Sibyl Has a Heart of Gold
By Shantell Powell
Sibyl had a heart of lead. It rested in her belly like a tumour, impervious to stomach acids and digestive enzymes. The heart was heavy within her, arrhythmic stops and starts murmured through the clogged artery of her alimentary canal. Her body kept on trying to reject the heart, but it would not be budged. Wherever she went, the groans of her distended belly preceded her, and jeering men pointed or jabbed one another in the ribs. Whenever someone asked her when her baby was due, Sibyl snarled.
Sibyl had a heart of lead. No one believed her. The doctor said the groaning of her abdomen wasn't the beating of a heart. No heart beats like this. No one has a heart in their stomach. He refused to test her with the echocardiogram, but he gave her pills. She swallowed them and they stuck in her throat. Still came pain like a heart attack. The flutter in the stomach. The knifing wound to the bowels. The browning vision. Sometimes the leaden heart weighed down her digestive system so that it was paralyzed for weeks. Her chest was as tight as her waistband. Then bile burned the back of her throat. She couldn’t sleep lying down without a river of acid corroding her trachea, so she took more pills and slept sitting up. She ate prunes and bran, but her heart of lead would not pass.
Sibyl had a heart of lead, purple circles beneath her eyes, and dull, dry skin. Her stomach was a cage for pain. She wore loose dresses and searched for a cure. Emetics didn’t work. Laxatives did nothing. The doctor sent her to a shrink, but the heart stayed the same size. She ate ice cream to soothe her throat. Chugged Pepto Bismol for the heartburn. Bucket in hand, she wept on the toilet, certain she’d been cursed. In her heart of hearts, she knew it would take alchemy or witchcraft to heal her heartache. She went with black magic. She read in a grimoire bound in human skin that another heart may neutralise this dyspepsia. If another heart were to pulse inside her, it would beat at her vagus nerve like an angry maid beating a dirty rug, and then maybe the leaden heart would turn to gold.
Sibyl had a heart of lead. At first she ate only the hearts of the little birds she lured to her kitchen window with millet and sunflower seeds. These hearts were easy to swallow, but they were insufficient. How absurd, to swallow the heart of a bird. They passed through, undigested, but now her heart shone like the sacred heart of Jesus. She washed bird hearts down with water, and her belly felt warm and pleasant, like she’d had a nice Chardonnay. Water into wine. Lead into gold. Her heart still groaned within her, but for the first time, her belly no longer hurt. Like the old woman who swallowed a fly, she moved on to bigger and better things. She graduated to the hearts of cats. Of little dogs. Just opened her throat for the heart of a goat. She buried the bodies in her herb garden while bees buzzed around the lavender. Now her ashy skin is ashy no more. It gleams, and her belly is as flat and hard as a fitness influencer’s.
Sibyl has a heart of gold, but it doesn’t groan anymore. She put away her muumuu and put on her miniskirt. Men took notice of her figure. They took notice loudly. Her heart nestled within a nest of other hearts, and cilia reached for them with grabby little fingers, coaxing them down, down, down with the pulling rhythm of an almost forgotten peristalsis. Sibyl’s golden heart doesn't groan. It doesn't hurt, but it does scream. The men mistook it for laughter. They thought she was flirting, and maybe she was.
Sibyl has a heart of gold. It clamoured when the men clamoured. They catcalled, and her heart called back. She eyed these men as hungrily as they eyed her. She watched the pulse tick in those hilly little hollows where whiskery jaw meets stubbled throat. She never liked killing animals, anyway. She’d rather be a maneater.
Sibyl has a heart of gold. It rests within the hull of her belly, rocked like a baby by the waves of digestion. Her intestines work properly now. She no longer fears going to the bathroom. She can still taste the thin slivers of human hearts tossed in flour, salt, and pepper, pan-fried in butter until crisp. She sits at the kitchen table and smacks her lips as lights flash red and blue through yellow gingham curtains. Her golden heart is as quiet as the pulse of sirens is not. The leaden thumping that she hears now comes not from her stomach, but from the front door.
Sibyl has a heart of gold. She wipes her mouth on a napkin. She applies pink lipstick using her knife as a mirror. Her heart purrs with contentment as she gets up, the blade hidden in her sleeve. She smiles as she opens the door. The heart wants what it wants.
Shantell Powell is a two-spirit author, artist, and swamp hag. She is the 2023 Yosef Wosk VMI Fellow, a graduate of the Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University, and a recipient of the Waterloo Arts Fund grant for her debut novel in progress. When she’s not writing or making things, she’s wrangling chinchillas or getting filthy in the woods.