Abigail Austin

Atticus Black was no ordinary boy.

Well, he was ordinary in the sense that he loved soccer and so on, kicked footballs and flew kites and would occasionally get into fights, but he was different in the sense that he saw and smelt things that other little boys didn’t see or smell. But more importantly, he felt everything.

If he saw a kid being bullied, he felt the injury as keenly and personally as the day his parents decided to separate. If he scored a goal in soccer, his heart exploded into a trillion pieces, nearly killing him. Some days, it was as though his heart were as heavy as led, and others, it was as brilliantly bright and light as a fire-engine-red balloon.

There were thousands of other substances, forms and colors his heart would take on from day to day, and as his legs lengthened, arms stretched and voice lowered, he began to realize how extra-ordinary he was. 
This worried him. 
Standing out wasn’t his strong suit.

He found himself hurt more than happy and unsure more than certain about almost everything. What he should have for lunch and who he should have it with, all of these simple things became so very big and a few of the very Atticus Black-like the things he did, like painting, trumpeting and saying it how it is, received smirks and cold cringes. Things that felt so natural, honest and good. Friends started to compete for things that seemed awfully strange to compete for. The world in which he had grown, which was full of love, consideration and carefully constructed kind words, suddenly became a competition.

Why did Mrs. Martin insist that he have potential and should therefore pass every test with flying colours? Why did his best friend, Damien, begin to look at him like some kind of threat? The more he did to be unnoticed and non-threatening, the more fluroscent he became and with age his own company, which used to be a palace of curiosity and comfort, converted into a claustrophobic cage. 
“Different” had never been something to strive for. How did this happen? He wondered. 
A cloud of concern began following him everywhere he went and he wasn’t really sure why or what had changed. Nothing bad had happened, nothing had actually happened. But he saw himself differently and in some strange way that had altered everything. He tried to ignore the cloud of concern and got about his business — kicking goals, playing music, passing tests with colours that flew and trying to say things how they were, but nothing quite seemed the same.

One Tuesday, mid-March, he arrived home after a long, sticky day with a headful of tests and a handful of homework. His mother casually asked how the day had been while she worked on her computer. 
“Okay,” He replied. 
“Just okay?” She inquired. 
“It was fine.” 
“Is fine better than okay?” 
“Yeah, fine is better than okay. Everyone knows that” he said as he dumped down his school bag and switched on his ipad. 
His mother came to the door with the strangest of strange expressions. 
“I think there is something in the garden for you.” Atticus looked up with a crinkled nose. 
“For me?” 
“Yeah.” He racked his brain. 
“What?” She smiled a knowing smile and left the room before laughing out loud. “You will have to go and see!” She said, rushing into the garden. Atticus slowly got up, his mind moving a million miles a minute. 
He walked out into the hot-orange afternoon and looked around his backyard. Nothing. 
He looked to his mother. 
“There is nothing here.” 
“Look a little closer.” 
He focused his eyes and surveyed his surroundings — a pale green, sun-bleached outdoor table with two dusty chairs, his sky-blue bicycle, a well-worn football and a tiny, brown fluff of something sitting in the corner of the garden walls. 
He moved in closer. There, hiding between the overgrown grass…was the most beautiful, sweet chocolate-coated, fury rabbit. 
Atticus’ heart skipped three or four beats and he slowly crept up to the creature, as not to scare it away. It was very difficult, every part of the boy wanted to pounce on the animal and crush him with caresses, but he had learned that you can’t do that. You must be careful with small things. You must be as soft as they are. 
Atticus crouched down in front of the baby and slowly reached out his hand. The fur was as soft as the finest velvet and as scooped him up in his arms he forgot every single one of his worries. They washed faster than a waterfall and he sat down and lifted the rabbit into the air. His tiny white feet kicked a little but eventually calmed. Attics rubbed the rabbit´s nose with his. There was a stillness between them, mesmerized with each other´s eyes and Atticus Black fell in love for the first time.

He could not stop smiling.

He called the baby Boo and he asked his mother if Boo could live in his bedroom. 
“He has a cage in the laundry. He will sleep there…and during the day you can take him out the back.” 
Atticus reluctantly accepted this, as he thought it was wrong that a baby, a best friend, would not sleep in a proper bed, but as his mother had brought him Boo he tried best not to sulk too much about it.

He found some old peach-coloured fabric that only had a few stains on it and padded out the cage so Boo would be comfortable. 
“You have to feed him this food every day and check his water. This is very important. If you don’t take care of Boo…he could get sick. It’s a big responsibility.” 
Atticus didn’t listen too carefully to the words. He knew how to look after Boo. He knew exactly how to look after him and he would. He would never forget a feeding and he would never let Boo be thirsty…but most importantly, he would make sure that Boo would never be lonely. This was extremely important and Atticus thought long and hard about ways to make Boo feel loved…but what would Boo do when he was at school? 
Atticus felt a film of cold sweat rise thinking about this. He looked Boo in the eye with worry. Boo blinked and twitched his nose and hopped up on the computer. Atticus laughed. 
“Boo Boo the office man.” He lifted him up and fell back onto floor and pressed Boo into his chest firmly. 
He stroked Boos floppy ears back and closed his eyes and Boo began licking the salty sweat of Atticus’ skin. It tickled terrifically and Atticus laughed again. 
 He would give Boo so much love and affection that he would have some left over for when Atticus was at school or his father’s house. He knew exactly how to look after this Boo.

Atticus took 52 photos of Boo and took them into his school and showed them to his friends. Every comment about cute Boo brought him a bomb of joy and days seemed so much easier, funnier, sillier since Boo’s arrival. 
He would rush home from school each day, drop his back, unlock the latch on Boo´s cage and take him out the back so he could jump around while Atticus did his homework, and over time they became quite a team. 
It was strange the relationship with Boo. Boo knew things without Atticus uttering a word and it was easy and as he did his English homework he wondered if we really need words at all.

Not long after Boo arrived, Mrs Martin introduced a new boy from England, Adrian Robert, and he was very funny, super smart and excellent at football. Atticus liked him. Everyone liked him. Especially Damien.

Damien and Atticus were insperable. They sat next to each other in science class every day, they were on the same soccer team, they spent weekends together, they texted each other before school, during school (even though it wasn’t allowed) and after school, and they made plans to go to the same high school and save up some money to fly to Spain to see real Madrid play before starting at the same university. 
Only a summer ago, Damien went away to a camp and when he returned he was moody and looked down a lot. Atticus asked him how the summer was and while playing his Nintendo, Damien said “It was fine, but I prefer to spend my summer at your house…You know how I feel about people who aren’t us.” 
It was such a clever, funny and nice thing to say. Atticus loved Damien like a brother and this clever, funny thing confirmed that Damien saw Atticus as a brother, too and having a brother was very important to Atticus and like with Boo, he took the responsibility very seriously.

That was until the new boy came.

As the weeks went by, Atticus felt as though he rarely saw Damien’s eyes or face. Damien’s face was always towards the new boy and slowly over time Atticus felt that he had somehow been squeezed out of his own story. He was now a spectator of brothers’ world and not in it. He wondered if he were imagining it. He must be imagining. But today, when the bell rang to indicate the end of lunch and Atticus wandered into science class, Damien was sitting at their desk…next to Adrian. 
Adrian was sitting in Atticus’ seat, slapping his hand down on Atticus’ desk, smiling Atticus’ smiles, laughing Atticus’ laughs. 
Atticus felt cold and hot at the same time. His heart fell with a thud to his feet through his knees, making it impossible to move. He stood, frozen, staring at the two oblivious boys waving their arms around, excited by each other´s conversation. 
The Asian boy that never got sat next to, noticed this betrayal and Atticus moved quickly to take a seat next to him, pretending that this was normal and nothing mattered.

Mr. Dunt entered, “Good afternoon everyone. Quiet please.” 
Everyone except Damien and the new boy quietened down.” 
“Atticus and Damien if you don’t be quiet I am going to have to separate you.” 
Quiet, smug laughter released from the class at this error and Mr. Dunt looked to Atticus and apologized. 
“Sorry, Atticus, I mean Adrian.” 
This apology was a hot-pink highlighter through his shame. Atticus bit his lip and clenched his muscles.

Mr. Dunt started talking about Bunsen burners and blue flames while Atticus held his agony in. Like not being able to release a long-held breath, his lungs started to ache and his eyes itched. 
The boy that never got sat next to, looked to Atticus through the corner of his eye with concern. Atticus turned his face to the wall and kept it there until class ended and left quickly. 
When he arrived home he quietly walked into the house, hearing every single sound. The bedroom door opening, his bag hitting the floor, the cars slowly moving past outside. The silence around these sounds was thick and hard to push through. He walked into the laundry and heard Boo bustling around. 
He unlocked the latch, pulled Boo out and took him into the living room. He noticed that his hands were shaking now and he suggested they stop as not to scare Boo. 
He sat down on the lounge, placed Boo on his lap and stroked his long soft ears. They were quite a comfort.

As Atticus felt the death of his brother bolt through his bones his face turned purple-red and a hot stream of tears melted down his cheeks. 
“Cry” said a soft voice. 
And Atticus’ heart erupted like a volcano and a long chilling moan escaped from his mouth. 
Boo jumped from his arms and hid in the corner. Atticus lay on the floor face down and screamed all the way to hell through the grey carpet. 
After some time had passed, and his heart had had its way with him, he lay there, a crumpled heap of boy bones and black thoughts. 
“I’m hungry”, said the small voice from before. 
Atticus jumped up and looked around the room. 
“Who’s there?” He glanced out the window. His mother’s car was not in the driveway, there is no one else here, he thought. 
Boo hopped to the centre of the room. 
Atticus stood staring at Boo, wondering if he had lost his mind. 
“You haven’t,” said the rabbit. 
“You haven’t lost your mind.” 
Atticus ran to the bathroom, washed his face and quickly returned to the living room. 
“I’m still hungry” said Boo. 
Atticus blinked and rubbed his eyes with his hands. 
“Animals can’t talk” he said to himself. 
“Okay, if you don’t want me to talk I won’t talk…but can you please get me a carrot? I am so hungry and you promised to look after me.” 
Boo looked up longingly. 
Atticus stood still. Frozen. 
“A CARROT!” Boo ordered angrily. 
Atticus jumped and rushed to the kitchen, pulled out a carrot, brought into the living room and placed it on the floor. 
Boo’s paw pressed together with glee. 
“Yay! Thank you!” 
He began gnawing on the carrot. 
Atticus watched on in amazement as Boo ate. And after a few moments Boo said.. 
“I am sorry about your friend”. 
Atticus answered without thinking. 
“He’s not my friend anymore.” But then he caught himself. 
“Wait, this is crazy. I … wait I …How can you speak?” 
“Well,” said Boo with his mouthful. 
Atticus screwed up his face. 
“Magic isn’t real.” 
“I know magic isn’t real. Real is real and magic is magic.” 
Atticus looked confused. 
“No, what, but…you know what I mean…” 
“I promise I don’t.” He was half way through the carrot and had not slowed down but then suddenly stopped and looked serious. 
 “Don’t tell anyone I speak.” 
 “I like it here. If you tell people I speak then I won’t speak ever again and everyone will think you are crazy…and you aren’t crazy. 
He started eating again. 
“I know secrets are hard to keep, especially big ones. But we are friends, no?” 
Atticus nodded. 
“Well, my friend, I need you to keep this secret.”

Atticus was answerless
 “Swear on your life” Insisted the rabbit.
“I swear.” 
“On your life.” Pushed the rabbit.
“On my life.” 
“As I was saying before, I’m sorry about…” 
“It’s fine.” 
Boo stood up on his hind legs and looked serious. 
“It is NOT fine.You don’t have to lie with me. That’s what friends are for.” 
Atticus smiled… “It was a bit shit.” 
“There we go. Good. I am happy to hear it.” 
“You’re happy that I am sad?” 
“No, I am happy that you still have a heart. Sometimes people forget they have one and bump into it every now and again and be good to each other. Some lose it forever. Some hearts harden into stone. If your heart is hot-sad, like a lump of lava, its alive.” 
Atticus smiled an even bigger smile. Boo was the best and his words were softer than his fur. 
Atticus got him another carrot and floated with the idea of his magic, secretly-speaking rabbit. 
“Another one! Woot!” Boo did a little hop dance and Atticus laughed out loud. 
When his mother came home he pretended that everything was normal and that he hadn’t had the worst and best day ever. It was hard to keep such an incredible secret stored and he almost screamed “I HAVE A MAGIC RABBIT THAT SPEAKS!”… but he remembered what he had promised Boo and silenced himself. 
“How was school?” Asked his mother as she cried chopping onions. 
“It was okay.” He replied. 
“Just okay?” 
“It was fine.” 
“Is fine better than okay?” 
“Of course, everyone knows that.”

As he got up to leave the kitchen, he walked over to his mother and hugged her tightly. She was taken aback as he hadn’t done this for quite a long time. She tried to memorize every millisecond of the moment before it quickly passed.

Later that night, Atticus and his mother ate spaghetti and watched the news and the reporter spoke of a baby boy that had been washed up onto a beach in Greece. He had blue shorts, a red shirt and looked like Atticus’ little cousin. 
“What happened to this boy?” Atticus inquired.

“Well,” His mother awkwardly began. “He is from a country that has a lot of war…and…he and his family tried to escape on a small boat. But it can be very dangerous on the sea in a small boat…the boat was tipped…and he drowned.”

Atticus’ soul iced blue and the flavor fell from the food in his mouth.

“We should go and get these people and bring them here.” 
His mother looked over to him with a thousand things to say and wondered how to word them. 
“We should… but we can’t.” 
“It’s illegal.” 
“Illegal? What?” 
“To live in other countries without papers…yes.” 
But the world is the world, thought the boy and a baby is a baby. 
His mother pilled up their finished plates and headed toward the kitchen. 
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of thing in the world that don’t make sense.” 
 She thought about continuing the conversation but changed her mind.

“The soccer will be on soon”, she said.

But Atticus could not get the dead baby from his mind. And when he was in bed that night he tossed and turned thinking of the baby on the boat thrashing about, about the baby on the boat choking on black water, about the baby on the boat begging for breath.

He turned on the light and went out the back and sat with Boo in the laundry. Like he always did when he was blue, he pressed Boo to his chest and felt his racing, pea-sized heart pedal blood around his small body. 
After an hour or so, he pulled Boo back, preparing to put him in the cage and noticed a small red patch of blood on his white feet. 
“Boo, you’re bleeding!” 
Boo looked to his foot and then back to Atticus. 
“No, I´m not…you are.” 
Atticus looked down and noticed a small blood stain on the left-hand side of his chest. He quickly took off his shirt to find the source of the spill and wiped away the blood, but there was no cut, or scratch, or wound, or pimple…nothing. 
Slowly, a little more blood seeped through the pores of his skin. He wiped it again with his hand in horror and jumped up. 
“Don’t worry,” said Boo. 
“What is this?” Atticus voice trembled. 
“Your heart is bleeding… It’s a good thing.” 
“A good thing! Mum! MUM!” 
“Get it off me!” Tears of terror started to fall. 
“SHHHHHHH, you will just worry her and the doctors won’t be able to explain it. It’s extremely rare. 0.00001% of the population have a bleeding heart.” 
“Am I sick?” 
“What is this?!” 
“Sit down! Sit down.” 
Atticus sat down, still shaking, heart racing. 
“Shhh. You´re not sick… You´re sensitive.” 
“EXREMELY sensitive. Most people´s hearts don’t bleed. Some people´s heart metaphorically bleed, but your heart, your heart literally bleeds. I have heard of this happening before.” 
“What do you mean?” 
“The men with the bleeding hearts.” 
“Am I going to die?!” 
“No, no, no ,no well…probably not.” 
“SHH…you will wake your mother, relax, relax, relax, relax… you won’t die in the way that you´re thinking…but…if you have such a sensitive heart you feel things very strongly. 
Atticus’ eyes were wired with worry and begging the rabbit for answers. 
“The world can be very beautiful yet rough for most people.” Started Boo.“For bleeding hearts its …the bleeding hearts are the heartbeats of the whole world. They feel for the men who have forgotten how. They cry for the kids who aren’t allowed to. They speak for the souls who aren’t heard. The hearts are ten times more delicate and breakable and extremely important. You must become a very strong person to hold such a heart as this one. Sometimes, when the heart feels too much it bleeds a touch through the skin. That’s what happened to you tonight…and it will happen again.”

Atticus looked down to his chest as he took all this information in and then quickly rejected it. 
“But I don’t want a bleeding heart! I want a normal heart!” 
“Well, that’s like me saying I don’t want to be a rabbit, I want to be Christiano Ronaldo. You get what you´re given and you make magic where you can.” 
Atticus sat back against the wall and his face fell. 
“You should be happy, Atticus. This is exciting. I´m excited.” 
“Excited? I don’t want to be weird, or rare or sensitive.” 
Boo jumped up onto Atticus´ lap and climbed onto his shoulder and whispered in his ear. 
“The bleeding hearts can see and smell and taste things that most men can’t. Food tastes better, naked women look more naked, for the bleeding hearts the world is technicolor.” 
Atticus turned to Boo. 
“But the bad things are blacker.” 
“Yes.” Boo replied as his small shoulders dropped. He placed his paw on Atticus’ cheek. 
“And those days and deaths, mistakes and tragedies pinch you in places most men don’t know exist…and it calls you…. To do something. To move things. To make magic. To fight impossible fights. To kiss ugly pains.” 
Atticus looked Boo right in the eye. 
“I am not going to lie to you, the bleeding heart has killed some men, but…it has made heroes of many… You have the heart of a superhero Atticus Black… 
Atticus gulped. 
“…What are you going to do with it?” 
Atticus looked away, stunned into a pensive silence.

He sat in the dead quiet for some time, sponging up all the rabbit’s words. 
Everything, finally, sort of made sense. He had a bleeding heart and he would now have to learn how to hold it. 
He brushed Boo’s fur against his confused face and kissed him goodnight. 
As he turned out the light and walked out of the room, Boo pushed his face between the wires of the cage and Atticus forced a smile. 
He shuffled back to his small room and lay wide awake for two more hours until finally falling asleep in a pile of question marks.

When he woke up the next day he felt different, tingly, a slight strength in his skin. He had a shower, ate breakfast, dressed in his light-blue school uniform and went through his forever-growing pile of forgotten things until he found a large yellow, circular smiley faced badge that his grandfather had given him for his birthday. He looked himself in the mirror as he pinned the smiley face on the left of his chest, covering the bleeding heart.

He looked at himself in the eye with resolve, grabbed his bag and walked outside. The morning buses moaned like large whales as they drove by, the sun filtered down through the gaps in the trees, flicking him with warm licks of light. Mrs. Johnson was watering her plants and yelling at a homeless dog who was shitting on her sidewalk, she dropped the hose and it sprayed up at her, making her light pink nightgown transparent. A girl with long hair and even longer legs ran passed him in short shorts, she smelled of a jasmine, lime and shampoo .

And as Atticus Black sat down on his bus stop bench, that was now covered in the royal purple flowers of a Jakoranda tree, he thanked his lucky stars for his brown rabbit…and his bleeding heart.

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