Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Sparrow Heart or A Father's Gift- A short story from 2012

 This Document Copyright ©2012 By Laura Morrigan  All Rights Reserved

The Sparrow Heart or A Father's Gift

He still remembers the moment he first knew his daughter was going to die, the look on the doctor's face, a look of utter helplessness and despair. He almost felt sorry for the man, except that it was his daughter that was dying. He remembered the doctor saying something about her being too small to fight anymore, and he laughed a bitter laugh because she never would get any bigger. He would bury her at this size, in a tiny white child's coffin. He remembered his heart aching in sympathy with hers, that tiny sparrow heart that beat so fast, but could not keep even that tiny body alive.

She had her mother's freckled skin, spattered with tiny brown marks like paint flicked from a paintbrush. Her arms and legs were too thin, sticks that he could wrap his fingers around with ease. She still had the round belly of childhood, and a scrawny birdlike chest to contain her sparrow heart.

He sat up late that night, feeling as if every heartbeat would be his last, waiting for his heart, that strange and complex mechanism, to wind down. Each beat was an agony to him. He willed the organ to stop, to still, to let him slip into oblivion, die before he had to watch his daughter die. But it refused.

He threw away all his books. The medical tomes thick with the learning of centuries. They had done nothing for his daughter. He burned them in the furnace, watching the pages curl and blacken, drift to grey ashes.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

He bought other books. Unusual books. Dark books. Books bound in human skin. Books you had to go down dangerous alleys in the middle of the night to obtain. Books bought from men and women with missing fingers and noses, with blind white eyes, all of whom warned him of the price he would have to pay.

He didn’t care. He studied day and night, his fingers blackened with ink, or perhaps burnt by the forbidden knowledge that the tomes contained. He studied feverishly, eyes red, nose running, barely eating, like an ascetic undergoing penance for some terrible deed.

His daughter missed him,. He had never been an attentive father, never really known what to do with a daughter, but he tried, and that is what matters to children. She cherished the nights when he read to her from the big leather bound volume, fairytales not suitable for children. In her world, father was the sun and the moon. And now both were gone and she was left only with the darkness of her disease, her feeble heart fluttering as if trying to beat its way out of her chest.

It was late or early. He no longer knew. The curtains were closed against the world and he read only by flickering candlelight. The electricity had been disconnected as he never went to work or paid the bills. The furniture had been taken away too, and he perched on a pile of books to read. He did not know what time it was, but he knew he had found his answer. He clutched the book to his heart, in a paroxysm of joy and horror, whispering fervid thanks to the dark room around him.

He left the house under cover of darkness and was gone three days. He returned bearing a brown paper wrapped package that seemed damp, and perhaps moving. She watched him, fascinated, as he crept past her room and into his own, locking the door behind him. She went and helped herself to some of the stale bread in the fridge.

The father retreated to his room for five days. The daughter could hear noises. A Rustling. A dripping. A gurgling. She slipped food under the door for her father. After five days, she became worried. She got a knife from the kitchen and forced the lock.

When she stepped inside the room was dark, lit only by a thin sliver of light coming through the torn curtains. The room smelled dank, like a swap, and her feet squelched and stuck to the floor. Mud... or something like mud oozed up between her toes. Her heart was beating like it would burst, but somehow, she made it across the room and pulled open the curtains. Bright sunlight filled the room. Vine tendrils and mushrooms that sprouted from the wallpaper shrunk away from the light. She already knew that something terrible, something unnatural had happened to her father.

She found him in the corner of the room, behind a pile of books. His eyes were open, rolled up to show the whites, covered with tiny specks like her freckles. His breathing was shallow. From his chest, a black and mouldy tree sprouted, rooting him to the ground.

The tree was slimy to the touch, covered with tiny algae blossoms that moved in wind of her breathing. There were no leaves on the tree. But that did not mean it was bare. No, not at all. For, right at the middle of the tree, it hung from a branch, glowing and pulsing. Large and red, just the way it should be.

Her sparrow heart beat within her as if protesting this aberration, but she was filled with a fierce and terrible joy. Later, she would mourn her father’s sacrifice, but for now, it was time to take her gift.

She plucked the fruit from the tree and bit into it, crimson juice running down her chin. She devoured the heart that her father grew for her.


  1. It's a beautiful story, Laura. I lost it when I got to the part about the tiny white coffin ... it brought back some sad memories, which seem to be running rampant this week. But that's what a good story should do - make the reader relate to it, whether in a real or an imagined way. Beautifully done, dear! :o)

  2. Wow.. this was a powerful story. Very well written. The end was really strong.