Magic realism flash fiction about remembrance.
I keep my late husband’s heart in a lacquered chest on the hearth. Sometimes, on quiet days, I take it out and it sings to me. Its voice is not like any human voice, nor any instrument I know, but it makes its own music in its own way. A piping, keening sound, like wind from another place blowing through, carrying with it noises peculiar to that place.
My husband never sang when he was alive, though he’d whistle when he disappeared out onto the hills on some nature foray. Even when we went abroad on a call to identify a rare species, the sound of his whistling would float back to me in the hotel when he went off for the day. I sometimes wished he’d learn something classical — perhaps Peer Gynt, something pastoral to fit his surroundings — but he preferred the punk and post punk of our youth. I’d walk down to meet him later, after I’d finished with my own adventures, and pick him out across a field, or through a forest of tents, by the whistled strains of ‘Gordon is a Moron’ and ‘Shot from both Sides’.
He knew when his time was coming. Some people get the knack of using their senses better than the rest of us. He heard it as he could hear the sounds of birds in a field and differentiate every one. He saw it with the same practiced sight he’d used to spot a tiny gall on the leaf of a tree and point it out to me or one of our young nieces. He sensed it with the same patient care he’d taken to identify a flower that had yet to bloom, or guess the family of one he was seeing for the first time. When the world spoke to him, he heard.
“I’m going to get some last use out of this bloody thing, before it conks out on me,” he’d said, smacking his chest in a way that made me jump. He assured me he wouldn’t be long. Even then, he rang me each night, from each place he visited. Sometimes the sounds of the place could be heard in the background and I’d close my eyes and picture him there. Although he never said, I could hear in his voice he wasn’t sure he’d made the right choice to travel when he could have been with me. But he didn’t want to count down the days. He was never one to sit still and wait for time to pass him by.
When he returned from his last adventure, he came through the door and planted his heavy bag on the ground like a full stop. Here we are to stay. We spent those last months together, every day, out in the garden, over the hills beyond the stone wall. I listened to every one of his observations and collected them all up and we never said a thing about how attentive I’d suddenly become.
It was in the funeral parlour that I first learned what he’d done on his final journey. I’ll likely never know how. They brought his heart out to me like a jewel, a shimmering red stone, like bloody amber, hard and bright and veined with gold filigree.
“Would you like us to put it in a box?” they asked. I nodded mutely, too shocked to respond.
But now, when I sit back in my chair and trace my fingers over the cool, glasslike surface, stroke the curling gold veins until they warm to my touch, I understand. On that final journey, in each place he stopped, he listened as only he could. I close my eyes and feel the slight vibration, hear the music of each place as he heard it, as his heartsong echoes in mine. At the edge of sound I can almost hear him whistle some wholly inappropriate song.