Hearts of Gold

By: Michelle Li

Photo by Linda Blacker


The ground is shaking. I hear screams, shrieks, stomps, if only I could add my own voice to the shouts for help. My concentration is invested in trying to make a sound, I feel something erupting in my throat, but it’s no use. If I had working organs, I’d sob and sob until there was no more space for my tears. If I had a beating heart pumping blood, I’d feel it break. If she were still here, this all wouldn’t hurt so much. But no matter all the countless times I’ve tried to erase the image, her shattered, dislocated body is still there, covered in sheets of rubble and dust. The closest part of her is her left hand, still adorned with a ring on the fourth finger, only a meter or so away from mine. And yet I can’t hold her hand, take a step towards it, even so much as to simply reach for it. For I have limbs of rock, nothing more than carved stone with the only sound or movement I’ll ever make being the vexing screech of my body crashing into more and more fragments. I remember the days when I thought differently.


The artist worked away at the marble stone, slowly building up definition of the arms and legs. Delicately chipping away the rock until a male figure clad in a cape and other noble clothing was prominent. Over time, the sculptor’s own shadow also started to darken and become more defined, as the glowing sun eventually arrived at the horizon, indicating what usually would’ve been a hard day’s work. He briefly sat down on a nearby wooden stool, and brushed away a drop of sweat on his forehead.

“Today is different,” he thought.

There was no way he could stop now, he was the artist the royal court had commissioned to carve two statues of the soon-to-be newly wed king and queen! He leapt out of the stool, nearly knocking it over as he started pacing. Luckily, he hadn’t yet bumped into the chair, which he often did. He paced around his studio in deep thought. The wedding was only two months away and he had yet to finish carving out King Ambrogio, never mind even starting on adding details to Queen Rosalinda.

He clutched his head and sped up his pace as he muttered to himself, “No, no, NO! There’s not enoug-AHH-!”

He didn’t get the chance to finish his sentence as he finally bumped into the stool one last time, sending himself into a tumble, still grasping his head, but now for a different reason. He laid flat on the stone floor, in a restless position with his limbs sprawled out despite how much they ached. But after a couple minutes of silence, he slowly gathered himself up and shook it off, only then looking out his large windows, realizing how full and luminous the moon was. It was the spotlight and the sky was its stage. The stars surrounding it twinkled and their mirrored reflections rippled through the water from the nearby lake. He continued to take in all the beauty of celestial beings, realizing how much the visible shadows and craters on the moon reminded him of a singing face.

Suddenly, he noticed a warm glow in his studio from the corner of his eye. After sneaking one last glance at the moon, he adjusted his eyes to the sources of the light. The golden aura was coming from within the two marble statues right where their hearts would be, although nowhere near their finished state, there was a dim but distinct glow. Their silhouettes seemed to be so rich in a warm pale blue luminescence, their light naturally complemented each others with such elegance, they looked ethereal. He couldn’t help but feel a smile adorning his face.

The radiance came from the two solid gold hearts he’d previously crafted and molded into the marble, each with the King and Queen’s name carved onto them. When the moon’s light was strong enough, the hearts were capable of shining through the marble that had a slight translucent quality. The extra detail that most probably won’t get the opportunity to see, was the main reason why he was set so far behind schedule. But as he stood looking at the heartwarming glow, he felt a similar warmth in his chest. His hard work really did pay off after all.

The sculptor cautiously avoided the stool as he bent down to pick up his mallet and chisels and set off to work.

“Do you wanna play catch?” said a young boy as he tottered over to one of the royal gardeners with a red ball the size of his head in his hands.

The elderly employee put down his shovel and said, “I’m sorry your highness, but I need to continue working on the rose garden before your parent’s anniversary. Maybe one of the maids could play with you.” before going right back to tending the flowers.

The prince pouted and somberly walked away. He already tried asking the maids. Actually, he tried asking almost everyone in the castle, twice; both times without success. Everyone was running around, busy getting ready for the upcoming ball to celebrate the day his parents got married. All he wanted to do was play with a ball with someone, not be ignored by everyone because of one. He could feel the warm tears welling up in his eyes.

The child broke into a sprint on the gravel path. He made his way through the garden, under polished marble arches, and swerving around manicured hedges, still holding onto the ball. He tried to avoid having anyone see him or where he was heading to but it wasn’t very difficult as most were already too busy trimming bushes or pruning flowers. But this also meant that no one would be there to tend to him as a few meters before reached the dainty white entrances to his destination, he stumbled on a rock sending him to slide onto the grass surrounding the path. His olive shorts were stained with dirt as he landed in a position that didn’t favour his knee, he could definitely feel it stinging. However, he got right back up and chased after his ball as it rolled away after the fall. To him, it was just another scratch; he’s fallen over one too many times to stop over the small obstacle.

He ran after the ball, slightly slower and with subsiding strength. After the crash, he could feel his stamina being drained from him by the second. Luckily, the ball, also being guided by the path, lead him to the center of rose garden; exactly where he wanted to be. The center had already been tended to days before so there weren’t any gardeners. Although, he wasn’t the only one there. Right in the middle, adorned in royal clothing, were two statues that were polished so diligently, they mirrored the sun’s beams, making it impossible not to see them. They were the exact people he needed to see.

The prince plonked himself down at the pedestal of the statues and started crying. He covered his face as he quietly sobbed. The warm tears clouded his forest green eyes and left traces as they fell and stained the stone ground. But he felt safe, as if he was being given a comforting hug from his mother and father, one that he’s become so used to. The man and woman watching over him were the exact people who had been with him since the day he was born. Or statues of them at least. But to him the stone figures weren’t just replicas. The garden was his querencia and the statues would always be there for him. He’s countlessly listened to the story of how the two statues were unveiled the day of his parent’s wedding, a few months before he was born. His mother would describe how surreal they looked and his father would add in how clean and pristine they were as they sat near the prince, before kissing him goodnight. Some might assume that although, six years later, after all the recent scrubbing, they’d look like how they did on day one. But the prince, despite the fact that he wasn’t there to witness it, just knew that they were different. He kept track of all the small scratches that developed over time but he decided that the markings simply added to the sculptures. Oh, and he couldn’t forget the doves. There were doves perched on the shoulders, surrounding the statues on the wedding day. Before he could go on he heard two voices that were coming closer by the second.

“Nicholas? Where are you? It’s getting dark, it’s time to go back inside.”

It was them! He recognized the voices immediately.

“Mamma! Papà! I-I’m over here!”

By then the tears had stopped. And in their place was the reassuring thought that soon he’d jump into a big bear hug with his mother and father and him being right in the middle of it. After dinner they’d tell him the story again before they’d tuck him in and he’d dream about horses, his favourite apple tarts, and the statues. And with the doves, of course.

As Nicholas grew and changed over the years, so did his interests. He liked horses which later transformed into sword fighting, and now his current hobby at the age of 17, being the middle ground of the previous two, is jousting. He’s slowly developed and strengthened his skill but still runs into the issue of his wavy chestnut hair blocking his vision. He’s attempted resolved it with many visits to the royal barber yet it would still grow leaving him with the only option of tying it up on days when he couldn’t spare any time. But despite all the alteration, the one thing that didn’t change was his love for visiting the statues. Over time they started to be engulfed surrounded with more and more rose vines and ferns which Nicholas was quite fond of. They also weren’t sparkling clean anymore as they gained even more battle scars and after numerous pigeon attacks, the prince decided he liked doves more.

During the day he’d sit with the statues when he wanted some peace to read, chomp on an apple, or better yet, an apple tart, practice swords play, or simply close his eyes and just relax to the sound of the chirping birds. However, the last one wouldn’t always have a happy ending as he’d often accidentally fall into a nap only to be woken up by the realization that splotched on his shoulder was a smelly little gift from the pigeons. A handful of annoyed showers later, he settled on taking more trips to the garden during the night. Although, this did not bother him at all for when the moon was out and the stars glimmered, that was the best time to see the sculptures. He could’ve sworn he saw the statues glow as they’d bathe in the moon’s light.

 

However, things wouldn’t always be so lighthearted. The king and queen started arguing a lot more. They’d bicker over the smallest things like what would be on the menu that day. But other times the stressed sighs would turn into shouts and not talking for weeks. They tried to keep things away from their son but sometimes he would get entangled in it. The rose garden was always the place that he’d go to when he needed a breather.

Seasons passed with snow falls and heat waves and soon, five years later, the prince was no longer just a prince, but a soon-to-be king. He was now pushed into more responsibilities in preparation for his role which consumed his time, leaving him without many opportunities to sit down and visit the garden. His visit also became less of trips for enjoyment and more of to have some time away from everyone else, namely his parents. The disputes only got worse, sometimes they’d be about how one of them decided to rule the kingdom and other times it grew into a build up of things that were more personal. They’d have breaks where they’d momentarily put things to a pause and things seemed to clear up. The longest one those periods lasted was two months. The relationship became a volcano just waiting to explode, until a fateful night.

She’s crying. Or rather, they’re crying. There are two Rosalindas next to me, one of them, the queen, is crouched beside me, panting between sobs and the other, my Rosalinda, weeps silently in her heart. We both wish we could come out of these stone shells and sob with her counterpart. Yet despite our requests, we still hold the same carefree expressions plastered on our face.

We hear footsteps.

Rosalinda notices and tries to cover the tremble in her voice as she shouts, “GO AWAY AMBROGIO! I r-really just don’t want to talk anymore. Please, j-j-just let me be.”

It wasn’t her husband that appeared, but a burly man with a black cape. He jumped out from the shadows and appears behind the queen, holding her captive with a knife against her throat. She shrieks but her mouth is soon covered and she soon gives up trying to break free as her attempts only made the situation worse.

We didn’t want to watch what happened after, we didn’t want to see any of this. The attacker let her go and just as she collapsed onto her knees, another man with a bow and arrow revealed himself from behind a hedge and shot an arrow right through her heart before escaping with his partner. Just as her first attacker ran past her, he knocked into my Rosalinda, causing her left hand to fall onto ground. The impact made her pinky shatter and created small chips and cracks around the rest of her hand. I could feel her heart breaking, mine was too. Not because of the hand, but something far bigger. The moon seemed to be dimmer that night, our hearts didn’t shine or glisten. We didn’t want to see any of this.

It was that evening that I wished I had telepathy with my equivalent. I’d wish that he’d come sooner, not right after the event. Or that he would’ve apologized and sat down with her to talk instead of pushing away the issue that would soon devour his life. Nicholas was the first to arrive at the scene. He shouted and cried for the three of us. Eyes stinging with tears as he held his mother’s body that was losing blood by the second. His father finally ran over and he broke down on his knees the second he saw. He muttered words of regret and disbelief under his breath and seemed to shake when Nicholas passed him the body, making sure to support her head. They dwelled that night not just for the four of us but for the entire kingdom.

Rosalinda was quite loved by the citizens with her cheerful yet composed figure that could be recognized when she walked through villages. Everyone in the kingdom came to her funeral. They wiped each other tears and embraced one another at the gathering that was held outside in a neighbouring rose garden to where the event took place. We were the only witnesses, we weren’t liars but we couldn’t say a single drop of the truth. The image of the scene was burned into our hearts, we were sure the merciless murderers came from an enemy kingdom from the black and red that wasn’t just blood that they had on their clothes. It’s been five days since the event.

It was when a moment of silence was asked that the rumbling started to take place. And when it didn’t stop, people started yelling. Everyone was quickly escorted to the horse riding plains. Good, at least that way I know they’re safe. I could feel the ground moving rigidly. An olive that had been recently planted behind us, swayed a bit too far to the left, Rosalinda’s side.

“I’m scared” I could feel her say to me.

I didn’t know what to say, two minutes had gone by, and the earthquake still hasn’t stopped.

Just hang in there, we’ll get through this together.” I eventually was able to communicate.

That day, Lady Luck was not on my side. I watched and stood as the tree took one last shake before one of its biggest branches started to crack. The branch continued to split slowly and we watched in trepidation.

“I’m sorry, It looks like it’s time for me to go.” she whispered.

She already knew what was going to happen. I couldn’t even handle thinking about it.

“Please don’t be sad, my love. We’ll meet again one day. Thank you for always being by my side.” Those were her last words before the branch plummeted down and crushed her stone figure.

I feel numb, yet at the same time, my head hurts, my chest aches, and I feel like it was I that had been shattered not her. It should’ve been me who took the blow. Why does the universe decide to torture us in such a way? There so much you can remove but to take away the one that I cared about most, you leave me defenceless. I don’t feel like stone but more like a wandering cloud, slowly disappearing. The shaking stops but I still waver. Her hand is now completely crushed, and yet here she is, still holding my heart.

Unexpectedly, I feel a quickening in my chest and a sudden fieriness that emits a light, seemingly even brighter than the moon. I don’t understand why this is happening. The full moon was out, I haven’t even realized how much time has passed. I watch in disbelief as my eyes wander to a third luminescence matching mine,  it was coming from a fallen piece that laid on the ground; it was her heart.

She’s trying to talk to me, she’s still there, just like she’s always been. The light creates what almost seems like a shield. The trees start to quiver again; an aftershock is developing.

Please just wait for me, my dear. Like you said, we’ll meet again one day. We’ll both return to the depths of this Earth and we’ll start all over again in another life. Time will be the healer. Time is always the healer.