by Michael Loveday
Once upon a time there was a couple who wanted a child. The woman was a portrait painter, but portraits were out of fashion. Her husband was a clayworker; he too had only ever made a meagre living. They longed for a child to alleviate their woes, but none appeared.
One day, though, later in her life than they had thought possible, the woman discovered she was pregnant. She gave birth to a beautiful girl. And the girl’s heart was made of silver.
‘It can’t be true!’ her parents said.
‘Silver as a coin,’ said the doctor, holding up shocked X-rays.
The parents rejoiced: this child must be special indeed.
The girl rarely cried out of hunger and she did as she was told. She manifested no tantrums, shed no tears and quickly attuned to her parents’ moods and whims. As she grew up, when her parents were whining about their careers, acquaintances or clothes, she listened generously with an adult’s compassion. She was altogether a remarkable creature.
One day, after the husband had completed his accounts in a hard, hard year, he said to his wife:
‘What if we took a little silver from her heart, and sold it to buy some better clothes? It would be such a small sliver of silver she would barely notice.’
His wife reluctantly agreed. So they cut open their daughter’s chest while she slept and extracted a slice of her silver heart and sewed her back up again. The girl bled for a month until the stitches healed. But she did not complain and she told no one.
Her parents bought the clothes and they bought their daughter some clothes too—the silver was so fine and pure that they could easily afford it. And they felt grateful.
Another year passed, harder than the last. The wife said:
‘If only we could enjoy some fine dining with our friends this year to make up for our struggles.’ She hesitated; then she went on. ‘What if we cut out another sliver of silver from our daughter’s heart? I suppose she would not miss it?’
The husband readily conceded this was true. So they sliced out some more silver. And the daughter bled for a month and this time was in pain. Yet she made no complaint and instead she painted landscapes with the blood seeping from her chest. Her landscapes were even finer than her mother’s portraits, and the girl was comforted that her wound proved useful. Her mother asked her: ‘Where did you find paint of such rich colour?’ The girl answered that she had used the blood-red earth straight from their back yard. The mother was secretly irked that her daughter’s paintings were more beautiful than her own; but she harboured little grievance because she was now richer in more tangible ways. The parents enjoyed sumptuous meals with their peers. They bought themselves jewelry apt for such occasions. And they gave their daughter canvases, in order to indulge her new hobby as good parents should.
Another hard year, another opening of the daughter’s body, another extraction. A new home this time, closer to a more opulent district. And more bleeding, and more paintings made from the matter that wept from the child. And thus it continued, year after year: she carried less and less silver in her heart and painted more and more beautiful landscapes. Her parents lived richly on the proceeds of her heart.
Soon, the parents were old before their time, and very little of the child’s silver remained. Her paintings were coveted through the land, though she had never wanted to sell them. And her parents had grown fat on their unaccustomed wealth.
Then the husband and wife took one last piece of silver from their daughter’s body—and bought golden goblets and vintage wines, and held an extravagant party to charm their friends. They looked forward to a lifestyle even more splendid than before.
The next morning, though, they both collapsed and died. Their daughter, now a young woman, was an orphan.
From the moment of her parents’ death, she bled no more. She could make no more paintings when she had no blood to give. She must sell the landscapes even though she’d insisted that she never would. She knew no other way to survive.
She held a private view on the evening of her parents’ funeral, inviting all the well-to-do folk who had known her parents in the later, wealthier years of their life. She sold all her paintings—blood landscapes were just the thing—and their renown grew when she confessed the manner of their making.
Through the exhibition she had earned a small fortune, enough to live for the rest of her days in a manner even finer than that of her parents.
But she could not enjoy a single day of her life thereafter, for her heart was empty.
Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He is currently completing a flash fiction collection on the theme of secrets. He also writes poetry, with a pamphlet He Said / She Said published by HappenStance Press (2011). He specialises as an editor and mentor for novellas-in-flash.
Learn more at https://michaelloveday.com/novella-in-flash/