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Undeniably a Heart

Rachel Canwell


When my father died he left behind his heart.


It tumbled from the box of ashes and broke my brother’s toe. After all those years of doubting its existence, now we couldn’t even throw it away. A carefully carved piece of the blackest stone, polished smooth. Veins, vessels, arteries, all present, all correct. Anatomically accurate. Complete. 


Undeniably my father’s.


It had, however, one tiny imperfection. Hidden—but perceptible with fingertips, from top to bottom, running like a seam—was the slightest hairline crack. 


Father  was a careful man, methodical, precise; he never mislaid things, never forgot things. So how could he so carelessly leave behind his heart?


It fell to me to guard it. My brother, limping, outraged, refused; refused to touch its onyx glow, refused to even acknowledge its existence. So it nestled in my study, amongst other amassed curios... peacock feathers, sea glass.


And now my father’s heart.


My grief was complex and consuming: despite the warm June weather, I found that I was chilled through. The insistent sun was unable to lift my spirits; it created instead dark shadows around the man I thought I knew. 


My father... 


The baby conceived in secret, given up and never reclaimed. The boy whose childhood passed in a string of institutions. Places that taught survival, self reliance and grim determination. Places short on hope. 


The man who found family life alien and difficult. Who ran his household like a ship that never found its water.


I rang my brother repeatedly, tried to get him to talk; to help me heal, help me reanimate my father’s still-warm corpse. But fear had made him mute and he stopped answering my calls. I was left to deal with things. To sift, to sort the reams of paper, bank books, useless dead objects into some semblance of order. Filled with spite, rage and shame I took to using Father’s heart as a paper weight. Made him pin down his own detritus. 


Late one night, however, I found a folder. Slim, brown cardboard, uncharacteristically unnamed, whose contents broke my heart.


In those less than twenty close-typed pages I found details of a search: one short search for his mother. Fruitless, long-abandoned, and never spoken of again. As I read each spare, impersonal detail I moved both nearer and further from my father’s soul. And again I wept alone. Endless, unseen tears.


Seeking comfort in practicality, I made endless circular phone calls and began the disposal of his things. Bonfires and charity shops became the backdrop of my days.


And in one such junk shop there it was. 


Just like my father’s. Smaller. Rounder. But essentially the same. 


Undeniably a heart. 


Hardly breathing, cupping it in shaking hands, I took it to the counter, to the shopkeeper, who looked at it and laughed.


“This strange old thing! Had it years. A house clearance I went to, some old dear. Bought this and a baby photo in a silver frame.”


He draws me in.


“I need to tell you, though. It’s got a crack…”

Rachel Canwell is a writer, reader, blogger and teacher, but not always in that order. She is currently working on her first novel and is busy falling in love with flash fiction a little more every day. Find her on Twitter @bookbound2019. 

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