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Niamh Gordon: 'Empty Space'

Published on
Illustration by Annie Warhol

I have a hole in my heart and you’d know it to look at me. Some sickly oozing wound it is, some gaping wasted torn flesh, something rotten for sure. Ma says it’s just my temperament now but what does she know—she’s not the one with the hole in her heart. One recent morning I woke up and there it was, I could feel it right away. I ran to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with my top off hoping to see through the skin. I poked at where I thought my heart might sit, under my breast and ribs, trying to find the empty space beneath.

It’s always bad on Wednesdays, which I think is something to do with the moon. It aches something awful, dull and persistent. On Wednesdays, I wake up late and lie in bed. I hold my right hand on my chest as if I could reach in and squeeze my heart in my palm to stop the ache. My left hand comes up to my face and covers my eyes. I lie there like that for as long as I can until I feel like there’s some air coming into my lungs.

When I stand I am weak-kneed and unsteady. A hole inside you does something to your centre of gravity. Everything veers to the left.

I go to the doctor and tell her about the hole. She is concerned. She’s not seen anything in my notes—did I have surgery as a child? I tell her I’ve only recently acquired the hole. She looks at me differently, asks, when did I discover it? I tell her I woke up seventeen days ago and there it was, oozing bold as anything, as if it had always been waiting to appear.

She gives me a prescription for Valium, and I know for a fact that does nothing for muscle regrowth. Instead I’ve been drinking protein shakes, to rebuild the tissue. From my research I have deduced that the hole most likely resides in the right ventricle, just below the tricuspid valve. This is a very severe place in which to have a hole. It is quite likely that without immediate treatment I will die.

Ma spoke to work for me and told them I was ill. She went out of the room for the call, so I couldn't be sure she said exactly what I wanted. In the interest of clarity I wrote an email to Adam explaining everything, especially about the location of the hole and the likelihood of my imminent demise. Ma took the laptop away after that. I think she is annoyed that I have called her here to stay with me.

Leah came to see me and wanted to know how was I feeling now that it’s been a month? I told her that I didn’t even realise it had been a month and that I don’t think about it much—I am too busy dealing with the hole in my heart. That’s by far the most pressing issue. She said oftentimes it takes a really, really long while for this sort of thing to make its impact known, oftentimes it might take years, decades, before I realise, fully, in an emotional sense, exactly what it is I’ve lost. And that’s okay—for it to take a while—but she is worried about me. I told her she has good reason to be worried about me. I’m suffering from a very serious medical condition.

I stand in the bathroom with my top off looking at myself in the mirror, one hand on my stomach, the other poking the pale skin where the hole is until a small bruise blossoms, and Ma comes up the stairs, and sees me through the bathroom door and stands there looking at me, as I look at the reflection of my naked torso. She comes over and hugs me close to her body, even though we’ve never really had that kind of relationship.

My sweet baby, she whispers into my scalp, stroking my hair, and I take in a big shuddering breath. On the exhale I whisper it too.

Niamh Gordon is a writer and interdisciplinary researcher from Manchester. She has an MA in Prose Fiction from UEA, and is an AHRC-funded PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include: narrative time and how it functions; representations of bereavement by suicide; postvention practices; Ali Smith; and experimental writing. She is co-editor of the literary magazine From Glasgow to Saturn, and her fiction has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and Return Trip.