To Shut Down a Heart


He shuts down his heart. He waves goodbye to his daughter, blows kisses to her, and shuts down his heart before the pain of her absence can settle its claws deep into him. Over the next eleven days he will not feel anything, not the pain of her absence, the laborious weight of it sitting heavily in his chest, a weight which seems to inflict a strain on every part of his body, nor the regret he feels at the choices which have led to her absence. And then, on the day when he sees her again, the very morning he wakes – if he has slept at all - like a child of eight just like his daughter, on Christmas morning, some of the night still remaining in the sky, he will turn his heart back on and feel only his joy at seeing her again – ignoring, somehow, how different she looks, taller, older, after just those eleven days of not seeing her - seeing her for the two and a half days out of two weeks that is his time with her, the only thing he and his ex-wife have been able to agree on in the everlasting arguments born from the ending of a marriage, cramming all those missing days, all the minutes and hours, into their time together, doing whatever she wishes to do, even if it is, as it has been of late, wanting to watch videos on her phone, barely talking to him bar to ask for food; it is enough, or as close to enough as to make little difference, to be in the same room as her, to hear her laugh, see her smile, when there are so many days when he cannot even do that.


Except of course he does not shut down his heart. He does not, because he cannot shut down his heart – though he has tried, through drinking to excess and working every hour available to him, with the former leaving him hungover and unable to work all the hours available to him and the latter leaving him so tired that he cannot fall asleep without the aid of alcohol - no more than he can go back in time and stop himself from sleeping with another woman, a colleague from work at the office Christmas party, one who had long complimented him on attributes, both physical and emotional, his wife had stopped noticing, a foolish mistake, fuelled by drink, which he was already regretting before the pleasure of body against body had ceased, and in doing so end his marriage of fourteen years when, again another foolish mistake, possibly not as foolish as the first, but certainly near enough, he had felt compelled to confess it all to his wife, the guilt he was feeling erasing any memory of the pleasure left untouched by regret. But he likes to pretend he can do so, that he can shut down his heart at will, and by doing this impossible thing he can stop feeling the pain he feels. It makes no difference, this pretence, and yet he feels better believing it, which perhaps does mean that it makes a difference, just one he is unable to understand, but might some distant day when he has grown accustomed – or as accustomed as possible – to this new aspect of his life as a father and not a husband.


He watches his ex-wife’s car disappear around the corner, taking their daughter back to the family home that is no longer his home, that is just a house with his name on it, a house which still takes money from his bank account every month, a house that, he knows, will never be his home ever again. Then he turns and re-enters his apartment block, where the apartment he can barely afford, even as he works all the hour he can, sits unremarkably among many other apartments, some of them housing men like him, their ghostly-bruised faces, cloudy eyes and slumped shoulders telling their tale better than any words could, while families reside in other apartments, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, and their children with voices and laughs that, when heard through the thin walls, sound so like his daughter’s voice and laugh – high-pitched and almost musical, vibrating with life - that he feels as though a thin blade of pure heat has been taken to his lungs. He steps into the elevator, his body suddenly too tired to take the stairs, feeling all the pain and regret he feels every day, his heart throbbing with being inside his chest.


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