Flash Fiction: My Constant Heart

This week’s prompts came from AliAprhys, Hotaru Tomoe, Some Silly Ficcer, and Alexx on Fire. Thanks for the ideas! Follow me on Twitter to send me prompts for next week’s story!

My Constant Heart

Being a journalist had its up days, its down days, and its utterly weird days.

Kaylee Pirbright wasn’t entirely sure which one this was, yet.

Being assigned a puff piece on dating sites was annoying, for sure. Her thirty-something boss seemed to think being a single woman in her forties made Kaylee a natural fit for dating site articles. Apparently. A tick in the Down Day column.

Kaylee had created a persona for the research and posted a photograph of a small rock, painted pink. It was from her own collection of decorated rocks. The smooth, flat, grey stone wore its nautilus of pink swirls well, and its inscription in tiny lettering which followed the curling lines: walk the streets of this empty city alone and you will eventually find its centre – and yours. The ‘s’ of ‘yours’ was at the heart of the nautilus.

Usually, she left her little painted messages on stone in parks and gardens, on low brick walls and in the forks of trees, for random strangers to find. She’d kept this one, though. Something about it felt like a guiding force. A path. A map to somewhere important, if only she could discover the real world starting point. Posting the photograph of it had been a definite tick in the Up Day column.

Kaylee had chosen this dating site at not quite random. She’d stalked a lot of sites, a lot of chatrooms and social media discussion threads to find it. How she’d finally arrived at the site was a bit of a mystery, not as mysterious as the people who populated it. Her pink map stone was maybe the least weird avatar there. Most dating sites featured only  humans, and sometimes cats. This site – myconstantheart.com – featured painted stone, engraved bone, initials carved on individual shark teeth. Images of dragonfly wings, homespun yarn, moss, cloud formations, ink and iridescent feathers and translucent fish scales and trailing vines woven like hair into long green locks, shimmered on the profile pages. Things beautiful and terrible and both. Made things, broken things; things pure and singular.

Not a human face to be seen.

And that was a big tick in the Weird Day column.

Kaylee flinched in her seat as her My Constant Heart inbox pinged with a message. She clicked the link, dubious at such a swift response to such a paltry avatar and a profile that read “Hard boiled journo meets abandoner of arts. Seeks enlightenment or a supply of paintable rocks”.

Yeah, she wasn’t taking this assignment too seriously. She took few of them seriously these days, even the serious ones, which might be why she’d ended up on the Online Dating assignment at all.

The message in her inbox was only marginally cryptic.

Kaylee. I am Joolbox (not my real name). I am a collector of Found Objects. I can supply more pebbles. Enlightenment less certain. Want to meet?

Joolbox’s avatar was, to Kaylee’s astonishment, one of her pebble paintings which she had gifted to the world. She’s used the natural grooves on the palm-sized stone to paint the image of a sleeping dinosaur, its tail curled over its body, the knobs of its spine ending at the bump of its head.

Kaylee replied at once.

Hi Joolbox. Your avatar is a stone I painted a few years ago! The more pebble canvasses you have for me to use, the happier I am! Love to meet you! When/where?

An almost instantaneous ping reply led to a volley of exchanges.

Now. Here.

Here where?

Here now.

Where?

Nowhere.

Now?

Now here. Nowhere. Now. No. W…

The ticks in the weird column were getting broader, brighter, and more enticing. Kaylee couldn’t articulate it in the slightest. Jumbled words that should have been infuriating simply shone with simple joy. A beacon of simplicity. Now and here. Here and now. Nowhere. Here. No.

W.

Weird.

Kaylee followed the empty city of this conversational street on instinct, seeking the centre of the puzzle. Seeking the centre of herself, who could not be found in this office, in this job, this life, with its poverty of spirit and scope, its abuse of privilege and power. Her constant heart had never lived here at all.

The centre of herself was painted on stones and scattered around this city. The edges and the spokes of it. The valleys and hills of it. In  lines and curves and undulations, from edge to edge, along every radius, leading to the inevitable centre

How?

Say yes.

Yes.

I’m coming. Meet me.

Kaylee rose. She put her hand in her pocket and drew out the pink map stone which she’d left by her bed this morning, and here it was in her pocket.

Kaylee took up a notepad. I quit, she wrote on it. She wrote it in a spiral. I quit I quit I quit I quit.

She placed the notepad across her keyboard. She lifted the stone to her lips. She kissed the painted nautilus, at its very centre, where her own centre lived. Her constant heart.

And away she went.

Now. Here.

Nowhere.

Everywhere.