With a pipe in his mouth and a paper under his arm. Sailor knew they’d choose the right door to knock on. He presented Mr. Pony and himself in order to ask for hospitality. Mr. Pony and Sailor had been hiding in the forest for days. German officers had hunted them, and now they were caught in the middle of nowhere. Since Mr. Pony was working as a lumberjack and Sailor had travelled the world, they had amazingly good survival skills.
The Gentleman told how he loved classical music, how he used to be a general but was discovered by SS for helping Jewish people escaping and that this had brought him in constant danger. He had to go and hide as soon as possible. They spend the whole evening talking about where their hearts desired going. Auntie had once told Sailor that if he ever needed a place to stay, she had a place for him in Paris. They concluded that it was a good step on the way to Brazil. Off they went to find Sailor’s boat on the coast, miles away.
The war showed its worst faces. Getting to Paris was a hassle, but nothing compared to the zigzagging they now had to do in the streets trying to avoid the shootings and the falling bombs. Following the exact directions and only asking a few people on their way, they finally stood in front and knocked on a closed door. No one replied. Sailor started to hammer in the door with his bare arms. Blood flooded from his scratched hands, but he was strong. With the door shot in, they were meet by a very dusty apartment. It had been left for decades. Dust was laying in a thick layer covering everything. Auntie haven’t been here for years.
First thing Mr. Pony did, was an intensive search for something to eat, knowing that if he did find something, it would have exceeded the last day of use years ago, but he was hungry. Cupboards, drawers and loose plates in the kitchen were opened up. After some time he got on track of a hidden room. Hidden behind some tiles, close to the floor in the back of the cupboard. Mr. Pony opened up to the sight of wooden boxes all filled with crystal bottles of liquor, covered with thick grey dust. At least he could get drunk. He grabbed the first bottle which smelled of cognac and took a good sip of it, but immediately spitted it out again. Sailor came from the living room to hear what was going on, and looked at Mr. Pony. It tasted strange, was the only information from Mr. Pony who sat the bottle down and went disappointed out of the door.
Sailor took the crystal bottle, removed the dust with his sleeve and took a good and long look at it. In the bottom of it, there was something odd. Very dark, flesh structured. Sailor took an even closer look, and frowned. He had a clue. He remembered someone telling him about this. A very long time ago. He had expected it to be a cock-and-bull story. It sounded like, and it could for sure have been, but here was the actual proof. Mr. Pony just found Chopin’s heart, in what seemed like being a cognac bottle, in an apartment that hadn’t been used for decades.
He went back to the living room, sat down and stuffed his pipe. He needed to think. He had it. One of the lost treasures. He had Chopin’s heart. He couldn’t believe it. The Gentleman saw the crystal bottle in Sailor’s hand and starred hypnotized at it. He was, in spite of everything, not believing this could be true. Chopin was one of his masters. If this was what happened when Sailor went on adventures, then he would forever go with him!
Sailor tried to puzzle things together. He remembered that Chopin had a sister, which even might be around Paris. The sister badly wanted her brother’s heart back to Poland where it belonged. Tracing her down was easier than expected, she was still in Paris, and willing to come by. So she did. Now Sailor needed Auntie, but no one knew where she was.
Sailor let his thoughts wander. He puffed his pipe and turned his head to the window, just to see how bad the war was out there, and if the sky by any chance had turned blue today. A pigeon was sitting at the window frame, looking at him. He stood up, walked over there, and it occurred to him that it was a carrier pigeon. He opened the window immediately, loosened the message from the foot and slowly unfolded the paper.
“I figured that you might be there by now. Let me know if you need anything. Just call out my name, and I’ll be with you. – A.”
Perfect timing dear Auntie, Sailor said out loud, wondering if that was enough “calling” for here to come.
The door opened up and Auntie entered. She was really getting old, but her handshake was still strong and womanish. Gentleman came to greet her. He had a bottle of cognac in his hand. It smelled as it should, and tasted even better.
Auntie walked around. She hasn’t seen the apartment since the day her and her husband left each other. None of them had been here since, and she realized that she’d missed it.
Auntie sat down and sipped in the cognac. Delight was written all over her face. It tasted incredible good.
She remembered a very early morning, after a exclusive night out, her husband came home with a heart of another man in his arms. He was very drunk and didn’t seem to find it odd that he carried a heart; he rather found it funny, and unable to see the seriousness of what it was. He went to get a drink in the kitchen. Drunk as he was, he must have dropped the heart into one of the cognac bottles in the secret room, where we stored our liquor. I guess he forgot all about it afterwards. The only thing he told was that he’d won it in a play poker.
Since her husband had problems telling the truth Auntie thought that he’d killed another man, but the heart didn’t seem fresh. Auntie decided to go back to bed and ask the day after, but then the circumstances was forgotten and they never talked about it again.
Later on Auntie read in an article that Mr. Thierry had passed away. The interesting part was that he’d owned the greatest chamber of curiosities ever seen in Europe, which had been a secret until now, but with him gone the family saw a chance to earn money, so they opened it up as a museum. Auntie puzzled the pieces together as she knew Mr. Thierry had grandsons, and that one of them was a notorious gambler and criminal, who had been stealing objects in order to keep playing poker.
The grandfather was a very old man; he’d gone senile with the years and forgotten about his gracious collection of pure obscureness. So the grandson had seen a source of objects that could be worth some money. The grandson was well known in the gambling milieu as the obscure guy, but no one ever stopped him, or asked where his constant and endless source came from.
Auntie was guessing that the heart was ended up in the chamber, as a matter of upper class intrigues. It was normal procedure that money, favors, and young girls was trading objects. Pride only existed on the facade. It was never mentioned anywhere that the heart had gone missing from the chamber of curiosities. And since it went missing in the first place, long before our time, we kind of forgot about this very old heart conserved in cognac in our kitchen.
Auntie looked at the Sister, and apologized for the trouble she’d caused. Not knowing what the famous heart was intensively searched for years. The Sister had been so close, and yet so far. Worst of all was that Auntie had forgotten all about it. The Sister and her family were now finally able to get the closure on a very long chapter of their life. She left Paris for good, going home where she and the heart belonged, to get it buried in the church in Poland that was made as a memorial for Chopin.
She was indeed forever grateful.
Author: Sandra Blichert Christensen, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The story was received trough the international short story competition for the project Secret Heart by KOLEKTIVA in 2010.