The Delinquent Heart

Feb 12 2014

I showed the doctor out. “I’m sorry,” he had said when he emerged from her room, “There is nothing I can do. But please let me know if I can help in any other way.” There must be something else they can say. It sounds as though they are referring to some piece of cabinetry that can no longer be repaired. I wondered what he had told her.

I stood in the kitchen trying to think about boiling the water and assembling the tea things. I leaned against the kitchen bench and looked out the window. Some small birds were flittering from branch to branch in the tree outside and I watched them and considered their lives. Some birds pair with a partner for life, and when one bird dies, the other bird dies too. Does this mean that they feel grief? I could hear both their twittering and from her room the faint coughing of Jane, my little bird.

Abruptly a sharp pain split my chest and I grasped at it. My other hand clawed at the counter and the tip of one of my fingernails snapped off. I could feel the thumping of my heart, and its beating against my bones like a hammer. It felt enormous in my body, as though I would burst apart from its pressure. I was overwhelmed by a compulsion to contain my heart, and both my hands flew to it to press against it and quieten it. But my sternum split and all of the flesh there tore apart. My heart came out of my body and snapped the cords that bound us together. It slopped messily against the glass before squeezing through the cracked window and flying out to the tree, where it sported with itself as though one of the birds, ruffling its veins and hopping from one perch to another.

I found that my hands were pushing the edges of the rupture back together, without much precision, but purposefully, and that the torn parts were knitting together again. My ribcage realigned as though magnetised. I looked out the window, and I could still see my heart in the tree. The birds seemed to have accepted it as one of their own, and I was sure that they would soon all fly away. I had forgotten what I had meant to be doing, but I remembered the tea things in front of me and I finished making tea. When I took it in to Jane, she seemed horrified. “What’s wrong, my girl?” I asked. “Mum, your shirt is covered in blood! And all down your body!” She was right – I had forgotten to change after my heart had flown away; but I had believed that it had all been my imagination. “I killed a little bird,” I explained. “A bird, you killed a bird? What type of bird? Was it flying, or was it in a tree, or on the ground? Was it with other birds?” she said, incredulously. “I don’t know how it happened,” I replied. She looked worried, but I think that under the circumstances, there was something normal or regular about killing a bird that seemed acceptable or even to be expected. I poured the tea and handed her a cup and soon she was sipping without paying any attention to my clothing.

After that I showered. I washed with soap that Jane had given to me. My blood crept down the drain in messy swirls. I rubbed it off my chest, which was as smooth as though nothing had happened. The water felt good. But what was I doing? Life is not meant for fun; this was just a chore, I thought. Jane had called me Father. Dad. Yes, Mother, Father, that’s right, that’s who I am, and it’s good that she calls me that. But what is my name? I realised that I could not remember my name, it seemed to be gone. I couldn’t tell who I was. But it didn’t seem to matter, because I knew that there were certain things that I would need to do over the coming weeks. I didn’t know how long it would take her to die. One week or two?

We spent the next day talking about what Jane wanted done about her things, her possessions and the money that she had. She sat with her blanket around her, and it was the last day that she walked. After that I stayed beside her bed while she died. We talked about her memories of her childhood, or I read passages to her from her favourite books. She wanted to see whether they would sound different to her now that she knew she was going to die. She slept more as the days went by. I smoothed her glossy black hair and spongued the perspiration from her skin that was as clear and even as ever, but paler. I put drops in her eyes and sprayed mist in her mouth. Eventually she stopped waking up and she died in an early morning. I lay on the bed beside her body and held it in my arms. I remembered when she was a little girl and I had read stories to her on her bed and I wondered that she was dead. We seemed as close now as we had then, because then both of our hearts had been beating in our chests, and now neither of our hearts were beating in our chests.

I made a list of the things that I would have to do, and I did them. It seemed like a long list, but it was easy, because it was a process, and because I hadn’t made the list myself. It was a sequence of items that had been handed to me by my education of actions that must be completed in certain situations. I came to understand that I possessed no knowledge of who I was and that any knowledge I had previously believed in possessing had been illusory, and this made the completion of my tasks simpler. I talked to relatives and finally found myself weeping at Jane’s funeral. I wept without any emotion, and could not properly recall the cathartic sensation of crying as the liquid ran out of my eyes and onto my cheeks. After I was left alone I cleaned the house. As Jane’s directions had been completed, I found that I could no longer tell what many of the articles inside the house were intended for or who they belonged to, whether to myself, Jane, or somebody else, so that I disposed of most of the contents of the house. All the time it seemed that there was nothing that I had to do, because I had not needed to generate any idea about what to do, so that everything seemed automatic.

I sat on my kitchen step and looked at the world. I seemed not to be a part of it. I watched the birds in the tree outside the window, and noticed that my heart was not there. I realised that I had forgotten it. Had I neglected my heart? No; it had abandoned me. How could I be expected to have taken responsibility for it, when it had assumed its own independence? As I stared into the sky I detected a mournful keening sound from beneath the tree. I went to the place where it came from and kicked aside the leaf litter, and there was my heart on the ground. It appeared to be deeply wounded, and it whimpered when I picked it up.

I took it to the doctor who had attended to Jane before she died. At first his countenance fell, but when he saw my heart his features appeared to express more hope. “Everything is not lost,” he declared, “We can do something about this!” He stitched up the wound in my heart, and he put it in a jar of a clear viscous fluid where it floated and began to softly glow in its suspension, as with contentment. He asked me whether I would like it to be reinserted to my chest cavity where it belonged. I said I was not sure, and he seemed very surprised.

I took it home. Did it belong in my chest cavity? I looked at the reflection of my chest in the mirror and could not tell that anything was missing, except that I knew by my feelings that there was no heart in there. I couldn’t tell what I should do with my heart. Was it a good heart, and if it was good, then good in what sense? Was it an ethical heart, a useful heart, a healthy heart? I couldn’t answer these questions because I had been so connected to my heart while it had been in my body that it now seemed impossible to consider the matter with any objectivity, and in any case those memories seemed to be fading away. Those times seemed defined by turmoil, indecision, uncertainty. Should I barbecue my heart and consume it for the nourishment it contained, and would that be doing a murder to it?

I took it to the place where Jane was buried, and I dug into that place with a space, not deeply enough to find Jane, but deeply enough to bury something that would not be found unless someone was looking for her rather than the thing that had been buried. While I dug the whole, my heart was whimpering in its jar. As I placed it into the hole and dropped soil over it, it began to scream. But its screaming was already muffled by the glass, and as I filled in the hole its screaming was also muffled by the soil, so that when I had finished it was almost inaudible. It was a sound that could be mistaken for the consequence of a change in environment, such as coming into a silent place from a louder place. It was a sound that could be mistaken for the whistle of a strange wind. I wandered away from my heart then. I didn’t need it anymore.

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