I have a glass heart. I realise this the night you kiss her. A tiny shard splinters away, ricochets off my sternum and pierces the flesh of my lung, making it difficult to breathe.
It is our first semester and you choose the same history modules as us. The boys from home are surly and brittle and use each other as human topiary, trimming off hope with their words. You like knitwear and piano concertos.
She slumps in her seminar chair, wearing her hangovers like leopard print. The three of us go to the same parties, and I am pleased because anyone can see she is too wild for you, too dangerous. You walk me home. Our shoulders bounce off each other, our fingers brush. The inevitability of us makes me tingle.
The end of term is a roiling cocktail of sleepless nights and cheap white wine. There is too much flesh at the formal, flaming torchlight pinking skin that is unsunned and tripe-white. There is vomit on the stairs. My eyes follow your eyes, itchy and jealous.
We see her at the same time, in her rainbow halterneck, a sequin shimmer of irridescent fish scales. Her back is bare and her shoulder blades are bone spoons. Her belly is stretched taut as fabric on a hoop and there – glittering in her belly button – is a jewel. She is stomach acid and needle words. Something savage and beautiful and I am swallowed by the shadows, a voyeur. You prop her up on the dancefloor. Your mouths clash.
It is alcohol. Infatuation. She is shallow and you will wade through her. I think these thoughts at graduation as you whistle her mediocrity. As you wait at the altar. As I babysit for your children on your fifth anniversary. I carry her words when she betrays you, letting her apologies spill from my fingers. I spit your acceptance, the taking back of her. I trail glass splinters.
My chipped heart grows small. But still I think there will be enough for you, when you ask for it. So I put it out of reach on a high shelf and I wait. It sits there, gathering dust. No one else can see it; sometimes I forget it’s there. When you have your stroke it teeters, but you recover and I move it to the next shelf up.
You leave her when you have more flesh and less hair. When our faces are maps and our livers are weary. It is a late start but there is still time. I bump into you at weekends. Bring you soup. I carry my glass heart with me, just in case you need it. But I must be made of glass too, because you look straight through me, all the way to my friend, who wears comfortable shoes and has a thing for Dachshunds.
My heart, when it breaks, makes a terrible mess on your tiled floor. I should have left it on its shelf.