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Heart Song

by Elizabeth Cunningham

She pulled back the lace curtain and looked out the window, streaked with dust. Catching a loose strand of hair, she tucked it behind her ear. No one was coming down the road yet. The sun will set soon, she thought to herself. “I hope nothing’s happened,” she said. Pacing the wooden floor, her heeled shoes sounded heavy with each step. It matched her heart beat. Sitting down, she clasped her hands in her lap. “Breathe,” she said, “just breathe.” As the sun slowly set, it cast shadows across the room, lighting up the brass phonograph that sat in the corner on an old mahogany table, a small pile of records waiting to be played for when he got there.

“Andrew, where are you, my love?” Her brow furrowed and she told herself not to worry so much. He has made this trip many times. He must have been delayed in town. Maybe the mail delivery was late to the Post Office and he had to stay longer to make sure it was all registered. She smiled. Being engaged to the town Post Master had catapulted her into a much wider circle of acquaintances than she had before. Living in her little house at the edge of town where the farmers’ fields stretched out on one side, the dusty streets of the town on the other, she rarely had reason to make the trip into King City.

People thought of her as a recluse. She couldn’t blame them. Her grandparents had brought her into this house when her parents had drowned in a boating accident on nearby Lake Wilcox. She was only five years old. Then twelve years later, on a cold frigid night in the depth of winter, her grandmother died. It had been snowing and the wind had blown drifts against the small house. Marion had come in to her grandmother’s bedroom to say goodnight and found her lying still. Grama had always told her that one day her bad heart would just stop. With the drifts of snow everywhere, the doctor couldn’t get there till the early dawn. Marion sat at the side of her grandmother’s bed keeping vigil till the doctor arrived. All this time, her grandfather sat in the sitting groom, quiet and lost. Marion knew that she would now care for Grampa. And so, it had become just the two of them. A simple arrangement that gave her plenty to do. And then Grampa died two years ago. While her life continued on in its quiet, predictable way, Marion found herself going into town less and less, gradually withdrawing into the only place she had ever known as home.  

“It’s been such a glorious four months of being his fiancé,” she whispered to herself. At thirty years of age, she had thought being a spinster was her path in life. Until this past Christmas Eve service at the little white clapboard church, one concession over, where she found herself in the crowded church, holding a candle in her hand, singing ‘Silent Night.’ She had looked across the sanctuary to take in the beautiful sight of so many candles, when her eyes met his. Candlelight reflected in his dark eyes and the kindest smile emerged on his face. And he nodded, ‘Hello.’ After the service, she walked down the front steps of the church, the cold frosty air taking her breath away. She drew her furred collar closer around her neck. It was then she heard his voice, saying “Excuse me, but I wonder if I’ve met you before?” And it was then she noticed the snow that began to fall lightly and softly.

From that crystal snow beginning, here she was now, waiting with beating heart to hear his footsteps on the porch and his gentle knock at the door. She got up and went over to the phonograph and cranked it till the platter started turning. “I may as well set the mood,” she said. She picked up the first record in the pile on the table and placing the record on the spinning platter, gently glided the needle onto the groove. The crackle was only momentary and then the unmistakable sounds of Tommy Dorsey and his band filled the room.

She turned on the two lamps in her sitting room, their glow a welcome warmth in the room. She walked over to the front window. Once again pulling back the lace curtain, she noticed that the stars were beginning to twinkle softly in the early night sky. She sighed. And waited …

She lowered the flame in the kerosene lamps. It was obvious he was not coming. There must be some reason. Her lower lip trembled. What if … but her reason stepped in. “Marion, you know he’d be here if he could.” 

Maybe one more song. It was such a special gift this phonograph. Andrew had brought it over one evening, with a stash of vinyl records. It seemed such an extravagant gesture. Really, music in the house? But he insisted, and she had grown fond of the way the music reminded her of his voice, his hand in hers, the way he drew her to him and they danced on that small braided rug by the mahogany table.

She looked at the pile of records and picked one at random. She waited for the needle to find the track. And then there it was – their song. He had always said it would be their first dance at their wedding because he said when she was in his arms, he was in heaven. She stood in the centre of the room, eyes closed, as her body gave way to the tenor voice of Fred Astaire singing, “Cheek to Cheek.” “What is it about those words,” she thought to herself. “Heaven, I’m in heaven. Is it as true for him as it is for me?”

Her eyes fluttered open – was that a footstep on the verandah? This late? And then, the door burst open, and in strode Andrew, flowers in one hand, the other already finding its way around her waist. “Darling, please forgive me! You are all I have been thinking about. The train was held up in Toronto, and there were important papers from the King of England that needed to be delivered to the magistrate.”

She stood there in the dim light of the room. She had never known such happiness. As if on cue, Andrew suddenly recognized the music playing from the phonograph – “Why, it’s our song!” And he wrapped her in his arms, and they danced cheek to cheek well past the end of the record, its needle crackling as the platter kept turning, as their lips found each other in a kiss.