This Story is Not About You
Words By Jeremy Bibaud, Art By Alexis Diaz & INTI
When you stand by the river outside your home, when the sun scatters itself across the water’s surface and reveals its silver scales, your mind goes to his grey arms hanging limp down the sides of the final chest he ever crafted. The gold inlay on the polished trunk corners was left incomplete. You finished it for him before you moved your mentor’s body. It was difficult to work around him, but necessary. The chest held his heart, as is custom with all arkwrights.
He taught you the body is a series of chests stacked on top of one another. The feet are chests containing 26 bones each. The hands are similar, but with 27. The head, another chest housing your mind. The body’s trunk, never to be called a chest lest you confuse an arkwright, houses your organs. The heart is not considered part of the trunk. It is a chest within a trunk. These are the lessons that flood back to you as you stand at the workshop table and stare down in silence at your own creation.
The lid is rounded and stained a rich, dark brown that appears as coal in the dim light of this space. You fashioned trunk corners similar to your mentor’s. The candle flames dance yellow across the patterns grooved into the metal and splash onto tiny emeralds embedded into the very grain of the wood. It is otherworldly. A fitting home for the heart of an arkwright.
But you are not yet thirty years old and this will not be your last chest. You seek not the next life, but a brief repose from feeling the current one.
So here you are, standing above its curved lid, with a thin blade stuck between your ribs, blood quickly pouring from the incision. With your free hand you flip open the chest and the blood pools in its base. Your arms tingle. You remove the blade with a quaking hand and set it on the table beside the box. You pull the skin on your trunk to the side and reach inside yourself, feeling for your heart. Organs and muscle mush against one another as you push them to the side. Bone blocks your progress. You reach too far in and feel your fingertips slide across slick spine. It straightens at your touch. Your heart is further up. You feel it beating against your forearm and adjust your position until your trembling hand coils around it. You pull it out.
You are scared to look at it so you close your eyes and lay it to rest on the floor of the chest. It smacks as it falls onto its side in the shallow pool of blood collecting at the bottom. You close the lid, then the wound.
You leave your workshop and walk the dusty path along the idle river. The sky, pink and yellow earlier, now appears a dismal gray. You slowly push the door to your home open, not wishing to disturb your family. You take a deep breathe in and it releases in small, short bursts. Your lungs stretch out to fill the hole where your heart was and the extra room allows them to swing inside of you like laundry on a line at every exhale.
You enter your room. Your wife is asleep. You step lightly to the closet and pull out the suit jacket, pants, shirt, and tie you planned to wear to the wedding. The outfit seems drab to you now. You dress and go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Your children wake first and eat.
Your wound spots your white shirt with red dots so you button your jacket.
Your wife enters from the front door. You didn’t even see her leave. She smiles. She left for a morning walk while you were making breakfast. You look handsome, she says. She doesn’t eat, but leaves to dress for the wedding.
You walk to the church together. She holds your hand. Your son gets a grass stain on his only pair of nice pants. Your daughter eats a bug. These things do not bother you. You find an open pew near the middle of the church and sit down. The other guests arrive. They mingle, they laugh. You don’t.
Men in tuxedos approach the front of the church. They take their appointed spots beside a priest. Women in unflattering dresses do the same. The bride enters. You dated once, four years ago. You wanted children; she didn’t. She marches by. Her eyes linger on yours. She continues. They are married. They kiss. You watch dust swirl through a red beam of light cast from a high stained glass window, not because it’s beautiful, but because it’s the only thing moving. The ceremony ends. You leave.
Your wife heads inside your home to prepare lunch. You walk to your workshop. You are not afraid anymore. You aren’t anything anymore. You open the lid to your chest.
There are two hearts where there should only be one.
The second one is smaller. You wrap steady fingers around the larger of the two and, spreading your wound open again, reinstate the heart in its proper position.
Your lungs cease their fluttering and with each breath you begin to feel again. Color returns, along with fear and heartache. Emotion grips you with a baby’s grasp, strangely unexpected and surprising. You press down on the lid as if the unknown heart might spring forth like a jack-in-the-box.
Whose heart is this?
Your mind wanders back. You see her eyes again as they pass. You did teach her your craft when you were together.
You close the door to your workshop. You lock it even. You stand by the river, its depths three shades of blue and full of life. Trout leap from it; a whitetail drinks from its cool surface. The sun warms your face. You think of her and imagine expressing thoughts buried so deep dust will gather on your lips.
You walk the trail back to your home. Your step is lighter. You enter the kitchen where your wife, still in the formal clothes she wore to the wedding, looking grayer by the day, by the hour, even, has prepared soup and sandwiches. Your children eat greedily and do not note your presence. You decide then, in that moment, to leave them.
You sit at the table and take a bite of the sandwich. The bread is fresh and sweetened with honey. The meat, ham, is a bright pink and the cheddar cheese satisfyingly sticks to the roof of your mouth. You wash it all down with a large glass of milk.
Your wife joins you at the table, her white blouse spotted with red dots of tomato soup.