The Scales Fall by Freya Morris
My heart turned cold over the popping bubbles in the sink. I stood there, a palm on my chest, the cold bleeding into my fingers. The pain was crisp, like submerging into liquid nitrogen. But there was no steam for me. My heart had to be pumping hot for that.
The promoter was microscopic; the tiniest of word-sequences. But they always are. At first, I’d hoped it was a glitch and that my heart would thaw in the afternoon sun, or after dinner, or by the end of the week. I strapped hot water bottles around me, drank tea, watched heart-warming films, but nothing worked.
I thought I was lucky that nobody could see it. But I was wrong. This wasn’t symptomatic. It wasn’t a sickness that would go away. It was genetic; an alien gene in my very DNA. Not long after, my blood ran cold too. My son reached for my hand and pulled away. ‘Cold hands, warm heart,’ I said, more to myself than to him. My husband kicked me away under the duvet. ‘You’re too cold,’ he said, and I was.
I hoped and prayed that my heart would spark and spring to life again. But when our Little John came to our room in tears, he asked for his daddy, and the tongue in my mouth flicked out in front, thick and forked. And I was so ashamed, mortified even, that I didn’t speak after that unless my back was turned.
Silence followed, and then scales. They were dull grey. I thought I’d slept on a pumpkin seed, but when I picked it off, it bled. More followed. I scratched them off in the shower at first, bleeding blue into the plug hole. But it couldn’t last. They were coming in thick and fast. People were going to see it soon, my heart on my sleeve, frozen cold. They would see what I had become.
My husband noticed first. I wrapped myself up in reasons, blaming it on the weather, him, work, the weather again, God, my dead mother, my super-sister with five kids, the next door neighbour’s voices that came through the wall, the city, hormones, my age, not being able to have any more children, and then, just when I thought I had more excuses to come, I had none.
He didn’t say anything.
He sent me to hell in a stare, picking out his beard hair, squinting. He pulled his lips in, the way he does when he smells dirty nappies. He was glancing over every scab and every scale I couldn’t scrub off. He had a million ideas that could fix me, and I pretended that they could work, that my genome was pure, untouched, human.
But nothing worked. My eyes were fading to yellow, blank and unblinking. His gaze switched poles, pushing away from mine when I drew near. ‘I’m not sure it’s safe for John to be around you,’ he said.
And he was right. I wouldn’t have a heartless reptile near him either. I stood at the door, a green-grey shadow with no bags, ready to leave. But something inside of me knocked over, spilled out, fowl and messy.
“I’m glad,” I said. I drew a deep breath. A run up. “That we couldn’t have another.”
He tilted his head. “Another what?”
I nodded to Little John’s picture framed in wood.
“Well,” he said. “It’s good we didn’t bring another child into this.”
“No, I mean. I’ve always been glad.”
“I didn’t want another,” I said, and I wasn’t sure what made me say it, or why I hadn’t said it before, earlier, way earlier than now.
“But what about… you cried for days after.”
“From shame.” I felt a bubbling in my stomach, a warming in my veins. “I didn’t grieve for her. I just felt…”
I threw my hand over my mouth. I should have kept it buried. Good people don’t say these things; they don’t think or feel these things. Good people love their children.
“No,” he said, grabbing my arm and pulling it, scales falling to the floor like coins. “Say it.”
My heart broke in two, spilling out fire and pain and heat through me. It melted the ice until it ran down my face. “Relief,” I said, my voice cracking like burning wood. “I felt relief.”
He stepped back. His face was shock and horror, frozen. “But why?”
I shook my head, but I could feel my heart beating again, throwing itself against me, pummelling me until the numbing cold became sore. I felt something again. “I don’t know.”
He didn’t move; he just stared at the floor. He’d gone in, away from me and into himself. “Jim?” I said.
He looked up at me with slow blinks and murky stares. “Your eyes. They’re not yellow anymore.”
“Do you hate me?”
He pulled away. “I…” he sighed. “No, I don’t. Look, let’s go sit down and talk about this.”
He took my hand, but his was cold and clammy, and when his eyes caught the light, his pupil narrowed into a slice of darkness, and I knew then, that he was lying to me.