We stand on the sidewalk outside his house, watching his daughter, and my brother says every time I see her walking down the street it breaks my heart.
I can see why. It’s not a walk, really. It’s a lurch, a stagger, a shuffle.
His daughter is twenty-two. She broke his heart with joy when she was born and with fear when she was five days old and stopped breathing and again with terror when she had the surgery to fix that mis-made heart.
Since then, his own heart has been a construction zone: continuously broken and re-broken, patched together so many times it’s a bit misshapen. Yellow tape marked do not cross surrounds it: traffic cones warn of dangerous ground. Of holes. Of weakened areas.
She throws her long thin arms around me, cries when I arrive. She will cry when I leave. In her embrace, I watch my brother over her shoulder. His light blue eyes are reflective, transparent, fractured in the sunlight.
My brother takes her to Pirates games. She loves baseball. He takes her to church. She stares into the high vaulted space with long-lashed brown eyes too far apart. Her mouth hangs open, her lips parted and loose, her teeth crowded.
He says close your mouth, sweetie and she does, pushing it shut with her long, lovely fingers.
There’s something I’d like to tell her about what she has done to her family. But she may already know. Or not. Who knows if it would matter. Who knows what she knows of broken hearts, of disappointment. She doesn’t talk. It’s enough to break your heart.
Sue Staats recently received her MFA in Fiction from Pacific University. She’s currently revising her novella, The Mitchell Boys, and working on a collection of linked short stories. Her short story “No Hero, No Sharks” was runner-up for the 2011 Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction, a finalist for the 2011 Reynolds Price Fiction Award, and was published this past spring in The Farallon Review. Her fiction, non-fiction and poetry have also been published in Susurrus, the literary journal of Sacramento City College. Her poetry was featured in the 2012 Sacramento Poetry Anthology and her short story “Marshmallow Empire” was a finalist for the 2013 Nisqually Prize for Fiction.
Read an interview with Sue here.