To Fill An Empty Heart

To fill an empty heart

Norman Coburn


“Thank you Sariel. Thank you for everything.”

“Come on Henry. You make it sound like we won’t see each other again.”

Henry reaches up and grasping my arm, he lets a few seconds of silence pass between us. “Yes, of course. But it won’t be the same. These years we’ve had together. How long is it now?”

“Eighty eight.”

“Yes. Six more than I had on the earth.” He pauses and shakes his head. “I’m sorry I detained you so long.”

“Like I said to you at the start, we keep doing this until you’re ready. And today Henry, you’re ready. Tell me, what are you going to do first?”

He releases his grip and looks off into the far distance. “I’ve met many people since I’ve been here. But I want to go back a few generations. See who’s around. What they make of it all.”

“And you’ve still got some reading to do.”

He glances at my feet then looks up and nods. “I met a man last month. Chatted for a full day before I realised who he was. I’m so embarrassed.”

“No shame Henry. We talked about that.”

“Yeah.” He nods and smiles at me again. “So long then.”

“Until the next time Henry.” I tap the polished copper band on my left wrist. “If you ever need to talk…”

Then with a deep breath, he raises a hand high in farewell, then steps onto Emerald Street and disappears among the throng.

I watch him go until I can’t see his head anymore, then settle back onto the bench and think awhile. I don’t need to block out all the voices, but I choose too. I look around the park and lose myself in trying to count the many shades of green. I give up after a while and try to catalogue the scents instead, from faintest rose, smooth buttercup bluebell, all trumped by a wave of chocolate. I close my eyes and a friend comes and rests with me. We talk awhile and agree it’s good to be in the garden.

Words whisper across my wristband and I’m shaken out of my reverie. “Report to central for immediate despatch.” That grips my attention. I’ve not had one of those for years. Feeling a tickle of alarm I survey the traffic, my eyes fleeting across the faces of my kin. Their restful expressions as they walk and talk, their forms standing head and shoulders above their people, reassure me. It’s not ‘General Quarters’. This message is just for me.

I stretch, then walk for a time. Soon I stand before Lord Gabriel.

“Sariel. Come forward. I’ll be with you shortly.” His hands are flashing across the polished copper disks hovering in rows in front of him. After a minute, his motion slows and with a flourish, he sweeps the whole fixture away. Meeting my gaze, he studies me.

“And how was Henry MacAllen this morning?”

I nod twice, a modest reflection on all my years of work. “Reconciled to eternity. In fact I’d say he’s looking forward to it.”

Gabriel’s slight bow suggests he concurs. “It’s so much easier to give eternity to a youth. To those full of years it can seem like a sentence. You did well Sariel. Tell me. Is he ready to meet Majesty?”

“I believe he is sir. Nervous perhaps, but assured.”

Gabriel nods and looks away. This small talk does not come easy to him. “Look, I need to put you on another case. Straight away.” I must look surprised because he continues. “It’s a rush job. Just come in. I didn’t know for sure it would come our way until a few minutes ago.”

“But isn’t every arrival known about years in advance?” I bow after speaking. It’s not my place to debate with my superior.

“Yes most are. Some are more, how best to put it? Spur of the moment. Look upon it as another aspect of human free will.” He pulls back the panel and taps a disk in the bottom left hand corner. An image pops out and expands. I see a young man lying sleeping in a white cell reserved for emergency suspensions. He is slim, athletic, about six foot two with light brown hair. He is wearing black jeans and a blue cashmere sweater. Aside from these details, everything else around him is white.

“Where’s his context?” I ask.

Gabriel looks at me. “He doesn’t have any.”

I’m starting to understand. “So he’s deceased prepartum?”

“Yes.” Gabriel winces. “But it’s a little complicated.”

I raise an eyebrow, seeking clarity.

“He was aborted Sariel. Just a few moments ago. Fourteen weeks gestation.”

I turn away from him and stare the man on the screen. He looks so perfect, so complete and for a moment I’m speechless.

“We’ve given him his life-optimal body shape and a basic language platform. His clothes and body condition are contemporary”, Gabriel continues. “But other than that, he’s got nothing.”

“Sir”, I pause long enough to see his fingertips rise together in expectation. “Aren’t there experts to handle this kind of thing?”

“Oh indeed. A legion seconded from other duties. But I’m getting over five thousand of these an hour. Nearly a quarter like him. Last minute, hasty decisions, botched or forced. We will manage because we always manage, but frankly Sariel, we’re inundated.” He peers at me over the top of the screen. “Look, take a seat for a second.”

Without looking I sweep my right hand behind me and sink onto the resulting white bench. “I’ve heard these cases can take centuries”, I say.

He nods empathically. “To help the discarded understand they are loved? We can’t do that in a hurry.”

I pause and think. “Will he experience hatred?”

Gabriel shakes his head. “Can’t exist here. But for his heart to be filled, he’s first got to realise how empty it is.” He tips his left palm towards the screen. “Look at it from his perspective. His one interaction with his mother resulted in his murder.”

I cover my face with my hands and shake my head. “Strong words sir. I wonder if the mother sees it that way.”

He leans back in his chair and looks away. “She’s not due in here for another twelve years. When she’s ready, you may discuss the morality of her choices at her leisure.”

“She’s coming here!”

Gabriel raises two hands to my outburst. “We don’t make the rules Sariel. And the day she finally meets her boy will need the greatest sensitivity. Now, can we focus on the task in hand?”

“Yes, Lord Gabriel.” I stand and heel back the bench with my left foot. “How should I proceed?”

He reaches out to the left of his panel and places a forefinger on a glowing disk. “In light of your inexperience I’ve prepared a few files on similar cases. Familiarise yourself with these before you wake him. And keep to the protocols Sariel. No going off script.”

“May I ask sir, is his election secure?”

He sits back sharply like I just flicked wine in his face. “Of course. That’s standard procedure for these cases. The challenge here isn’t his election; it’s bringing him fully into the light.” He stops and closes his eyes for a second. “To comprehend love Sariel, from where he is sitting, is no small thing. I’ve known too many like him who have been welcomed in this city, but remove themselves to its most distant rooms. That my friend is no way to spend eternity.”

I nod at this, reflecting again on the challenge presented by the human heart, then stand straight and salute.

“Any last questions”, he asks, closing the image and tossing the file onto my wristband.

“Yes sir. One last question. What is his name?”

“He doesn’t have one yet. Naming him will be your duty and your privilege when you first wake him.”

“Thank you sir.”

He nods. “You’re dismissed.”

I leave him and return again to the garden in the square, my heart heavy, but the conviction of my calling deeper than it’s ever been. I review the files, especially the outcomes for the forty cases on my disk. Then I close my eyes and sit again with my friend in the garden. All too soon it is time. I kneel at the young man’s bedside and pray. I look into the eyes of Majesty and ask for the boy’s name.

The lad is stirring now and gently I place a hand on his shoulder. His eyes open and immediately he recoils from me.

“Do not be afraid child. I’m bringing you good news. Your name is David and truly, truly, you are loved.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.