For a brief spell, Emerson began seeing one of the Cunningham sisters on the edge of town. Emily was the youngest of three sisters, whom the town knew mostly as the girls with their hearts in jars. This was, in part, what drew Emerson to her in the first place. Snaking a hand up her dress and feeling the flesh give slightly beneath her ribs when pushed up, at the depression beneath them. Emerson knew by now that Adelaide wasn’t returning. Knew that her abrupt leaving was an escape. That’s a different story, one Emerson has been telling his entire life.
Emerson and Emily, a girl with her heart in a jar. The other sisters had their jars on display on the mantle. Emerson would look between the two, trying to guess which belonged to which. They looked like any other heart—wooden chambers carved from ghostwood, cracked from age and heartbreak. Silver chains slunk from the top ventricle to the bottom of the jar, shurred up in piles like dead snakes. There were only the two on the mantle.
‘Where’s yours?’ asked Emerson one day.
‘Elsewhere,’ said Emily, and turned back to her chores.
In bed, she let his fingers rest on the scar between her breasts. He asked if it had hurt and she replied ‘What do you think?’ Emerson left most mornings to return to his father’s farm. There was lumber that needed chopping, a horse that needed tending to. There were other distractions. He found also that Emily never smiled, not even on accident. This bothered him for no particular reason.
One night, one chill night, as they huddled for warmth beneath Emily’s sheets, she whispered ‘The river. I threw it into the river. My sisters, they can put theirs’ back in if they want. I don’t care how weak I get, I never want it back.’ Emerson, at a loss for words, made a humming sound. ‘Did it hurt?’ she asked him.
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘There isn’t a night you don’t mumble Adelaide in your sleep. I figure it must take a lot of pain for that sort of thing to happen.’
Emerson shrugged and tightened his grip on her hips. The wind picked up, the windows shook. Morning was a long way off.