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Scientists are reporting a heartbeat signal in space

by Sara Hills
Gateway Arch

Twelve weeks after the accident Alan drags you to the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch and thrums the heartbeat signal in the hollow of your chest.
Tuh-tum, tuh-tump.

Alan wants you to believe the signal is proof of God, some higher power, that nothing is happenstance. He wants you to believe that standing inside this curved metallic structure, sixty-three stories high, forehead pressed to the narrow window, you’re defying gravity, you’re upheld by an unseen force—a great magic—not forty-two tons of concrete and steel.

But what do you want?

From this immense height, you see the sunset pinking St. Louis—reflecting off the copper dome of the old courthouse, Kiener Plaza’s bone-white ice rink, the caliper-shaped lawn of the arch complex below. And specks of people, moving dots, like motes. Blips. Nothings.


“Incredible, right?” Alan asks, but your knees buckle.

On the opposite side, you give your weight to the angled platform and stare east, toward Illinois and the silt-brown water of the Mississippi.


Despite the air conditioning, you feel the hard heat of Alan’s body against yours, his ever-readiness. He whispers, “We can try again,” as if you still believe you’re a structure that can support life.

You think of your own arches—the curve of your foot, the hollows of your eyes, the unforgiving architecture of your pubis.


“It was an accident,” Alan reminds you, the agreed upon term. Not a failure. Not a malfunction.

The observation deck empties and Alan slides his fingers inside the waistband of your skirt, to the empty space where she used to be, and searches for a sign, a yielding of your body to his. A drum beat.

Your eyes rise from the river as newborn stars prick the veil of the sky, and you imagine the scientists, ears cupped. Waiting.

Author Bio:

Sara Hills is the author of The Evolution of Birds, winner of the 2022 Saboteur Award for Best Short Story Collection. Her stories have been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 and The Best Small Fictions, as well as widely published in anthologies and magazines. Originally from the Sonoran Desert, Sara lives in Warwickshire, UK and tweets from @sarahillswrites


Judge’s Comment:

When I reached the end of this incredible story, I immediately wanted to read it again. The narrator references “a great magic”, and for me, this could be applied to the piece itself. It is both vast and small, quiet and loud. Like the St. Louis’ Gateway Arch where the story takes place, there is a wonderful sense of architecture here, a build and a build as we wait to discover what is meant by that initial reference to an “accident”. Then the end is such a powerful image of suspense, the clever word choice of “newborn” to describe the stars, the weight of that final word – “waiting”.

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