The Breaking Heart Tries Not to Ask Questions

The Breaking Heart Tries Not to Ask Questions
E.A. Petricone


When they injected me into my host’s bloodstream
I had no trouble finding her heart

Bump bump.
Bump bump.
Bump bump.

weak pulse or not.

Blood flows thick but
like a tuning fork in flight I flew,
vibrated through the stream.

I needed to see, so I took thirteen trips sailing
through arteries and back through veins before I
released my threads like spider silk in the breeze.

Bump bump.
Bump bump.
Bump bump.

I saw. I saw
how the right side of her heart
pumped blood to her lungs
like a mother setting her children on a boat and shoving them to a safer shore.
The force shredding her palms:

How the left side of her heart received the oxygenated cells and
pumped hard enough that the arteries could take hold of their hands
and carry them the rest of the way.

(If I had a jaw this
is when the masseter muscle
would have given out.

If people could only see
how their flesh strains
and rallies for them every moment,
every moment until they can’t.

I, “the superior technology,” was humbled.

How mindless flesh is
and yet
and yet
more heroic than I’ll ever be.)

When I embraced my host’s chambers
I imagined myself as a lover whose partner could not stand
and so
and so
I lifted.

Wefted and warped around her heart.
Promised that I would not let the efforts of her flesh be in vain.
That I too would fight for her until I could no longer.

Securing myself, my threads wound into her tissue.
Took over the heavy lifting of contraction and relaxation.
Monitored the electrical charge, the blood flow, the pressure, the strength.
Corrected as needed.

Bump bump.
Bump bump.
Bump bump.


I know some things.
I don’t know more.

I know I’ve kept my host alive longer by many years.
I know I am at the end.

Bump bump.
Bump bump.
Bump bump.

Blood cells chatter like sparrows
from the moment they bloom from marrow to their final odyssey but
though I can see inside my host’s heart
I can only glean impressions of her life,
an abstract painting with no title.

A certain stress hormone often surged through her.
My creator called this hormone—at that level—“grief.”
I think my host lost someone.

(My creator created me because
his wife’s body was so altered by pregnancy
that her heart failed her.

My understanding is that the baby lived;
I don’t know how often my creator saw him.)

Nothing strains cardiac tissue more than grief;
it is more damaging than a thousand pounds of salt.

Other transients were even less forthcoming.

Did her oxytocin swell because she held someone in her arms?
–or because she received a massage for more than fifteen minutes?
Did her blood alcohol concentration frequently rise because she celebrated with friends so often?
–or because she could not think of anything else to do with her sorrow?
Did my host’s endorphins soar and pulse race because she fell in love?
–or because she went for a run?

(I hope it was for love.)

But the grief always returned. Why?
Was it the same grief, a pigeon finding its way home,
or some new feathered thing with sharp feet?

Bump bump.
Bump bump.
Bump bump.


Not long now.

I want to tell her of the centillion lives her cells have led.
Of the blushing red of blood cells surging fresh from the lungs.
Of incensed platelets sprouting extensions like a dozen swinging fists
ready to defend her honor.
Of battles she never knew were fought and how many fell under her banner.

I want to tell her I tried very hard, and if I physically could –

But there’s only one message I can send to her receiver, only one in a language she speaks:

“I am breaking.”

Completely inadequate.
But if I understand humans, my plight is not so different from theirs.

Bump bump.
Bump bump.
Bump bump.


Despite my warning I have not been replaced.
I don’t know why.
Maybe my host cannot afford a newer version of me.
Maybe newer versions of me aren’t made anymore.
Maybe she chooses.

(My creator gave me the product ID NGC 6302
for the Butterfly Nebula,
which spreads its wings most beautifully
as its star dies
readying for some other flight.

I am something like happy for this.)

Bump bump.
Bump bump.
Bump bump.

They may update and reuse me, when she’s gone,
and a part of me desperately wants that; (I am afraid to be alone.
I don’t know a world without


but then I would be leaving her alone.

It is not up to me.
I should not think of it.

I can only hope as I slow
That what I sensed between her grief was happiness.
That when I finally fail and her last thoughts fire

I hope
I hope
I hope

she believes
the time she had
was enough.

E.A. Petricone writes strange things and obsessively collects post-its and rocks. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Apparition Literary Magazine, Slice Magazine, All Worlds Wayfarer, Metaphorosis, Triangulation: Extinction via Parsec Ink, Allegory, The Writer’s Chronicle, and other marvelous places. She lives in Massachusetts. You can find her on Twitter @eapetricone or at