h For Heather by Matthew Burnside | Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine


For Heather

by Matthew Burnside


Eliot was not like other ghosts. Too scared of the living to be scary, he haunted his quiet attic in a   house full of frozen clocks, hiding whenever the lady of the house would venture up to be alone with her dripping miseries, the calico atop her shoulder spotting him crushed between a rack of old suits but never betraying his secret. Because his favorite spot to sit and read was the antique rocking chair in front of the window, sunlight rarely touched the trunk of summer dresses which the lady for some reason no longer wore. It was a foggy Sunday morning that the calico visited Eliot to ask why it was he hid in this particular attic, of all attics. I don't know, Eliot considered, except that it feels like home to me. Why does the lady of the house grieve in darkness, always dressed in black? he posed the calico, who pawed the rack of old suits before slipping back downstairs without explanation. Inside the lining of the suits Eliot found his name had been sewn, and so he understood why it was the clocks never moved and knew what must be done. Gliding down from the attic, he bade the calico farewell, leaving the trunk open so that the sun might find the summer dresses once more, then stepping through the front door to an exquisite song of clocks stirring.



Eliot was not like other robots. His maker, a miserly man, afforded him the cheapest parts scrounged from the scorched ruins of Old Earth. Among these parts a heart was not provided, for the heart is the most expensive of all moveable parts, and being quite rare artifacts ever since the war. All his life Eliot felt a malfunction in his machinery, never knowing the source of this invisible sadness. Each day though, entertaining robot children by the lunar tide, he could swear he felt the ghost of a ripple, like phantom fingers thumping faintly throughout his tin innards. The money he earned from a simple day's work he'd saved in a spent battery husk, for several years, in hopes of procuring a state-of-the-art heart. One day a robot child fell into excruciating disrepair on the beach, and Eliot took him to the local maker pleading with him to fix the child whatever the cost. Without new parts the child would surely die, the maker told him. So Eliot lay down on the salvaging table. Take whatever you need, he said. When everything that could be done was done the boy jostled awake, everything sparking in all the right places, and what remained of Eliot was placed in the spare parts pile. Among the many things that saved him--the maker made sure the boy knew--was a battery husk filled with the meager life savings of a clown robot and a shiny heart bequeathed from Eliot's own torso. Not a newer model, but a sturdy beating lump he never even knew he had, having grown in quietly over the years, proving a heart as rare and mysterious an artifact as ever though free of charge if only you'd use it.



Eliot was not like other crows. Crippled in a windstorm, a lonely fisherman took mercy on his mangled mess of feathers, trying his best to mend two bent-back wings but without success. Though flight proved impossible, in time Eliot learned to hop alongside his master through the bustling market. Eliot enjoyed his simple life on land, and though occasionally he couldn't help but envy those cousins who lived along the sagging power lines above, eating their fill of rubbish, he was happy to have a friend like his fisherman. Together they relished watching the pinkish spikes of light which fell across the soft Tokyo afternoon at sea, in a boat just big enough for man and bird, the fisherman always pitching the last of his bait to his patiently awaiting first mate. There came in the night another storm - much bigger than any storm before--with not just wind and rain but waves too. When all was finally calm the city had been left not unlike Eliot's broken wings. Scattered were people from their families, wrecked were their homes, but for all crows in the land a feast of eternal debris. With Eliot lost from his master, he limped along the aisles of wreckage. Why so sad? a cousin asked. Eat! We are blessed! Your belly will never again be empty! At a nearby hospital, the fisherman woke to find his legs were broken, his ship destroyed. When he heard the tiny taps through the door, though he could not move to see beside his bed, he knew it was his friend the bird. I'm so sorry, the fisherman confessed fighting tears, but I do not know how I will feed us now. He then put his head in his hands and began to cry, until Eliot leapt up on the end of the bed and let fall a fish from his beak, and together they feasted, through the window watching the pinkish spikes of light which fell across the soft Tokyo afternoon.

Editor's Note: Part one of this series appears in Jersey Devil Press 34.

BIO: Matthew's work has appeared most recently or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Kill Author, Gargoyle, PANK, Pear Noir!, and NAP, among others. He is managing editor of Mixed Fruit, an online literary magazine (http://mixedfruitmagazine.com/) and an MFA fiction candidate at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.