Sunday, May 30 2021

from the homework vault: the golden heart

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This short story it titled "The Golden Heart". I wrote it for the my high school newspaper, circa 2007.

CHRISTMAS IS A JOVIAL THING. And it should be, in reverence to our almighty Saviour’s birth. Christmas is beautiful, grand, and elegantly joyous as a final crescendo to the symphony of the earthly year.

Christmas Eve is an entirely different species (possibly genus) as far as an individual’s sense of well-being. The Eve of Christmas is a curious occurrence that everyone remembers to forget. Words are softer while thoughts grow louder to a competing symphony of their own – perhaps a cacophony to some. It is the biting weather, no doubt, that draws a man inward; for, as he folds his arms and dips his head into his chest to keep warm, there is an overwhelming possibility that he may catch a glimpse of his own heart and, if he is so tragically destined for strife, hear it beat.

A certain Lucian Ebenezer had honed a keen dexterity in avoiding this travesty of mind. All work was he – always “tight-fisted at the grind stone” as it were. To him, Christmas Eve was just another Monday (it was indeed Monday). There he sat in that fluorescent, whitewashed sepulcher of a cubicle hammering away at an innocent keyboard. Trust me, it matters not his vocation or purpose – just mind that he was laboring diligently as he always was. Strung upon a youthful, yet inanimate face was a pair of colorless eyes that blinked when they pleased under a dense hairline of deep charcoal black. He was of relatively typical, if not leaner proportions, and would have even been a gentleman of good company if his lips knew how to smile and his lungs could deliver a laugh. Furthermore, he was adorned in a conventional dress shirt, tie, and slacks.

“A merry Christmas to you, my friend,” said Mr. Cricket, now leaning upon the wall of the cubicle. He was almost corpulent with joy and his face radiated a kindly red hue. Lucian responded in the tune of a somber dirge.

“Humbug.” Cricket animatedly raised an ear.

“Come again?”

“Humbug,” muttered Lucian again. Cricket shook his head sighed.

“What is that Latin? I don’t know what you’re sayin’.” Lucian changed not his stoic visage as Cricket continued. “You should go home, Lucian. It’s Christmas Eve. I’m sure your wife doesn’t take a liking to these working hours of yours.” Lucian remained seated as Cricket shrugged and merrily bounced away.

See now, the honest truth is that Lucian’s wife (Mara was her name) was dead. Not recently, mind you, but three years past since. Lucian wasn’t hurt by Cricket’s remark, for Lucian never told a soul about his wife’s passing (which was well consistent with his character). I cannot tell you much about her, but you could certainly infer that she was a woman of extraordinary benevolence to marry a man like Lucian. But Lucian did not like to dwell on these things. They did not make him sad – just uncomfortable. Breaking his train of thought (train wreck to be particular), he rose from his chair, took up his jacket, and left his building.

The air was profoundly cold. His breath smoked as strode in methodical steps through the black lot. The parking lot was empty – save a single silver automobile. I’m going to be honest, I am largely ignorant as to what constitutes a car as expensive or luxury, but you can be sure Lucian’s car carried all these tedious facets (whatever they may be).

The ignition sputtered and the engine gave a modest roar. The stereo, as if in an act of defiance, hummed a quiet instrumental Christmas carol (I believe it was in the tune of “God Bless You Merry Gentleman”). But Lucian Ebenezer clenched his jaw and squelched the tune with the aggressive turn of a dial. He was now on his way.

The road he took to his home was a long and lonely one. It was a single lane of traffic, with not a streetlight in sight to illuminate the gravel path nestled in a quaint presence of pine trees.

Notice the snow was picking up now. It fell first in a delicate powder, then a more potent flurry, with a final progression to a furious precipitation. As always, Ebenezer showed no change in emotion. He just continued on in undisturbed apathy. Ah, but the snow was strong. It fell with a wrathful zeal united in an opaque panoramic wave. All was white, and Ebenezer himself began to worry. He was even sweating now.

The stereo at once began to scream in a hellish static as Lucian groped the panel for the dial. But the radio, the snow, and the engine roared on ‘til all was halted by a powerful jolt. Lucian lunged forth in his seat, swallowed by the inertia of a violent impact. He held his cold breath as the car rolled in the white abyss.

The car had stopped, for all he could tell. He had struck his head upon the steering wheel and was a bit dizzy. He leaned back in his seat and shut his weary eyes. He felt as if confusion itself was pumping through his veins. A steady ache now grew to an ominous pang in the center of his head, but Lucian did not cry. He just muttered to himself. The radio again started up. It resounded in broken noise and dialect.

“Shut up! Shut up!” Lucian barked, making his voice hoarse. But the radio was well amplified as Lucian clasped his ears and rocked. The cursed sound bewailed above all his objections, then shriveled to a still buzzing. Voices, clearly and stately were heard.

“In life I was your partner,” said a feminine voice “Mara Ebenezer.” Lucian’s eyes opened. His head was spinning much faster than before. The gentle voice now shouted:

“Man of the worldly mind!” Lucian wrung his hands and leaned his head upon the window, crying with heavy eyes.

“No,” he whispered. “No.” The voice was absent for some time. Ebenezer sat alone to naught but the sound of his deep, rapid breathing. His face was pressed to the icy pane of glass near him. At this point in time, Lucian was convinced something horrible was going to happen.

“Crack!” The windshield of the car snapped and fragmented. Ebenezer let out a scream as he could make out a metal link chain swinging about the car.

“Crack!” It snapped upon the window nearest to him now and proceeded to beat the car. The chain beat above and around him, swinging, scraping, and rattling in an incessant fury of blows. The radio buzzed again. The beautiful voice was heard in a now angrier tone.

“You made it link by link, yard by yard.” The clashing was heavy, distinct, and piercing.

“You gird it by your own free will, and by your own free will, you wear it!” An unholy chorus of pain filled the car. The breaking. The static. The rattling. Ebenezer moaned as the windshield shattered. His face was overrun with the warmth of blood as snow and glass poured over him. The chain was brandished before him and flung at his face. He was accordingly delivered to unconsciousness.

When he was quickened with feeling, Lucian felt as if he had been born into another world. Surrounding his vehicle was a definite wall of ice, through which only minimal beams of light crept amidst the lustrous translucence, giving the atmosphere about him an uncanny stillness. Lucian touched his face, his arms, shoulders, the door, the window, and drew a steady breath. All was restored as if the chain, the voice, and the rattling never were.

He surveyed what was around him with whip-like turns of the neck, but paused at a curious find. Beside him rested a simple black book. Grasping it with his pale stiff hands, Lucian observed this book and, naturally, proceeded to read excerpts in the sanctity of his mind.

“With money I can buy a scooter. With money I can buy a fish tank. With money I can buy a phone. With money I can buy a bike. With money I can buy a car. With money I can buy a phone. With money I can buy roller skates. With money I can buy a boat. With money I can buy a steak. With money I can buy computers. With money I can buy TV. With money I can buy a pool. With money I can buy clothes. With money I can buy gold.”

The words, written in a manner that would have been quite illegible to most, were dull to Lucian, for the mindless list was persistent and painfully repetitive. Lucian turned toward the middle of the book and read on:

“With money I can buy a job. With money I can buy a skill. With money I can buy friends.”

Lucian paused as his heart leapt. The words were agonizing and abusive. He paused for a brief time, turned to the end of the book and continued to now read audibly:

“With money I can buy a family. With money I can buy a wife. With money I can buy Heaven. With money I can buy love. With money I can buy truth. With money I can buy creativity. With money I can buy fame. With money I can buy knowledge. With money I can buy beauty. With money I can buy meaning. With money I can buy dreams. With money I can buy…”

His voice cracked. His shoulders, arms, and hands were shaking. These words were like an arid wind. Lucian burst into piteous tears, for he had realized that he could quote every word that lay in this horrible list. Each and every word was buried in memory. He turned his attention to the final clause, reading aloud.

“With money, I can buy LIFE.”

Lucian was broken, frail, and dead. His vision was blurred. Grief was heavy upon his chest as his world churned and writhed. He was hopelessly trapped in a prison of ice with no company but his own filthy heart. Lucian hung his head low. His face swelled with anger.

“This is not me!” Lucian cursed in a deafening rasp. “My life is mine!” Lucian flailed his arms and beat his chest in a delirium of rage, but his throat was caught up. Lucian turned wildly and swung a clenched fist, but ceased movement. It was a man of old age sitting beside him. The individual convulsed in pain, wincing with a pair of colorless eyes shaded by a disheveled matt of gray hair. The old man clutched Lucian’s arm as he held his heart.

“Are you having a heart attack?” Lucian stared at the man intently. His thin lips were blue. His pain was profound and tragic. He opened his mouth, and with a strained contraction of his leather throat spoke:

“I have nothing.” Lucian held the man in his arms as he gave up his weary ghost – his colorless eyes rolling back into his head. The radio crackled and roared, and the voice was invigorated again.

“My dear Lucian: a heart cannot beat once it has turned to gold.”

“Tell me Mara! Is this what is to come?” The voice cried with Lucian with an angelic weeping. Lucian turned toward the Heavens, dark and lonesome as they were. His world held still. Tension was surmounted in his soul. At that moment, he collided with all the sorrow he had wrought, hungered for the love he had lacked, and at once wished to vomit all the wealth he had diligently hoarded with his cold hands. His thoughts stopped. He crossed his arms and hung his head low.

“Thump.” Lucian’s face tightened as he bent a little lower. “Thump.” It was his heart throbbing strangely to a different tune. The man was gone now and the radio silent. The air began to glimmer. Lucian shifted toward the back of the car. He beheld a wondrous orange glow. Water pattered and slid along all the windows. The ice was melting. He could see a bit clearly now.

But soft! It was the sun; it hung elegantly in the East sky hurling glorious light to everything. Lucian, with a great deal of effort, muscled the car door open. Ice fell to the ground as he stepped out. Lucian stretched and proceeded to laugh. His house stood before him, as his silver car rested on his driveway.

“I have much to do,” he said. “I have much to do.” Lucian dipped his head low once again. His heart was throbbing joyously (and what a beautiful sound it was!).