At the anarchist’s gathering. Suddenly, there is this girl with a hank of keys clipped onto the belt of her jeans which hang loosely on her narrow hips. She walks slowly, keys clanking, short white hair matted, a dark swirl tattooed onto the back of her neck. Some people look at her as if they’re trying to figure out a complicated math equation, while others look away. A friend of the anarchist, the first person you met when you moved here, tells you that she has been away for years. No one knows where. Or what the keys lock and unlock. But like something unearthed, a relic or a curse, she has returned.
“She lived here for a while after she went to India,” he says. “And once she painted a third eye on her forehead, held a .38 revolver to someone’s head this other time.”
You notice that his eyes are slightly crossed and a deep shade of blue that reminds you of twilight.
“A revolver?” There is something about the way he stands, some way he holds himself that seems familiar and safe.
“What happened?” You ask.
“She just disappeared after that.”
It is summer. She wears a tank top and the bones of her shoulders move like stones in water. She knows people here, touches them gently with a slim pale hand as she passes. Navigating the room like an ancient mariner. You wonder if everyone she talks to is trying to be polite because of the gun incident.
People drift in and drift out. Ambient music plays, bottles of beer are emptied and the general atmosphere is one of casual anxiety. The kind you get so used to that you barely notice it. Someone wheels in a television set. A most famous talk show hostess, the Queen of Daytime TV, holds a book in her ample lap and speaks to her guest, a tall woman with lavish hair the color of wheat, dressed in expensive jeans and a slim gray blazer.
The hostess leans slightly towards the woman, a look of intense devotion on her face, “in your book you’ve concluded that if I think of negative things, negative things will happen to me?”
“Yes,” replies the woman, lively and all-knowing. “I have done extensive research to this end. Thinking in addition to belief, create your reality.” The audience applauds and cheers.
The anarchist has rigged the television to a 40-foot extension cord and two of his squad wheel it out to the flat roof. Some from the group follow. Others salute them with their beer bottles as they pass and gaze towards the open door. The girl with the keys stands apart from everyone.
“This is important, it resonates,” beams the hostess. She turns to the audience and holding up the book proclaims, “everyone needs to read this book. It will save your life”.
The anarchist turns up the volume. The two women yell back and forth “if you believe you’re unlovable”…”you will ultimately create that in your life!” The TV audience screeches as the television is lifted off its stand and hurled over the side of the building.
“She speaks the truth,” echoes and descends and the shattering crash turns into an explosion on the street below.
It’s late when you are back in your apartment and your head is too full for sleep. On the way to the bathroom you stop to pull down the shade of one of the windows. Outside is a narrow balcony just large enough to stand on. It is flanked by a low wrought iron railing. There you grow lettuce. A variety that does well in harsh weather, according to the back of the seed packet, with light green leaves and a loose heart. You wonder if this is a strange thing to do in the midst of the turmoil around you but think it could be a good thing too, something hopeful. And then you think of your own loose heart. Of its disorder and disobedience and how before you even know what is happening, it attaches itself to whoever will have it.
You think back to the gathering. To the strange key-toting girl and comforting presence of the anarchist’s friend. The influential talk show hostess. And the self-help book which coincidentally, someone has given to you as an unwanted gift. The book that would probably demand you tighten up your heart or face creating a life of stray and impermanent love.
You lie on top of the bed quilt. Streetlight glows behind the thin window curtain and it takes a few seconds for you to hear it. Metal softly striking metal up the staircase. You sit up, go to the door. On the other side pages turn. You remember leaving the book out there hoping someone might steal it. Peering down through the peephole you can see the top of her white head.
You wait. When finally you unlock the door she is gone. But the book is still there and it looks like some of the pages have been roughly torn out. You stare at the banister; gloom settles over the worn wooden floorboards. Everything is seen through the lens of sheer exhaustion and you remember a few years ago after your old life ended, believing that anything would be possible. You believed that this new life would open up and welcome you. But in some ways it has locked you out and turned away, exposing deep, cold places. Places containing the shadow side of memory with its elusive figures and incomplete stories.
You stand at the open door in your sweatpants and bare feet for what feels like too much and no time at all. It is unexpectedly quiet here at night, you think. An elegant quiet; grace among the ruins held tightly within this insular part of the city, its fugitive heart beating so softly it can barely be heard, except on nights like this.
‘Fugitive Heart’ (c) 2020 Deborah McMenamy. First published by Labello Press in ‘At Love’s Altar’
Revised version (c) 2022 Deborah McMenamy
All rights reserved