When Agnes was young she screamed her heart out. It was on the fateful day of her father’s funeral and all the world was all in black. She stood in the churchyard, beating her chest as if it were an old tin bath; full of echoes, choked by rust. Her heart emerged like a slick animal from the depths of a blackened riverbank and she held it in her hands and cursed its warmth. Thereafter, it was kept in a wooden box; out of sight, beating gently inside its pine prison, forevermore. Each year, on the night of her saintly namesake, Agnes would return from the church yard, having paid her respects to her dead father. And with her: another. A new suitor. Both of their palms, dusty and dry from the grain that they’d thrown at the silver oak. Later, she’d sit the man down for dinner and retire to the bathroom. She’d clean her hands, stare and laugh at her reflection and move, without sound, into her bed chamber. There she would furtively lift the box down from the highest shelf, where she kept it. She would return with her heart and lay it before the suitor, still hidden by its wooden walls. She would lift the lid for him, exposing the precious muscle in all its pulsating splendour. And she would close her eyes. The heart, beating, throbbing with the agony of the moment, would swell to near twice its own extremity. But, to Agnes’s anguish, the man – whoever he was this time – would always lose his treasured wits and slam the lid down again. Often hurling the box onto the floor. Often cussing and screeching at poor Agnes. Always leaving her alone, once more.
And, each time, on the eve of her saintly namesake, Agnes would retire to bed alone. She did all that was asked of her by the chaste saint: she would strip herself bare, leaving only her skin. She would lie in her bed jarred by a ravenous ache, having not eaten all the day. She would thrust her hands under the pillow and face the stars.
And in the midsts of her hunger-addled sleep a terrible dream would beset her, jolting her awake. In the vision she saw her absent father. His mouth, teeth and chin glistening with blood. Her poor heart, potted with lacerations, lying spent in the moonlight. Stopped dead on the decadent marble floor.