuccino.
The Coffee Couch was cozy, quiet, and the Starbucks four doors down kept the
population sparse and select.
Simone always walked into the Coffee Couch letting the dense, colorless cloud of
coffee steam grab her by the collar and pull her in. But this was different. This time it was
apricot and kiwi, a fruity and slightly chemical smell that twinkled as it twirled up her
nostrils. Simone imagined a clothespin over her nose as she walked to the counter,
ordered her cappuccino, and took the seat furthest from Emily.
When Simone felt weight sink into the cushion next to her, the imaginary
clothespin popped off her nose. She smelled Emily on her way to work, Emily in the
shower with her on Sundays, Emily on their way out. She smelled her arms around her,
her lips brushing her earlobe, her lips giggling, saying: love, thighs, sun, hello, goodbye.
As Emily chatted on about her new painting, her new boyfriend and her slut of a
sister in Atlanta who finally got herself pregnant, with sharp and practiced fingernails,
she casually and methodically plucked and pulled at the stitches holding Simone’s heart
together. Emily launched a hug at her, broke away just as fast, and clicked away on
Simone stumbled home that afternoon dizzy. Her heart was losing blood fast. It
soaked her T-shirt, swelled the fibers of her sweater, trickled down her jeans, washed
over her shoes, pooled under her feet. Squish-squish. Four blocks home.
For a week Simone tried to plot and draft a way to keep her heart safe. She
thought of armor, of chains and a lock, of hiding it under her bed, or donating it to some
cold world leader, but a commercial for tires gave her the answer. There were too many,
so the owner of the local tire store was having a sale. He asked the people out there to
In her yard, Simone heaved the tires possessed with purpose and even the sweat
streaming into her eyes felt right. It took six days struggling with stinky rubber, chains,
When the work was done, and after a close inspection for possible flaws, and
structural defects, Simone took her heart in her hand and flung it at the tower of tires.
Her heart landed with a wet thud. Simone gave the structure one final look before
going inside to rest.
Later that evening, Simone woke from a heavy sleep with hot breath puffing
against her nose. She opened her eyes to those of a black Labrador retriever. Simone
didn’t know the dog. She knew it didn’t have a key to her house. Simone rolled over
dismissing the animal as a leftover dream. Her face pressed against something wet and
warm. She sat up and lifted it. It was her heart, whole, red purple and healthy, there
weren't even teeth marks or dog slobber. Simone gathered her heart in her arms. She
relaxed back onto her pillows and closed her eyes. The retriever leapt over Simone to the
empty space on the bed and settled in.
Caroljean Gavin's work is forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2021 and has appeared in places such as Stone of Madness Press, Milk Candy Review, Barrelhouse, and Pithead Chapel. She's the editor of What I Thought of Ain't Funny, an anthology of short fiction based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg published by Malarkey Books. She's on Twitter @caroljeangavin