Short Story: Five Hearts One Hand

Seven-year-old Caleb spent his Valentine’s Day cutting hearts for Daddy. He traced five hearts, cut them with fumbling fingers, and wrote the best he could. The hearts, if arranged correctly, read, “I love you Daddy, Caleb.”

Caleb’s favorite place to be each evening was their six-paned picture window. He was tall enough to reach the lower left square, so he’d smudge his nose and lips to that pane, straining his eyes to see Daddy drive up. Daddy would drop his lunchbox and twirl Caleb around with echoes of Mommy’s “David, don’t get him all wound up before dinner. He’ll get sick!”

On a stepstool, Caleb fixed each heart on a pane of the window, leaving the bottom left corner open for his head to peer through. He waited. He pressed his nose against the windowpane, feeling the February frost.

Daddy didn’t come home—never did see those hearts.

Mommy pulled Caleb close. Her tears wet the top of his blond head. “I found a note from Daddy. He says he needs some time away from us.”

“When’s he coming back?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tomorrow?”

“I hope so, but I don’t think he will for a long time. I’m so sorry.”

Caleb crumpled into a heap at first, balling his fists into his eyes. Minutes passed. He abruptly stiffened and let rage fill him. He pulled down the hearts and shredded them into a heap below the window.

Late that night, he returned. He pressed his hand as tight as he could to the windowpane, as if earnest pressing would woo Daddy home. Only then did he notice something strange. Where did the torn hearts go? He scanned the floor.

“Caleb, come here,” Mommy said.

Caleb found her at the kitchen table, heart fragments peppering it. “Daddy left you,” she said, “but your Heavenly Daddy won’t. He’ll mend your heart if you let Him.” She handed Caleb the stack of intact hearts, rose from her chair and padded away. In the dim light, he saw that she’d placed the “Caleb” heart atop the pile.

Years passed since the paper hearts were mended. Daddy never returned. Mommy whispered of the Promised Land and why she gave Caleb his name—that if he’d have faith, God would help him find it. Even so, Caleb ran from God of the Promised Land. In college, a clenched fist replaced the tiny hand that once pressed against the window.

But one day in Literature class, Anna caught Caleb’s eye. They courted. She told him more times than he cared for that she loved Jesus. He pretended to listen to sermons by the faceless minister on their “dates” to church. A few months later, nervously fidgeting in a tux, he stuttered out his promises to her.

Baby Ellie completed their union a year later. After toddling gave way to measured steps, Caleb saw his little girl waiting for him at the picture window of their yellow home, her face radiating from within. Instinctively, he dropped his lunchbox, grabbed her tightly and swung her around while Anna protested, “Caleb, don’t get her wound up before dinner. She’ll get sick.”

But there was a day, a day that turned into weeks, then months, where the pressures of life stifled the breath in him. He drudged through the monotony of work and dreamed of a different life. Anna seemed to need a part of him that did not exist; she would insist that he share his day, yet his words were spent on proposals and presentations. Although he loved Anna, he hated her insatiable need of him. So much had been stuffed inside that his rage lived barely beneath the surface, seeping out in trivial matters, slowly poisoning Anna and little Ellie.

Driving home one day, Caleb prayed, “So much for the Promised Land. Anna does not deserve me, and I can’t be what she needs. I’ve failed. Are You happy? I can’t put my family through my tirades anymore. So, please forgive me, but I’m leaving. They’ll be better off without me.”

He intended to drive past his home one last time. He stopped the car at the mailbox and reached inside. There was one parcel addressed to him in his mom’s shaky handwriting. Another letter about her arthritis, I suppose. He ripped the envelope, expecting a letter.

Instead, five tattered and taped hearts fell into Caleb’s lap. In an instant, Valentine’s Day returned to him, and he wept. Time stood as a halo of holy light engulfed the heaving man. Caleb grabbed the hearts, held them tightly to his own, and left his car idling at the end of the driveway. He ran to the Promised Land, cleverly disguised as a yellow house, with the tiny hand of a toe-headed girl pressed firmly against its front picture window.

Comments are closed.