At 8.15, between Waterloo and Westminster on the Jubilee Line, Maddie sprouted an extra heart. She could feel it splitting, a searing pain that doubled her over.
This will pass, she told herself.
Black patent. White trainers with stripes.
Name what you can see, her therapist had said. But this wasn’t another panic attack.
Brown brogues. Silver Doc Martens.
Pain radiated upward as her two hearts started beating, one ever so slightly behind the other, like bird wings against a window. She thought of the company email, inviting her “back to the office.” She’d never been in the office, just a Zoom square for months. And resilience. How many times had she read that bloody word lately?
At 8.30 she rode the escalator up and out of London Bridge. The pointy tip of the Shard was spearing a cloud. Steel and glass buildings towered against a cornflower blue sky.
Just like a brand photo, she thought. Pensive Millennial Looking at Skyline.
“Too easily bruised, like a peach,” her dad had said, topping up her bank account last week. So many handouts. When would it end? That was the elephant in the room. Still, at least she had this marketing job.
She followed other marching feet towards More London Place, falling in line with the clack of heels on chewing gum-spattered pavement. Her hearts settled into one steady beat as she passed Pret a Manger. EAT. Starbucks. She’d almost forgotten they existed.
Looking at her reflection in the glass, she failed to notice the new bicycle lane. Failed to look before she stepped forward.
She jumped as a bicycle skidded in front of her. The dreadlocked cyclist puffed his cheeks. “That was a close’un.”
Her hearts skittered. “Sorry! There didn’t used to be-“
“Yeah. But then, I didn’t used to have these.” He lifted his hands to waggle his fingers at her. So many fingers. He grinned wolfishly.
She stared back, dazed. “But what does it mean?”
“All the better to brake for you,” he leered, then was off with a howl.
Why did a cyclist need extra fingers? Why did she need two hearts? It felt like a puzzle she wasn’t up to solving. Maddie couldn’t decide whether the office was worth continuing.
A matronly-looking woman approached, peering at Maddie over spectacles with a jewelled cord attached. “Is everything alright, dear?”
“I don’t know.” Maddie looked at London Bridge station, stretching like a caterpillar along the road, then back to the woman. “It’s not what I expected.” She put her hand protectively over her hearts.
“Oh, you young people and your expectations. Just get on with it dear, that’s my advice.”
Maddie stared at the woman’s broad back side and sturdy heels as she clomped away. That comment stung. Still, maybe her hearts were there for courage, like the Cowardly Lion.
Squaring her shoulders, she marched on to the shiny glass doors of her office, giving her own roar as she walked through the revolving doors.
Cole Beauchamp (she/her) is a copywriter by day and fiction writer by night. She’s been published in Ellipsis Zine, Dead Skunk and Versification. She lives in London with her girlfriend, two children and an exuberant Maltipoo. You can find her on twitter at @nomad_sw18
Photo – Cole Beauchamp
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