Mollusk

An octopus has three hearts. I wind a chain around my finger three times. I clutch a silver locket in my palm. I have one heart ringing in my ears as if I have six. I breathe, slowly, steadily, certain. My one heart unravels the chain around my index finger. I pull open the Victorian arch insert in the chimney breast, reach in as cobwebs come, and replace the heart I was given. Perhaps a lost pigeon may peck at it. Otherwise, it’s just a chimney with a locket and me and my one heart. I replace the arch insert of the chimney, and I run to the bathroom. Is it really six steps from the chimney in the tiny boxroom we call the dust box to the narrow corridor which apologizes for being a bathroom?

I grab a tiny scrubbing brush and clean my nails to remove any evidence of having my hand in the chimney breast. Sitting on the toilet seat, my head in my hands, I think about the octopus, its three hearts beating. Where is he? Where have they taken him? Did he know that they were coming for him? Is that why I found a heart-shaped locket in my shoe? Everywhere I look, there is confusion … fear. Neighbours who have shared bonds across decades now see survey each other through half-closed suspicious eyes. Voices are measured, tailored for those who are listening; even the hedge sparrows are silent now. They are hurting him. Will they come for me? For my boys? Could I place the heart-shaped locket in their shoes? How could I cut it into two? We are no longer committed to need anything that is romantic or has grandeur. The word grace has been banned from our vocabulary of the state.

I am as alone as the heart-shaped locket I have hidden in a chimney. I am empty, as empty as the jar of rice that used to last forever. I have one heart and a chimney breast, and it beats too quickly, too fast, in a frantic effort to survive. My second heart, a child with a Shakespearean shining morning face, peeps up at me between the duvet and the pillow. There are the usual grumbles, waking up not wanting to go to school. Not that school is school, as it was once understood. It is a sterile, utilitarian, grey space. There is no art on the walls, and the library has been locked for five years now. Thoughts and ideas are now deemed dangerous. We can no longer find security in thinking. Our security is only to be found in doing as we’re told. We have coffee, for now. I Stir it slowly, enjoying the freedom to stir it as I please. Its aroma reminding me of freedoms I used to know. I feel the heart-shaped locket beating in the chimney as my son leaves for school. I run to the chimney-I find my locket. I hold it tightly in my hand as I run a shallow bath.

I have a little bubble bath hidden beneath a loose floorboard in search of special occasions. I dropped some in the bath; I lock the door. I rest and put my heart-shaped locket on. There is a sharpie on the side where my eldest son has been making notes. I draw a heart on my left hand and lie in the bath with my fingers in my ears. I listen to my heartbeat, glancing at the heart on my hand, and for a few moments, I am an octopus. I can glow in the dark. I can move through deep waters- I can defy authority with my stealth. I am not governed by autocracy. I am defiant. I am free, and I am with he who I love with all three of my octopus hearts. I surrender to the water as it greets me into a gentle embrace, no breeze. The door is banging. The door is banging! I stumble out of the bath naked. I remove the heart shape locket, wondering if I can get it to the chimney breast. Will they break the door down? I need time. I need time. I need time. The dog is barking. I don’t want them to take my dog. I need to do something to make her quiet. Perhaps, she’s hungry? There are pictures, pictures on the wall, Gandhi, Mother Theresa Joan of Arch. Grandparents, people from history, have I got time to rip them off and quickly push them under the bed? My son is terrified his eyes are wide, staring at me as if I can conjure some wand or genie to save us. We couldn’t save his father.

I dress so rapidly, my clothes sticking to my wet skin. I can’t bear to be separated from my heart with the heart-shaped locket or the hearts my boys carry. I push the heart-shaped locket into my youngest son’s pocket, “it’s a token from your Daddy to me. Never tell anyone, but whenever you touch it, remember we will be there. Straighten your clothes! I run down the stairs It’s my neighbour She needs help with her mother who is ill.” The relief has me in tears. I apologize. I look at my son, who cowers behind me, and we smile. My neighbour’s house is dark. Filled with crochet work. My neighbour’s hobby, a small thin cat, lies curled up on the sofa. In the light of a small quiet fire. The neighbour has left the door open, and the traffic is loud and noisy and as busy as ever. When she shuts the door, I am grateful for the pulse of the cat, feeling as if we’re in a mausoleum.

I think of my son and of what this world has become. I can’t think of his older brother. Who has been working all day, there will be no need to say “How was your day? “. The overarching relief in a hug that says you’re still here and you have come home. The clock ticks in my friend’s house, my mind flitters about like a mosquito close to a riverbank. Is my youngest surviving? Wondering whether a hand will thump me out of existence? My boys, my neighbours, my friends. The terror, the enormity of It, flays your soul while you sleep, wash the plates, sweep the floor. No matter how much your struggle or how your heart expands. Tomorrow will be another day, and the next, and the next, and the next. After long distracted wary thoughts, my neighbour and I not trusting each other, or anyone, we part with cordiality. I returned to the house and see a glimpse of the heart-shaped locket that my son is now wearing around his neck. I look at a picture of an Angel on the chimney breast downstairs that my grandfather had rescued from a derelict church in France a century ago. And I wonder, what is this all for? For the love of God seems dying, perhaps some faith remains. The people that I know, and trust ask nothing but- to simply be at peace. Breathe the fresh air, eat a slice of cake, drink a cup of tea. Bubbles winking at the rim. The smell of roses, the washing blowing gently in the wind. I take the heart-shaped locket from my son, given to me by his father, wind it up and return it to its place in the chimney and long: long for the days of barefoot paddling, food fights, generosity, friendship, time to take in breath-taking beauty; and not flinch when the door is knocked, and I can wear my locket.

I see the octopus in my head again, working itself out of a bottled jam jar on the ocean floor, dragging its hearts with it. I refuse to be told how to live in my own head. To be polluted, by whom I cannot trust. Propaganda framed in imagery, in minute nuances of coercion. I may no longer be allowed to read a book of my choice, or stand at the globe, roaring approval and shedding my tears. But my mind, my principality shall roam freely, I will wander by the streams, I will lay in cornfields, I will replay music that is no longer licensed, and I will think, and I will think, and I will think again. More than anything else, if it is the only thing I can accomplish for the rest of my life, more than anything else, I will FEEL. I may be trapped, in a jar of which I can see no escape, but even with the lid on, I can think, I can feel.


I pray that you can too.

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