I continue to be inspired by the sights in my local neighbourhood. I saw this written on a wall in a local park and it got me thinking. Why would someone write that? So I came up with a little tale…..
Sara saw it on the wall that ran around the churchyard and knew straight away that Dane had written it.
Don’t be so cold.
It was the last thing he had said to her before he walked into the study, shut the door behind him and waited for her to leave.
Sara didn’t know what to do when he did that. She really didn’t. She stood in the hallway, bags at her feet, seeing where the front door had banged against the skirting board in the wind; little filigree marks as if a tiny bird had dipped its feet in brown paint, and couldn’t move.
Dane accused her of it all the time. Coldness. Aloofness. Disinterest. Hard-heartedness. And any other related condition.
Sara saw herself in mirrors and windows sometimes and was surprised at her expressionless face. It was a face that blended right into the crowd, a background face; uncommitted.
She’d been at a funeral once. With Dane. A friend had died too young. Dane had been distraught, his face red and tear-stained. Sara stood as straight as she could, trying to rearrange her expressionless face into one of care, of compassion, but try as she might she could feel her face resolving into its usual lines.
‘Why don’t you cry?’ Dane said. ‘Look at you staring straight ahead like you’re at a school assembly. Why don’t you cry? You’re as cold as ice.’
When Sara was a baby she was visited by her mother’s Aunt Loretta. Sara didn’t remember much about Aunt Loretta except that she jingled and rustled – gold and silk. She put a lucky charm in Sara’s cot – a piece of crystal that glowed blue and white at night; a clean blue, an icy blue.
The piece of crystal stopped Sara from sleeping. She remembered her childhood as the time of deciphering the shadows on the ceiling as she endured yet another long, sleepless night. When she was able she threw the crystal out of her cot, out of her big girl bed, but her mother always put it back.
By the time Sara was six years old she’d had enough of the crystal. She got a hammer from the cupboard under the stairs and smashed the crystal up. Tiny shards like snowflakes filled the air, descending like dust.
Sara closed her eyes and mouth tight, blocking her ears to protect herself from the falling crystal pieces. After a few moments she opened her eyes. The air was clear. The icy blue light was gone. But she felt a wetness on her chest, a cold pricking like rain driven by wind. She lifted up her top and on her chest, right above her heart was a drop of blood, so small it might have been imagined. She got a tissue, wiped the blood away and saw a scar puckering the skin. Small as a pinprick but cold to the touch, cold as ice, with the puckered skin an odd sheen of icy blue.
The ice from the crystal settled around Sara’s heart. For years she tried to dislodge it, thumping herself on the chest, drinking cups and cups of really hot tea, sitting in front of the oven as close as she could bear; but nothing worked. Her heart remained encased in ice, cold and blue.
In some ways an ice-coated heart was a good thing. The hot, frenzied arms of life that grabbed everyone else Sara knew, bypassed her. She could go through life without any obstacle or crevasse in the road affecting her; as uncommitted as her face.
Sometimes the ice seemed to retreat. When Sara met Dane she felt something jerking around her heart, a pounding, a thrusting, hot and cold all at once, as if ice and fire were doing battle inside her.
As they grew closer, as he made her smile and look forward to each day she began to think that maybe Dane was the one to unseat the ice from her heart. To melt it.
She tried to let Dane’s smile, his goodness, work its magic, but the ice was stubborn, intractable, unwilling to let the fire of love claim it.
Sometimes Sara felt like she was two people. A real person with real emotions who laughed and cried but also a creature, daubed with blue-white light, mostly made of ice.
Dane wasn’t coming out of the study. He had locked the door. Sara knew at this moment, at the end of their time together, that her heart should plummet and fall out onto the floor; that she should weep and wail and pull at her hair, but she calmly picked up her bags and walked out of the house.
She rented a room. It was on a main road but she didn’t care. The curtains were grey with exhaust fumes. The kitchen sink was stained and marked as if someone had run a saw over it. She sat alone night after night watching the car headlights speckle the roads with yellow.
One day on the way home from work she met Lucien. An old man dressed in a dirty green coat. His fingernails were gnarled, his beard matted in parts. As he walked he left a trail of leaves and small twigs behind him. He had a dog – Cyrus. An old black Labrador, greying at the muzzle. Sara walked up the stairs to her room to find Lucien and Cyrus padding along behind her. They stopped on the landing as she fumbled for her key.
‘What are you doing?’ Sara asked.
‘We’re coming for dinner,’ Lucien said.
Sara felt sorry for Lucien and his dog. She was surprised that she did, so surprised that she clutched at her chest to make sure the icy fragment was still there.
‘Feeling the cold?’ Lucien asked.
Lucien and Cyrus stayed with Sara for a week, sleeping on her floor. Oddly enough, she didn’t mind them being there; she felt comforted by their presence. Every night Lucien lit a candle – a large red candle that dripped wax all over the kitchen table – inviting Sara to sit with him over a bottle of wine he produced from the interior of his coat like someone doing a magic trick.
The candle flame burned amber and yellow. It filled the room with the kind of light usually associated with sunsets.
‘There’s a lot of heat coming from that candle,’ Sara said.
‘There’s meant to be,’ Lucien said.
Sara had a really good week with Lucien and Cyrus. She smiled at complete strangers, she was pleasant to people at work, she noticed the flowers and the trees; if she hadn’t known better she would have thought she was feeling some degree of happiness.
On Friday when she came home from work Lucien was gone. Cyrus looked at her from his position on the rug, wagging his tail. ‘Where’s Lucien gone?’ Sara asked him.
There was a box of candles on the kitchen table. Big and red. And a note that said – Even the coldest heart can be melted.
Sara clutched at her chest, gasping when she could feel no coldness, running to the bathroom mirror to see if the puckered scar was still there. The skin on her chest was smooth and completely warm. She heard a sound from somewhere on the street below – a rasping, jingling brushing of the pavement – moving away from her. Moving far away.
Every night Sara burned one of the red candles. She noticed how the amber and yellow flame danced on the windows and hoped that Lucien would see it and would come home.
Twice a day she took Cyrus for a walk to the local park. He was a drawcard for all sorts of people – children, grandmothers, teenage boys and one balmy afternoon – Hal.
He was sitting on a park bench looking out at the water, a still life in long, angular limbs. Cyrus, bold as Lucien ever was, walked straight up to him and put his head on Hal’s knees.
Sara didn’t know much about dogs and their power, but she defied anyone to resist the lure of Cyrus’ eyes – soulful, tender.
Hal was pulled in straight away, patting Cyrus, talking to him. Laughing, animated.
‘Is he your dog?’ Hal asked. Sara looked at Cyrus, thinking of Lucien, thinking of red candles and cold hearts melting, and realised somehow that Cyrus had become her dog. And that she wanted him to become her dog.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘This is Cyrus.’
Sara and Hal sat on the bench by the water until the fading light turned the water dark green and the cormorants took one final dive for the day before disappearing home. It was as if they had been sitting there for most of their lives. Cyrus sat between them; an eager child, a link.
Hal organised to meet Sara for dinner as they walked out of the park onto the street. Even though night was falling, the sky seemed bright. She caught sight of herself in a shop window as the last flakes of light hit the glass. Her smile was as wide as sunlight.
As Sara walked Cyrus home she touched her chest, nervously, fearful it was still cold, but it was warm with blood and life.
Don’t be so cold. Dane had written it about her when the ice was lodged in her heart, when she was so unfeeling she was almost neutralised; when she was doing nothing more than just existing.
He couldn’t write that about her now. An old man and his dog had seen to that. She walked as the evening spilled down, as the light turned her red and orange. And she knew she’d never be cold again.