My Heart Runs on Chlorophyll


The night of the winter solstice, bitter cold and snow hard on the ground, she dreamed of yellow roses. Not fields of yellow roses like so many suns stretching out before her like a vast solar system, but of one singular plant over which she could bend close. Eyeing drops of rain pearled on petals from pale butter to mustard, and the way each flower’s fragrance bloomed brightest on the hottest of afternoons, on its insistence, reminded her of learning about love for the first time. When she woke she said aloud to no one, “My heart is an organ that runs on chlorophyll.”

Wrapped in a robe, she went downstairs to start the day’s coffee. Putting a kettle on the stove and turning it on high, she stared out the window. Perhaps a painter would see beauty in the gradations of white to grey to darker grey to black, but all she saw were the shriveled leaves of the lilac and rose hips that shook on their stalks as the wind whipped through the yard. She closed her eyes and thought of the yellow roses, and then of roses colored deep and bloody reds with names like “Cleopatra” or “Juliet” or “Joan of Arc,” of roses pale pink called “Sylvia,” that only bloomed once in the spring and then fell like so much confetti, and of roses yellow and red called “Ketchup and Mustard” and “Everyday Life” that stayed all summer and smelled like nothing.

The scent of lilacs overwhelmed her every spring, sweet and warm on the air, a perfume so sugary she could taste it on her tongue. Not wanting to give up a moment of pleasure until each bud was spent, she’d leave her windows open while they blossomed even as they grew slightly sour with rot. Night jasmine worked its way over her skin, its scent so heavy she could feel it tracing lines on her body like tiny rivulets of liquor. She’d lie in the dark, naked on top of the sheets, eyes closed, watching the perfume push through the window screens like an invisible smoke. It would touch her toes first, slick like satin or oil, and would slide up her legs, slipping down the sides, over hips and ribs and tits until it licked her neck like so many tongues and saturated her hair until the jasmine and her body created a new scent and it reminded her of the time when, after an afternoon of fucking, a man had said, low and with pleasure, “This room smells like pussy.” She poured water from the whistling kettle into the French press and said aloud to no one, “My heart is an organ that goes dormant before the first snowfall.”

She fell down onto all fours, hands and knees pressing into the grime of the linoleum enough to cause pain as it made landscapes of red relief in her skin. It was both pleasure and pain. She heaved from some place deep in her stomach. She wretched hard, over and over, vomiting up nothing but bile and saliva. Throwing up nothing, excising this nothing, hurt like hell, like when she backed into a rose bush and thorns caught in her skin, tearing tiny pathways in her skin, leaving little dotted lines of red.

She finally felt something moving up through her body, firm and heavy and large. The convulsions of her stomach muscles were violent and pushed the mass up her esophagus to her throat and now she was choking, terrible. Swallowing hard, hoping to force it back down, her eyes filled with water and began to run and her stomach balled again, forcing the mass forward. There was no way to swallow it back down. She kept retching and now spots were in her eyes and the edges of the world grew dark and she finally vomited out a bloody ball the size of a fist. Gasping hard, snot running from her nose, she started crying with pain and relief. Picking up the mass and clearing it from the slime and mucous that coated it, it remained black to all appearances. Like any self-respecting gardener, she scratched at the surface with her thumbnail, looking for promise of life. With the roses she’d been looking for the palest of greens, but here, any hint of red would have done. Her nail easily dug through to the center—soft, grey, and long gone.

She closed her eyes and started heaving again. This time what started coming up felt light, felt lifted, like so much velvet coating and kissing what had been ripped from her before, soothing her insides and leaving her warmed like early spring. Her heaving now was like that of a dog when pauses in the middle of the floor and its stomach clenches over and over following a strange beat and, watching them, one can imagine a journey from internal to external. Her mouth opened on the last heave and what came out was a flood of petals. They burst out of her lips in a stream that continued until the kitchen floor was covered in a carpet of the palest yellow and she collapsed. Standing and moving to the table, she pushed down the handle of the press, poured a cup of coffee and added cream ‘til it was the color of earth ready for planting.

Sheila Arndt is a reader, writer, and Ph.D. candidate living in the Midwest. She cares about the modern and postmodern, critical theory, New Orleans, Americana, saltwater, garlic, canines, old blues, and new dreams. Her poetry and prose has been published in The Tishman Review, Gravel, and Literary Orphans, among other places. Follow her: @ACokeWithYou_