When Petra was little her papa hurt her, and so she put her heart in bubble wrap. Layer upon layer upon layer of unspooled, suffocating plastic that padded her vital organ in an impenetrable fortress that could go anywhere, endure anything, no matter the fragility of its contents. Pigtails, lollypops, and monkey bar skills, that was her, but she performed her brutal surgery all the same. During those endless empty hours when no one was home, she closed the laundry room doors, unrolled a sheet of plastic on top of the hot drying machine, and operated. Onto the bubbles she placed her heart. Rolled it up like a sandwich at the deli counter. Used three green strips of masking tape to ensure the packaging would not slip, before she buried it again in the cave of her chest. And there her heart remained, deep within her four-and-a-half-foot body, thumping its little thumps.
She became a Fort Knox of feelings. Surrendered all joys. Snuffed out cartoons from her after-school lineup so that the only programs she watched from her mother’s bed after the bus ride home were soaps or TV movies on Lifetime. It didn’t take long to recognize a pattern in the dramas: characters who steeled themselves away lived to regret being so cold and closed. Petra was just a child but she could figure that out. And she was just a child, and so, still young enough to try to change her behavior because of the moral of a story of a made-for-TV movie, no matter how incorrigible her wounds.
In a dream set years in the future, Petra found someone she cared for. She loved him and he loved her, etc. They sat on a hammock in a backyard on a summer day, sipping lemonade from straws. A breeze blew and tousled her hair and the afternoon was just perfect. Her dream boyfriend kissed her on the cheek and she kissed him on the cheek. She turned her grownup body away; it was time to show him. When she swung back around, she cradled it for him like a relic: her bubble wrapped heart in her hands.
He asked if he could and she said that he could, and he removed the pieces of masking tape. He stuck the green bits to the sleeves of his shirt.
Together, they gingerly unspooled the plastic. She was breathless and he was sure to take his time. And what she felt, as her bare feet grazed the grass, as they removed each layer upon layer upon layer of plastic, was levity.
But in Petra’s dream—which was really a nightmare—they finished unwrapping the plastic to discover the organ was sickly, discolored. Her heart had spent so long in bubble wrap it didn’t have the chance to breathe and had become malignant.
Petra was determined not to let that happen in real life.
Pigtails, lollypops, and monkey bar skills, that was her. On Valentine’s Day all the boys left cards in her cubby. They had to give one to everyone if they were going to give one at all. But on her card, double underlined in Sharpie by a bucktoothed boy with a bowl cut were the words: Will U B Mine?
Petra found the boy at the dance. Or rather, the boy found her, at 2:15 PM, in the gym. The lights were dimmed. Lava lamp colors shone on the walls. Garbage bags had been ripped and taped over the rectangular windows on the gym doors so as to maintain romantic illusion. Teachers stood in a huddle nearest the scoreboard. They held balloons. The rule being if a balloon couldn’t be jammed between any two given dancers, they stood too close. This wasn’t a problem. During the fast songs, nearly every one stuck to the borders of the dance floor. It was only when the slow songs came on that couples exhibited any bravery.
Petra and the bucktoothed boy spun in a tight circle in the corner of the gym. Their footwork was nothing to write home about. He held his hands on her hips. She rested hers on his bony shoulders. Their elbows were fully extended. She smelled his body odor and looked up to his chin in an attempt to see his eyes and thought of her nightmare and how sure she was now that it would never come true. She could tell him everything, someday. Gradually, he brought her body closer to him. If the teachers tried it on them, they would not pass the balloon test. Their embrace tightened. Their chests met.
Pop, Petra’s bubble wrap began to go.
Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
She smiled at the sound.
He didn’t seem to react.
She steered her head so that they looked each other in the eyes.
You really like me, she said, Don’t you?
The boy lowered his sweaty hands to squeeze her butt cheeks good and hard, before leaving her on the dance floor. And he said, Naw, I just like to pop the bubbles.
Geoffrey Line's a Canadian-American who spent the last two years teaching and crewing aboard Sørlandet, a ninety-year-old Norwegian tall ship turned boarding school at sea, during its first world circumnavigation. Prior to that, he taught English in Nagano, Japan. He currently lives and works as a staff writer in Toronto. You can read more of his surreal stories featuring children in Cosmonaut's Avenue, the Offing, Beecher's Magazine, and at geoffline.com.
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