TORN TO RAGS | David McGroarty and Sandra Unerman Like all the best people, Clovis kept his heart in a cedar wood box. His was given to him on his thirteenth birthday by his mother, Enid, with instructions on how to look after it. But as he grew up, he became careless. When his heart broke, Enid was the only person to guess what had happened. Overnight, Clovis changed from a passionate, moody, unreliable boy into a polite young gentleman who never refused an invitation. His friends were amused but Enid was suspicious. By then Enid had been a widow for ten years, so she was used to taking action on her own. Early one morning, she went to Clovis’s bachelor apartment in the heart of the city, before he had returned from his night out. The box was easy to find and to open, just as she had feared. As soon as Clovis opened his front door, she shook the empty box at him. ‘What have you done?’ ‘Mother!’ Clovis recoiled but he did not sulk as he would once have done. ‘Was the doorman expecting you?’ ‘I let myself in.’ Clovis had chosen the rooms and arranged the lease but everyone knew his mother controlled the money until he was twenty one. Enid had encountered no difficulty in obtaining a spare key. ‘What has happened to your heart?’ Clovis shrugged. ‘It was torn apart. I’m more comfortable without it.’ ‘Broken hearts can be mended. Where are the pieces?’ ‘They were useless: no more than rags. I threw them away.’ ‘Where?’ Clovis circled round Enid and ambled into his bedroom. ‘I’m devilish sleepy,’ he said. ‘I wonder how much it would cost to change the locks.’ ‘Where did you go to throw away your heart?’ ‘To the top of the White Hill. I scattered them into the wind.’ He smiled. ‘If you’re staying, mother, shall I send out for some morning chocolate?’ Enid put down the box. ‘Stupid child,’ she said and went away. * She meant to do nothing further. Sooner or later Clovis would regret what he had done and go in search of the rags of his heart. If he asked for help humbly enough, she would do her best for him but he was old enough to fight his own battles. Only the weeks went by and he became more of a stranger every time she saw him. And she heard rumours of behaviour that even worried his friends. Other well-brought up young men visited vulgar dance halls but not many were banned for throwing knives at the legs of the dancers. Others made ridiculous wagers on dog fights but did not slaughter the losing champions as a matter of routine. Lady Clara, the City Treasurer, one of Enid’s oldest friends, came to visit her. ‘Clovis used to be such a kind boy,’ she said. ‘Rosamund was overwhelmed when he said he wanted to marry her.’ Rosamund was Clara’s daughter. ‘But he insisted on a secret engagement and now he tells her Bluebeard stories whenever they meet. Or he shows her the girls he will appoint as her maids, so that he can share their beds. He has frightened her so much she confessed it all to me. Of course she should never have agreed to the betrothal but I thought better of Clovis.’ ‘So did I, once upon a time,’ Enid said. * The next day, Enid rode out to the White Hill, unaccompanied despite the concerns of her household. The weather was sunny but cold, the onset of winter more noticeable as soon as she was away from the city. On the hill, the leaves of the birch trees shone golden against their white trunks and spun across the path in flurries of wind. She reached the summit soon after midday but she could already feel a touch of frost on her lips. Even so, she pushed back her hood and took deep, slow breaths as she turned in a circle. The tang of Clovis’s heart came to her from all directions, a little soured but essentially unchanged since he was a baby. The strongest scent came from the forests on the northern slopes of the hill. ‘If my other babies had lived, they would not have treated me like this,’ Enid muttered to herself. She hobbled her horse, kilted up her skirts and scrambled down among the trees. The empty birds’ nests were high in the branches of an oak. Enid had never learned to climb a tree but she had other skills to employ. She sat down among the roots and unplaited her hair. She combed it with her fingers while she sang the lullaby Clovis had favoured when he was twelve months old. She sat and sang while the dusk thickened around her and the cold soaked into her bones. Her voice had faded to a whisper by the time the rags worked themselves loose from the nests and swept down to cling to her hair. Enid untangled them one by one, wiped them clean and folded them into the silk pouch she had brought for the purpose. * The wind had blown some of the rags into the river at the bottom of the hill. Those were difficult to trace by scent but Enid walked along the bank and sang to them in all weathers until they rose from the weirs where they had been entangled, the reeds and otters’ dens. She paid a fisherman to gather them for her and washed away the mud and slime that clung to them. In the New Year she turned her attention to the rags which had somehow found their way into the city. Some were stuffed into beggars’ shoes and Enid exchanged them for sturdy boots. Some were wrapped round knick-knacks in the market and Enid paid double the asking price for them. She tracked one piece into a grand house, to her surprise. Then she saw it twisted with gold braid and worn as a bracelet by young Alicia, with whom Clovis had flirted the year before last. ‘Do you know what that is?’ Alicia frowned. ‘My mother says it’s unsuitable but I like the feel of it.’ She stroked the velvety nap with one finger and it changed colour from a soft blue to a purple red. Enid said, ‘It will fade into a dingy scrap if you wear it for long.’ Doubtfully Alicia tilted the bracelet this way and that Enid said, ‘Look, the edges have frayed. Let me give you a handful of pearls to replace it.’ When the city was snowbound in February, Enid sat down to piece the rags together. It took a long time but at last she had Clovis’s heart as she remembered it, large and tender, with a dark gleam which grew once all the pieces were set in place. She had needles ready, threaded with strands of her hair to sew them together. There were scars and spots she had not been able to clean away but she had expected that. She was more troubled by a hole, a crescent-shaped gap just above the centre on the left hand side. She would have to find one more shred before the heart could be made complete. * Now she needed Clovis’s help. As soon as the streets were cleared, Enid wrapped his heart in silk, placed it in a canvas satchel and returned to his apartment in the city. This time, though she still had her key, she knocked at the door. A stranger answered, a man with sunken eyes and a deeply lined face. Beyond him, the apartment was filled with people she had never seen before, drinking, smoking, singing and fighting. She could not see Clovis. "What do you want?" the stranger said. "I want to see my son." He shrugged and backed inside, leaving the door open for her to enter. Inside, the air was hot and moist, and beneath the pipe smoke, Enid could smell stale wine and rotting food. The place was dirty and wretched. She clutched the satchel with both hands as she edged through the tight groups of revellers. In Clovis’s bedchamber, several people, some unclothed, lay asleep or unconscious across the bed and floor. Still, she could not see him. In the hall she was jostled by a burly man with a greasy beard. He snatched the canvas bag from her hands and tossed it to another bearded man, who might have been his twin. She tried to grab it back and the two men laughed, until she punched one of them in the stomach. They seized her arms and ran her out of the apartment. She screamed and tried to push back inside but they shut the door on her. She hammered on the door and yelled. Nobody came and at last she stopped to think. She could summon help but she did not want a public scandal. She would not give up after all her work but she needed a new plan. Out in the street, she looked up at the apartment as she considered what to do. At a window, she saw a face that she recognised, pained and twisted. It looked more like her grandfather in his last illness than her son. He stared down at her briefly before retreating into the dark. At home, she found her husband's pistol and cleaned it. She sat in her study, turning the gun over and over in her hand. The revellers would doubtless be up all night. Next morning, when they were drowsy and hung-over, would be the best time to take them by surprise. But she did not have to wait so long. That day, as the sun was going down, she was startled by the figure of Clovis at her door. Stooped and trembling, he held his hands out towards her, palms open, like a beggar seeking charity. Her steward hovered behind him, with an anxious face. Clovis came to her and fell to his knees. He took his heart out from under his shirt, torn once more into red rags. "I can't mend it," he said. Enid nodded at the steward, who shut the door and went away. She clucked her tongue at Clovis, as she used to do when, as a child, he had broken some expensive ornament or stepped on the dog's tail. "Idiot boy." He sat with her while she stitched the heart together again. As she worked, she cast an occasional glance towards him, hunched in the tall armchair that had been his father's favourite. He was not the man she had hoped he would become -- not yet -- but he was a man. "Why do you do these things?" she asked him. "At the time, it felt good." "And now?" "Now, I feel nothing." She sang his lullaby and he lay back in his chair. His breathing fell into a deep, slow rhythm. She worked late into the night, with great care and precision. When she had done all she could, once again there was a gap. The crescent piece was missing still. She awoke in her seat in the first cold light of morning, her head on the table, pillowed on her arm. Clovis was awake in his father's chair, clutching the heart in his hand. "It isn't finished," she said. "I couldn't finish it. I'm sorry." He held out his heart towards her. "Look!" Crudely, while she slept, he had mended the hole in his own heart. But though the heart was whole again, it was not complete. He had stitched across the crescent-shaped gap with strands of his own hair. His needlework was careless and ugly. The heart was now badly scarred. Her first impulse was to cuff his ear. If only he had had more patience, they could have searched for the missing piece together. Instead, by his own hand, Clovis was left with a heart that was damaged. But she saw his pride in his work and how he looked to her for approval. She saw that, though the job was badly done, it had restored him. She even saw in his contented weariness, as he sat in his father's chair, something of the man his father had been. And Enid forced herself to smile, and to say that she was proud. Clovis returned his wounded heart to its box and chased the drunks and thieves from his home. Enid declared loudly that she would never go so far again to correct one of his mistakes, though she knew she would, if she must. She never needed to. His heart, misshapen in its cedar wood box, grew as strong and gentle as she could wish.