I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. — Philippians 1:3
I’m still a child, only as tall as my father’s shotgun. Dad’s asking me to bring it with me as I go out to where he is resting on the hood of the car. He lifts the shotgun out of my hands and lays it across his lap. When I sit next to him, I can feel the heat coming off his skin like he’s a tin roof in summer.
I don’t mind that his fragrance is sweat and grease from working on the car or that the tomato seeds, left over from his afternoon lunch in the garden, fall from his chin and land on my arm. The tiny seeds cling to my flesh and rise above it like Braille on a page.
“My heart is made of glass,” he says as he starts to roll a cigarette. “My heart is made of glass and if I ever lose you, Betty, my heart will break into more hurt than eternity would have time to heal.”
I reach into his pouch of tobacco and rub the dry leaves, feeling each as if it were its own animal, alive and moving from fingertip to fingertip.
“What’s a glass heart like, Dad?” I ask because I feel like the answer will be greater than I can ever imagine.
“A hollow piece of glass shaped like a heart,” he says as if his voice is rising over the hills around us.
“Is the glass red, Dad?”
“It’s as red as the dress you’re wearin’ right now, Betty.”
“But how is a piece of glass inside us?”
“It’s hangin’ in there from a sweet little string. Within the glass is the bird God caught all the way up in heaven.”
“Why’d He put a bird in there?” I ask.
“So a little piece of heaven would always be in our hearts. Safest place for a piece of heaven, I reckon.”
“What type of bird, Dad?”
“Well, Little Indian,” he says, striking the match against the sandpaper ribbon on his wide-brimmed hat to light his cigarette, “I think she’d be a glitterin’ bird and her whole body would shine like little fires of light the way Dorothy’s ruby slippers did in that movie.”
“The Wizard of Oz. Remember Toto?”
“The little black dog?”
“That’s right.” He lays my head against his chest. “Do you hear that? Thumpity, thump. Do you know what that sound is? Thumpity, thump, thump.”
“It’s the beatin’ of your heart.”
“It’s the noise of the little bird flappin’ her wings.”
“The bird?” I hold my hand over my own chest. “What happens to the bird, Dad?”
“You mean when we die?” He squints at me as if my face has become the sun.
“Yes, when we die, Dad.”
“Well, the glass heart opens, like a locket, and the bird flies out to lead us to heaven so we don’t get lost. It’s very easy to get lost on the way to a place you’ve never been before.”
I keep my ear against his chest, listening to the steady beating.
“Dad?” I ask. “Does everyone have glass hearts?”
“Nope.” He takes a drag on his cigarette. “Just me and you, Little Indian. Just me and you.”
He tells me to lean back and cover my ears. With the cigarette hanging in the corner of his mouth, he raises the shotgun and shoots.